Strategic Politics? Reddit and the 2012 Elections

When Nation Hahn spoke to the class, he said to expect much more individualized political advertising this coming election cycle. He said ordinary citizens–unaffiliated with the campaigns–will be messaging about candidates, issues, and voting.

Reddit is a prime example of this already. It already has it’s own subreddit for the 2012 Elections, where users stump for candidates (Obama and Ron Paul, of course), debate the validity of others (Huntsman, Gingrinch, Cain, Romney, etc.), and comment on the latest breaking news from the campaign trail.

This highlights reddit as a strong avenue for community political endorsements and online political engagement, as redditers tend to be well-educated, politically savvy, and ahead of the curve when it comes to Web news and Washington developments.


Is this what Nation was talking about? How would it compare to his vision of personalized campaigning?

How likely is reddit to affect voters outside of its own community?

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To Troll or Not to Troll: Reddit and Cyber-Bullying

When Daren Brabham came to talk to our class, he warned against the potentially life-damaging, or even life-ending, consequences of cyber-bullying. In looking at the It Gets Better campaign and its subsequent parodies–many of which came from reddit–we saw just how far-reaching the issue is.

Reddit is again a double-edged sword when it comes to cyber-bullying and trolls. As with any anonymous forum site of its nature, there are myriads of trolls in each subreddit, each day.

BUT, what’s interesting about reddit–and what speaks to their heightened level of self-awareness, is their recognition of such and their initiatives to cut down or eliminate them.

They publish what they call a “field guide” on trolls, where users can post other users who they feel are trolling or cyber-bullying and accompany it with evidence as to such:

This helps the site’s more socially-conscious users ignore who is just there to cause trouble. More on this in the TOR post with its ties to Jessi Slaughter, backtracing, and the “Cyber Police”.


In the video, Randall Witherspoon confronts catsrules24, the creationist. Catsrules24 is an example of a “Poe”:

“A person who writes a parody of a Fundamentalist that is mistaken for the real thing. Due to Poe’s Law, it is almost impossible to tell if a person is a Poe unless they admit to it.” ~Urban Dictionary

Poe’s Law:
Similar to Murphy’s Law, Poe’s Law concerns internet debates, particularly regarding religion or politics.
“Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.”

How do levels of irony factor into trolling on reddit? How can we ever be fully sure if someone is kidding or not?

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Metareddit: Barabasi’s Bursts and Collective Social Patterns

How do redditors exhibit Barabasi’s “burst” behavior? How predictable are their actions and how much does groupthink play in the site’s output?

From redditer ‘cheefjustice’, in his post “Patterns, Trends, and Connections within Reddit” on ‘Metareddit’, June 24, 2008:

Reddit is a system. Collectively, the ideas and judgments of redditors add up to something. There’s an intelligence that exists at the system level in which each of us partakes, and to which all of us contribute (yes, even you, trolls), but which none of us entirely controls or can predict.”

So while a distinguishable level of organizational behavior exists, this user agrees with me that it is difficult to assert that one can accurately predict the decisions the collective beast will make.

“If each link or comment on reddit is a neuron, then the act of navigating from one node to another to another is like a thought propagating through a neural network. And all of the thoughts, taken together, represent reddit’s EEG.

Patterns ‘cheefjustice’ observes in reddit personality:
-interested in science, programming, and engineering
-anti-fundamentalism (with an atheist streak)
-Obama-leaning with more than an interest in Ron Paul
-disillusioned with early 21st century politics (Bush)
-torn between optimism and pessimism about the future

Randall’s Conformity Factor:
In the video, Randall succumbs to the social culture of reddit and redefines his own personality based on the values he is exposed to on the site. In order to get to the front page, he say: “You’ve gotta submit stuff people like [to get to front page/gather karma points]”: Ron Paul, bacon, Radiohead, etc.

85% of reddit users are college-educated white liberal male atheists. A definitively homogeneous sample population, the site is not exactly the bastion of diversity Randall thinks it is.
–> Although, ironically, being an academic progressive, he and other redditors are the type of people who are very sensitive to diversity and democratic cultural inclusion. How does this tie into the image of the site and the community? Do women and minorities feel welcome on reddit? Do redditors sense their own biases?

“I didn’t even know what self-esteem was before I got this website…and now I’m so popular.” ~Randall “baconronpaul” Witherspoon

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Reddit as an example of Wellman’s Socially Productive Network

Barry Wellman’s “Triple Revolution” consists of three prongs from social networks he sees advancing societal interaction:

  1. Going from groups –> networks
    1. Groups need proximity, which is both fostered and hampered by transportation historically –> Now with online communities, transportation concerns are obsolete
    2. Groups need frequent communication (both mass and individual)
      –> The reddit community is worldwide, thus users are posting 24/7.
      –> Sub-reddits and community reddits (Chapel Hill, etc.) allow for more individualized interaction
  1. The more differentiation –> the more personalized the communication
    A. “Glocalization” – you can be global and local simultaneously
    –> Achieved through sub-reddits, community reddits, reddit meetups (real life)
  • The personal mobile always-accessibility of information and communication (ubiquitous)
  1. Always have your cell phone on you or within hands reach when you sleep
    –> reddit apps for mobile phones (Android, iPhone)
    –> apps for reddit-born creations like Rage Comics (FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUU), Advice Animals, etc.
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Reddiquette, Rules and Millenials (danah boyd)

The first time we were introduced to danah boyd, we discussed how Millenials play by a certain self-made set of rules when it comes to social networks and online loyalty. Our Venn diagram began with two overlapping circles: technology and social culture. Technology is created for a reason–to better serve society–but then society and its many cultures reformulate around it. The two are interdependent.

Then, throw in a third circle for rules, once authorities (in whatever sense that may mean) set them onto the technology. In reddit’s case, the rules are more or less set by the community and often come to be verbalized, vetted, and communicated after a problem or necessity is observed.

Reddit has put together an extensive list of rules (both do’s and don’t’s), based on feedback from users and forum experience. Dubbed ‘reddiquette‘, it classifies itself as “an informal expression of reddit’s community values as written by the community itself. Please abide by it the best you can.” The don’t’s are about twice as long as the do’s:

Among them,
DO: keep submission titles factual and opinion-free; moderate based on quality, not opinion; search for duplicates before posting; state reason for editing posts with an asterisk

DON’T: post anyone’s private or personal identification information; downvote opinions just because you disagree with them; announce how you vote on a post; post hoaxes; complain about _____.

Finally, our fourth circle was for personal or psychological effects. Reddit has become a layer of identity for many of its users and has integrated itself deep into their understanding of themselves.

Like boyd got at, reddit is a Millenial-dominated community. According to reddit user statistics (aggregated and analyzed by reddit users themselves):

Mean age: 25.42 years

Median age: 20

Mode: 20 years

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Reddit and Anonymity

Randall Witherspoon: “No I never tell these people who I am in real life.”

Farhad Manjoo would ask whether a reddit’s user anonymity really protects the extreme cases where physical or legal danger could be a real consequence of identity reveal?
–> Is anonymity on reddit ever used to mask or conceal illegal activity? (filesharing, treason, harassment, etc.)

Moot’s Point: Anonymity is quintessential to 4chan’s success and continued existence. How similar are 4chan and reddit? Is anonymity more essential to one over the other? Has it made it an impact in defining the respective cultures? How have the two cultures ended up differently by the same philosophy on anonymity?

Bradley Horowitz, Google+: Google, like Facebook, has picked up flak for making itself a nonanonymous platform–a.k.a. real names only. This systematically precludes some groups from being able to participate on the site at all (abuse victims, whistleblowers, dissidents) and also strips away a lot of the “fun” (technical term) of the Internet. Reddit, on the other hand, is among the forum and social network sites that only deals in anonymity. The result is a double-edged sword: there are no social limitations or censorships to creativity or freedom, but there are often demeaning trolls and derogatory shock-value remarkers.

More on this in the TOR and Cyberbullying pages, especially with regards to the Jessi Slaughter case.


Should sites like reddit and 4chan remain anonymous? Would they even function as “real-name” platforms?

What about the reddit culture lends itself better to anonymity? Is this a question of demographic or function?

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