We all remember the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) fiasco. Blackouts, protests – and how did we all survive a day without Wikipedia? We didn’t. Reddit’s founder, Alexis Ohanian, named the Mayor of the Internet in a June 25th Forbes article, now leads a charge of young, some could say too-loud-mouthed “redditors” in everything from political commentary to quirky memes. One could argue he is merely posing as a spokesman for Reddit’s 35 million users. Ohanian throws out ideas, and the people respond. That’s the beauty of it right? One example of this: Reddit users designed, funded, and implemented a $15,000 “Don’t Mess with the Internet” billboard campaign days after Ohanian suggested the message should go outside of the office of Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), one of SOPA’s introducers.
But Reddit is more than a political talk machine or a time-sucking sounding board, it’s an entire culture. A recent PBS Off Book episode gave insight into the heartbeat of this community. To a newb, it seems like a mess that came straight from the Internet stone ages, but to avid redditors, its a platform like no other. This community wants to know and share everything, from pranks played on roommates, to proposed legislation, to YouTube gems. And it’s all democratic: the Reddit community votes on its likes and dislikes, so the most popular stories end up on top. Redditors are also free to comment on any story they want, in any way they want. It stimulates discussion and sharing, with the added protection of anonymity. Reddit is not about telling people to do something, it’s about giving people the power to speak.
So, why is Reddit such a hit? I can think of a couple reasons.
1. Humans have an innate desire to be heard and likewise, to hear.
Reddit is, “The place to go to find out what’s new and interesting online.” It’s a sub-culture of learning. Experts that you’d never get the chance to talk to in person will often answer with thoughtful, well-cited answers. People love busting hoaxes and Reddit gives endless opportunities to play MythBusters.
2. We have an endless thirst for community.
Reddit encourages community and global connections. Programs like Reddit Secret Santa and Random Acts of Pizza work to “restore faith” in the innate goodness of humanity. This community provides an instant sense of trust, and speaks to our underlying desire to give and take care of others.
3. There’s protection in anonymity.
Let’s be honest, we wouldn’t say half of the things we say on the Internet in person. I know I wouldn’t. It’s hard to describe, but there’s a safety in knowing that the opinions you scream across cyberspace aren’t associated with your face. Miles of fiberglass and wires can protect you from getting a swift kick to the groin.
But Reddit is not without its unique issues. The most maddening is its complicated relationship with women. You don’t have to dig too far through Reddit’s top links to find a comment or post that’s demeaning, degrading or patronizing to women.
This might be because 72% of Reddit’s user base is males aging 24-34, with partial college education, and an income of $0 to under $25,000. No word yet on why the ladies have been so slow to jump on the Reddit train. Maybe the men in Reddit’s average user group have more time on their hands, or are more inclined to express their views?
Regardless of its flaws, Reddit gives a platform like no other. What are your thoughts on Reddit? Good, bad, ugly, a total waste of time?