I am an associate professor in the College of Communication & Information Sciences at The University of Alabama, where I research the uses and effects of social media. For the past six years, I’ve been working with fellow faculty, independent researchers, graduate and undergraduate students to study the social dynamics of Reddit. We’ve published scholarly articles in Social Media + Society, Health Communication, and First Monday.

My new book out today(!), Understanding Reddit, considers the first 15 years of Reddit from several perspectives: through a historical lens, as a site where identity is forged, as a democracy, as a community, and as a news aggregator and distributor. I hope it will be useful to scholars, researchers, tech designers, mods, and anyone with an interest in Reddit and online communities. Looking forward to your questions!


Comments: 418 • Responses: 63  • Date: 

IronRT305 karma

Your thoughts on the fact that a handful of mods have control over the majority of the popular subreddits?

goshdurnit227 karma

To state the obvious, it's not ideal. I think a lot of Reddit's structure evolved in an ad-hoc way, and when Reddit was smaller, questions about concentration and arbitrarity of authority were less salient. Having said that, I think people will resent any attempt to limit their abilities to say what they want, so even if there were more mods who had term limits and were elected, I think most of the people who currently vocally resent them would still resent them.

One last thought: it's worth thinking about how much variance there is among subreddits in terms of how mods are appointed. And I know that you asked about popular subreddits, and to be honest, I don't know if they are all the same in that regard (r/AskScience is popular, but I assume it doesn't have the same mods as r/pics). But my point is that the variety of ways in which mods are appointed, limited, voted for, etc. suggests that change is possible, that a popular subreddit could adopt a new way of appointing mods. Does anyone have an ideal way that they'd like to see this done?

duckducklo11 karma

I think the ideal way is if there was an election process, with a minimum comment activity level to apply. At the beginning there is a registration process, where mods need to introduce themselves, what they'd like to see, and their comment/post history is bare for everyone to see. Then for a month after people can debate over who deserves it in a pinned post. Then users with x amount of post/comment activity in the sub can vote. Transparent & democratic.

goshdurnit19 karma

I like it! I think you'd have to weed out bots that commented a lot (in terms of minimum commenting activity).

I do think it would introduce a kind of politicking to the process, with moderators telling constituents what they want to hear, railing against the current mods, engaging in demagoguery and populist rhetoric to gain votes. Also, I'd assume that it would become corrupt, with people paying off other people (coordinating off-site) to vote a certain way. Not to say that it wouldn't be better, but that democracy, in practice, rarely fits our fantasy of it.

noshore4me296 karma

How many real users do you think there are vs bot accounts for advertisers and astroturfers?

goshdurnit224 karma

Great question, and to be honest, I don't have hard data, but I could venture a guess.

I don't know of any research that tries to estimate the % of bots on Reddit. There's research on the utility of bots and bots in certain contexts (e.g., political discussions, covid, etc.), but not a straight-up estimate that I'm aware of. This paper (Varol et al., 2017) from 2017 tries to estimate the % of bots on Twitter and puts it at 9-15%. I don't think there is any sort of mechanism for removing bots from Twitter for advertising or spamming, whereas many mods of subreddits at least try to ban such bots from their subreddits. Both platforms would have trouble detecting and removing astroturfers. But this figure of 9-15% accounts for ALL types of bots, not just spambots or astroturfers. On Twitter and Reddit, there are plenty of benign bots that provide useful info and that many users would like to see more of.

Also, after having waded through tens of thousands of comments from a wide variety of subreddits from the past decade, the vast majority of what I see appear to be people, not bots. So, my guess would be between 1% and 5% of all users, that they are highly concentrated in popular, loosely moderated subreddits.

tilman201564 karma

How about troll farms?

goshdurnit83 karma

Are these cases in which a group of individuals behave in a coordinated way (so, not bots)? I know they exist, but have no idea how common they are. Any resources you can point me to, or instances of them, would be appreciated.

But again, my sense is that people underappreciate how vast Reddit is. From what I can tell, most of it is just real people saying relatively mundane things. This isn't to dismiss the power of rare phenomenon like troll farms, but only to try to speak to the original question about prevalence.

tilman201541 karma

Troll farms are large organisations, often run by or at least sponsored by nation states.

They will use accounts in good standing that they either buy, steal or cultivate to spread propaganda or just to create division.

It's usually something associated with actions by second world nations targeting first world nations.

Next you'll be telling me that you don't mention CO detectors and poop knives!

goshdurnit20 karma

Appreciate the explanation. And I DO know what poop knives are, but I'm drawing a blank on CO detectors. Writing a book about Reddit and doing an AMA about it, I kinda knew that I'd get a lot of "how could you not know or write about X?!?!?!" What can I say - I was on a tight deadline and only know so much about this place, but am eager to learn more.

But with troll farms, it sounds like something that is more prevalent on Twitter. My sense is that Twitter is perceived by the general public as more important and influential than comments on Reddit. And so if my goal were to spread propaganda, I'd probably spend more time doing it on Twitter than on Reddit.

tilman201519 karma


With the troll farms, I would imagine it's not an either / or situation.

goshdurnit17 karma

Oh yeah! I think I remember hearing about the CO detector story second-hand.

najing_ftw225 karma

What was the best part of filming Rampart?

goshdurnit583 karma

Look, I'd really appreciate it if we could keep this discussion focused on my new book. That's what I'm hear to talk about. :)

mywifemademegetthis111 karma

What has Reddit specifically gotten right in comparison to other social media outlets, and what has it gotten wrong in comparison? Can be from any perspective—functionality, ethics, fun etc.

goshdurnit177 karma

I think the main thing it's gotten right is modularity. Allowing subreddits to have their own set of rules and their own moderators allows different 'cultures' with different sets of norms to develop over time. You'll never have one policy or set of mods or norms that fits all. Reddit allows interest groups to splinter and still stay within the platform. Twitter 'atomizes' its users - it doesn't really have hubs or destinations for particular interest groups to congregate. Yes, there are hashtags, but I don't think those have the relative permanence of subreddits.

In terms of what it's gotten wrong, I think the front/default page has kept it from having far more users, and a more diverse array of contributors. It's tough to keep a handful of people from spontaneously behaving badly (e.g. The Fappening, Boston Marathon bomber, etc.), but the admins control the design of the default/front page. Of course, it's a tough balancing act - you want to try to reflect the values and preferences of the die-hard users, but not turn off new entrants.

WonTonBurritoMeals99 karma

I've been on reddit for maybe 11 years and I've noticed an increase in angry replies, pedantic and needless arguing and a lot more hostility. Is there data to back this up? If yes, what do you think of the results?

goshdurnit64 karma

Short answer: not that I know of. The first thing to think about is what subreddits you're seeing this in. Given the increase in casual users over the past five years, I would predict that most comments would actually be shorter and less pedantic. In terms of hostility, yeah, I wouldn't be surprised if that has increased. More people with conflicting worldviews are joining Reddit, coming into contact with one another, so it's likely there will be more conflict. 11 years ago, Reddit was fairly small and homogeneous, so I would expect less conflict then. But again, I think this probably varies depending on the subreddits you're in.

WonTonBurritoMeals19 karma

Thanks for your response. Maybe my experience is anecdotal but it seems everywhere on reddit people like to correct other people and it's more judgement rather than advice. I've come to see reddit as the place where people argue. It didnt used to be that way. Maybe I'm a bitter old man.

goshdurnit10 karma

I'd encourage you to check out comments sections of subreddits you don't normally go to (like, say, r/CasualConversation). I don't know your interests, so I can't guarantee you'll find a place that is free of correction and judgment and is interesting to you, but I think there are spaces like that. They're just hard to find. And I assume this is something Reddit is working to correct - making those spaces easier for us to find.

efernst53 karma

How do I stop using reddit!?

goshdurnit70 karma

I have obviously have no idea! I'm here now!

But seriously, some of my prior research was on the relationships among self-control, mindfulness, and social media use. Individual differences in self-control predict 'overuse' of social media, but the tricky part for those who are low in self-control is that if you remove one temptation, another might fill it's place. So, if we got rid of social media or Reddit tomorrow, people who are low in self-control might turn to a worse vice. They may be using it as a way to escape something. I know I used more Reddit and other social media in a habitual manner when I was suffering from a chronic pain condition. As my pain was treated and got better, it was easier to be more mindful of my media use. So, it may be useful to ask what you are trying to escape from when engaging in overuse, and can that thing be addressed in some way?

But beyond that, I also use browser extensions that limit my use of Reddit per day and try to only use it on certain devices so that I only associate it with those devices. But I think anyone who uses internet-enabled tech is all in the same boat - we'll all have to develop relationships with media that suit our long-term selves, and it will be a constant struggle for many, just as many struggle with their relationship with food or alcohol.

efernst2 karma

So what you're saying is I should try heroin?

I jest of course. Thanks for the input, I think I'll try to have phone conversations with friends instead if I'm feeling the urge from now on!

goshdurnit3 karma

You jest about heroin, but have you heard of Carl Hart's research? This guy, as I understand it, makes the case that even heroin - the gold standard when we're talking about things that inherently addicting (except for maybe crack) - isn't addictive in the way that we think of it as being addictive. I may be oversimplifying his research, but I think the idea is that we imagine things like heroin and technology have these magical powers to enslave us when the context and desperation that most addicts feel going into the encounter with the experience is what results in negative outcomes. Anyway, it's a super-fascinating perspective, I think.

clouddevourer49 karma

Congratulations on your book!

Users often joke about there being a Reddit "hivemind", i definitely have often had experiences where I wanted to make a comment, only to discover someone has already said the exact same thing I wanted to say. I wonder, is it because Reddit tends to attract a certain type of person, or maybe it is the way we are influenced by Reddit that makes us have similar thoughts?

Alternatively, is it Reddit a giant mind control device supposed to make us into brainless zombies? Blink 3 times for yes.

goshdurnit57 karma

Excellent question! I'm increasingly skeptical of the effects of Reddit and other social media platforms to radically alter how we think or what we believe. It seems more likely that Reddit puts people who already believe the same thing in the same place.

But it's important to acknowledge that the world outside of Reddit, even the world outside of the internet, is not perfectly ideologically diverse, or diverse in any other respect. When I walk around my city, the city is built in such a way that I tend to see people who are like me. So, I feel like people often compare spaces like Reddit to an unrealistic ideal in which there are a wide variety of voiced opinions.

It's interesting that you note that you did not make the comment because someone had already said that (I've done the same thing, too! It often happens if I think of a joke and realize someone has already made the joke), because most times, there is fear that people do not express their thoughts because of how different they are from the prevailing opinion (see Spiral of Silence theory).

Scraphead9149 karma

How far into the 'dark' sides of Reddit have you ventured? Did you ever come across something that made you report it to authorities?

goshdurnit81 karma

Not far. I think other researchers and Reddit users have done a good job of pointing to some of the really dark stuff on here. I was more trying to understand the average side of Reddit. I'm sure some will find that stuff boring, but in order to understand the social dynamics of the whole place, I think you need to look at the average, boring stuff, too.

mildnarcissism2 karma

Awesome AMA! My question, did you define “average” in preparing your research and what interesting lit exists on this? Many thanks.

goshdurnit2 karma

Sorry it took me awhile to get to this. I wanted to get away from studying only the most popular or controversial subreddits, comments, posts, etc.

First, I sampled comments at random - designating a time period for a given subreddit and downloading, say, 1000 or 10,000 comments and then doing a topic analysis or just wading through them to get a sense of what people are talking about, how they're talking about it, etc. I also tried to look at subreddits of different sizes from different eras, looking at what was posted in those subreddits.

There's this article by McEwan that isn't about Reddit per se, but is about online groups in general, but I like the way she samples from subreddits. Essentially, the sample is stratified so that it draws from large, mid-size, and small subreddits. But those small subreddits aren't teeny tiny, because when you get to a certain size, they just aren't really 'active' (not much posting or commenting) and there's not much to analyze.

I also love Marc Smith's work on Usenet from back in the day. There are a lot of ways Reddit is similar to Usenet in terms of its dynamics.

NYC_L0veLight40 karma

Have you seen any specific trends on Reddit that you found personally fascinating?

goshdurnit131 karma

One thing that struck me was how few users post or comment, how dominated the discourse is by a relatively small proportion of users. Also, the votes that a post or comment gets in its first hour seem to be predictive of its subsequent score (a bandwagon or herding voting effect). Both of these 'trends' have shown me that what we think of as the voice of Reddit isn't really the voice of all of it's users. It's more like the voice of 1% or 2% of its users. So, it's like 98% of us are watching what 2% are doing and saying. That's not very different than other popular platforms like Twitter, Wikipedia, and YouTube, but it's just something that I was struck by in my research.

I also found the variety of subreddit rules to be fascinating. In the book, I bring up the example of r/IndiaSpeaks, but there are many others that I find fascinating. That's what I'm hoping to do next: analyze the impact that changes in rules had on subreddits over time.

bluntsemen14 karma

Also, the votes that a post or comment gets in its first hour seem to be predictive of its subsequent score (a bandwagon or herding voting effect).

Couldn’t this be part of the algorithm rather than indicative of bandwagoning?

goshdurnit24 karma

Probably. I'm trying to find the article in which researchers randomly assigned posts or comments a upvote or downvote and looked at the downstream effects, which might offer some way to de-couple the psychological effects of popularity from the 'hot' or 'rising' algorithm. The process is probably both psychological (herd behavior) and technical. There's also the problem of ranked lists ordering things in terms of votes, which is the only thing that makes Reddit useful and appealing, but results in this kind of bandwagoning.

OLSAU31 karma

How do you view the current censorship tornado ripping through Reddit, and most other major social websites?

goshdurnit50 karma

My sense is that it really is a function of growth: the larger that any platform or online community gets, the more likely it is to bring into contact people who don't share the same value system. And so you have one group of people who believe expression of a certain view is acceptable while another group believes it is unacceptable and censors that type of expression. In the past, online communities were relatively small and homogeneous. Sure, they had conflicts, but they didn't encompass groups of people with antithetical value systems, so it was easier to allow those smaller groups to exist without any censorship.

Platforms and online communities have grown so quickly that they've essentially put people who strongly disagree with one another in the same 'room' for the first time ever. Unsurprisingly, they often use words to try to hurt one another, and the moderators and designers must decide where to draw the line in terms of harassment, hate speech, etc.

'Free speech' is certainly something that most people believe is good (so good it may be worth dying and killing for), but I think we mostly thought of this from an era in which mass media was dominant, and censorship meant authorities trying to protect their own interests. But my sense is that the view of what 'free speech' is and how it is understood relative to other rights (the right to express your views without being harassed, etc.) may be changing among at least a sub-set of folks who grew up on the internet and, rather than only thinking of the perils of government censorship, also think about a friend who was bullied on the internet and committed suicide. Anecdotally, when I ask my students if they believe in 'free speech no matter what,' they tend to give pretty nuanced answers that show an awareness of how complicated the issue of online censorship really is.

GardinerAndrew31 karma

What do you think the long term effects of social media will be on our society? 50 years from now? 500 years from now? 1000 years from now?

goshdurnit51 karma

Fun question to think about!

My hope is that we're living through the awkward adolescence of social media, a 'wild west' where we haven't figured out how to use it. There's certainly precedent in most popular technologies - cars, motion pictures, telephones, electricity. What we used those technologies for in the first two decades were not predictive of what we used them for 50 or 100 years after they were invented. So, assume that will be true with social media.

I guess I imagine a more fragmented future in which platforms are the equivalent of countries. There won't be 1000 viable platforms, but there won't be 4 or 5. So, maybe 100 - 200 viable social media platforms of varying sizes that will be pretty homogeneous in terms of their beliefs and values. You'll spend most of your time in your home platform, but occasionally venture out to be a tourist on another platform. There will be some platform wars and an equivalent of a platform UN, so it's not as if this will be some kind of utopia. We're human, we'll still get into fights, but we'll be able to give each other a bit more space than we can right now.

martin18 karma

RemindMe! in a thousand years.

goshdurnit9 karma

Lol! On the one hand, I feel like un-falsifiable predictions make it easy to avoid accountability for not knowing what the hell you're talking about. On the other, they are fun to think about. But...a thousand years? Wouldn't 100 be interesting enough? Who the F knows what'll be around in a thousand years.

BillyBoy35719 karma

In your opinion is there a solution to 'echo chambers' that are present on reddit?

goshdurnit27 karma

That's a tough one. First off, a recent article in Nature suggests that Reddit nor particular subreddits cause echo chambers in the sense of converting people who are already not of a particular political belief system to become more extreme. The paper, like all papers, has limitations, but it's worth reading with an open mind and is, I think, methodologically and theoretically sound.

This finding is very counter-intuitive, but I think that Reddit mostly makes pre-existing political groups more visible, to themselves and to others. I think a lot of what we see on Reddit, Twitter, and other places online are just the surfacing of existing political groups that were not covered by the mainstream media and were not discussed interpersonally. Of course, the existence of these groups on Reddit may embolden fringe political groups that see they are less alone than they thought they were. That certainly seems plausible to me, even if there’s limited evidence of it.

So, what do we do about it? One possible solution is to provide them with a more diverse array of perspectives. Chris Bail’s brilliant work in his new book suggests that this will backfire – highly polarized people will only dig in their heals and/or interpret whatever information you give them in the way that they want.

Okay, that’s a non-answer. I know that a lot of us are working on this issue, that it seems WAY easy to solve than it really is, and that it’s (probably) less of a problem than people think it is (or at least that social media/Reddit’s responsibility for it is overstated). But any good-faith arguments for particular approaches and/or links to other empirical research would be appreciated!

PrincessBucketFeet9 karma

I do think this is a significant problem that exacerbates our tendencies to seek information that reinforces what we already believe.

Reddit's ability to reach so many people could be instrumental in getting people to consider "opposing" viewpoints, and perhaps even opening minds. But the echo chamber effect derails that.

I've often wondered if Reddit could identify "opposing" opinion-based subreddits. When a user subscribes to one, they could be automatically subscribed to its "opposite", with an explanation of why. For a period of time the user should not be allowed to comment in the "opposite" world, hopefully to prevent knee-jerk combativeness. But maybe over time, exposure to the other sub's content might help them at least understand the "other side" instead of simply dismissing it.

I've started doing that on my own and it is eye-opening! I see the exact same wording and concepts used to defend or ridicule both sides. It starts to become clearer that there are more things in common than originally presumed.

Edit to add: Will check out the Chris Bail book you mentioned, thanks! Assuming the "highly polarized people" are in the minority, is there hope for folks in the middle?

goshdurnit3 karma

Maybe there could be a subreddit that does this - automates the process of combining top posts from ideologically opposed subreddits. I've always been intrigued by changemyview - how it's successful, but it's delta-awarding approach hasn't been more widely adopted site-wide. I think there's a demand-side problem with this kind of both-sides content.

I think there is hope. A lot has to do with making the majority more visible, and I think that, given the...disrupted nature of political discourse nowadays, tech designers are open to novel ways of doing that.

Cloaked42m19 karma

What other exercises in futility do you enjoy?

goshdurnit24 karma

Lol! Well, the futility of trying to limit my Reddit use for one. I have installed browser extensions to prevent me from wasting too much time on Reddit. Of course, that caused a problem as I attempted to respond to these comments - I quickly ran out of my allotted time on Chrome and have now logged on to Reddit using...Microsoft Edge. The question is: now that I've stooped to this workaround, will I stoop to it when I'm desperately in need of another fix?

TransATL19 karma

What effects do you anticipate Reddit's IPO will have on the platform?

goshdurnit44 karma

Good question! I read one user predict that profanity would be expunged from the platform (to appease the investors?), which I found unlikely. As others have pointed out, Reddit has never been free from the potential influence of investors. I think the vast majority of its content and design will remain unaltered because of the lessons drawn from MySpace acquisition by NewsCorp and Digg's redesign. You don't want to make any sudden movements when there's little to prevent people from leaving and dramatically reducing the value of your platform.

ReachForTheSky_18 karma

Congratulations on your publication!

Are you aware of any political leaning on Reddit? Right-wing communities often accuse Reddit of having a left-wing 'consensus', I can't really say for myself as I don't often get into political discourse on here.

goshdurnit32 karma

Thank you!

I think that the majority of posters, commenters, and voters in spaces that discuss current events and politics (like r/politics) skew liberal. To what extent this is merely reflecting the fact that both younger people and people who post, comment, and vote on these subreddits tend to be more liberal, it's tough to day. But once a majority of a subreddit's voters start to push in one direction, it becomes hard to un-seat them, and so you typically end up with splinter subreddits that compensate for the biases of the original subreddit.

There is an excellent article published in Nature by Morales, Monti, and Starnini (2021) about politics and echo chambers on Reddit. Basically, they find that there is little evidence that Reddit or these particular subreddits cause people to comment or post more liberal or conservative sentiments. Rather, they skew the way they do because people who are already very liberal or very conservative enter those spaces and begin contributing or voting.

nakedraccooon16 karma

What's the scariest thing you found on Reddit, while researching for your book?

goshdurnit43 karma

Well, I didn't make it a point of seeking out particularly scary or horrible subreddits. I wanted to try to understand the more average side of Reddit and explain that. I feel like other researchers and users have done a pretty good job of bringing the scariest, most fucked up things on this site to the surface.

If you want to stretch the word 'scary' a bit, I found it scary how few users account for the discourse in particular subreddits. But I think Twitter is scarier in this regard, given how many journalists and members of the general public look at views expressed and endorsed on Twitter and use it as a proxy for public opinion.


Do you think Redditt is more an American (read: U.S,) site or an International site? Although there is certainly an undercurrent of Internationality ... it never really comes close to equal in politics, sports, entertainment, celebs etc.All seem much more USA!USA! focused ... am I wrong and if not wy is that ... i mean the EU+ Australia ~ the English speaking worlds in Asia must certainly be equal to or greater than te USA.

goshdurnit21 karma

One fascinating thing I found when looking at the very early history of Reddit was that among the first subreddits ever created were subreddits for different languages. But these didn't catch on, likely because too few people outside the US knew about Reddit at the time. But one challenge is the dependency of text on this site, which traps you in a particular language. It's possible to imagine that translation software will eventually make this irrelevant, and I seem to recall Reddit rolling out an early version of that, but it's nowhere near being a frictionless, perfect translation.

So, I think it's hard for any social platform to escape its initial history. If it was an American site to begin with, that informs its culture and then that becomes hard to change because it drives perception from outsiders as to what this place is. I'm a bit surprised there aren't more popular Reddit clones in other countries, and assume that if Reddit doesn't try to grow internationally (which I think they are), then this will happen.

frowawayduh13 karma

Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses?

goshdurnit15 karma

I'd go with 100 hundred duck-sized horses. Maybe I'm overestimating my kicking and flailing abilities, but I just think they'd be easier to deal with than that huge duck. Ducks can move pretty quickly, and it's just horrifying to consider something that size being angry at me. I think it would be pretty similar to having an encounter a bear, which I assume is really scary.

ChangingHats13 karma

What are your thoughts on purpose-abusers? The kind of people/bots that post content that is irrelevant or only tangentially related to the purpose of the sub?

goshdurnit16 karma

Good question! First off, I'd love to learn more about how common this is. As I was noting in another comment, I feel like a lot of what mods do is invisible. So, are purpose abusers occurring 1% of the time? 10%? 50%? It probably varies based on subreddit. If it's a low percentage, then I think ad-hoc management by mods is best.

But it raises a bigger question about purpose drift - if the majority of voters want to take a subreddit in a new direction, why should its creators, mods, or original userbase be able to override them? In situations like this, I think you get splinter subreddits, in which original users find their subreddit overrun by content that they see as irrelevant and create a new subreddit that harkens back to the original purpose of the old subreddit. But if you get too strict with how you define 'relevant,' I think content can become stale. That's a really underrated challenge of managing a subreddit - keeping it novel. People are always going to want novel content, and that's just hard to do without some flexibility in terms of relevance.

throwaway90161712 karma

I'm curious if you found "The Button" April Fool's joke a few years ago as fascinating as I did?

For anyone who doesn't know, that AF reddit posted a sub that had a countdown timer and button that could be pressed to restart the timer. It was not revealed what would happen when the timer reached zero.

What ensued was simply amazing. Spontaneous communities and factions sprung up dedicated to pressing vs not pressing. They created their own subs and plotted and shitposted to themselves and each other. "Neutral" factions sprung up. They developed their own lingo and culture and everything. The anti-pressers referred to the "Filthy Pressers" etc.

It went on for MONTHS.

To.me it was a beautiful microcosm example of humans self selecting into social groups and creating in groups and out groups.

I'm curious if you did any research on that particular episode in reddit history?

goshdurnit6 karma

I LOVE the April Fool's experiments. Thank you for reminding me about this one. I thought about writing about r/place, but others have done that quite eloquently. But that seemed the most fascinating one. I also liked the one (sequence, I think it was called) where we collectively edited a sequence of gifs into stories. But your post makes me want to re-visit the Button.

NinjaRadiographer7 karma

Where do you see Reddit headed in the future and what sort of users will we see compared to today?

goshdurnit11 karma

With the caveat that it's very hard to predict any large system involving lots of people over a long period of time...

I think Reddit will expand internationally and try to grow their non-English-speaking userbase, and that this addition of new users could affect the types of content that gets popular on Reddit. I also think there will be a continuation of the trend away from Reddit's original userbase of tech-savvy young men to include older folks (like me!) and more women. In short, a more diverse userbase.

In terms of the platform, and maybe this is just wishful thinking, 'all' and 'popular' will either be drastically changed or eliminated, so that when you go to Reddit and you aren't logged in, you'll see something different than what you see right now. Of course, there's been a long evolution of the default home page for non-logged-in users, and so it's bound to change again. It's a tricky thing - to reflect popular opinion in such a way that doesn't drive away potential new users. I get the sense that there are many non-users who might love Reddit, but when they see that default page, they think, 'this is NOT for me.'

PrincessBucketFeet7 karma


Are these concise & effective tools used to convey ideas or oversimplified detriments to nuanced discourse?

goshdurnit13 karma

PrincessBucketFeet4 karma


goshdurnit8 karma

But seriously, I like Jean Burgess's idea of vernacular creativity. Memes are a kind of ordinary, everyday creative practice. But it's a broad category - some of them feel like off-the-cuff speech and others feel like Art.

goshdurnit1 karma

But seriously, I like Jean Burgess's idea of vernacular creativity. Memes are a kind of ordinary, everyday creative practice. But it's a broad category - some of them feel like off-the-cuff speech and others feel like Art.

Tired82817 karma

Are you not concerned that, now that you have a book that claims to "understand" Reddit, that we'll all just change how we do things out of spite? It seems like the sort of thing we'd do.

goshdurnit9 karma

Yeah, that's a problem with studying all types of tech - you write a book about it and it changes before your book even comes out. I tried to couch it as a book about Reddit's first 15 years. It'll always be about that, no matter what happens to Reddit.

I was slightly afraid that the platform would go belly-up before my book came out, but even if that happened, my book might be of interest to find out what Reddit was. As I note in the book, it's really just a way to get people to think about the platform in new ways, not a definitive account of the platform as some unchanging abstraction.

sleepyentropy5 karma

Was all the reddit lore included somehow in your study?

goshdurnit9 karma

I didn't really delve into Reddit lore, but did use database search engines like this one to go back to the start of the platform and get a sense of what the site was like, or what certain subreddits were like, when they started, and to see how they evolved over time. My sense was that really famous events on Reddit (the Fappening, wallstreetbets, etc.) are pretty well covered elsewhere already.

isitmeyou-relooking44 karma

Will your book be available on audible? And if the answer is no will you let me read your book on audible I'll do it for $10 I swear to effin God.

goshdurnit8 karma

I hear ya! I frigging love auduble (just came back inside from raking leaves and listening to Louis Menand's The Free World...on audible), so I really hope it will be at some point. I assume it has to sell a lot of copies before Routledge cuts a deal with Amazon for that to happen. Will ask my publishers and let you know if there's any possibility.

Also, how do you keep your voice from blowing out after reading anything out loud for over two hours?

abaganoush4 karma

What are some of the most interesting / unusual / unexpected subreddits that you discovered in your research?

goshdurnit3 karma

I was surprised by the ratio of posters or commenters to subscribers in most subreddits (often 1/100). It's just hard to keep in mind that most of your fellow Reddit users are passively consuming content created by 1-2% of other users. We have a mental framework for communities in which most members interact with others, and a framework for passive mass audiences, but Reddit (and other platforms like Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Insta, etc.) are somewhere in the middle. Also, commenters tend not to stick around. There's a lot of commenting once or twice in a subreddit and then never commenting again - more of a revolving door than I'd expected.

But I guess that's more relating to behavior and not subreddits. I can't remember how I stumbled across IndiaSpeaks, but I was surprised by their mod and rule structure. I was also surprised by how many subreddits with apparently appealing topics failed. r/Animals and r/cute never really took off the way r/aww did. And there are just SO many of those failed subreddits.

It's a bit surprising (in a pleasant way) that subreddits with pretty specific topics manage to be sustainable (e.g., r/FreezingFuckingCold).

chiapet003 karma

One subreddit that fascinates me is r/AITA. What do you think is the psychological impact of getting put in your place, sometimes by tens or thousands of users? Positive thing, negative thing?

goshdurnit2 karma

Anecdotally, I've found that this subreddit has an appeal to a wider variety of users than most of the rest of Reddit. It's more like an advice column, which have had broad appeal for a long time. I think people are just curious about other people's private dilemmas, and the more people that contribute, the wider variety of the human experience you get.

But about the effects, I'd guess that it would depend on how serious the issue of the post is. Some of the posts are about pretty silly, frivolous, low-stakes things, and so I wouldn't imagine there would be much of an effect there. But if the topic is more serious, I'd guess the effect would be negative. If the person was judged by many strangers to be an asshole, that can't feel good, and while I'm sure some people might reflect after an initial knee-jerk reaction to getting put in their place and changed in some positive way, I think a lot of people would just dwell on being thought of as an asshole by a lot of strangers.

And if they were judged not to be an asshole, I feel like that would give them this sense of righteousness that might feel good, but wouldn't improve the conflict they're having with a loved one, would make them less amenable to compromise, etc. But honestly, I feel like it's a great question and I want to think more about how I'd actually test these assumptions. Do you have any thoughts about the effects?

Aquason3 karma

Did you ever check meta subreddits like /r/TheoryOfReddit for some of the ways people have thought about the experience of the site?

goshdurnit3 karma

LOVE r/TheoryOfReddit! I met a fellow researcher and collaborator there and have found that to be a great place for discussions of this kind.

a-girl-and-her-cats3 karma

Hi there, congratulations on your book! I would like to ask: how long have you been on Reddit? What do you think separates Reddit from other social media sites?

goshdurnit6 karma

About 11 years now. I was on Digg before, and like so many others, the redesign was what pushed me to spend more time here, and gradually, I found more that appealed to me on Reddit.

I think the big thing is Reddit's modularity - the subreddit structure. Having all of these different communities that can evolve in their own ways, developing different rules, norms, and cultures, is fairly unique, and probably allows it to sustain conflict and disruption in a way that other social media platforms cannot.

iDeadi3 karma

One book, one movie and one album. Of each of these, what do you recommend?

goshdurnit13 karma

Book: Breaking the Social Media Prism by Chris Bail. Fantastic, open-minded, thorough account of the effects of social media on politics.

Movie: The Master. It's a movie I didn't love the first time I saw it (maybe my expectations were too high?), but I keep returning to. The performances, the cinematography, the premise, the setting...I just love all of it.

Album: I mean, this really depends on personal preference and mood, but I'll go with the most recent Godspeed You! Black Emperor album. I didn't really care for their last two albums, and there music can be pretty damn abrasive, but something about a couple of tracks on this most recent one put their hooks in me. Also, Godspeed is a pretty good soundtrack for a pandemic and political turmoil.

Aarroonnn3 karma

Where do you put reddit, in terms of media consumption and privacy in relation with other popular apps ?

goshdurnit4 karma

There's thisarticle by Patrick O'Sullivan and Caleb Carrthat does a fantastic job of developing a way to locate any platform or app on these vectors (if you can't get to the article, maybe you can see some of the charts in it here?). I would put Reddit in the same ballpark of Twitter - they are masspersonal platforms. One point they make is that you can't locate a single platform in one particular place on those vectors, but need to think about how it's being used. Like, a DM on Reddit or Twitter is fundamentally different than just posting something on those platforms.

And i think it varies with subreddits to a degree. When I posted a comment on r/TheoryOfReddit, I think of it as speaking to a small room. But this subreddit is more like a free-for-all. I feel like I have less privacy, and am maybe more guarded. Sure, anyone can click on my username and see all of my comments, but that takes a bit of trouble. They could've also reverse-engineered who I was before I outed myself in this post, and I planned for that as I decided what to post and comment (even 10 years ago, I was kinda thinking that i didn't want to post anything I'd regret others seeing). But again, it would have been more trouble to do that than identifying me on Facebook.

But if you want a longer answer - and I HATE saying this, but it's TRUE - read my book! I do write about privacy and identity in there.

wrineha23 karma

How do you manage your research? Do you use Obsidian or Roam?

goshdurnit2 karma

Neither. Could you say a bit more about what you mean by 'manage?' Also, I'd be interested to know your thoughts and preferences about those tools.

wrineha23 karma

In full disclosure, I formerly studied communication at UIC before starting another graduate program in economics. So my work is eclectic, spanning rhetoric to econometrics. This next year especially I want to increase my output and do better work in all of these spaces.

Because I take copious notes, I have been looking for a way to manage my notes and make them all more useful. And because I use Zotero as a bib manager, I need something that integrates. Obsidian is something I'm currently using to manage my notes and ideas, but I am open to others, and thought I would ask some profs and others in the space.

I am in the earliest of stages and I don't know that I have much to say one way or another about it being an effective knowledge management tool.

EDIT: Also, do you have any recommendations of papers or books I should read about the political effects of Tumblr? I'm writing a long essay on it and I'm trying to see if I am missing anything.

goshdurnit3 karma

Cool, thanks for the clarification, and your work sounds interesting!

I am NOT the person to ask about bib managers! Embarrassingly, I don't really use anything. I copy and paste citations from Google Scholar and go back and correct the mistakes. I've gotten by with this, but my colleagues and wife make fun of me for not using something more formal.

In terms of stuff to read on political effects of Tumblr, read Chris Bail's 'Breaking the Social Media Prism' and this article in Nature. Neither is about Tumblr, but I think the lessons could be applied. Both suggest that we have an overblown sense of how influential social media is on our political views. Really, social media bring pre-existing political groups that were under the surface to the surface. So, a lot of the feeling that we have about social media changing people's politics is just it making certain views that were not visible before highly visible.

jdith1233 karma

Reddit has made national headlines with some frequency this year. Do you think that will change anything?

goshdurnit3 karma

I think it may attract more curious potential users. First, you have to think about who those headlines reach and whether what they say might attract a certain type of user. So, it's likely that all those headlines about wallstreetbets reached a lot of folks who are older and so might not have known much about Reddit, but are interested in finance, and so they check out those subreddits, and maybe browse other subreddits, and suddenly you have many more users with a new set of interests and experiences that are drawn into the Reddit ecosystem, affecting what the rest of us see with their voting behavior. It's impossible to predict what the next headline-grabbing event will be, but I would expect to see something similar - the drawing-on of new interest groups.

callyo132 karma

How does a person become a researcher like this?

goshdurnit7 karma

Short answer: grad school. I got my MA in Media Studies from University of Texas and a PhD in Communication Studies from Michigan. But programs in information science would also be good, or sociology, psychology, political science. We're all studying behavior on the internet these days.

I started out as a film scholar, but in 2006, I taught a class as an adjunct on the history of new media. Also, YouTube, Facebook, and smartphones were just taking off, and I was just super curious about what kind of impact these things would have on individuals and society. So, I switched research interests, but still teach some intro-level film courses and love movies.

If you're a curious person who has enjoyed school and are okay with a decade of scraping by on a grad student stipend and can write and think at least as well as the top 5 people in your class, then this may be the career for you!

KevinKaasKat2 karma

What do you think about the amount of porn subreddits on here?

goshdurnit2 karma

It's unsurprising given the history of media technology - porn and ads tend to accumulate unless you erect some barriers to eliminate or sequester it. In Reddit's case, one of the first ways of designating content had to do with porn (NSFW), and then subreddits effectively sequester most of it. Reddit's modularity allows porn to be sequestered in a way that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram don't.

death_of_gnats2 karma

Did reddit allow you do any analysis of their accumulated statistics?

r/badwomensanatomy has become a hub for attacking the myths around women's bodies and genitalia. r/askhistorians is similar. Is this sort of positive effect notable on reddit over other platforms?

Also, how can I find out if you discussed MyFavoriteSubreddit™

goshdurnit5 karma

I haven't worked with Reddit to get their data, but Jason Baumgartner (aka pushshift) has made some amazing tools for analyzing Reddit posts and comments over the years, so I've mostly relied on those.

I don't discuss many subreddits in-depth in the book. A few of them include IndiaSpeaks, BlackPeopleTwitter, arcadegames, CFB. Really, the book is about Reddit in the aggregate, and there are a lot of case study scholarly articles that delve into particular subreddits (we did one earlier on TwoXChromosomes). But I do have a list of subreddits that are mentioned (usually brief mentions as examples of something) in the index.

Fix_It_Felix_Jr2 karma

What are your thoughts on Reddit, one of the last holdouts, finally going public? Do you anticipate subreddits, such as r/wallstreetbets or r/Superstonk to be removed?

goshdurnit2 karma

My guess is that Reddit and anyone investing in Reddit wouldn't want to change it radically for fear of scaring off fickle users. MySpace and Digg loom large as cautionary tales.

dglp2 karma

Did my question disappear? Trying to rewrite and repost it now.

Good timing! Just today I was wondering whether there's analysis of content, discourse analysis for example, on the aggregate of Reddit topics. Or if there's any way of analysing the tone of discussion longitudinally, to see if qualities like neuroticism can be tracked.

Have you tried to do anything like a Myers-Briggs on the corpus?

goshdurnit2 karma

Awesome questions! I've seen longitudinal analyses of topics within certain subreddits. Our team looked at this in TwoXChromosomes and in covid19. Not sure if anyone's looked at it across the whole site. It's probably more useful to look at the evolution of subreddits across the site rather than topics, as subreddits roughly correlate to topic. Randy Olson has done some great stuff, and I think there's someone at UIC (blanking on his name right now, but he worked with Brian Keegan who's at UC Boulder) who looks at this.

Do you have any particular interest in this type of research? Are you looking to get into it?

runefar2 karma

I want to thank you for doing this even if it turns out i might disagree with any particular viewpoints on its history expressed in the book partly because I hope more and more stuff like this will get more researchers to look past just the top 3 when it comes to social media:usually facebook,twitter and instagram(sometimes replaced with snapchat or tiktok) and look more into communities like reddit and discord that are increasingly popular and perhaps reflect on the different styles of communties and use cases these guys commonily have and expand understanding of what the current social media marketplace is for many users.

In connection with that, do you plan to do any studies on other platforms beyond reddit after this one?

goshdurnit3 karma

Couldn't agree more. That was one of the original motivations for the book, and certainly the way I pitched it to my publisher. There are a TON of books and articles about Twitter and Facebook. Reddit is somewhat similar to Twitter in terms of user count, amount of time spent on site, but there is WAY less research. If we want to understand media use, we need more research on Reddit.

In terms of other platforms, I'd go with Discord. I think there's very little research on that, and it's more and more popular. If I had to branch out, I'd go with that one. Do you have any theories or ideas about it?

Diabetesh2 karma

Where do you rank reddit on the heirarchy of social media chart? In college, circa 2012, I had a comm class that allowed the use of reddit for our group as a social media platform though was hesitant as it wasn't really recognized like facebook/twitter were. Since then I feel it has become more common place though not sure if it is twitter huge or not.

goshdurnit2 karma

Yeah, you get a lot of pushback even calling it 'social media.' That term comes with a lot of baggage and generally many people (at least those who are vocal online) hate social media, so if they like or at least tolerate Reddit, they tend not to see it as social media. But it's clearly media and people are clearly social on it. Maybe the category is too broad to be meaningful.

I like O'Sullivan and Carr's idea of masspersonal media use - when you post something on a platform for anyone or everyone to read, watch, or listen to. You can do that with Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, TikTok, Instagram, but any of these platforms can be used for smaller-group communication as well. But I think that most uses of Reddit fall into that masspersonal frame, and so this use has a lot in common (in terms of its promise and peril) with Twitter.

Reddit was initially referred to as a social news site, but from the start, that wasn't very accurate, as people discussed and showcased things that plainly weren't news. And since 2012, it's certainly become more widely recognized, but I still find that many people have only heard of it, and don't really know it as well as they know Twitter, even if they don't use Twitter.

PrincessBucketFeet2 karma

Did your research explore the impact that different user interfaces have on the Reddit "experience"?

When I first joined, there was no "official" Reddit app. I chose from one of several independently developed apps, which I continue to use despite the launch of Reddit's version. I also loathe Reddit's redesign and use old.reddit on desktop.

I understand the move was to be more appealing to new users & increase revenue, but Reddit's uniqueness was the main reason I continued using it. I appreciated that Reddit did not seem so similar to the other social media platforms.

The redesign incorporates so many of the "features" that make other platforms abhorrent to me- endless scrolling, instant chat, user profiles, "followers", huge tiles/visuals/graphics instead of emphasizing written text/titles, assorted award nonsense and other gamification. Ugh.

I am quite curious if one's preferred Reddit "style" correlates with any particular demographics or beliefs or activities on the site.

goshdurnit2 karma

I had this bookmarked as something to write about (and might do it in a later project), but abandoned it after I realized that I had no way of accounting for what platform people used when they posted or commented. You could look at the introduction of the mobile version and compare posts and comments before and after that shift, but there are confounds (it might have been some shift in culture generally that accounted for a change in discourse).

But I agree with your hunch that interface changes a lot of how you use the site. I think there's a lot of tinkering around the edges, but the major shift was to mobile. Maybe it makes you more likely to passive browse? Anyway, it's certainly something I'd like to look into, but I feel like I'll probably need access to back-end data to make those kinds of comparisons (which, u/spez willing, I'll have one day).

ArcadianGh0st2 karma

Are there any subreddits in particular you talk about?

goshdurnit3 karma

A few, briefly, but it's really about Reddit in the aggregate. I use IndiaSpeaks as an example in the chapter on democracy, and BlackPeopleTwitter on the chapter on identity. Also, r/arcadegames - I think you need to look at tiny subreddits that "failed" in order to understand Reddit, not just the large, successful ones. There's a longer list of all subreddits discussed in the index of the book, but again, I tend to only mention them briefly as examples of larger trends.

samanthasgramma2 karma

My kids turned me onto Reddit. My son has been on it from the beginning, and preferred the first years because it held far more unique content, with smaller communities, in which users grew to know each other fairly well. As well as you can "know" a username. I, also belonged to a sub which suddenly grew huge, and preferred it smaller for the same reasons. Did you find the same pattern in your research? That smaller groups, with a greater feeling of intimacy, were favoured?

goshdurnit3 karma

That was one of the questions that informed the whole book: how does growth affect the character of a community? In the chapter on community and the last chapter, I draw parallels to urban growth and fears about gentrification and displacement. But the difference with most subreddits is that they have a very small core of loyal users, and most commenters drift in and out of subreddits, which suggests low investment in their shifting character. Obviously, there are exceptions, and you might be one. One downside to small subreddits is that they have trouble maintaining a flow of novel content. It depends on the sub and the topic, but for some, more contributors results in more novel content, which is ultimately what makes them worth returning to. Too few contributors and the discourse can become stale. But again, it depends on the sub.

AsassinX2 karma

How do you think the company going public will affect Reddit as a social media platform moving forward?

goshdurnit2 karma

Good question, and I'm eager to find out. I think anyone with a financial stake in the company would be reluctant to make drastic changes. After the ways in which News Corp mucked around with MySpace and after Digg's redesign caused a mass exodus of users, investors don't want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Of course, this isn't necessarily good for the platform. Just leaving everything 'as is' can result in many growing pains as a system designed for half a million users tries to deal with problems relating to having a billion users.

RunDNA1 karma

Why do you think moderators get so much hate, even though the website could not really function properly without their unpaid work?

goshdurnit26 karma

Part of it has to do with the invisibility of mod labor. If there were some kind of real-time infographic that showed how many removed posts or comments were irrelevant, or spam, or comments/posts that, regardless of one's politics, did not add to the discussion, then perhaps the strong ill-will toward mods wouldn't quite be as strong. When thinking of mods, people tend to call to mind a handful of incidents of mod over-reach and not think of the rest of their work, or not consider the counter-factual: what a platform would be like without mods.

But beyond that, there's just a general antipathy toward authority. Part of that is cultural, and the cultures from which Reddit draws most users are likely to bristle at being told what to do and what they can or can't say. Part of it is human: people don't like being told what to do or say. I think that's really at the heart of it - that emotion. Those who hate mods might also note the arbitrary nature of their appointment to mod status, but my hunch is that even if the method of appointing mods was transparent, consistent, and more egalitarian, there would still be quite a bit of antipathy toward them because, again, people don't like to be told what to do or say.

It's also worth noting that when we say that they get 'so much hate,' this hate is coming from a very, very small proportion of Reddit's tens of millions of users. Yes, posts and comments that say 'mods suck' get a lot of upvotes, but in that context 'a lot' is something like a few thousands, which is a fraction of a percent of Reddit's total userbase. So, maybe the vast majority of Reddit users are indifferent toward mods, but it's just impossible to see that indifference.

CanORage5 karma

What an insightful and incredibly well-written post, all off-the-cuff and without even an edit. What are the resources you most recommend and most credit for your writing style?

Unrelated, 2nd question: I do most of my book consumption via audiobooks these days. Have you thought of having a narration performed (or doing it yourself), and posting it to audiobook platforms?

goshdurnit6 karma

Aww shucks (assuming your praise wasn't sarcastic). Thanks!

I think the best way to get better at writing - the only way that I know of - is to write a lot and read the types of books you hope to write like. 25 years ago, I had a professor who got us to keep a daily writing journal. He didn't care what we wrote, he just wanted us to write. I haven't kept of the practice of daily writing, but I do continue to write for pleasure every few days, and have done that for 25 years. I just think it's a matter of getting the reps in.

I would LOVE for there to be an audiobook version of this book. I'm an audiobook fiend (listening to Menand's The Free World and Russo's Everybody's Fool right now). I'll ask my publisher about this. My guess is that it'll need to sell quite a few copies for them to pursue this, but I'll look into it.

Impossible-Routine761 karma

What is your preference - old reddit or new reddit? Personally I use RES and old reddit.

goshdurnit2 karma

I use RES, and was all about old reddit for awhile, but at some point, I switched over to new reddit, and have to agree with what many designers point out - once you spend a certain amount of time using some new design, you forget that it's even there, or that you ever used anything different. Recently, I linked back to something that took me to old reddit, and barely recognized it. So, I think I was resistant to it in the way that I'm resistant to all change, and then got used to it.