In the video, Witherspoon walks us through what he calls “the point of the site”: karma. Karma is the name given to the system of upvotes and downvotes a post, link, or comment receives from other redditers. It’s a simple incentivizer and is kept as a tally on the user’s account page to encourage interaction. In the social media world, we call this “fun”; In marketing, we call it “gamification“.
Randall is exceptionally proud of his alleged 10,000 karma points in a year. “You could say I’m the 1%,” he laughs to himself.
Upvoting and Downvoting:
Randall claims upvoting is no random charity. “I take upvotes VERY, very seriously,” he says. “Because this is practically money. I’m GIVING status to people.”
In order to warrant an upvote from him, a comment must flatter his worldview. “You have to say something I agree with. It has to be something only a college-educated male white liberal atheist would say. Everything else, I’m just downvoting it. I don’t have time for it…I’m a redditor: I upvote stuff I like and I downvote everything else.”
Lovink would criticize reddit’s use of gamification because it arguably distorts civil online debate in the name of ‘fueling the flame wars’ and endorsing personal attacks or mudslinging. Once it becomes a contest to see who can gather the most support for their opinion or insult or argument, Lovink would say all productive discourse is lost and the conversation is tossed to the abyss of mindless Internet feuding. In this regard, is reddit a prime example of the YouTube-esque comment culture/immature forum sites that most Internet users are sick of having to mine through for real content and user analysis? Is it unique in that its community is largely cognizant of this but doesn’t stop doing it?
Randall admits to scrubbing his post history if he starts getting downvotes in order to protect his karma. We see he has already hatched up a plan for me (the documentarian) to film his IRL meetup with catsrule24 in order to cherry pick karma points back on the site (because r/atheism will upvote anything about an atheist yelling at a Christian).
Even at the end, when Randall is icing his head and about to upvote catsrules’ comment after he met her and became attracted to her, he ultimately downvotes it to keep consistent with his learned habits on the site. Hard to teach an old, stubborn dog new Internet tricks.