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Discursive Communities on Reddit.com‘s Default Subreddits: Framing Hegemonic Discourse Online
RHET496W: Senior Seminar Spring 2013
Keywords: Reddit, Framing, Community, Identity, Internet
Abstract: This paper focuses on the website Reddit.com and how the selection of default subreddits is a framing process by which a distinctive discursive community is formed. The emphasis on science and technology, as well as the construction of a collective identity which emphasizes characteristics of a white, first world, tech savvy, and politically liberal male contribute to a hegemonic discourse characterized by a fetishization of science and technology as well as tendencies towards racism and misogyny. Despite this though the format of Reddit allows it to be democratic in a way that other media sources cannot, ensuring that it is still overall capable of positive change. Table of Contents: Cover Page Abstract Table of Contents Introduction Table 1: Default Subreddits Literature Review Community Defining Community Community Online Netiquette, Metacommunication, and Anonymity Morality in Online Communities Identity Collective Identity Online Activity and Identity Framing The Digital Divide Analysis Fetishization of Science and Rationality Table 2: Science and Technology vs. Humanities Subreddits Figure 1: How Do You Make an Arts Major Angry? Figure 2: Undergraduate Degrees Figure 3: Billy Nye the Science Guy Figure 4: Science Experiments Figure 5: Science Mindfucks Figure 6: Scientists of Reddit Figure 7: Strange Science Figure 8: Richard Dawkins Tells It Like It Is Figure 9: Ayaan Hirsi Ali Doesn‘t Get Enough Love on r/Atheism Figure 10: A Nerd‘s Take on Recent Ratings Conversions 1 2 2 4 5 9 10 10 11 12 14 15 15 15 17 18 19 20 20 21 22 23 23 23 24 24 25 26 27
Figure 11: Computer Nerd Joke Figure 12: Nerds Figure 13: When Nerds Have Kids Figure 14: Nerd Dating 101 Figure 15: Nerds Rule Figure 16: Just Bought a House… Figure 17: Used to Think My Dad was a Nerd Figure 18: Roommate Went Full Nerd Figure 19: Nerd Quirk #153 Figure 20: Call Me a Nerd. But this is Sexy Political Polarization Figure 21: My Family Earns… Misogyny Figure 22: Active Feminist Figure 23: Hardcore Feminists Figure 24: Men‘s Rights Figure 25: Bill Burr Explains Why Yoko Ono Sucks Figure 26: Yoko Ono Sucks Figure 27: Modern Art Figure 28: He Makes a Good Point Figure 29: Fuck You Yoko Figure 30: Talented Bone Figure 31: Lennon and Zappa Racism Figure 32: Negative Stereotypes Figure 33: I Wouldn‘t Consider Myself Racist But... Figure 34: I‘m From an All White Town Figure 35: Gypsies Figure 36: Entitled Figure 37: Minorities Figure 38: I Fully Admit I‘m Racist Figure 39: Islam Figure 40: Jewish People Figure 41: Black Culture Figure 42: Black Culture 2 Figure 43: Black Culture 3 Figure 44: Black People in Theaters Figure 45: Diversity Positive Potential Figure 46: Rape Crisis Counselor Figure 47: Color Blindness Figure 48: Ethnic Enclaves Figure 49: Reddit Needs Diversity Figure 50: Neil SmokeDeGrasse Tyson Conclusion Glossary References
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Introduction ―The people formerly known as the audience wish to inform media people of our existence‖ writes Jay Rosen in his provocative editorial of the same name. ―And of a shift in power that goes with the platform shift you‘ve all heard about. Think of passengers on your ship who got a boat of their own. The writing readers. The viewers who picked up a camera. The formerly atomized listeners who with modest effort can connect with each other and gain the means to speak—to the world, as it were‖ (13). What Rosen is describing is the curious concept of mass media in a participatory digital age. Michael Mandiberg echoes this sentiment when he writes about how ―at the end of this first decade of the twenty-first century, the line between media producers and consumers has blurred, and the uni-directional broadcast has partially fragmented into many different kinds of multidirectional conversations. Access to tools and the invention of new media forms allow formerly passive media consumers to make and disseminate their own media‖ (1). This idea of the public having agency in determining the agenda and frames of mass media is a distinctly contemporary one which is inherently tied to the age of digital media and social networks. But while news media outlets and mass media conglomerates may no longer have such a stranglehold on the dialogue of the day, that doesn‘t mean that the so-called democratic people power of participatory media, convergence culture, peer production, or social media are free of frame bias and exclusionary discourse. Reddit.com is a user-generated content aggregator where people submit artifacts such as articles, photos, songs, and videos etc. to the judgment of the Reddit community. A voting system of upvotes and downvotes (colloquially known as ‗karma‘) allows positively received content to become more popular and rise higher in the ranks while content with a poor reaction is downvoted out of sight. While Reddit is the universal site, within Reddit there are various subreddits, based around specific content such as News or Music. Subreddits vary in nature from broad topics, such as
Videos, to much more obscure subject matter, such as TheSuperbOwl, a subreddit entirely devoted to pictures of owls in a humorous play on words and gentle mocking of American football fanaticism. With an address that starts with reddit.com/r/[subreddit name] the subreddits are often referred to as r/[subreddit name], e.g., r/art. According to Wikipedia there are over 67,000 subreddits as of May 2012 (―Reddit‖), encompassing subjects as diverse as r/poetry, r/hockey, r/corgi, and r/sex. In spite of this plethora of user-generated knowledge and news, when new users access Reddit they are automatically subscribed to only eighteen ‗default‘ subreddits, which are described in table 1: Table 1: Default Subreddits Default Subreddit r/pics r/gaming Content Photographs and images Video game based content Highest Rated Submissions (4/7/13, unsigned in. 1:54-) ―Test Post Please Ignore‖ +21870 ―I‘ve been playing the same game of Civilization II for almost 10 years. This is the result.‖ +12059 ―This guy is a reporter on Fox 2 here in Detroit. His name is Charlie LeDuff. He is fucking awesome. – [6:40]‖ +16675 ―The Bus Knight‖ +21307 ―Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity has landed safely‖ +5779 ―Hurt me good r/atheism, $.50 to Doctors Without Borders for every upvote.‖ +6306 ―‘Dear Google Fiber: Please, please, please rescue me from Comcast‘‖ +8890 ―I am Barack Obama, President of the United States—AMA‖ +14762
Videos from sites such as Youtube or Vimeo Anything that could be considered funny, primarily photos, and videos Peer-reviewed papers or summaries thereof Atheism/agnosticism related content Articles about new technology Standing for I Am A, or Ask Me Anything, forums where people with unique careers or experiences can answer questions posited by redditors in relation to their specialties Interesting or little-known knowledge, often links to articles or Wikipedia pages
r/funny r/science r/atheism r/technology r/IAmA
―TIL that after needing 13 liters of blood for a surgery at the age of 13, a man named James Harrison pledged to donate blood once he turned 18. It was discovered that
r/adviceanimals Memes r/politics American political content r/Bestof Hyperlinks to comments on reddit that are considered noteworthy or poignant. Submissions from default subreddits are not allowed r/Worldnews Articles on global issues r/Aww
his blood contained a rare antigen which cured Rhesus disease. He has donated blood a record 1,000 times and saved 2,000,000 lives.‖ +5631 ―Come on Facebook…‖ +6517 ―Obama wins the Presidency!‖ +8540 ―[circlebroke] Why Reddit‘s voting system is anti-content‖ +3769
―Canada creates $5,000 cap on liability for file sharing lawsuits‖ +7173 Pictures, .gifs and videos of cute ―My local humane society posts pictures of animals, often cats new adoptions. This one makes me so happy.‖ +10815 WTF stands for What The Fuck and ―HOLY SHIT THE ONION‖ +9409 is for content that elicits such a reaction Movie related content (trailers, ―.gif I painted after seeing Django reviews, discussion, etc.) Unchained. Such a good movie.‖ +4588 Music based content such as songs, ―Guy turns an electric organ into an 8-bit music videos, articles, reviews or synthesizer. The results are pretty authentic discussions. and quite awesome sounding. – [7:27]‖ +5476 Questions asked by redditors which ―Throwaway time! What‘s your secret that they find intriguing, thoughtcould literally ruin your life if it came provoking, amusing, or troubling. out?‖ +12920
While a broad expanse of information and entertainment is covered in these subreddits, my hypothesis is that the deliberate choice of these topics, to the exclusion of others, plays a crucial role in shaping the mindset of the average Reddit user. For instance, why are both science and technology featured while there is no mention of say, literature or humanities? What are the implications of defaulting an atheism subreddit while not providing a spiritual counterpart as a default? These are only a few questions raised by the deliberate choice of these specific subreddits, and I will explore them and others in my analysis. My hypothesis is that the deliberate choice of these eighteen subreddits as defaults and the inherent exclusion of other subject matter help to shape the collective identity and community of Reddit users through a process of exclusionary framing.
While Reddit may be unfamiliar to some it is no small fish. On August 29th 2012 President Barack Obama participated in an AMA on r/IAmA, ushering in a new era of social media‘s prevalence in modern politics (―I Am Barack Obama – AMA‖). In 2012 alone Reddit had a cumulative 37 billion page views and 400 million unique visitors to the website (Erik), not including the inherent ‗leakage,‘ as Reddit‘s content is disseminated through other social media sources such as Imgur, Facebook and Twitter. Known as ―the front page of the internet‖ (Manning), much of what comes out of Reddit can be seen in other sources, such as on websites like Buzzfeed and 9gag, which are notorious for hijacking Reddit content (Manjoo). Therefore, even those who don‘t visit Reddit directly are frequently exposed to its content. As Barabasi states, ―networks exist for a reason. They spread ideas; they spread knowledge; they spread influence. What happens if you give a piece of information to an individual, who passes it on to friends, who then pass it on to their friends, and so on?‖ (12). Clearly if the framing of Reddit is having the effect that I hypothesize it is, then it would be happening on an incredibly wide scale, making it a rhetorically significant topic. I came to these conclusions through personal experience. I have been a regular user of Reddit for about two years and in that time I felt that I began to adjust my online personality in small ways from when I first joined the website. There were no drastic changes to my behavior but upon reviewing posts I had made on Reddit I began to realize that I had subtly changed my general online personality in accordance with the conventional mindsets espoused by the majority of Reddit users. Upon realizing this I began to notice that the way I acted in the real world also seemed to have been affected to an extent by my time spent on Reddit. I was interested in science and math subjects that had never appealed to me before, I found value and interest in new technologies which I had similarly been ambivalent about previously. While never a very religious person, I found that I had become rather hostile to religion. Even more insidiously I had begun to actively conceal the fact that I was female online. In multiple tiny ways my prolonged exposure to Reddit, and particularly
the content of its default subreddits, had affected my general paradigm. Upon coming to this startling conclusion I decided that I wanted to understand how I had become so susceptible to Reddit‘s influence. I came to the general conclusion that one of the most important aspects was the default subreddits. After having spent such a long time on Reddit I am no longer subscribed to most of the default subreddits and have a personalized account tailored to my interests, but I feel that the time I spent subscribed to only the defaults distinctly affected my general view points, and that the presence of those specific defaults affects even the content of my smaller and more specialized subreddits. I wouldn‘t consider myself to be an easily persuadable person but the significant ways in which Reddit had affected my thinking intrigued me, especially in light of the fact that so many of my peers were just as active of users as I was. The rhetorical effects of social media are an emerging and important new field in the study of media and communications. In ―Social Network Sites as Networked Publics‖ Danah Boyd describes how ―networked technologies introduce new affordances for amplifying, recording, and spreading information and social acts. These affordances can shape publics and how people negotiate them. While such affordances do not determine social practice, they can destabilize core assumptions people make when engaging in social life‖ (45-46). Boyd goes even further, stating that ―when left unchecked, networked technologies can play a powerful role in controlling information and configuring interactions‖ (46). In my opinion, Reddit can be classified as one of Boyd‘s networked publics and the potential for ‗controlling information and configuring interactions‘ presented by the site‘s framing are a worthy avenue of study. If, as Malcolm R. Parks theorizes, ―interlinked private networks, such as those found on social network sites . . . take the place of a public forum‖ then what are the implications of such a blatantly framed discourse? Pan writes that ―framing can be seen as a means for community building. . . We do not mean a sociologically close-knit unit in a confined geographic area but a transitory and discursively
bound aggregate, capable of collective action in deliberative politics‖ (41). If we were to objectively view the discursive community being framed by Reddit‘s default subreddits we would be left with one that is dominated by a mentality that is white, wealthy, first world, and voraciously male. While not inherently a bad thing, considering the influence of Reddit the exclusionary community ideal intrinsic to such a frame is far from universal. ―Hampton conjectures that the Internet services as a contextual leveler between advantaged and disadvantaged communities and thereby provides a platform for local social cohesion and informal social control within a setting of concentrated disadvantage‖ (1088), writes Haythornthwaite. But what are the implications for the digital divide if the discourse of the internet is dominated by a hegemonic and traditionally privileged discursive frame?
Literature Review The general theories that will be used in this analysis of Reddit can be broadly organized into four categories. These categories are community, identity, framing, and the Digital Divide. The idea of community will be discussed first using literature that will shape our definition of community as it will function in our analysis of Reddit and how community functions in an online setting. The research on identity will help us to construct a working definition of identity and how it functions and is shaped by online activity which will lead us into our discussion of framing theory. The last theoretical heading will be the idea of the Digital Divide and the question of inequality online. Community In terms of community it will first be necessary to discuss how previous scholars have defined community in order to construct how it will be used in this analysis. The important aspects of community theory which previous literature has discussed and which must be reviewed is how
community is constructed online, a process that will be considered based on a look at netiquettes, metacommunication, and anonymity. The final question for the community topic will be whether or not an inherent sense or lack of morality exists in online community environments. Defining Community Maria Bakardjieva and Andrew Feenburg‘s paper ―Community Technology and Democratic Rationalization‖ provides a general overview of many of the prevailing theories about how community translates into an online medium. They write that community is ―the scene on which a large share of human development occurs‖ and a ―fundamental human value‖ and define it concretely as ―the formation of relatively stable long-term online group associations.‖ They mention how the definition of community is directly related to ―the participatory engagement in a collective practice aimed at constructing collective identities. As such, communities are inherently capable of self-articulation and mobilization vis-à-vis society at large.‖ Charles Soukup‘s paper ―Computermediated Communication as a Virtual Third Place: Building Oldenburg‘s Great Good Places on the World Wide Web‖ discusses how online community could be exemplary of Ray Oldenburg‘s ―Third Place‖ or ―Great Good Place‖ of informal social interaction, best exemplified by local hang outs such as the bar in Cheers. Soukup lays out the requirements for a third place: it must be neutral ground, it must be a social leveler, conversations must be the main activity, it must be accessible, there must be regulars, and it should have a playful mood. These then are the requirements for a ―Great Good‖ community. Stephanie M. Reich in her paper on community amongst users of Facebook and Myspace identifies four core components that are necessary for community, namely membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of need, and shared emotional connections. The discussion of Reddit will draw upon all of these definitions in its use of community as a concept. Community Online
The second important question raised by scholars is how and even whether community functions online. Bakardjieva and Feenburg explain how online communication differs from other forms of broadcast media in that ―computer networks are not merely additional ‗voices‘ heard in everyday life, but actually construct a ‗virtual‘ social world paralleling the world of face to face communication. Users establish all kinds of social relations in this virtual world and undergo experiences and interactions that are significant for their personal development‖ (181). They assert that community is prevalent and exists online, writing that ―computer networks become an environment within which communities form and ways of life are elaborated‖ (182). They argue that the original idea of the internet as community technology arose in the early days of the internet when optimism about the revivification of public discourse and the presumed equalizing effect of the computer as a medium were the predominant schools of thought. Bakardjieva and Feenburg lay out four conditions for an effective online community: Bounding, the forming of closed social groups; Tracking, the listing of how far each participant has read in community discussions; Archiving, the maintenance of accessible records of community discussion; and Warranting, the ensuring of stable and genuine participant identities. Caroline Haythornthwaite and Lori Kendall‘s ―Internet and Community‖ describes how ―people are using the Internet in ways that are driving change in communities—specifically, where and how they are constituted—and creating transformative effects on how we define, attach to, and retain communal identity across online and offline venues‖ (1083). Early in the first stages of the internet the main question was whether or not community could exist online, but now the question, as they see it, is ―whether it can exist without online. Though still surprising to some,‖ they continue, ―studies have repeatedly found that close, personal ties can and are maintained online and through new technologies and that synergies between online and offline strengthen rather than weaken relationships and community‖ (1086-1087). Haythornthwaite and Kendall emphasize in
particular the usefulness of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) in friendship maintenance and the maintenance and re-creation of national identity in diaspora populations. Charles Soukup posits that what‘s needed is a new category, the Virtual Third Place. While users may not necessarily be local in Oldenburg‘s original sense and thus cannot fit that requirement, they still ―share a common ‗symbolic space‘ which emphasizes distinct local community-based commitments, goals and values—the heart of Oldenburg‘s great good places‖ (434), thus allowing community to function online. Reich on the other hand suggests that, at least in the online formats of Myspace and Facebook, community online doesn‘t actually occur in the way that we normally think of it. Despite the fact that one study found that ―many of the emotional benefits paralleled those found in face-to-face communities‖ (690), her data suggest that these sites do not form any sort of community ties. On Facebook and Myspace she found a form of Networked Individualism rather than community online. Reich concludes that ―these data provide little support for these sites engendering a strong sense of community. Why? One possible explanation is that the typical individual use by teens and emerging adults lack a common purpose‖ (702). This research will be interesting in examining how the format of a website, such as Reddit, allows and encourages or precludes a sense of community, in contrast to a website of the type such as Facebook or Myspace. Netiquette, Metacommunication, and Anonymity Having established a thorough understanding of how scholars have defined community and how it functions online, it is also important for us to note three topics relating to online community. The first two are Netiquette, or the rules and social mores that define and govern online communities, and meta communication. These both relate directly to the idea of Reddiquette and the concept of the Hivemind. Bakardjieva and Feenburg describe how ―netiquettes encode social practices for regulating behavior in newsgroups, but they are voluntary and have had only limited
success‖ (183). Despite this, the authors point to studies which have proven that ―participants create dynamic and rich communities by inventing new forms of expression through interactive negotiation of meanings, norms, and values‖ and that ―different online communities demonstrate distinctive normative orientations established and maintained through written ethical codes (‗netiquettes‘) and through ‗metacommunication.‘‖ (185). In his exploration of anonymity and ephemerality on the website 4chan, Michael Bernstein discusses how despite the extremely anonymous nature of the site, community is still exemplified through netiquette and metacommunication. ―To communicate high status in the community, most users tend to turn to textual, linguistic, and visual cues,‖ writes Bernstein. In many communities, including /b/, slang plays a role in delineating group membership. Simply writing in 4chan dialect is non-obvious to outsiders and in-dialect writing serves as an entry-level signal of membership and status. Second, images on 4chan function a bit like fashion. Specific classes of images have periods of limited experimentation, turning into wider adoption, followed by subsequent abandonment. Fluency in the styles that are in vogue is an important way to signal status, as in fashion. Lack of fluency is dismissed with the phrase ‘LURK MOAR’, asking the poster to spend more time learning about the culture of the board. Bernstein illustrates this phenomenon of behavioral status symbols with the example of triforcing, a symbol that requires inside user knowledge of program formatting to correctly perform. Such displays relate directly to the third important aspect of online community in its relation to Reddit: anonymity. 4chan is similar to Reddit in that users who are divested of their offline identity participate in a forum and submit and share content. Bernstein describes research which suggests that ―anonymity may make communication impersonal and undermine credibility. Influential industry players like Facebook argue that pseudonyms and multiple identities show ‗a
lack of integrity.‘‖ And yet he seems to side with the opposing view, that anonymity ―may foster stronger communal identity.‖ Disinhibition can open the path for more intimate and open questioning and encourages experimentation with new ideas, softening the blow of communicative failure. Bernstein describes how communal bonds and identity are formed despite anonymity and maintained through community norms such as netiquette. ―Consistent with common identity theory, /b/‘s anonymity is likely shaping a strong communal identity among a very large set of individuals,‖ he writes. Morality in Online Communities The final aspect of previous community research is whether community online can function with an acceptable moral code, particularly with the lack of oversight based on the loose moderation of netiquettes and the influence of anonymity. Bakardjieva and Feenburg discuss this, wondering whether a true community is possible in such a permissive environment. ―A number of theorists and commentators have concluded that this nascent social space is morally ‗inert‘ and socially disruptive,‖ (184) they write. Their overall conclusion, though, is that ―the online environment is neither inherently inimical nor conducive to community. Rather, certain groups under specific circumstances manage to add a new sociotechnical ‗layer‘ to the computer network in order to build community there‖ (187). Soukup comes to a similar conclusion as Bakardjieva and Feenburg, stating that ―technology is virtually never ‗inherently‘ a panacea ensuring a utopian future and technology is virtually never ‗inherently‘ a cancerous growth destroying all cultural traditions in its path. Nonetheless, with creativity, thoughtfulness and vigilance, communication technologies can often accentuate and recreate constructive cultural patterns, values, and institutions‖ (437). Identity
`Having reviewed the literature on community I turn to the concept of identity. First we must establish what identity and collective identity are and secondly review the research indicating how identity is influenced by online activities. Collective Identity In his essay ―Theorizing Collective Identity: Presentations of Virtual and Actual Collectives in Contemporary American Fiction,‖ Zoltan Abadi-Nagy defines collective identity and delineates it from other categories, such as cultural identity. According to him collective identity is ―the takenfor-granted, consensual, basic values and institutions that enjoy a kind of fundamental validity in the group‘‖ (175). This idea of an ideological superstructure is a particularly useful definition as we discuss the collective identity of Reddit. ―The integrated individual feeds back and reaffirms the collective‘s concept of itself‖ (177), writes Abadi-Nagy, describing a process the sounds very similar to the metacommunication of Reddit‘s Hivemind concept. Wei-Ching Wang‘s study on ―Internet Use, Group Identity, and Political Participation among Taiwanese Americans‖ also discusses identity but in an online setting. Wang defines group identity as ―a sense of membership, an objective inclusion, along with a psychological attachment to that particular stratum. Group identity, instead of being a fixed condition, is a fluid social construct that is changeable in response to one‘s immediate context‖ (49). Wang also emphasizes that a single person can have multiple group identities. Online Activity and Identity Having established the idea of collective identity I now turn to look at the literature on how online activity affects identity. Wang‘s study is particularly useful in this regard. Studying how the internet browsing habits of Taiwanese Americans affects their sense of national identity, Wang finds that ―group identity influences the processing of information.‖ This of course supports the hypothesis I have put forth in relation to Reddit, that group identity online affects the way users
process information. The study found a positive relationship between internet content use and political participation, a finding which is particularly significant as it shows that what people are exposed to online directly translates to their offline activities. Cass R. Sunstein‘s essay ―Enclave Extremism and Journalism‘s Brave New World‖ describes ―The Daily Me—a newspaper that you design personally, with each component carefully screened and chosen in advance‖ (35). This concept is directly related to Wang‘s findings that online activities affect real world perceptions and actions. In some ways Reddit could be seen as a Daily Me, where ―with just a few clicks you can find dozens of Web sites to show you that you are quite right to like what you already like and to think what you already think‖ (35). These information cocoons are worrisome as they lead to enclave extremism, where diversity is squelched and extremism is increased. This is no idle fear either. Magdalena Elzbieta Wojcieszak‘s study ―Computer-Mediated False Consensus: Radical Online Groups, Social Networks and News Media‖ found that Participation in such radical and ideologically homogenous online groups exacerbates false consensus effect, or the tendency to overestimate public support for own perspectives (Wojceszak, 2008). This in turn, might make participants more vocal, publicize their cause, attract additional adherents, and affect the aggregate opinion distribution (Noelle-Neumann, 1974). Together, these processes may generate public support for such causes advocated by some online groups as racial violence or civil unrest. (528) Her study of neo-Nazi online groups, like Wang‘s discussion of Taiwanese Americans, shows that there is a significant correlation between online activity and offline action. Since ―studies indeed find that people in diverse environments accurately perceive general opinion climate‖ (532), phenomena such as the digital divide and the framing of the collective ethos on Reddit lead to more
ideologically homogenous groupings and less social leveling or idea sharing. The unsavory aspects of online life are compounded and strengthened in such an environment. The idea that online activity can lead to offline action is both positive and negative. While Wojcieszak‘s research should offer caution, Haythornthwaite and Kendall are more positive, noting that collective action sparked from online activity can result in good things. ―ICT‘s create unexpected alliances for social action, with online activity happening in reaction to local conditions‖ (1087) they write, and ICT‘s ―now play a large role in mobilizing social capital during such action‖ (1087). Haythornthwaite and Kendall also note the usefulness of online communication in times of crisis or disaster. ―Many examples show how the Internet has become a vital information source for reconnecting during and after disasters, how continued connection bridges temporary or permanent dislocations, and how some communities can be kept alive when people can no longer go home‖ (1087). Furthermore the internet allows for ―social cohesion and collective action in neighborhoods that might otherwise be considered unlikely sources of collective efficacy‖ (1088). Framing The third theoretical topic we must discuss is the idea of framing. My study of Reddit asserts that default subreddits frame the community and collective identity of Reddit, which as past research has shown may directly affect their real world opinions and actions. According to Stephen D. Reese, ―Frames are organizing principles that are socially shared and persistent over time, that work symbolically to meaningfully structure the social world‖ (11). While Reese here is defining frames in general it is not too difficult to see how this concept relates to framing in online situations. In his essay ―Textual Framing as a Communication Climate Factor in Online Groups,‖ Edward A. Mabry discusses ―how participants in groups that use CMC technology (e.g., Internet newsgroups or listserver groups) overtly employ technologically implemented framing devices‖ (324). Mabry
describes how these textual frames shape electronic discourse. Noting that framing is shaped by the ―where and how of social interpretation‖ (324) he describes how a group‘s cumulative message environment relates to textual framing and group identity. Mabry relates this framing to the previous topics discussed, describing how the ―social identification that emerges in online groups is referred to as ‗community‘. . . [because] group members evolve unique styles of expression that anchor their online presence and foster an overall sense of group identification. Relationships and group expectations are framed by members‘ constitutive meanings of sociability and appropriateness‖ (326). This basic premise will continue to be an underlying assumption throughout our discussion of framing on Reddit. The Digital Divide The final important theoretical topic discussed by previous literature which will be vital to understanding the implications of my findings on Reddit is the concept of the digital divide. The Digital Divide is discussed by Helen Kennedy, Haythornthwaite and Kendall, and Soukup. This is an important concept to define as it relates to the assumption that online communication is inherently equalizing. Kennedy describes other scholars who argue that in anonymous online environments ―people can disguise aspects of identity which might lead to discrimination, such as race or gender, and so can perform a range of identity positions, hiding marginal identities and becoming part of the mainstream‖ (864). On the contrary though, as Soukup says, ―Computermediated environments are far from accessible to ‗anyone and everyone‘‖ (428). Haythornthwaite and Kendall provide some illuminating statistics Dramatic differences can be revealed. For example, in April 2009 Internet access between women and men in the United States was fairly close (77% of women and 81% of men used the internet); African Americans were online far less than others (67% of African Americans, 79% of Whites, and 84% of Hispanics); and 92% of
young adults (18-29) were online, but only 42% of those older than 65 were online (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2009). In March 2009, the Internet reached less than 6% of the population of Africa, compared to just over 74% in North America. (1085) Soukup adds to these statistics, stating that 41% of the entire internet population is in the United States and Canada and in 2002 Caucasians represented 90 percent of the internet population. He provides further evidence of this phenomenon when he states that ―the language (i.e. English) and technical skills required to participate in CMC immediately exclude enormous portions of the world‘s population‖ (428). This unequal distribution of social capital online is directly related to the collective identity being shaped on popular websites such as Reddit. Ultimately, Soukup quotes Zizi Papacharissi to make his main point about the Digital Divide. ―The fact that online technologies are only accessible to and used by, a small fraction of the population contributes to an electronic public sphere that is exclusive, elitist and far from ideal.‖ The ultimate message that one can take away from this literature is that for better or for worse, communities exist online and they are defined by their collective identities. Furthermore, simply because a community exists online doesn‘t preclude it from evincing real world action and change, whether negative or positive. Framing is influential in online communities, who take their online activities and opinions with them when they return to the real world. And finally the internet is still a highly stratified place, and any study of identity or community online must factor in the inequality of the Digital Divide. Analysis What, then, is the discourse on Reddit telling us about the site‘s collective identity, and what implications does this discursive community have? The following examples were collected from the default subreddits and though far from comprehensive, they provide illustrations of overarching
trends. They are for the most part highly rated and popular submissions collected through daily browsing of Reddit‘s top submissions. Fetishization of Science and Rationality One of the primary trends that appears on Reddit is a fetishization of science and technology. This popularity is evinced through the prevalence of science and tech concerns as well as the popularity of an idealized nerd-culture. The framing of the default subreddits clearly contributes to this phenomenon by making subreddits such as science, technology, and atheism as defaults to the exclusion of other topics. As a quick comparison, some of the most popular science and tech focused subreddit populations are compared with popular humanities subreddit populations in table 2: Table 2: Popularity of Science and Technology subreddits vs. Humanities subreddits Subreddit Number of subscribers as of 4/7/2013 Default Science and Technology Subreddits Science 3,066,524 Technology 2,829,401 Gaming 2,953,174 Atheism 1,845,305 Non-default Humanities Subreddits Books Art Writing Philosophy 217,114 136,331 75,822 124,418
While the inclusion of r/gaming and r/atheism as science and technology subreddits may seem confusing, they are still included as popular default subreddits due to their discursive emphasis on scientific fetishization, as will be examined below. As we can see though, the science and technology subreddits are much more heavily populated. This is due in large part to the fact that
while all of the science and technology subreddits are defaults, none of the humanities subreddits are. One of the most prevalent effects of such framing is the disdain for liberal arts majors which Reddit is wont to display. ―How Do You Make An Arts Major Angry?‖ is the title of a post from 20ll posted in r/funny. With +603 karma, the post was well received. Its contents are shown in figure 1: Figure 1: How Do You Make An Arts Major Angry?
The self-congratulatory and derogatory nature of the post is continued in the comments. The top comment, with a score of +115, states ―don‘t tip him when he delivers your pizza.‖ Another example comes from May of 2012. A popular reaction .gif of Jennifer Lawrence sarcastically mouthing the phrase ―OK‖ was posted to r/funny with the title ―When an art major told me that engineering was the worst field to go into.‖ With a score of +345 the post was also fairly well received. In 2010 when someone posted the question to r/askreddit ―Isn‘t it a little unfair to harp on
people for earning ‗useless‘ degrees in college?‖ the top post explained Reddit‘s overarching mentality. The entire comment, with a karma score of +312 can be seen in figure 2, but some choice phrases are ―On the whole, most undergraduate arts degrees are useless and interchangeable;‖ ―there are some degrees that are universally useless, most prominently ‗_____ Studies‘ programs;‖ and ―technical skill degrees, such as business, engineering, and pure sciences, are seen as ‗better‘ because they impart practical knowledge.‖ This dismissal of liberal arts and the humanities as a useless and monolithic institution, good for nothing other than imparting proof of basic capabilities, is a common theme within Reddit‘s internal discourse, and this is attributable, at least in part, to the site‘s framing of default subreddits. Figure 2: Undergraduate Degrees
The sense of superiority over the liberal arts is exacerbated by the way Reddit fetishizes science, in many cases without providing any reason for the pride it takes in scientific discovery. Some examples of this scientific glorification from r/askreddit can be seen in figures 3-7. While the hero-worship accorded to science and scientific figures is hardly a negative thing, it is directly related to some of the other more worrisome aspects of Reddit‘s science and rationality glorification.
Figure 3: Billy Nye the Science Guy
Figure 4: Science Experiments
Figure 5: Science Mindfucks
Figure 6: Scientists of Reddit
Figure 7: Strange Science
Unfortunately, Reddit doesn‘t hold itself to the same standards that the scientific community does and oftentimes, when something is presented to it in a Reddit-friendly format, it is willing to forgo fact checking if the sentiment expressed complements the community ideology. This can be seen most apparently in r/atheism, where the disdain for religion overrides any sense of accountability to facts. One of the most prominent examples of this is the post ―Richard Dawkins tells it like it is‖ from March 2012. The image macro featured in the post is a common trope of r/atheism and Reddit in general. A picture of outer space or the speaker in question is shown with the chosen quotation‘s text overlaid upon it. The most common postings in r/atheism feature quotes from Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, all of whom are accorded a startling level of hero-worship. The Quote featured in figure 8 is unique though, in that while it is attributed to Richard Dawkins, it is actually a quote from Adolf Hitler,
posted by someone in a successful attempt to troll r/atheism. While the fetishization of science, rationality, and proof are common on Reddit, putting into practice the actual seeking of truth and proof takes a back seat when it comes to subjects that are looked upon favorably. The post has a karma score of +1253, making it a very popular image on r/atheism, despite the fact that in the comments it is made clear that the quotation is in fact from Hitler (Richard Dawkins Tells It Like It Is). Figure 8: Richard Dawkins Tells It Like It Is
A more recent example of this trend comes from April 2013, when the post ―Ayaan Hirsi Ali doesn‘t get enough love on r/atheism‖ made it to the front page. The post, shown in figure 9, shows a quotation attributed to Hirsi Ali stating ―tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.‖ Unfortunately, while r/atheism is fond of regarding itself as politically well-informed and progressive, their adulation of Hirsi Ali is exemplary of their pursuance of ideology rather than facts (exactly the
action which they condemn so swiftly in others). Hirsi Ali is in fact a neo-conservative darling, something which the politically polarized denizens of Reddit‘s defaults would loath if presented to them honestly. This liberal ideation will be explained in the next section with the discussion of r/politics, but for now it serves us to explain that Hirsi Ali‘s blatant Islamophobia would certainly clash with the anti-Israeli sentiment of co-default r/worldnews. Figure 9: Ayaan Hirsi Ali doesn‘t get enough love on r/atheism
Another way in which science, technology, and rationality are fetishized on Reddit is through the idealization of nerdiness. The idea of ‗nerd-culture‘ is inextricably linked to the adulation afforded to science and technology (not coincidentally both are default subreddits). It is the idea of the intellectual superior being downtrodden, a narrative which is omnipresent on Reddit, which is so appealing. While there are more than enough opportunities to find those who are truly knowledgeable and intelligent on Reddit, the shallow fetishization of intelligence by associating it with nerdiness is found in the framing of the defaults. In some cases this is expressed through ‗nerd jokes,‘ a kind of inside joke amongst those well versed in science and technology, as seen in such posts as those shown in figures 10 and 11, ―A nerd‘s take on recent ratings conversions‖ (r/adviceanimals) and ―Computer nerd joke‖ (r/funny).
Figure 10: A nerd‘s take on recent ratings conversions
Figure 11: Computer nerd joke
Other examples feature a sort of nerd-hierarchy in which the most intellectual are placed at the top, such as in figure 12: ―Nerds‖ (r/funny) while a celebration of the ability of a nerd to be social in the traditional sense is seen in figures 13: ―When nerds have kids‖ (r/funny) and 14: ―Nerd dating 101‖ (r/videos).
Figure 12: Nerds
Figure 13: When Nerds Have Kids
Figure 14: Nerd Dating 101
Other examples of this ideological infatuation with nerdiness can be seen in figures 15: ―Nerds rule (r/funny), 16: ―Just bought a house…‖ (r/pics), 17: ―Used to think…‖ (r/pics), 18:
―Roommate went full nerd‖ (r/gaming), 19: ―Nerd Quirk #153‖ (r/funny), and 20: ―Call me a nerd…‖ (r/pics). Figure 15: Nerds rule
Figure 16: Just bought a house…
Figure 17: Used to think my dad was a nerd
Figure 18: Roommate Went Full Nerd
Figure 19: Nerd Quirk #153
Figure 20: Call Me a Nerd. But this is Sexy
This adulation of science and technology has clear roots in the way Reddit is framed through its defaults, setting up barriers to entry based on technical knowledge, exactly the warning signs noted by authors such as Haythornthwaite, Kendall, and Soukup in their discussions of the digital divide. Political Polarization Including the subreddit r/politics as a default has contributed to a sense of enclave extremism and political polarization which, while most prevalent on r/politics, encompasses the entire website. Despite Reddit‘s international audience, having a default such as r/politics places the focus on American issues and thus implies an American paradigm for most of the site‘s material. The decidedly partisan views espoused by such adherents leads to a vitriolic lack of compromise when discussing political realities. This can be seen in gratuitous posts like figure 21: ―My family earns over $500,000 a year…‖ (r/politics), as well as other popular r/politics all-time top posts such as ―Obama wins the Presidency‖ at +8538, ―The health bill has PASSED!‖ at +7260, ―SECRET
ROMNEY TAPE: 47% of Americans ‗with‘ Obama are ‗dependent upon govt‘ and ‗believe that they are victims‘ at +4851, and ―GOP misplaces their Binders full of Women, House Committee to be chaired by all men‖ at +4571. Figure 21: My Family Earns…
The choice of defaults constructs an idealized vision of the average Reddit user. This is a white, male, first world resident, likely American, who is heavily invested in technology and politically liberal. While, again, this is not inherently wrong there are consequences that are clearly articulated via Reddit‘s hegemonic discourse, leading to the prevalence of racism and misogyny which Reddit is prone to. Misogyny The issues Reddit has with women are well documented not only on Reddit but also by outside media sources. The article from The Atlantic Wire ―‘Why is Reddit So Anti-Women?‘ An Epic Thread Counts the Ways,‖ written by Esther Zuckerman describes Reddit as having a ―maledriven culture‖ and states that ―Redditors are mainly guys.‖ According to Pingdom.com, a website tracker service, Reddit was over 60% male in 2012 and Google‘s Doubleclick Ad Planner estimates that the site‘s U.S. users are 66% male (Zuckerman). By including defaults that cater to stereotypically male interests, the site has attracted a consequently more masculine population. But there are still a large number of female Redditors, as can be seen in female-centric subreddits such as r/twoxchromosomes, which has 132,946 subscribers and thinks of itself as a sort of ―female ghetto‖ within Reddit (Orsini). Despite the presence of a large number of female users, myself included, Reddit has an unfortunate habit of misogynistic thinking. Zuckerman‘s article quotes Reddit comments attempting
to explain the phenomenon, such as one user who stated ―I used to think it was just because the large majority of users are men, but it‘s not pro-men it‘s becoming more and more anti-women. . . . Any comment that leans towards any kind of talk of womens [sic] issues, equal rights etc [sic] gets downvoted to hell so it's not even capable of being discussed. It seems like it's an US vs THEM [sic] mentality more and more. Was it always like this?‖ A number of blogs have also noted Reddit‘s misogynistic tendencies. The blog Geek Feminism features a post titled ―Sexism on Reddit‖ written by Mariya Lysenkova, a startup owner who has written for such periodicals as The Economist. She describes the trials of being a woman on Reddit. ―Please post a nude pic in the Gone Wild sub-reddit, so we can determine if you are just an ugly angry pig or if you are attractive and therefore have a serious point to be considered‖ reads one of the many sexist comments she describes receiving. But this sort of response comes with the territory, Lysenkova writes. ―I‘m shocked by what some average Joes think about the average Jane,‖ she states, describing how the more insidious aspect of Reddit‘s misogyny is portrayed through the stereotypes casually thrown around about women. These ―caricatures of women‖ as greedy, selfish, stupid, and manipulative are perhaps more disturbing to her than the targeted vitriol aimed directly at her. The Daily Dot also discusses this trend in the article ―Why Reddit is Sexist.‖ Discussing how in her conversations with other female redditors they all relate instances of misogyny, her advice is to personalize your Reddit experience by getting away from the front page and the defaults. ―Reddit really is no different than any other online community,‖ she writes. ―Under the guise of anonymity, there will always be a few haters. Just remember that front page commenters aren‘t Reddit‘s entire population, or even the majority—they‘re simply Reddit‘s most vocal set.‖ This would seem to confirm my theory that the framing of Reddit‘s default subreddits directly contributes to the digital divide being propagated on the front page of Reddit.
While most of these criticisms are fairly harmless, Reddit‘s misogyny can also take more worrying turns. An article from Jezebel titled ―Reddit is Officially the Worst Possible Place for Rape Victims to Seek Advice‖ describes how when a 14 year old girl posted on r/askreddit wondering if what she had experienced was rape, she was met with angry vitriol and skepticism. ―The teenager was immediately attacked by commenters who told her that she wasn‘t raped and was, in fact, a horrible person for thinking so, and the situation escalated when someone cross posted the link to the men‘s rights subreddit under the title, ‗Gentlemen, I don‘t know where else to turn. A girl posted this in askreddit and she is about to probably falsely accuse a boy of raping her.‘‖ Men‘s Rights is a fairly popular subreddit, with 66,958 subscribers. When r/mensrights was made the Subreddit of the Day (r/subredditoftheday), the post, which received +1832 karma, featured a description including such choice quotes as ―/r/MensRights. Never in our society could the uninitiated imagine such a place. A place where feminism is questioned, and our culture is deconstructed to find what it's really up to. A place whose inhabitants are not afraid to interrogate the world. /r/MensRights is one of the last fortifications of free thought to exist on Reddit.‖ The idea that feminism is detrimental to society is a common trope of the MRA‘s, or ‗Men‘s Rights Activists,‘ but can be seen in more popular subreddits as well, such as an askreddit post from October 2012 which asks ―Today, in class, a girl in my class started a sentence with ‗Well, as an active feminist, and you being a male…‖ What sentences make you switch off right away?‖ (figure 22). Other examples are shown in figures 23 and 24, wherein the redditors attack a straw man feminist who is commonly invoked on Reddit. Still, the most ideological misogyny can be found in r/mensrights. ―/r/MensRights is controversial for a reason,‖ wrote one of the mods in the Subreddit of the Day post. ―In the same sense as ‗flappers‘ of the 1920s, blacks of the 1950s, homosexuals of the 1980s, and many more,‖ he continues. As Wojcieszak‘s article talks about, the positive feedback of extreme online communities leads to an overestimation of public support for one‘s positions, and
r/mensrights is an ideal example of such enclave extremism. Equating the struggles of first world white men with African Americans of the 1950‘s is clearly an example of the ideological ―circle jerk‖ that Reddit is fond of. Figure 22: Active Feminist
Figure 23: Hardcore feminists
Figure 24: Men‘s Rights
An interesting example of the unconscious nature of Reddit‘s sexism comes from a recent post that made it to the front page from r/videos. In ―Bill Burr Explains Why Yoko Ono Sucks‖ (figure 25), the comedian Bill Burr discusses in a podcast how much he hates Yoko Ono. Over a video of her singing uninvited on a performance by John Lennon and Chuck Berry he discusses how her interruptions made him angry enough to resort to violence. He simultaneously chastises John Lennon for not being ‗man enough‘ to get his woman in line. ―I‘ll be honest with you, John Lennon and Paul McCartney redefined pussy-whipped,‖ he states at 16 seconds in. Saying that Yoko Ono ―has no fucking talent whatsoever‖ he calls John Lennon a ―fucking pussy‖ for allowing her to perform with him, saying that he should have said ―‘the only reason why you‘re here Yoko is
‗cause you‘re sucking my dick‘‖ (1:04). But when the video gets to Yoko Ono‘s interruption of the performance he goes all out: “And, uh, I actually get infuriated when I watch this video, the fact that John didn’t just stop playing in that moment. And what he should have done was dressed her down right there, it’s like ‘fine, you want to have a fucking moment, this is your moment. You ever fucking do that again I will slap you so fucking hard in the head your eyes are gonna look like mine, you understand me? Play that fucking bongo, and you shut your face. You look like that bitch who crawled out of the fucking well in Ring [sic]. You understand me? I don’t even know why I’m fucking you. I could be fucking anybody. You can’t play the bongos, you can’t sing, shut you’re fucking face.’ And then he just walks back up to the mic and he just counts the band back in. Right? Isn’t that what the fuck he should have done? Figure 25: Bill Burr Explains Why Yoko Ono Sucks
This post was sitting with a more than comfortable karma score +1462 14 hours after it was posted. But the comments were just as bad. The top comment states ―:C Yoko Ono sucks.‖ The phrase is a hyperlink to a YouTube video of Ono performing live at the Museum of Modern Art. The comment below that actually had more karma than that one, with +232 rather than its parent‘s +228. All the comment says is ―What. The. Fuck.‖(figure 26).
Figure 26: Yoko Ono Sucks
The second highest child comment says ―Fucking modern "art" man... Infuriates me. Pretentious asses who think this is a thing.‖ This of course relates back to the general disdain for the humanities clearly evinced on Reddit. The comment has a strong karma score of +109 (figure 27). Figure 27: Modern Art
The vitriol continues and remains uncomfortably personal as can be seen in examples such as figures 28, 29, and 30. Figure 28: He Makes a Good Point
Figure 29: Fuck You Yoko
Figure 30: Talented Bone
The disturbing trend continues in the illuminating exchange illustrated in figure 31. The second poster describes how one time John Lennon was angry with Yoko and told her to ―Shut up you little Jap!‖ to which Frank Zappa stated ―From then on, John was okay in my book.‖ The obvious racism and condoning of abusive behavior in a man (John Lennon) who had a history of domestic violence, is celebrated in the child comment which states ―My respect for Zappa is now = (what it already was)^10.‖ The comment becomes even more exemplary of the trend in its use of mathematical phrasing, giving a sense of Reddit-tailored ethos to the poster. Figure 31: Lennon and Zappa
Ultimately, it is important to note that Reddit doesn‘t inherently appeal to men more than women. In actuality, many women who come to Reddit end up leaving just as quickly due to its misogynistic discourse. The idea that Reddit is for men and used by men becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when the disdain for women and stereotypically female subreddits dominates the collective mindset.
Racism: The collective identity on Reddit of white, first world, techy male is also problematic when it comes to other races. It is not uncommon when a poster states their race (and it is not white) for commenters to say how surprised they are because they assume that all posters are white males unless otherwise stated. Like Reddit‘s sexism, its racism has also been discussed in the media. The article ―‘Post Your Racist Opinions Here‘ Thread Nearly Shuts Down Reddit‖ from Gawker states that though Reddit is ―massively popular‖ it still has many problematic elements. ―Redditors got so excited about a safe space for their racism and misogyny that they almost shut down the site,‖ writes Max Read in reference to an r/askreddit thread that made the front page titled ―What extremely controversial thing(s) do you honestly believe but don‘t talk about to avoid the arguments?‖ The top comments in the thread included such statements as ―Men and Women have different strengths and weaknesses... the androgenization of our culture does not necessarily strengthen us as a society‖ and ―People who make their careers on racial studies and affirmative action promotion are part of the problem; their making a living is dependent on the existence of racial conflict.‖ The type of r/askreddit thread mentioned by Gawker, where redditors encourage each other to promote their racist and misogynistic opinions, are inexplicably common. Regular examples such as ―Racist redditors, what makes you dislike other ethnic groups/nationalities/races?‖ from June 2012, or ―Racists/Sexists/etc. of Reddit, why do you dislike the groups that you do?‖ from January 2013 are two among many other such examples. Other redditors are all too happy to provide answers to these questions, often formatting their answer into some iteration of ―I wouldn‘t consider myself racist but…‖ Some of the answers provided and upvoted by redditors appear in figures 3240. Note the high karma scores on so many of the posts.
Figure 32: Negative Stereotypes
Figure 33: I Wouldn‘t Consider Myself Racist But...
Figure 34: I‘m From an All White Town
Figure 35: Gypsies
Figure 36: Entitled
Figure 37: Minorities
Figure 38: I Fully Admit I‘m Racist
Figure 39: Islam
Figure 40: Jewish people
Clearly redditors have a broad field of minorities from which to choose when being racist, but one of their favorite targets is the idea of ‗black culture.‘ Like the straw feminist, redditors have created a straw man of ‗black culture‘ as ignorant and backwards. When black people are not acting like this, such a line of thinking implies, they are participating in ‗white culture‘ presumably, which is then self-justified as being better, exacerbating the pre-existing racism. Some examples from the threads mentioned above are shown in figures 41, 42, and 44. Figure 41: Black Culture
Figure 42: Black Culture 2
Figure 43: Black Culture 3
These comments might be considered outliers if not for their high karma scores and positive responses. And it is not just in threads directly asking for such responses that this trend is seen. Posts such as ―Not trying to be a racist (Seriously), but why do black people feel it is acceptable to be extremely loud and rude in a movie theater?‖ (figure 44) and ―Why Are White Communities the Only Ones that ‗Need Diversity‘? Why Aren‘t Black, Latino, Asian, etc. Communities ‗In Need of Diversity‘‖ (figure 45) are common and popular as well. Figure 44: Black People in Theaters
Figure 45: Diversity
The communal and collective identity of Reddit has been framed as white, wealthy, and male, creating an ideological superstructure which is prone to misogyny and racism in disproportionate amounts. Positive Potential: While the communal identity of Reddit may be clearly defined and have an assortment of unsavory discursive tendencies, the website also has great potential. When a Redditor ventures beyond the realm of the default subreddits, a vast world of knowledge and entertainment are opened
up to them. When the fetishistic tendencies of the defaults are mitigated, the self-referential humor and metadiscourse of Reddit‘s less popular subreddits contributes to a positive environment that is ripe for intellectual and artistic communication and collaboration. The ability to create positive change is something which, despite its more unsavory aspects, Reddit is innately capable of. Figure 46 shows a popular post from r/askreddit showing the other side of the coin, wherein a rape crisis counselor turned an askreddit post into an AMA of sorts, promoting understanding and tolerance. Figure 46: Rape Crisis Counselor
Even in the more distasteful threads such as those mentioned previously, there is still the potential for positive change. Figure 47 shows an exchange from one of the threads shown in figure 46. One of Reddit‘s paradigmatic responses is met with an intelligent reply about the concept of color blindness, and how seeing racism is nearly impossible for those who aren‘t subjected to it in
the modern age, a concept which seems particularly hard for the redditors shown in the last section to understand. Figure 47: Color Blindness
In the same thread another popular response jokingly states ―being white in a minority community. ‗It‘s like I‘m the only majority here,‖ using Reddit‘s self-referential style of humor to draw attention to the ways in which the white-first-world-male discursive narrative presented by such questions implies a privileged viewpoint. Another response, shown in figure 48, offers an academic answer, showing the best of Reddit‘s potential for the true expansion of knowledge and equality. Figure 48: Ethnic Enclaves
The idea of self-referential humor on Reddit is directly related to the community building process online that authors like Bernstein describe. A perfect example of this is the highest rated post of all time on Reddit, the top post in r/pics, ―test post please ignore.‖ The post, submitted by the user qgyh2 in 2009, is a self-post intended by qgyh2 to test the waters on how to post on Reddit. Someone got the idea of not ignoring the post though, and then upvoted it instead. The post gained momentum until this empty submission reached the karma score it has today of +21,875, the highest karma score on Reddit, outranking even Obama‘s IamA. The top comment, with +6348 karma in and of itself, states simply ―Don‘t tell me what to do! Upvoted.‖ This trend is common on Reddit, with the self-referential humor relating to the meta level of self-examination which is common outside of the default subreddits. Examples of this from the diversity thread can be seen in figures 49 and 50. Figure 49: Reddit Needs Diversity
Figure 50: Neil SmokeDeGrasse Tyson
Self-referential humor and in-group bonding outside of the default subreddits are ways in which Reddit is combatting the trend of its own hegemonic discourse. Just as Bernstein describes how levels of in-group knowledge on 4chan make up its community, so too does Reddit, through its own brand of metacommunication create a community whose potential for positive change is apparent. While much that is posted on the non-defaults is less visible and less popular, the knowledge shared and communities created are less likely to exhibit the trends of disrespect and intolerance that are evident via the default framing. There have been many positive things to come from Reddit, contributing to its popularity. The article ―How Reddit Scooped the Press on the Aurora Shootings by Brian X. Chen discusses how a Redditor during the Aurora shootings created an as-it-happened timeline of events on r/news
(not a default subreddit) with information from news sources, twitter, and a police scanner and with the help of other redditors found the online profile of the shooter. The article quotes the original Redditor who posted the updates, saying ―it was sort of a strange feeling, like Reddit‘s supposed to be this aggregate news site, but we‘re actually breaking news to the media right now. . . Reddit has so many users and so many people getting online and figuring out what‘s going on through their own sleuthing. I think Reddit has some great ability to do that.‖ Even the default subreddits have their positive sides. The top post of all time in r/atheism ―hurt me good r/atheism, $.50 to Doctors Without Borders for every upvote,‖ exemplifies a spate of charitable giving sparked by the subreddit in 2012. The International Business Times wrote an article on the trend, describing how one Redditor alone donated over $150,000 to Doctors Without Borders. Reddit‘s format of crowd sourced news, knowledge, and entertainment ultimately exemplifies Jay Rosen‘s ideal. Reddit is made up of the People Formerly Known as the Audience. Despite the site‘s hegemonic discourse and the detrimental framing of the defaults, the potential for good is still a strong component of Reddit‘s set up. Conclusion: We have seen from the literature on the subject that being exposed repeatedly to extreme views online can create a paradigm in which such views become acceptable. If the ideological superstructure of Reddit holds that feminism is extremism and that the plight of men is a more important—r/feminism has only 19,471 subscribers in comparison to r/mensrights 67,657—what is to stop the site‘s users from bringing such views back into the real world with them, exacerbating or worsening existing conditions for women. If Reddit‘s communal mindset believes that false rape accusations are a societal problem equivalent to that of actual rape, the consequences of such views being translated into the real world are terrifying in light of the fact that rape is already a drastically
underreported crime. If the supposition that ―black culture‖ is inherently inferior is propagated so frequently on Reddit, what is to stop the average Reddit user from discounting African American experiences in their own lives? The divisiveness of such a discursive community promotes a hegemonic paradigm which would be detrimental to the already disadvantaged members of society if applied to real world social and political action. According to research like Wang‘s and Wojcieszak‘s, this is very likely to happen. Reddit, in many cases, functions as a Daily Me for the privileged of society, normalizing a view that the status quo is not only acceptable, but preferable, and that a certain elite sector of society—white males with technical knowledge—are not only better, but also victimized. According to Alexa.com, Reddit is the 53rd most popular website in the United States and the 121st most popular website globally. Considering the continually expanding breadth of the internet, the site‘s popularity is incredibly significant. I often see Reddit content posted on the other social media sites I frequent such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Reddit‘s own population is also consistently growing, with new users stumbling across the site every day. But what these new users see is often a discourse that is problematic in its idolatry as well as framed to be blatantly misogynistic and racist. The issue then, becomes the fact that the echo chamber effect of Reddit‘s exclusionary discourse is normalized in the minds of these casual viewers, who often don‘t make it beyond the default subreddits.
Glossary Cakeday: The anniversary of a Redditor joining the site. Members on Reddit have an image of a slice of cake displayed next to their name on their cakeday and the general custom is to upvote people when it is their cakeday. Circle Jerk: A phrase used to describe the way in which Reddit (or other sites) have a tendency to latch onto an idea, subject, or paradigm, and pursue it until it is too familiar to be relevant or unwelcome to new observations or discussions.
Default: A subreddit that you are automatically subscribed to when you sign up for Reddit and whose content you automatically see if you view Reddit without signing up. Downvote: A vote of negative reaction to a piece of user-submitted content. Gold: A feature of Reddit which costs money. People are often gifted gold when they post quality content. Gone Wild: A subreddit on which redditors post their own nude pictures of themselves. Hive Mind: The term Reddit uses to refer to its own collective groupthink IAmA: I Am A, or Ask Me Anything. Image Macro: An image superimposed with text. Karma: Reddit‘s voting system of upvotes and downvotes which allows positively received content to become more popular and rise higher in the ranks while content with a poor reaction is downvoted out of sight. Most high scoring posts fluctuate somewhere between a score of 10003000. While many never get past 1, and some are downvoted immediately, some of the top posts can reach a score of over 20,000. Lurk/Lurker: To lurk is to view Reddit without participating and a lurker is someone who habitually engages in such non-activity. Meme: Attributable to Richard Dawkins, the concept of a meme is that of a cultural artifact that grows and moves in a way similar to the process of biological gene transmission. This definition might not be apparent from Reddit though, as the concept of meme has been diluted into the ‗internet meme,‘ a humorous and simple image meant to express thematic jokes. Mindfuck: Something which ―blows your mind‖ NSFL: Not Safe For Life, similar to NSFW but referring to images such as gore or incredibly disturbing content. NSFW: Not Safe For Work, images or videos containing inappropriate content such as porn. Content that you would not want your boss to catch you looking at. NSFW tags are required on such posts. Reddit.com: A user-generated content aggregator where people submit artifacts such as articles, photos, songs, videos etc. to the judgment of the Reddit community. Redditor: A user of Reddit. Reddit Enhancement Suite (RES): Repost: Content that has previously been posted on reddit. Self-Posts: Posts made by redditors which contain no link and are simply their own comments. Redditors do not receive karma for self-posts. Subreddit: Internal pages on Reddit based around specific content with specific rules and distinct communities.
Throwaway: An account used specifically for the purposes of expressing a secret online without revealing the identity of the user. So called because the account is not used again, or thrown away, once it has served its purpose. TIL: Today I Learned. Troll: Someone who makes inflammatory statements intentionally in order to provoke angry responses for the troll‘s amusement Upvote: A vote of positive reaction to a piece of user-submitted content. User Page: The page associated with a specific username where it is possible to see everything that user has ever posted. WTF: What The Fuck, meant to express outrage or disgust.
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