Hi everyone,

I officially defended my dissertation on Reddit in May, however because the academic publishing process lags severely in comparison to the digital nature of this site, some of the content in the dissertation may seem outdated. Nevertheless, I have maintained a personal interest in the site and have followed most of the developments on Reddit since I finished writing. I believe many of you would be interested in my findings.

You can find the full copy of my dissertation here, but for those of you who don't want to read 275 pages, you can read my abstract below. For those of you who do manage to slog through the whole thing, please feel free to ask me anything for weeks, or even months to come. I will be checking back here regularly, so feel free to come back at a later date.

Proof: A picture of me with my published dissertation, PhD diploma, and reddit user name.


This dissertation represents an in depth examination of the cultural practices, technological affordances and political economic forces that inform the publics and counterpublics formed on the website reddit. Through interpretivist netnography, textual analysis and document analysis, the research presented here establishes a variety of different events (both historical and contemporary) and discourses that have taken place on the site and shows how these events and discourses are emblematic of contemporary neoliberal ideologies. Drawing on the theoretical tradition of the “public sphere” established by Jürgen Habermas, this research concludes that reddit shows the potential for an effective public sphere through digital technology. However, despite this potential, much of the discourse on reddit reinforces traditional neoliberal ideologies; furthermore, actions on behalf of the administration, moderators and users on the sites also indicate that while reddit has afforded individuals the opportunity to change federal political policy, these events do not translate into an inclusive public sphere that escapes the neoliberal trappings of technological fetishism

Let me know what you think of my research, and make sure to AMA!

Noah J. Springer, PhD

Edit: I was told my original link to my dissertation didn't work for some, so I have replaced it with a copy on my website.

Edit 2: I'm taking a couple hour break for now, but I will be back later tonight to answer a few more questions. Don't worry though, if I don't get to you tonight I will be continuing tomorrow as well, and basically as long as people are asking. Thanks for the attention everyone! Be back shortly.

Edit 3: It seems like the reddit hug of death killed my website. Please visit this link for a copy of the dissertation. It seems not to work for some people, but it does work on FireFox for me. Otherwise, try Googling my name with "publics and counterpublics on the front page of the Internet" and see if you can find it.

Comments: 635 • Responses: 74  • Date: 

StezzerLolz42 karma

What events and what subreddits would you say most influenced your final evaluation of Reddit, as of the completion of your final draft?

reddit_researcher117 karma

Several major events really influenced me during my research period, and before as well. I was very interested in Reddit's role during the SOPA/PIPA events during 2012, as well as Redditors role in supporting Net Neutrality during early 2015. I was also very interested in the economics surrounding the Secret Santa exchanges on Reddit, especially when they developed their own marketplace. I also followed In addition to events within the community, I paid particular attention to actions by the administration. Unfortunately, I published my dissertation just before everything with Ellen Pao went down, but I address the early stages of that brewing situation in my dissertation as well and developed some theoretical grounding for the resulting chaos.

I have an entire chapter devoted to GamerGate and /r/KotakuInAction and their counterpublic, /r/GamerGhazi. Meta subreddits like /r/TheoryOfReddit and /r/SubredditDrama helped me understand how Redditors understand themselves. I was very interested the displays of sexuality found on /r/TheRedPill and /r/TheBluePill. However, I still payed a lot of attention to the major default subreddits, and local city subreddits like /r/Denver and /r/Seattle. Finally, I have to shout out to /r/HipHopHeads which is one of my favorite communities on the site!

Thanks for the question1

abohnsen1913 karma

/r/TheBluePill and /r/TheRedPill.

These subreddits are jokes, right?

reddit_researcher86 karma

Well /r/TheBluePill is basically dedicated to mocking /r/TheRedPill, so I guess one is.

abohnsen1912 karma

But do the few people of TheRedPill actually believe in what is in the sub (in the sense of Scientologists' "beliefs")?

Or is that not relevant?

reddit_researcher42 karma

I hesitate to comment on the members of /r/TheRedPill personal motivations. However, I would say that the text found on the subreddit definitely seems to show that members of the community do "believe" in the ideology promoted by the sidebar and moderators.

AntonioOfVenice40 karma

You write the following:

By misrepresenting the theories and aims of feminist and Marxist cultural criticism, discourse across r/KIA establishes an imaginary boogey-man, the “SJW,” who seeks to censor free speech in the name of political correctness.

Since you have already made up your mind that the SJW is 'imaginary' and that people do not want to censor free speech in the name of political correctness: how do you feel about the people on college campuses pushing for speech codes, students demanding that college presidents write a hand-written letter acknowledging their "white privilege", the hounding of professors like Erika Christakis for defending the rights of students to war Halloween costumes they like, establishing "safe spaces" where they call for "muscle" to get reporters out?

If there is no push to censor free speech, how do you explain all this?

reddit_researcher207 karma

I woudn't say "already made up your mind that the SJW is 'imaginary.'" I think it evident in the discourse across the site that the SJW is imaginary. Nobody identifies themselves as an SJW. This is a reactionary term made up by people who oppose the politics of the left, and can be used to accost anybody whose politics they dislike.

In terms of the attack on free speech in college campus's, I am a little wary about those who want to infringe on the freedoms of the press and speech found on public universities and attacked by public employees. However, i find these to have little to do with the censoring of discourse on a privately owned forum. These are not the same issues, and by conflating the two you are implying that those involved in the college campus's are the same as those on reddit, which I struggle to believe. Just like those who attack SJW's, you are lumping together individual groups of people to create your own point.

Ferlion12348 karma

That doesn't actually mean "SJW" doesn't exist though. It means it's a label for a certain type of person, albeit flexible.

Nobody identifies as racist or sexist, but those labels still exist.

That is a really silly distinction, and borders on intellectual dishonesty. Even if you disagree with the popular idea of what an "SJW" is, its still not imaginary

reddit_researcher73 karma

I would say that the terms racist and sexist are also in the public imaginary. These terms exist in the realm of discourse, rather than the realm of identity. However, within the reddit discourse, SJW becomes a part of a person's (opponents) identity, rather than a form of discourse

AntonioOfVenice18 karma

Nobody identifies themselves as an SJW.

A lot of people actually do. You spent a lot of time reading Ghazi, so you must have noticed all the usernames and flairs. But in a broader sense, whether or not someone self-identifies as a SJW is immaterial to whether or not they exist. Very few people would admit to being misogynists, but that does not mean that misogynists do not exist.

This is a reactionary term made up by people who oppose the politics of the left,

(Almost) no one identifies as a 'reactionary'. It is a far-left term made up by the people who oppose freedom of speech, among other things. See how easy this is? In this case, it would be accurate, because I am an anti-SJW liberal myself, and yet called a reactionary and neo-Nazi for opposing the agenda of the SJWs.

However, i find these to have little to do with the censoring of discourse on a privately owned forum.

They are interconnected. You want to argue the legal case, meaning that public universities do not have the right to censor free speech, while a privately owned forum does. The question is whether it should. Do we want a safe space, or an open marketplace of ideas? The same groups who push censorship on college campuses push censorship on Reddit. And yes, even though it would be completely within Reddit's legal right to ban anyone, that does not mean that it is not censorship.

reddit_researcher81 karma

you must have noticed all the usernames and flairs

Primarily as a joke.

(Almost) no one identifies as a 'reactionary'

I didn't identify anyone as reactionary. I said the term was a reaction to the growing influence of the left online. People are not reactionary, but terms and definitions are.

The question is whether it should. Do we want a safe space, or an open marketplace of ideas?

First, I'm not convinced an open-marketplace of ideas will every be afforded by an online website. Certain individuals will inherently avoid any website, and all viewpoints will never be able to be accessed in an online forum. The problem I have with the discourse found on reddit is that it provides a foundation for a fantasy that such a space could be afforded.

The same groups who push censorship on college campuses push censorship on Reddit


And yes, even though it would be completely within Reddit's legal right to ban anyone, that does not mean that it is not censorship.

I guess it's censorship, but only in the realm of reddit. Reddit is constantly regulated by admins and mods. If you are implying somehow, somewhere there's a perfect, uncensored subreddit where discourse is politically effective, you are naive about the potential of reddit. By calling mods and admins deleting subs or comments censorship, you are misrepresenting what a private institution does on its own platform. These are necessary methods for maintaining a civil community on a website.

Ruzinus38 karma

What did you do to try and negate your own biases?

reddit_researcher40 karma

This was definitely tough, but fundamentally I adopted the viewpoint of a reflexive research. During my data collection period I kept detailed field notes about my own biases and reactions to the discourse I came across. Fundamentally, qualitative research cannot be 100% objective, so I had to constantly reflect on how my own inherent biases affected my data. Primarily, while researching GamerGate, I often had to step back and check myself, questioning why I was so offended by. While I could never be completely unbiased, I hope that through a reflexive framework I was able to address my biases openly.

TheColourOfHeartache36 karma

This is half way between a question and a point that stuck with me and I'd like your opinion on.

You say a fair amount of things like

Ultimately, u/haniisgod misconstrues contemporary Marxist critics as idealistic academics attempting to censor free expression in favor of their own moral compass; meanwhile, the author ignores the Frankfurt School’s valuable critiques of institutions of power, capitalism and American society that are vital to understanding the role of critical theory in the contemporary media environment.

Have you considered why this might be?

In social sciences (and I'm talking outside my own field here, proceed with caution) you have a division between official doctrines and folk beliefs. It seems quite likely that something very similar might be happening here.

You have the official doctrine of the Frankfurt School - which is only understood by academics.

You then have the folk belief - which would be journalists and culture critics outside the university (or less competent academics) who don't understand fully the Frankfurt School and apply their watered down understanding to gaming.

Then you'd have people who's only encountered the Frankfurt School when it appears on gaming news sites rather than academic journals. These people would naturally have only encountered Folk Frankfurt School; and it seems a little unfair to respond to their criticisms of Folk Frankfurt School by pointing to Doctrine Frankfurt School.

edit: Here's an even better example:

Like u/haniisgood above, u/_supernovasky_ slips into anti-intellectual arguments by claiming the language of feminism and cultural criticism is “devoid of meaning” and by dismissing entire fields of study and forms of discourse in favor of the positivist style favored by many within the r/KIA public.

You say supernovasky dismissed entire fields of study and this is anti intellectual. But might it not simply be that supernovasky is accurately reporting that cultural critics of gaming do not themselves understand (or barely understand) those fields of study and so use it them in ways that are devoid of meaning.

reddit_researcher30 karma

Interesting question! While you are correct that academics understand the Frankfurt school and critical theory different than many who encounter the theories outside of academia, I do think it is problematic to only address those concerns of folk doctrine. Folk doctrine arrives through misconceptions and misreadings of these theorists, and I am to correct all of those misconceptions, I would have a different dissertation on my hands. And yes, I wrote this for an academic audience first and foremost, and it was much more important for me to address the academic Doctrine of the Frankfurt school before the folk doctrine. And while some may critique that, I think we must remember that even though the folk doctrine is used by some to base their beliefs about the critical Marxist theory, many of those same have not dived into the actual books, and only rely on second hand information to inform their opinions. So while I discuss the folk doctrine to some extent (as you quote) I primarily focused on the academic understanding of Adorno, Horkheimer, and Habermas in order to refine my own thinking.

TheColourOfHeartache18 karma

Interesting question!


I think we must remember that even though the folk doctrine is used by some to base their beliefs about the critical Marxist theory, many of those same have not dived into the actual books, and only rely on second hand information to inform their opinions.

Absolutely, but is this actually a failing on the part of people who do that?

Lets take a hypothetical person X. X isn't interested in social science, but X is interested in video games and regularly reads and comments on gaming related websites and subreddits. He only notices critical theory when a gaming critic brings it up.

When X talks about critical theory he's not talking about Adorno, Horkheimer, and Habermas. He's talking about he's talking about Polygon and Kotaku.

So basically. If X's criticisms of critical theory are an accurate criticism of Polygon and Kotaku. Is it actually relevant to point out that X is wrong about Adorno, Horkheimer, and Habermas?

I'd say no, it's not relevant. From reading your thesis I'd guess you think it is relevant?

So I'm curious. If you were to go back and reread Kotaku in Action posts, but every time you saw the words "critical theory" you replaced it with "Polygon and Kotaku's theory", would you still disagree so much with what you are saying?

reddit_researcher32 karma

I think fundamentally the problem comes down to person X passing a judgement on "critical theory" while never actually coming in contact with the source. Yes, if you replaced critical theory with Polygon and Kotaku theory, their arguments make more sense. But in fact, these posts are actively attacking what they see as critical theory without understanding it. I have seen more times that I can count on /r/KIA that "cultural Marxists," including Adorno and Herbert Marcuse are the founders of a political attack on American culture. But this misreading of the Frankfurt School stems from a misunderstanding of the critique brought forth from their work. By only grasping critical theory through its formulations in popular culture, and then criticizing its work without understanding it, they are inherently continuing to spread misinformation the Frankfurt School.

Perhaps these misreadings are furthered by Polygon and Kotaku, but on a large forum, people without understanding about the issues at hand comment on them to the detriment of the actual debate people who publish books actually worry about.

Does that make sense?

TheColourOfHeartache15 karma

Perhaps these misreadings are furthered by Polygon and Kotaku, but on a large forum, people without understanding about the issues at hand comment on them to the detriment of the actual debate people who publish books actually worry about.

Does that make sense?

It makes sense, I see where you're coming from.

Where I disagree is that it seems you're putting the responsibility on people in KIA to go out and learn critical theory before they talk about it.

I think the responsibility is on people who understand critical theory to go out and correct people who're getting it wrong. That would probably mean both KIA, Polygon and Kotaku. We at KIA would probably love an article about how Polygon misunderstands critical theory. And if you wrote about how KIA gets critical theory wrong, well you've watched us for a long time. You know that we wouldn't do anything worse than downvoting.

reddit_researcher16 karma

I think you're right that it should be up to the academic doctrine to mix with the folk doctrine. And, I wouldn't say that anybody who hasn't read critical theory thoroughly should go pick up *A Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction * (although everybody should), many people comment too much on things they don't know about. Rather than picking up some StormFront copypasta about "Cultural Marxism," they should either begin reading, or not share it.

RoboTurtle129 karma

What's the single most interesting phenomenon you've come across while doing your research on Reddit?

reddit_researcher113 karma

Realistically, over my entire time on Reddit, I think the most interesting phenomenon is the decline in the quality and potential of public discourse on the site as it has increased in size. When I first got on reddit in 2007 or 2008, I thought the comments were enlightening and thoughtful. However, as the site got larger I actively saw declining content and declining comments. /r/all is a wasteland, and even within the smaller communities, quality comments are few and far between. I even feel like the philanthropic efforts of the site have declined since 2012 or so.

This is not to say the site is worthless now, but it just seems to have drastically changed as it grew, as I suppose every site does. It was just very interesting to experience it first hand over the last 8 years or so.

just_another_bob35 karma

Do you account for age bias? Many things seemed to have gotten worse to me as I got older but when I try to emulate my younger mindset I realize often that familiarity grows boredom and your tastes also change as you get older. /r/all has always been shit and I've always stayed far away from it as with a lot of the default subs. Now we have a larger collective pool where you may have more noise but you also tend to have more chance of qualified people chiming in that relate more to specific experiences.

I still love reddit even after being here for almost eight years.

reddit_researcher38 karma

That is a great insight, and I mentioned that my mindset has grown at some point. While I have gotten older, I still maintain that the general discourse across the site has declined.

But as you can tell, I haven't left yet.

TalkingBackAgain16 karma

You can't leave now, either. We're going to lose our first home-grown scholar. What do you think that is going to do for the quality of the discourse on Reddit.

reddit_researcher22 karma

Trust me, I'm not going anywhere. Just took a break for lunch. I'm going to be responding for weeks if people keep asking.

As to what we can do about the quality of political discourse on reddit, I am not sure. One option is definitely individual, wherein people can slim down their front-pages and focus on providing high quality content and grass-roots organizing. Secondly, the administration could delete /r/all and focus on promoting smaller subreddits that have heavy moderation and productive discussion.

Overall, this dissertation was primarily descriptive, rather than prescriptive, and I avoided suggesting changes within it.

Oax_Mike12 karma

What is/are your theory/theories as to "why" quality has declined with size?

reddit_researcher80 karma

I think it fundamentally has to do with the upvote/downvote system which gets bastardized in use. Yes, we are supposed to upvote things that contribute to the conversation in theory, but realistically, people upvote what they like, and these are generally short but clever remarks (or sometimes not so clever). The upvote/downvote systems is based on a meritocracy of the free market, but it turns out most people don't want complex and in-depth answers to their questions. They simply want quick and easy, which proves problematic in a forum based on populist voting system.

The_Alaskan13 karma

Did you end up considering subreddits that actively attempt to fix the problems through intensive moderation? I'm thinking in particular of /r/askhistorians here.

reddit_researcher8 karma

I did address those a little bit in Chapter 5, but for the most part I was more interested in where the moderation failed or proved problematic, unlike r/askhistorians.

Oax_Mike11 karma

Sure...but wouldn't this same phenomenon exist with 1 million users instead of 10 million? Why did additional users disrupt the upvote/downvote system?

reddit_researcher16 karma

I do think this was already happening at 1 million users, and exponentially increased as the site grew. I also think that as the site grew, problematic communities began to form and further screw up the system (think /r/CoonTown, /r/ImGoingToHellForThis), which in turn attracted more problematic discourse to the site and the admins hoped to sustain the deregulated environment for too long.

Oax_Mike14 karma

So perhaps the cause is that as the site grew there now became a large enough number of "problematic users" to reach the critical mass where their shitty subs would become viable?

If you have 100 users and only 2% are assholes it's going to get pretty boring to carry on asshole banter with just one other asshole.

With 100,000 users you now have enough idiots to be able to make an idiotic sub viable....and then with 1,000,000 even more 'niche' jerkoffs will be able to find sufficient weirdos of their sort to degenerate with.

Although by this theory the larger the overall user base would also allow for positive niche subs to now become viable.

Speaking of which...during your research, did you look at all into how many subscribers a sub needs to become truly viable? It seems like even 20,000 users generally isn't enough to keep a steady stream of useful content flowing.

reddit_researcher18 karma

I don't have any specific numbers to tell when a sub declines, but it seems to me that after 50,000 members, the discourse begins to decline if there is not heavy moderation.

AntonioOfVenice-1 karma

problematic communities began to form and further screw up the system (think /r/CoonTown, /r/ImGoingToHellForThis), which in turn attracted more problematic discourse to the site

Can you define, in your own words, the term 'problematic' as you used it in this sentence?

reddit_researcher13 karma

Communities that promote discourse that attacks others, of any variety.

cuteman2 karma

Communities that promote discourse that attacks others, of any variety.

So you would include meta subreddits that cross link, brigade and exist only to comment and gossip about other subreddits?

SRS, SRD, CB, etc.

reddit_researcher14 karma

They can definitely prove problematic occasionally, but the pale in comparison to the problematic issues raised by places like /r/CoonTown.

Battess25 karma

This separation of the “good” versions of feminism from third - wave feminism represents a continued misreading of contemporary feminism as anti-men, anti-cisgendered people, and intellectually unfounded.


[Christina Hoff Summers] misrepresents the goals of contemporary feminism by framing them as an all-out assault on men, rather than a critical consideration of how gender and race influence structures of power, media, and social relations.

What makes the following two ideas-

a) Feminism is, ideally, a critical consideration of how gender and race influence structures of power, media, and social relations.

b) The activities of many feminists and feminist groups/spaces, especially on Reddit, actually are anti-men, anti-cisgendered people, and intellectually unfounded.

-mutually exclusive? Just because you've studied the ideal form of feminism doesn't mean the non-ideal form doesn't exist and isn't creating harm worth pointing out. It's like if you bought a spill-proof thermos which then spilled all over the floor, would you deny the spill was there by arguing that the package said spill-proof? No, the problem is still there.

reddit_researcher81 karma

I agree with your point that ideal feminism doesn't discount the non-ideal form, but it seems to me that those who attack the non-ideal form often reject any benefits to feminism in general. Yes, some on Tumblr and on various college campus's project problematic versions of feminism, but by rejecting all of feminism because of this small population is unfair and problematic. It seems to me that spill-over from feminism doesn't require the discursive divisiveness found on reddit.

DirectAndToThePoint23 karma

Yes, some on Tumblr and on various college campus's project problematic versions of feminism, but by rejecting all of feminism because of this small population is unfair and problematic.

You use the phrase "problematic" a lot in this thread. Can you please define what you mean by it? You acknowledge that the feminism espoused on "various college campus's" is "problematic", then you say that rejecting feminism is "problematic". Is there a way to criticize and not define yourself as a feminist without being "problematic"? Or is rejecting feminism, as well as espousing the wrong kinds of feminism, inherently "problematic"?

reddit_researcher48 karma

By problematic I mean that it promotes public discourse that is not productive for encouraging effective (changing federal policy) or civil society (inclusive spaces for all voices to have a chance of being heard). You can define yourself outside of feminism, but while doing so you reject the inherent tenet that feminism promotes: equality for women. Whether people's actions affect your view of feminism as a whole, by rejecting the term feminist your reject the feminist movement. Fundamentally, regardless of if you agree with some people's use of the word feminism, or how some people act under the flag of feminism, if you do not define yourself in favor of gender equality, which is feminism, you are going to find yourself on the side of people who reject gender equality.

Think of it this way. Yes, some Muslims commit terrorist attacks. Can a Muslim still identify as a Muslim without agreeing with those tactics? Yes, the tactics by some of your fellow members of Islam are problematic, but the only way to address those issues is to identify them, and try and adjust their methods from their ideological framework.

DammitDoc21 karma

What do you intend to do with your PhD in internet browsing?

reddit_researcher18 karma

Hopefully publish some journal articles out of the research, and find a job teaching media studies full time at a university, or teaching media literacy at a secondary education level.

TigerlillyGastro20 karma

"Monthly Traffic Exceeded" - what made you decide on this as a title for your thesis?

reddit_researcher22 karma

The reddit hug of death influenced my decision.

CarlHenderson17 karma

You refer to the "GamerGate official Wikipedia page" in your dissertation. That seems to indicate a serious misunderstanding of how both Gamergate and Wikipedia work. When you wrote that did you intend to imply that the "Gamergate Controversy" article on Wikipedia somehow reflected the views of Gamergate?

reddit_researcher17 karma

I sometimes discussed the "Wikipedia" page about GG, but more often I referred to the their own official "Wiki" linked on /r/KIA's sidebar.

Drugonaut17 karma

As content from subreddits , like r/ImGoingToHellForThis and r/BlackPeopleTwitter , begun to fill the front page of the Internet, I seriously questioned my continued use of a site that has become known to many as a space for anti- intellectual hate mongering

I'm struggling to understand what is wrong with /BlackPeopleTwitter, since you don't mention it anywhere else other than the end (at least my ctrl-f didn't spot it), can you give me an explanation?

reddit_researcher40 karma

It seems to me, and I didn't delve into this deeply because I avoided talking about identity for the most part, that /r/BlackPeopleTwitter perpetuates stereotypes and employs spectacle for the enjoyment of the primarily white audience. There is an inherent problem for me when you have an entire subreddit devoted to laughing at, and with people of a specific race with who the majority of the audience has now empathetic connection.

jippiejee13 karma

You should have someone proofread it for you, there can't be typos in a dissertation. "vidoes" on one of the first pages...

pylori118 karma

there can't be typos in a dissertation

Yes, there can. I get your point but it is fairly common to have typos in dissertations, just because the piece is so long that even with friends proofreading it is perfectly possible and realistic to miss things. While a professional body of work that should be perfect, seeing mistakes does not really ruin it and much to the chagrin of the author does happen. You deal with it, principally by not reading it after you've bound it and handed it because you can't change anything anyway.

reddit_researcher49 karma

Too accurate

reddit_researcher74 karma

Ugh ... that's so annoying. I've had six different proofreaders. Can't catch everything I guess.

GamerGateFan19 karma


reddit_researcher21 karma

Well, we all know that collective intelligence is the best way to root out bugs in a system. Lets go for it.

harveyardman10 karma

You belong to a race of creatures that make typographical errors. Consider it evidence of your humanity.

reddit_researcher9 karma

I'm just surprised there are still so many after so many people have gone over it. To err is human

divB_is_zero-2 karma

Also, how is the text not justified?!? The lack of block paragraphs is killing me

reddit_researcher18 karma

I don't get a choice on the style. This was required by the publisher.

ZigguratOfUr13 karma

How do you define neoliberal discourse? Does the extremely high level of support for sanders modify your thesis? Why would it be bad for public discourse to reinforce neoliberalism (I confess I am a big fan of the Economist).

reddit_researcher43 karma

For me, neoliberal discourse fundamentally calls for the deregulation of identity and speech. Throughout my research I regularly saw redditors call for "free speech" and argue that identity politics shouldn't matter within an anonymous forum. Their argument, it would seem, is that the best form of discourse comes from anonymous actors who are free to say whatever they want, whenever they want. While this may seem like a way to access truth as people would not be restricted by heavy regulation, instead, we end up with just as much white noise and heavily problematic statements as any other forum. Regulations on speech and identity are inherent in how we talk and act, and no matter how anonymous we are and how free our speech is on reddit, we are still not accessing the entire market of ideas because people actively choose not to come here and ad there alternative voices into the mix because of the very anonymity and free speech enforced by the neoliberal discourse on the site.

I think the general support of Sanders across the site is interesting as he attempts to function outside the neoliberal paradigm. However, I think that in general his support heavily follows the support garnered by Ron Paul on the site several years ago. While many redditors actively support his causes, I think many hook onto the outside candidate because they support his appeal, not his policy. Further, I'm not sure how successful Sanders will be in proving himself to not be a neoliberal candidate. Obama proposed that he was against the neoliberal agenda, but clearly flipped to the middle once in office. I'm not saying Sanders will do the same, but I'm not sure he will be able to overcome the neoliberal system already in place.

DirectAndToThePoint4 karma

...no matter how anonymous we are and how free our speech is on reddit, we are still not accessing the entire market of ideas because people actively choose not to come here and ad there alternative voices into the mix because of the very anonymity and free speech enforced by the neoliberal discourse on the site.

What does 'the entire market of ideas' mean? Can you give an example of a web forum (or place in real life) that does contain 'the entire market of ideas'? If I'm understanding your argument correctly, it seems like you believe anonymity and free speech (ideas you call "neoliberal") are preventing reddit from having more diverse viewpoints on the whole. Can you give some suggestions on what you think would be a more effective alternative than the current system?

reddit_researcher22 karma

I'm not saying that any place online can provide a really effective place for political discourse. I'm not sure that is possible.

However, discourse on reddit often promotes the idea that if we removed regulation on speech and identity, we could find a place for perfected public discourse and where the best idea would rise to the top. This is the neoliberal fantasy of discourse on reddit: through deregulation we can achieve effective political discourse. However, this is not what actually happens.

As for a viable alternative, I suggest Voat. /s

frausting10 karma

Not OP; I had the same question. The rest of the abstract led me to believe that his stance is that Reddit acts as a progressive portal of discussion but there are forces that push it toward reinforcing the norm and underlying neoliberal forces.

reddit_researcher23 karma

This is true to some extent, but I would disagree that "there are forces that push it." Rather, redditors themselves push it towards reinforcing neoliberal forces by emphasizing free speech and anonymity as the primary morals of the community. Further, I really emphasize the fantasies of neoliberal found on the site, and how these fantasies are reinforced throughout the discourse.

jdgmental11 karma

How did your coordinator and reviewers react to the subject? Because it's an anonymous Internet forum, I mean. Years ago I did my BA thesis on blogs and while it was well received by the reviewers, when I presented it in a larger context people did dismiss the subject a bit because Internet. So I'm just wondering if the validity of the subject was questioned

reddit_researcher17 karma

It was questioned heavily at the beginning, but in my field (media studies), research on anonymous online forums is a burgeoning field. Fundamentally, I had to accept the anonymous nature of the forum and backed away from diving into the personal nature of the people behind the screen. By focusing on discourse, I worried more about what was directly displayed through the text rather than the motivations behind it.

bigtallguy11 karma

how you would go about correcting factual inaccuracies made in your dissertation now that the final version is out?

reddit_researcher12 karma

Any further journal articles based off this work will certainly address any issues that have come up during this AMA. Research is rarely ever finished, and given the constantly changing nature of reddit, I will make sure to fix and correct anything necessary in future versions.

agezuki10 karma

Highly interesting topic. I am contemplating about writing my master thesis about the nofap community. Right now I am writing two shorter papers on this subject, one using the perspective of a sociology of knowledge approach to discourse analysis (Keller) the other one utilising situational analysis (Clarke).

I will definitivly come back to you with some question as soon as I finished reading the dissertation. What I noticed, scrolling through your appendix is that only Rose is explicitly about analysing visual data. Can you summarize how you address the multi-modality of websites and how you deal with the question of agency regarding computers, websites etc.? Do you have an opinion on using the coding paradigm of grounded theory and the ideas of Clarke to analyze pictures in similar study?

reddit_researcher5 karma

Wow. I am struggling to answer this question but I will try.

I primarily focused on the discourse on websites, specifically with the text. I addressed some issues of the UI within the 6th chapter, but I primarily drew on the work of Jodi Dean and Michael Warner to asses discourse.

I am unfamiliar with the coding paradigm or Clarke, so I will abdicate on commenting on its use for analyzing images on reddit, but I do think a more thorough visual analysis of the images found on the site could be incredibly useful.

Saiyantai8 karma

Firstly, Congratulations on the PhD.

What would you say was the single most difficult part of putting the dissertation together?

reddit_researcher19 karma

Probably writing my chapter and GamerGate. It was very difficult to reflexively research on their "consumer revolt" in any sort of fashion as I highly disagreed with almost all of their politics. Thus, while I tried to maintain an objective viewpoint of their movement, I often had to stop myself from inserting my own political disagreements in the chapter. I think I succeeded to an extent.

KrustX8 karma

How does the NSFW subreddits fit in your dissertation? Also, what's your favorite NSFW subreddit?

reddit_researcher4 karma

NSFW subreddits are fundamental aspect to reddit, but also problematic. I addressed them primarily in my first findings chapter as a part of the larger cultural processes of reddit. Fundamentally, they function as a way for redditors to show themselves, and others to the community in a sexualized fashion. Talking specifically about /r/gonewild, many of these self exploitation subreddits give reddits a sense of identity within an anonymous website.

ihateslowdrivers6 karma

Why do you feel the need to include your middle initial?

reddit_researcher30 karma

A few years ago, I googled myself, and the first link was to a court proceedings of a Noah Springer who beat someone up with a baseball bat in Indiana. I've been trying to distance myself from that ever since.

FamilyGetTogether5 karma

Do you feel like there's a phenomena in which the people with the strongest opinions about topics on reddit usually have the least knowledge and/or experience in that field? If so, to what would you attribute that aside from just human nature? Demographics? The nature of the voting system?

I've observed that regardless of whether it's politics, science, national defense, sports, whatever: it's typically the least knowledgeable people on a subject seem to have their voices heard the most.

reddit_researcher9 karma

While I would never to to attribute a psychological opinion about those who have the strongest opinion on reddit (could prove useful for a different dissertation though), I will give an armchair reading of the phenomenon.

It seems to me that people with strong opinions about subjects, online or off, often refuse to acknowledge their own insecurities about their lack of knowledge. However, on an anonymous site, others don't see insecurity and only see facts. I think this relates to the voting system fundamentally. When someone asserts themselves, others attach to their assertions with criticism. I think also, the dominant trend of redditors to be young, white, and male often makes alternative voices less likely to be heard in such a large forum.

So I agree with you, but I am cautious about saying anything too definitive.

schotastic5 karma

Who is the target audience of your dissertation? Reddit admin? Redditors? Media studies scholars? Habermas scholars? Sociology of technology scholars?

And what are you trying to tell this audience?

I ask because your thesis sounds totally obvious to me. None of these ideas should come as any surprise to most Redditors. So I'm guessing your intended audience isn't reddit. Are you using your observations of reddit to problematize or challenge an entrenched idea in existing scholarship? If so, I'd be very curious to hear more about that.

reddit_researcher13 karma

Fundamentally my audiences are my committee and dissertation chair, but I hope this can be of interest and use to anybody interested in digital communities, public discourse, and neoliberal ideologies.

I am hoping that the audience outside of my committee will read through all of the dissertation and begin to understand how cultural practices, political economic forces. and technological affordances all prove pivotal for the construction of public discourse on a website. Further, I hope that this audience uses my work to rethink how they understand the political divides and that happen in the digital sphere, and to recognize how the public discourse on reddit actively reinforces fantasies about the potential of digital discourse.

My findings are more for problematizing the neoliberal/libertarian/cyber-utopian discourse that I think fundamentally skews many who conduct research online. I'm hoping that my critique of the neoliberal fantasies found in the final chapter will help future research avoid falling into the same discourse they are critiquing.

joerobo5 karma

I am curious as to your dislike of neoliberalism. You are an academic; would you say your opinions are shared by your academic peers? Have you ever expresses these views to a political theorist or classical historicist? After reading through your replies, you seem to have defined it in such as way that it can only be negative. Your definition however isn't one most would consider correct; or at the very least, so narrow as to enable one to ignore counter arguements.

reddit_researcher10 karma

Fundamentally, neoliberal policies posit themselves as positive. Through the expansion of global trade and deregulation of the marketplace, economic expansion will provide global answers to questions of poverty and the segregation of the first, second and third worlds.

However, the argument against neoliberalism is more nuanced, and more complex. Rather that fixing global poverty, globalized markets and deregulated financial sectors further impoverish and separate the world by enforcing capitalist (and often US) culture around the world. This is beneficial neither for those affected by such policies (marginalized communities), nor those supposedly benefitting without a doubt (the US). Rather, neoliberal financial and cultural policies further reinstate the structures of domination from whence they were derived and the wealthy get richer and the poor lose the localized relevance.

Thus, I would say more argue for neoliberalism while dismissing criticisms such as this as irrelevant.

Infavor-of-laser4 karma

First of all, congrats! I'm doing my PhD right now, a bit jealous over here ;).

Anyways, I'm a bit sceptic regarding Habermas, and the application of his theory. He has a very European way of dealing with discourses. Rationalism at the centre, and consensus being the main goal of any public negotiation (decisionism, pragmatism etc. providing alternatives here). How did you cope with this bias, especially because of reddit's global backdrop? What about new kinds of voicing/silencing reddit makes possible?

Unfortunately, your PhD's PDF cannot be accessed right now, so this one may be rather stupid, but: why do you use the neoliberalism-term to judge a public? Plus, what is a "traditional" neolib.?

Looking forward to reading the book. Good luck for your future work!

reddit_researcher6 karma

I think I have fixed the link problem about, but you can find a copy of the diss on my website too.

In terms of Habermas, I also find his work and his communicative theory of rationality a bit trouble, especially in regards to reddit. However, for my dissertation he mainly provides the backdrop for more contmeporary theorists of discourse that I draw upon heavily: primarily Michael Warner, Nick Couldry, and Jodi Dean. Dean specifically supplies the answer to how discourse can be neoliberal. Fundamentally, much of the discourse across reddit support deregulation of identity and speech. Much of discourse surrounding political issues focus on issues of anonymity and free speech, and while these concepts are often bastardized in the medium of an internet forum, commenters often call on both identity and speech to be deregulated online, which can prove problematic. In fact, these calls for deregulation often follow Habermas's belief that if we can remove roadblocks to rational discourse, we can find truth. However, within the reddit discourse I was exploring, not matter how few obstacles stood in the way of open market of discourse, problematic discourse still abounded.

In terms of traditional neoliberalism, I am speaking primarily of neoliberal global policy that has dominated the global political arena for the last two decades which reinforced deregulated markets. This differs from the neoliberal discourse we see across reddit because policy is not inherently a part of the discourse which often surrounds identity politics.

Does that answer most of your questions? Thanks for the insightful comment.

Boonaki3 karma

What are your opinions about the moderation of the different subreddits?

reddit_researcher13 karma

The moderation of different subjects became an important aspect of my dissertation. You can go from the heavily moderated subreddits like /r/AskHistorians, to the informally regulated like /r/WTF. I think that the level of moderation necessary for a valuable community is defined by what the subreddit wants, but once you get into the high number of subscribers, the more moderation is necessary (I think).

In regards to /u/cuteman's comment below, I would say that even the moderation in the "problematic" subreddits can be heavy. Heavy moderation does not inherently create a political effective community, but without it the community loses political effectiveness. Even /r/KotakuInAction has fairy heavy moderation despite their claims for free speech. Without regulation on content and comments, a subreddit would deteriorate into chaos, but with overbearing moderation the users may reject the leaders of the community and move on. Balance and clarity is key.

fatty_fatshits3 karma

The hatred of "feminists," "Marxists," and support of white power, anti-BLM is pretty big on reddit. Is your point; "shit's fucked, and it will probably continue to develop poorly against historically oppressed populations in new, violent ways." If that's anywhere close, any strategy to over-come this?

reddit_researcher2 karma

More like, shit's fucked, but if we continue to push through reflexive, critical engagement and research we might be able to find a way to affect important political actions to stop oppressing populations. Whether that will end up happening, I'm not sure: just hopeful.

NinjaNetizen2 karma

Its interesting to see another person use Internet anonymity as their field of study for a PhD.

The last person I saw who truly tried was Gabriella Coleman, a cultural anthropologist, who gave a lot more weight to the aspect of trolling. You seem to have completely discounted this, just from reading your replies here.

Do you truly believe that all users are genuine personalities, thus causing you to throw entire areas of discourse out as "problematic"?

reddit_researcher7 karma

I did discount trolling, because that implies that I would have some knowledge of the redditors desires behind making the comment. Thus, mostly, I took the text as given. Surely there were trolls, but I was interested less in the personal intentions of comments, and more how I interpreted the text itself.

TalkingBackAgain2 karma

Dr. Springer, sir, congratulations, what amazed you the most about this website?

Would you allow your students to Reddit?

Do you believe Reddit is an appropriate vector to find love?

reddit_researcher8 karma


I am most amazed at the capacity of redditors to achieve political change and philanthropic good, while still being incredibly racist and misogynistic at time. The good and bad of the Internet is all balled up into one site.

I would not allow my students to reddit in class, but I would not inherently discourage them from visiting the site. However, I would definitely caution them about the more concerning areas of the site.

I wouldn't recommend finding love on reddit because it's not really designed for personal interactions. Identity is left at the door, and if you don't really know the identity of the one you want to love, love will be hard to find. But if you can get it, good for you!

Tlide2 karma

Are you at all concerned about people tying your work into whatever weird conspiracy theory they might have going on, and potentially becoming a target yourself?

reddit_researcher3 karma

A little worried about becoming a target, but I believe my research is non-accusatory and that will help me from being targeted.

If they want to work my research into their conspiracy theories, they are free to do so. I'm not sure how much my findings will help, but I suppose it's possible.

Rodi_prime2 karma

How do you feel about the continued slander against fish pudding? Shit is delicious but the younger generations seem to believe it is gross.

reddit_researcher4 karma

I believe fish pudding is nothing without some tasty lobster sauce on the side!

Noumenology2 karma

I am at a similar program and doing somewhat related work. Digital utopianism is very alluring, but as you suggest in your abstract, even though things have the potential to be politicaly empowering, they tend to remediate dominant discourses.

what are your thoughts on the way forms of media and venues like reddit seem to "enclose" discourse and promote hegemony? do you have any thoughts on refusal/non-use? do you still believe in the instrumentalist ideals of utopians, or have you read and engaged with so called technological determinists and philosophy of technology that is less optimistic about such technics?

reddit_researcher3 karma

Where is your program?

I think the enclosure of discourse is a severe problem on reddit, because the affordances and discourses on the site promote a fantasy that it is entirely inclusive, when in fact it inherently bars people from entering. By upvoting and downvoting, redditors inherently promote the hegemonic idea to the top of the page, pushing alternative ideas down and marginalized voices out.

Refusal/non-use is very interesting but not of much use to this diss (I was only examining users). I would love to know more research about the subject as I haven't addressed it much.

I definitely do not believe in the ideals of the utopians and technological determinists who framed much of the technology to come during the 1960s-1990s. I follow a more qualified route than either the determinists or the utopians however. I generally see technology as an affordance (drawing on the work of J. J. Gibson) which provides possibilities, but primarily sets of a network of interaction into which man can enter. Thus, to return to the issue of non-use, ludites are simply people who do not enter into the relationships and networks afforded by technology.

To me, technology is a mode of perception within which people can either engage what is afforded by the technology, or refuse to enter the network. Thus, it offers potentials for both optimism and pessimism, but I will confess that after my dissertation I have been leaning further to pessimistic side.

philosophypam2 karma

To borrow a Habermasian term, so do you think that Reddit is draining the lifeworld? In what ways is this most pernicious, if so?

reddit_researcher5 karma

I think "draining the lifeworld" is a little dramatic, but I do think the promotion of fantasies about the deregulation of identity and speech is pernicious for the promotion of effective and productive political discourse. By encouraging the viewpoint that anonymity and the ability to say whatever you want, promotes a viewpoint that truth is unattached to identity or language.

beaverteeth921 karma

Approximately how many pictures of cats did you look at for your thesis?

reddit_researcher5 karma

All of the cats!

beaverteeth922 karma

So like more or less than 7 million?

reddit_researcher6 karma

Approximately, 6,281,854


I honestly don't know who you are or what your area of research is, but congrats on the PhD. Any words of advice or encouragement to a struggling grad student working on a thesis, but feeling a little overwhelmed and lost?

reddit_researcher3 karma

Keep fighting. You can get it done if you know what you are doing. Also, make sure you talk to your advisor and committee if you are feeling lost. They can most definitely help! Good luck!


Cool, much appreciated. Just read the abstract and I think it's great your able to leverage 'new' things such as reddit to provide some meaning, quantitative data about how humans interact and react to these things. You listen to Lil Dicky?

reddit_researcher2 karma

Not a huge Dicky fan, but he's alright. Digging that Pusha T album at the moment.

DuckMeHarder1 karma

My question has absolute no relation to what your discussing, but I cannot pass up this opportunity. I happen to share the same last name as you. How often do you get asked if your related to Jerry Springer?

reddit_researcher2 karma

Often. I used to tell people he was my uncle for kicks and giggles.

igargleem1 karma

As a PhD student also doing a virtual ethnography this is super interesting. I've gone through a lot of literature on the method and the one part that most academics fail to address in depth is the data analysis phase.

Could you just elaborate how you analyzed your data after collection? Other than looking for specific patterns and relating to existing literature.

reddit_researcher4 karma

I collected most of my data on a archival subreddit, /r/reddit_research and combed back through the data during my analysis phase. I did draw on existing literature to look for patterns, but I also found patterns that developed organically. I did not enter my dissertation intending to focus on GamerGate, but as I continued my research, the discourse across both /r/KotakuInAction and /r/GamerGhazi continued to proved fascinating and productive for my research.

Primarily, I relied on my archive, my personal interactions with redditors, and my field notes I took during research to draw out the themes used for analysis.