Many influential philosophers such as John Dewey, believe that society must participate in political conversation. As a member of society, it is their duty. Conversations about issues in society supports the creation of a healthy democracy.
Reddit, the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet,” has created an almost anything-goes-environment for its users to start conversations on nearly everything in society. Pop-culture, news, politics, funny memes, all of it. Reddit’s environment created encourages “altruism, playfulness, meta-conversations, and creativity among its members” (p. 165, Massanari). This is a good thing—it has created a place for meaningful and progressive conversations. It breaks down barriers between experts and non-experts so people can learn from each other.
Other philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbs, say that humans are inherently self-serving. Even though Reddit can be a positive space for positive thought expression, this is not always what happens. Cynicism, sarcasm, and discrimination often infiltrate many of the conversations on Reddit.
Adrienne Massanari touches on this idea in the book. She says “If anything, “participatory culture” has enabled some of the more disturbing elements of human nature to become more visible and perhaps gain more traction that they might have otherwise” (p. 168, Massanari). I deeply agree with this observation of a participatory culture. And I realize this is a side-effect of less gate keeping.
As a society, we should be welcoming speech that we do not agree with or dislike. It will help those with more constructive things to say to better develop the argument to combat it. We can hope, under the idealistic view of the marketplace of ideas, the positive, constructive, truthful speech will rise to the top, the top of conversations lists and the top of Reddit’s algorithm.
Reddit gives the perception that the idea of gate keeping has been removed. Unlike Facebook, in which the algorithm promotes some topics and conceals others, Reddit seems to be completely open and genuinely user driven. I would think it would feel empowering to be a part of something like that after all the topic suffocation on other social networking sites.
Unfortunately, users should know that a level of gate keeping still exists. In this article from PCMag, we see that even the CEO of Reddit has done some questionable editing on the site as to not have comments that are critical of him. Users who are dubbed as “toxic” are often banned. On top of this, sub-Reddit moderators, as mentioned in the book, have quite a bit of power determining what is allowed and what isn’t.
As of April of last year, Reddit surpassed Twitter in users (and has the numbers to prove its more engaging than porn). Even though it is so widely used, it is relatively under researched. Reddit, its functions, and the motivations of its users should be a bigger part of the academic participatory culture conversation. With that though, as with any emerging media, we should consider how we can educate the users, or potential users, to use it in the most effective and democratic way possible. This type of media literacy education surrounding Reddit will become more and more important as advertising grows on the site. Users should understand those functions as well.
Massanari, Adrienne. (2015). Participatory Culture, Community, and Play: Learning from Reddit.