Emerging Media Episode 9: Deep Technoculture of Reddit

If Reddit is what it claims to be: the front page of the internet, then the front page of the internet is an ugly place. Reddit truly presents a conundrum where there is not only a lack of public leadership within the user ranks and moderators of its forums, but where there is a public space (on Reddit) ie. in the form of a public message board site where ANY discussion CAN take place. Well, almost any. While the very nature of this may sound great to some, or be a utopian dream to others, there are implications of hosting such a space, as it has proven to have the tendency to provide fringe characters with a sense of legitimacy no matter how disparaging or hateful their message is. Reddit, while it may have good intentions, if you are a positivist that is, as it creates a veneer of respectability for everyone, without much accountability that is, theoretically speaking, for anyone.

In other words, Reddit’s existence makes very real, what Bakhtin might call it, a “Carnival of the Grotesque” – where wit as well as depravity all exist in a single space. In Bakhtin’s world both the legitimate ritual and folk festivals are happening at the same time in a critical function of social space, this is a good extended metaphor for reddit.

As of today, REDDIT is the 19th most visited site on the internet (according to the metrics used by Amazon’s Alexa. If we take a slightly deeper dive into the metrics of Reddit via Alexa’s Competitive Analysis, Marketing Mix and Traffic we start to see how things have changed in the past few years, since Adrienne Massanari’s Participatory Culture, Community, and PLAY - learning from reddit was published.

Adrienne Massanari’s research focuses on how design and culture and platform governance intersect covering the complexities of race, gender, ethics, and digital culture. In her lecture she says, in reference to alt-right groups and “toxic technocultures”: “It’s not that they think all the same, but there are some kinds of fundamental ways in which their ideology connects across these spaces, and also their use of technology connects across these spaces.” They used these platforms in a number of different ways, as a channel of coordination and harassment, even if their purposes are different. These types of users tend to illustrate technological prowess and aggregate public and private content as a tool for harassment. They exploit platform policies that encourage large audiences in lieu of protecting harassment victims. In turn they also participate in rhetorical distancing pointing out that certain outliers in these groups aren’t part of their platform, although these users are still welcomed to participate in the conversation. Furthermore these groups have chosen to coin, target and, attack Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) as their target group to oppose, making audacious claims about their established foes on the other side of the political spectrum.

Because I really like GIFs I'm going to take this opportunity to use several of them as an experimental technique for illustrating a narrative about reddit. This essay will be told through a series of repurposed GIFs reinterpreting scenes from The Matrix and re-contextualizing them with clever subtitles illuminating some accurate, yet overarching themes and stereotypes about reddit.

Here in our title GIF agin from above; we have the moment when our two characters, Morpheous and Neo. Morpheus, seated to the left, offers Neo an opportunity to have two different experiences of reddit. If Neo chooses to downvote, the story ends, and he continues browsing, and "believe whatever you want to believe", Morpheus says. If he chooses the upvote, Morpheus will show Neo "how far up the front page... this post could go".

Next, since Neo clearly chose the upvote, he and Morpheus are now inside of reddit, they bump into a number of businesspeople with various reddit tags on them, including: /r/food, /r/funny, /r/news, /r/diy, /r/christianity, /r/cats, etc. Morpheus has a user tag "/u/morpheus" and neo has a user tag /u/neo on his back. Neo finds himself again unsure of the reality he has chosen. Morpheus says: "reddit is a system, Neo. Subreddits made up that system..., ...and most subreddits have rules. If you break the rules..., ...the mods can take you down." Right then Neo sees a copy tagged as a moderator, then he is distracted when he sees a woman wearing a red dress, in an otherwise monochromatic crowd, with the tag "/r/gonewild" superimposed on her the GIF. "Neo? Were you paying attention? Or were you browsing the dirty subreddits?" Morpheus quips. This is actually a clever GIF that teaches one how reddit works, in a nutshell.

Neo, having found his way out of the Matrix and onto the Nebuchadnezzar, asks Cypher what he is looking at on his screen, "Is that...?", Neo asks, to which Cypher responds "reddit?" yep." Neo then asks "Do you always broswe so fast?" to which Cypher responds "Yeah, all I see is meme, cat, repost..." referencing the banality of content often found on reddit.

Here Neo finds himself inside of a comment thread of reddit with Trinity, and instead of asking Tank for guns, he asks Tank for "Puns,...lots of puns." Tank presses the button with the reddit logo on it and the puns load because that will seemingly serve them well on their mission in the matrix of reddit. If you notice when the puns load Neo looks back to find himself in the section with Hitler's puns on it, illustrating a certain context collapse into a world with a virtual unlimited resources to puns.

Here Morpheus reveals to Neo that he is just part of a system of desiring digital affirmation. Upon being disillusioned Neo has the instant realization that his humanity is a product of the machine of upvotes, only to find himself in an (original) reddit thread on the TV monitor that Morpheus then turns off with the click of a remote to create a perfect loop.

Here, in our climax scene, Neo is able to fighting off all the downvotes shot from the handguns of the the reddit trolls. Upon witnessing this, Morpheus believes Neo is the one, as his upvotes skyrocket in real time, revealing that Neo understands how reddit works at the system level.

End note: Here is a very informative lecture of Massanari’s presented by The Department of Information Science at Colorado University of Boulder in 2018. https://www.youtube.com/embed/DYubaZIQ7h4?controls=0

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