The internet is filled to the brim with comments on every topic imaginable. So, this week, we are spinning the wheel and seeing where we end up in the internet's famous platform, Reddit, with our very own “Reddit Roulette”.
To us, Reddit is still a bit of a mystery, and we were curious to discover why it is considered the most influential yet least known internet forum. With every spin, we will explore a new group comment thread from ‘Am I the Asshole’ to ‘Ask me Anything’, and uncover the site where people come to confess, share their deepest, darkest desires/fears, and also laugh.
Is it a modern-day church, a therapist, or a dark threat to women? Join us as we throw the dice and see where we end up.
Trigger warning: We do discuss some banned forums related to sexual abuse.
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This series is produced by Emily Crosby Media.
Credit for roulette sound to Yle Archives.
Click here for the full transcript
Today we're taking a deep dive into the world of Reddit, which has been called the least known but most influential social media site on the web,
Reddit is known for having something for everyone from the brutal Am I the Asshole? thread to the super sweet “Puppy Smiles” subreddit, there's no shortage of interesting and entertaining content.
And also, let's not forget about the more niche subreddits like "CatsWithJobs" and "WitchesvsPatriarchy". There's truly something for everyone on this platform.
But despite its popularity, Reddit still seems a bit of a mystery and intimidating to us. There are so many threads and communities to explore, and it can be hard to know where to start.
And that's why we're doing something a little bit different. Today, we're going to be spinning the Reddit Roulette and see where we end up in the comments.
So are you ready to spin the wheel, Lisa?
I think so. Come on, let's do it! Okay, Sarah, I have a feeling we're not exactly the target market for Reddit. You know, I always feel like when I go onto Reddit that it's like crashing a party full of you know, like the super smart IT guys at work
Completely. And until we started this particular episode, I hadn't really been on it. And I didn't know much about it. I mainly use Facebook and a little bit of Instagram, which feel more intuitive to me. And this time, I just absolutely didn't know where to start. And even the alien mascot made me feel like I was on another planet.
Exactly. And it does feel like another planet on Reddit. Let's start by, I know many people may be listening use Reddit already, but just for the benefit of those who don't. Let's go in a little bit to the Reddit story.
Absolutely. So Reddit was started in 2005 by college roommates Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian. And interestingly, the latter is now actually married to Serena Williams. And Wikipedia describes it as an American social news aggregation, content rating, and discussion website. And so it's essentially forums. So unlike other sites, where it actually allows its users, which they call Redditors, to curate the news for the others in the social network. And there's a big focus on communities, and reposts generally not accepted by the users. And as a result, there's also a strong moderation on marketing. So they really don't like you self promoting, you can be banned if you do that. So that, you know, reduces the spam. I think one of the biggest things, though, is the anonymity. You really only need an email address to register. So unlike Facebook, whatever you say, or do, people can't trace it to you if you've got a completely anonymous username. And it uses up voting instead of likes. So it isn't about a user having to say I endorse this, it's more, I think this is important, and people should read it. And the upvoting and downvoting function actually allows the most popular things to bubble to the top. Journalist and author Christine Lagorio-Chafkin, who actually wrote a book about the history of Reddit, she said, it was in stark contrast to other parts of the internet that had comments at the time. Even whatever newspaper you would view, those comments were largely spam and just off topic, nonsense and rants. On Reddit, the downvoting function allowed those things to get buried and allowed the best stuff to surface. It was a very early sophisticated spam control.
As of February this year, Reddit ranks as the 10th most visited website in the world, and the sixth most visited website in the US, according to Semrush. And it has nearly 56 million daily active users. And what was interesting, I didn't realise this, it ranks between YouTube and LinkedIn for the most used social media site in the world.
And the main user demographic is 18 to 29, with men accounting for over 63% of the user base, and that 47% of the users are based in America. And the next biggest group after that is actually the UK with 7%. And according to CB Insights, it's listed as a unicorn company, Reddit currently holds a $10 billion valuation. And it was as high as $15 billion in 2021.
I mean, that's a lot of money. And it's strange, really, because I don't really use it. And I don't really use forums in general. I'm a bit on Facebook, but I'm really what they call a lurker.
You know, I'll read a bit but I very rarely post.
Well, the reason I got into Reddit is often I'm watching TV shows, and I'm a bit out of sync, like when I watch The Wire. I couldn't find anyone to talk to about it, because I wasn't watching it with my partner at the time. And you know, often you watch TV shows out of step with other people. So I'd go onto Reddit and they'd be these communities or group chats set up around the TV show and particularly the episodes. And I would love the deep dives that people will go into and the observations and I just think that people can be so insightful and witty and funny. And yeah, I'd just really get into it. So now I'm really addicted to the Succession thread. So every time I watch Succession, I jump on there and I'm like, what do they think about this bit and this bit? I actually searched on Reddit why Reddit was so popular and there was actually a discussion based around just this topic, and someone said and it was the top comment or the most upvoted comment, it said, “I never tell anyone that I use it, because the person may try to find me and I won't be able to show my opinions and ask things freely. Maybe that's one of the reasons.” And “I've only had one friend ask me for a username, and I refuse to tell him. He truly didn't understand why I'd have anything to hide. And he asked me lots of questions I didn't want to answer. I have a lot to hide.”
Wow. I mean, I think that the secrecy and the anonymity is integral to the success of Reddit. It's a really big part of it. And we're gonna get to that later. But first, let's get on to the idea of subreddits. There are so many different subreddits, which are their forums or communities, but centred around a particular topic or niche. And there are currently 2.8 million different subreddits
Oh, my gosh, that's kind of blowing my mind. And it's literally like there is that sort of saying, isn't there, there's something for everybody on there. There's quite brilliant that you've got so much content, and it's organised around topics. But I know you're dying to get to it. Sarah, are you ready to play Reddit Roulette?
And this is partly inspired by Chat Roulette, which I don't know if you remember?
I vaguely heard about it, never used it. From what I remember, you matched randomly with strangers through your webcam. But then there was like a lot of controversy, as, you know, you could maybe predict what would happen but people suddenly confronted by a penis on your webcam, because apparently that's the first thing people do is they use it for sex.
I know. So how it works is I've pre selected a forum. And then I'm going to spin the roulette to find a post and then I'm going to read it out and then you have to respond to it. How does that sound?
That sounds good.
Okay, so I'm going to take you back to the Ask Me Anything Forum, which we touched on last week with James Corden and Ellen, when we sort of read out the epic thread to do with James Corden, and it kind of got me quite intrigued what else was on there that was not to do with celebrities. And the whole idea of Ask Me Anything, is that you can go on there and ask someone anything, but it's been really popular with brands to go on there and pitch projects. And notable participants have included Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Jerry Seinfeld, and as well as non celebs, particularly in niche groups. So let's spin.
My Ask Me Anything is “sugar daddy for 11 years as of today, loving life more and more each day? Ask me anything.
Yeah. So the big question someone asked is, “How do you approach them? And what's your strategy for structuring your arrangements? What's the parameters?” And the other part was “in your time have you ever had a situation where a sugar baby didn't want to give up the sugar? How'd you navigate it? I ask because a lot of women boast that they're in these arrangements being paid to do nothing. I want to know how true this is. Finally, “in your experience, being married, and now being a sugar daddy, do you think women are willing to compromise more and more their boundaries when incentivized with money as opposed to love?”
Oh, that's an interesting question. That is a good one.
Yeah, just so this is what his response was. I'm gonna read you some of the responses, not a lot for sake time. He said, “initially, I met Sugar Babies from sites like seeking arrangements, we would figure out on a mutually beneficial arrangement based on time, availabilities, location, and what they were looking for. In 11 years, I never met a sugar baby that didn't sleep with me. I find traditional dating too restrictive, jealousy and constant desire to move forward, dating, moving in marriages, you know, babies, and I don't want any of that. The sugar life is more open and honest, life is full of fun friends with benefits. They don't want to marry me knowing that I'm sleeping with two other girls, but they are fine walking into the relationship knowing that I see other people, I'm clean and safe about it. You know, everything pretty much upfront compared to dating, where you find out bits and pieces along the way, and then it's not to someone's liking”. And then someone responded, “LOL keep telling yourself that, it's the dollars they are fine with”. So I just wanted to take a bit of a deep dive into this because there are hundreds of questions. They go quite easy on this person. Yeah, it's a man. Even asking, is he available? And what's interesting is that there's only a few people that really push him hard and say, Don't you feel like you're exploiting people?
I suppose it's a complex… anytime that people step outside the normal dating structure, I think, you know, there's a lot of raised eyebrows. So it makes me think of the whole 50 Shades of Grey where they sign a contract. And they very much clearly state what they can and can't do. And so I wonder if he actually, his agreements are written down, or whether it's a sort of we have a bit of a discussion. Because I can imagine it depends on the individuals involved. Communication is always interesting. Everyone's been in a situation where they thought they agreed to one thing and later the other person goes, No, I just, I assumed that we meant this, you know. So I wonder how much that comes up.
It seemed to be two main themes. It was like, How much money do you want to do that? Like how do I, yeah, get to that situation? And then two, it's like, well, what are you looking for in a woman? Like, are you gonna, what's your username? How can I find you?
I suppose on one level, it is a consensual thing. So as long as people are very upfront and open about what they want, and both are getting their needs met in different ways, it's sometimes maybe more honest than what people do in other relationships, but they don't tell them. They say, I'm here for love. But actually, they're there for the lifestyle. You know, I have no judgement. I think each person has to choose what's right for themselves, and different people suit different things.
One of the questions was, “how often do you get with women without paying?” And he says, “I don't want to date.”
He wants an employee.
Yes. “I sometimes go out with friends, pick up and have a wild night of drunken sex, then it leads to, she wants to date and I just want dinners and wild nights of sex. She gets mad and tells me to eff off. I would rather the sugar life”. What's interesting is that rise of only fans, and you know, Insta models going on these trips to Dubai, etc. But there is a lot to do with, you know, on Reddit, like, Oh, I'm an Only Fans model, but I don't let anyone know. I'm actually a sort of a nurse in the daytime. They’re living these double lives. Yeah, it's funny, because about 10 years ago, I met somebody when we were at the gym and working out she was really gorgeous, really outgoing and vibrant. And we became slowly friends. And then she revealed to me after a night out, she said, Oh, actually, I'm a sugar baby. I have all this arrangement set up. And she, but she looked really embarrassed. Like she's waiting to get to know me well enough to sort of tell me.
Well, I think the women get judged much more than the men. There's, there's this element that? Well, you know, some people have that quite misogynistic approach where they think, oh, all women are just after money anyway.
And that feeds into that, that feeds into that narrative. There's also I think, you know, we've talked about choice and consent. But I think it really depends on your situation, and what options you have anyway, because I knew a woman who it wasn't formalised, but she was essentially, she essentially was a sugar baby. But it came from the fact that she came from a very, very poor and underprivileged background. So she had a lot less choice. And what would be interesting to me is, how many of the women are choosing that because they really need the money? Or how many, you know, would a woman who is independently wealthy still choose to do it for another reason? I think that's the question I'd be most interested in asking. I mean, that was a very specific Ask Me Anything, but I think what's interesting about Ask Me Anything, in general, is that the anonymity allows people to sort of not be dictated to by social etiquette and ask questions that they might not normally ask. And so that they're secretly all thinking these questions when they hear about this topic, but they don't get a chance to ask because it would be rude. I mean, that's something we're gonna come back to later this role of anonymity in Reddit, and how important it is. But if you're ready, are we ready to move on to the next subreddit category?
I am, I'm ready for it. I'm sat here and I'm bracing myself
Brilliant. So I've chosen the forum of Am I the Asshole, which is a huge one. It’s a very popular subreddit. And it's often abbreviated to AITA. It's a subreddit where users post about their sort of real world interpersonal conflicts, and then they receive judgement from fellow Redditors. It sort of allows users to determine the morality of really weird and very specific scenarios often. Yeah, and an ethicist from Princeton University. Eleanor Gordon-Smith, she said to the Guardian, “there's something almost thrilling about peeking behind the curtain into other people's lives. Hearing their weird thoughts - what they think deep down of their partner's children and friends”. So if you're ready, let's spin the roulette wheel.
Here we go.
So the post I've picked for you, the title is, Am I the Asshole for wearing white to my wedding?
I know it's confusing. You're like, isn't that normal?
I thought you're gonna say like, the friend wore white? No, Okay.
No. Am I the asshole for wearing white to my wedding? And so I was like, What are they talking about? And so here's the text. “I recently got married to the love of my life J. We had a perfect wedding except for one thing. My mother in law's freak out when she saw my dress. When we'd gone dress shopping I invited her and I found my perfect dress. My husband's family has a tradition of always wearing blush dresses on their wedding day. Now they told me about this before and I respectfully said I would wear whatever colour dress my perfect dress was. Once I finally found It was actually white. And my mother in law asked me to ask if they could alter it to make it blush or to find a new dress if they couldn't. And what I said to her was, I'd ask, but if they couldn't, and that was that. Anyway, long story short, they couldn't and I showed up to my wedding in a white dress. All through the ceremony, mother in law was seething. And during the reception, she pulled me aside and asked why my dress was white. I told her that I didn't want to find another dress, and they couldn't alter it. And she said it was a tradition and she was disappointed that I had broke it. J, who's her now husband, also said that he was disappointed when I walked down the aisle in a white dress. Was I the asshole for this? I could have just changed my dress.
Oh, my God. I suppose it's too late to get an annulment straightaway, right? I would have been like it's my mother, a narcissist. My new mother in law. Is my husband going to be an asshole? It should have been is my husband the asshole?
So what what was really interesting is one of the highlighted comments was “if I walk down the aisle and find out my fiance is disappointed, I'm holding another big ceremony, walking down the aisle in the exact dress he wants and then let him find out it's an annulment ceremony instead.”
Yeah, I mean, there's traditions. I mean, like if maybe she hadn't, I knew dome something like not take his surname or something, or adapted religion. I can understand there are these big deal breakers in relationships. But over a dress, it seems so superficial. It's just shocking.
There was obviously a lot of reactions. And overall, the final consensus was that she wasn't the asshole.
But for example, someone said, “I don't understand why the emphasis wasn't on her finding a dress she felt absolutely beautiful and lovely in”.
Yeah. What was really interesting was this idea that how do you compromise between different traditions? Another one also said “the OP should have replied, all respect, but my family traditionally gets married and white.”
That's a good answer.
No that would have been a good answer because like then they have to kind of live by their own laws is our tradition too.
And another really interesting one “was dude could have worn a blush dress or suit if he wanted to appease Mommy. Doesn't he like the colour? Why is he pushing it on his wife then”,
Oh, that's brilliant.
Just like we've been tempted to do, so many people, you've got this snapshot of information, and people want to make big generalisations about, you know, you should leave him you, should get an annulment. That's, your whole relationship’s going to be terrible. You know, someone else said,” I've been married close to nine years. My mother in law is awful. I wish I'd walked away before my kids.” So we're making these big assumptions and giving a lot of advice, but we're only getting a little bit of information here. But like you said, weddings are a big thing.
And that's the thing, is it a lot of these forums are about seeking almost permission from the crowds. Right?
And crowdsourcing sort of forgiveness or you know, rationalisation.
Exactly, exactly. I think what's really interesting is, as our society has become more multicultural, global, we don't have the strict class system that we used to have. There used to be a very prescriptive etiquette that people followed. So do you remember the whole Debrett's book of etiquette?
I really do. And you know, always every year, an etiquette expert comes out and reminds us how uncouth we all are nowadays.
Yeah. And so they were always very strict rules about weddings. And there was a lot of stuff, you know, on weddings, and what's appropriate. You know, maybe something used to be a rule back in the day, but can we do it different this time, like, I know someone who didn't want to be walked down the aisle, because it felt like being given away like a property. So her and her husband walked down the aisle together. But for another person, that would have been really inappropriate. And then you've got a generational divide. So the whole mother, parents who think it should be a certain way. And you know, the couple are actually getting married wanting to do it differently. But it's so interesting, this Am I the Asshole thing, because it's like, people really want to take the temperature of the room. They don't trust their own opinions on things. There was a Guardian article titled “Am I the Asshole? How a Reddit forum posts the defining question of our age. And Elle Hunt, she said that “verdict by verdict AITA is in effect crowdsourcing a moral code, and perhaps in the absence of any other”. And Eleanor Gordon-Smith, who's an ethicist at Princeton University. She said, “in the past, societies have looked to religion or science for an ethical framework. In a modern world in which both are challenged, our sense of right and wrong has become untethered.” And finally, Heather Havrilesky, the author of New York Magazine's existential advice column, Ask Polly, she said “in the old days, people would write to Dear Abby or Ann Landers about problems with a pesky neighbour or an intrusive mother in law,” like the one we've just talked about. But do you remember the days of the advice columns?
Absolutely. When I used to buy Just Seventeen, and was it More magazine as well. I mean, I always jumping straight to the problem page because it was the only place that you would read things like “I think that I'm the last person to get my period in my class”. And, yeah, it was a lot to do with sex which felt back then, you know, you wouldn't talk so openly about sex and taboo things, you know? So dating, kissing, all those things would be on there. I’d definitely go there.
Yeah, you had no one to ask really. And you didn't have these forums to go to and you didn't have books, and you had these weird. The only concept you had of sex was movies, which are obviously not realistic. It's like, how are you supposed to know what's normal? And we spend all our times worrying that we're not normal, you know?
There was also a really good quote by William Davies, the author of Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World. And he recently wrote that “the infrastructure of the Internet has created a society of perpetual referendums reducing every issue to a yes or no poll in which everyone gets a vote.” And he called this “tyranny of binary opinion, that it is in part a response to navigating information overload online”, which I think is a really interesting point.
It's true, isn't it? Because I think there is something really clean cut about you know, that they just say black and white opinion. We're just living in this sort of binary world now, where it just makes things so much more simpler. You're either right or wrong. You're either right or left. You're either this or that. It's really hard to grasp all the information and all the nuances, which is why I don't like getting into political debates nowadays, because I just find it too much information to process to give an informed opinion.
Absolutely. It's like you can't trust your source. In a way, it's great that you have all these other sources that aren't just completely controlled. Before, you'd get maybe one opinion or two opinions. Now you can get the, get a gamut of information. But in such a way that you can't always rely on the source. So there's a lot of misinformation out there as well. And it just makes everything very noisy.
It does. There's also, the thing I like about Reddit is that you can ask questions about things that you might find politically incorrect, like you're scared to death to ask people because we're, the age we're living in where we're scared to put a foot wrong with our comments.
So I feel it's incredibly powerful in that way that people can actually have almost honest dialogues.
And moderators have actually said that they often hear from past posters that the AITA input has actually really helped their lives. They do have real world consequences in a positive way as well.
Yeah, and let's be honest, it's very hard and very difficult to access therapy or help sometimes. And you know, if you've got a burning issue or something, it's so much easier to turn around to Mumsnet or read it and ask that question, and get an instant response. Whereas sometimes holding on to those uncomfortable feelings for a week, or until the NHS says they can give you a counsellor. It’s difficult, right?
Also, when you ask a friend, if one friend tells you you're an asshole, how do you know that that's not just their biased opinion? Whereas this way you're getting to, like crowdsource, you know, if out of 100 replies 80% are saying, I don't think what you did was cool. You're like, oh, I can't just dismiss it as that one person, this is, this seems to be the consensus, and I think that has more power.
So this brings me to my last Roulette for you.
Yeah. So continuing the confessional nature of Reddit, the forum I picked for you is True off my Chest discussion group. And this is a forum dedicated to a place to get personal things off your chest, not for opinions, not for relationship advice, and not for preaching. So let's spin the wheel.
“I left my wife because I'm sick of everything needing to match her aesthetic. I know it seems like a dumb thing to end my marriage over, but after dealing with this for so long, I'm finally done. My wife and I are both in our 30s. We've had a daughter. My wife has always been pretty into appearances, but it was never that bad. She just wanted things to look nice when people came over. Then she started an Instagram page for mums and got a massive amount of followers, about 400,000 since our daughter was born. Ever since then, I feel like I don't live in a house, I live in an Instagram photo shoot. There can't be any proof that we actually live there. My wife stresses so much about things looking good that she doesn't actually enjoy the moment. She started a fight with me right after our daughter took her first steps because I put my drink down on the table behind her and it's all she could see and how she needed to edit it out of the video. She called me a selfish prick for putting my drink down on the coffee table to watch my daughter take her first steps”.
Yeah I know. “Daughter's bedroom is just a mass of beige and cream. There's barely any toys in it, which was fine while our daughter was small, but now she's getting older. My wife refuses to buy her any toys that don't match her aesthetic. My mother took my daughter to the store and let her pick out a toy and she pulled out this dollhouse from the show she watches. She got all the dolls or furniture and my wife told her that she had to keep it in my mother's house because there was no place for it at home. She had absolutely no room for it. My wife is convinced I'm leaving her for another woman that I'm having an affair, but I'm not, I just can't keep feeling like I'm living in a museum where I can't touch or move anything. I can't even build a blanket fort with my kid without my wife flipping out that they're decorative blankets and that she's folded them in a special way. I'm not going to force my daughter to live in an aesthetic museum.” I'm sorry, but that's actually a little bit upset me.
Yeah, I mean.
I didn't, I just didn't expect that to go quite in there like, that she would be so worried about, her daughter can't play with toys and her bedroom.
Yeah, I had a friend once and we were at university and I went to visit her. And her mum came in and she was sat on the bed. And she said, shouldn't you be sitting on a hard chair when you're wearing a skirt so that it doesn't wrinkle it and I thought, Dear God, we're not going out. I mean, that, the level of control and the message involved. And I think what's so interesting is people, often you start off with the surface level sort of anecdote of, you hear about someone who stabbed their husband of 40 years because he asked for the salt or he left the loo seat up, but it's not really about the loo seat it's about what it represents in the relationship. And this is another element of you know, I mean, I wouldn't have been able to do that. As you know, as anyone who knows me really well. Unfortunately, I am very messy, and a bit of a hoarder. I could never live in those environments. In fact, I feel a bit stressed if things are too minimalist. It feels unlived in.
But again, you do worry about the daughter that she's, that the primary motivation is what other people will think, what things look like, and that I don't want to, this is a sweeping statement, but you know, that's a recipe for an eating disorder. And what's interesting for me is why is she so obsessed with that? I mean, she has to be so insecure. She's not getting the validation from herself that it's having to come from the outside. And it sounds like it's sort of become an obsession that snowballed.
But it's almost like out of a black mirror episode, isn't it? Because you think she's got her 400,000 followers, but she's not got her husband. And she's creating this environment for her daughter that's really sterile. It's sort of a bit strange. And actually, I've just read down just someone who sort of said “I can understand and empathise for you” and this one's, in this for me like the worst thing about being, is it called a mum influencer? “So I've commented on this before, but I'll never forget this cute little girl at the Winter Park. Her mum bought her a fancy very over the top hot chocolate that had candy canes, a mountain of whipped cream and marshmallow, snowmen, sprinkles, etc. The little girl was so excited, but the mom had her posing for several pictures with it. At the end, the girl only had enough energy to keep fake smiling as the hot chocolate melted. Then she and the mom had a sip of it and threw it away as it’d melted and was not that impressive looking anymore. Then the mom sat there using her phone while ignoring her daughter who started climbing over the decorations. I'm assuming to post it on social media. It was very sad to witness”
Yeah, it's just so sterile, isn't it? It's like, it's like, is this child a prop? It's like you, I've never gotten to those, that whole tiaras, toddlers and things. It seems like there's this sort of, I've never really understand the psychology behind it. Is it their unfulfilled lives, and that making these little girls like little cute props?
It's definitely living through your child, I think that can come across in many forms. That's a really obvious one, because it's so visual. But even just wanting your kids to get good grades. I mean, it's complex, because you want your kids to do well at school, because it'll be helpful for them, maybe they can get into university, you want to encourage that. But it's the degree to which that becomes how the child's worth is valued.
And actually, someone's made a comment that reminds me of the Alice Evans story. This comment says “please consider a clause in the custody agreement that bans photos of the children on social media,” which I think is a very interesting topic, too. It's like, well, it makes sense that you would say, well, actually, you can't put our children on social media, or use them as props.
But we did say we were gonna do a whole episode on mum influences,
So we've mentioned how important being anonymous is to Reddit’s success. What role do you think that plays?
Well, it's interesting because there's actually been quite a few behavioural studies on the role that anonymity plays in online interactions. And so for example, in an article for the Association for Psychological Science, it said, “overall, researchers have found that anonymity can reveal personality traits that face to face interactions may hide, but it also allows strong group rules and values to guide individual behaviour. While anonymity may make it easy for people to act antagonistically, unprofessionally or unethically, research has shown it can also make people unusually forthcoming and helpful”. So for example, there was a 2010 study by the University of Toronto, where they found that if you put people in dark rooms versus bright ones, people were actually more likely to point out that strangers, trousers, zippers were undone or that they had food in their teeth, in essence, saving the strangers from possible embarrassment. But the most consistent finding of anonymity studies is that people are much more likely to share personal information and divulge secrets much more frequently than in face to face communication. And I think that makes sense. Obviously, it's easier to tell a stranger something. I've had people tell me all sorts of weird shit on a bus because they know they're not going to see me again. And I think I just have one of those faces like an instant therapist, she'll just smile and nod. And it's also really cathartic to get stuff off your chest. And like you mentioned before, not everyone can afford therapists and even then, there's a confidentiality with a therapist, but there's not an anonymity, those people can still be secretly judging, you still have to go back and see them another time. So you feel protected, and you feel safe because your identity is unknown. And that's actually led to researchers using the information shared on Reddit as a basis for research on mainly attitudes and things like that.
But for example, I read about perhaps one of the most controversial I mean, I was quite surprised when I read it. That researchers from Georgia State University they published research on violence against women, by analysing posts on a forum, wait for it, titled, ask a rapist.
Where men shared their stories of being perpetrators of sexual assault. And you know, it was entirely anonymous, most of these people had never been, they hadn't been convicted for anything. And it was quite shocking.
Really, I just kind of just want to say that I'm a bit shocked, because that's the sort of content you think would get instantly banned from any other social media site. So yeah, that's, that's quite difficult to kind of comprehend.
I suppose it depends, if you're promoting rape, you know, dismissing rape, or whether you're just saying this is the experience I had. What was really interesting is it kind of sat in a lot of boxes. I'm not going to read out any examples or anything, because I don't think it's appropriate. But um, you know, there was like guilt, there was remorse there were people victim blaming, there were people justifying, there are people saying, Oh, well, my ex girlfriend told me I raped her, but I didn't think it was rape. You know, Do you think it is. You know, there was a whole gamut of responses. And the research has actually said, you know, the reason we've looked into this is we're hoping to use it to make recommendations on policy in the US and also to inform clinical intervention with rapists, and hopefully prevent and reduce sexual assault. So it's so interesting that something that can seem so shocking is actually now being used for academic and clinical research. And it's given an insight that you wouldn't normally get, because because people are not going to be openly admitting to that in any kind of non anonymous format. And that was obviously a really controversial thread. I think it ended up in the news at the time, and this was 2012. But Reddit is definitely no stranger to controversy. Now. I mean, we talked about the impact of anonymity. But on the other side, it also takes away the accountability.
And I'm the first to say that there's some really dark parts of Reddit, which is why I initially used it for the TV shows and answering questions. But I have seen parts where I'm like, I'm not comfortable with that. And it's just, it's on the real edges of what I find decent. And absolutely, I want to say it becomes an echo chamber where people maybe encourage each other in their sort of most base instincts and egging each other on.
Oh, absolutely. It's almost like a virtual Lord of the Flies in a way. You know, when you take away repercussions, that's what happens. Everyone devolves. Not always, you know, there's like a wholesome posts thread where it's all encouraging positivity. So that's a different one. But they've actually been quite a lot of controversial subreddits over the years, and this has led to some being quarantined or even banned. So in 2015, Reddit introduced a quarantine policy, and what that meant was that visiting certain subreddits they tried to make it more difficult in order to visit or join those quarantined subreddits, you actually have to bypass a warning prompt. And and you have to log in. I'm not going to read out any actual comments from the post, but I'm just going to read the title of a few banned subreddits. To give you an idea of what has actually been on there, the subreddits have officially been banned. So these are ones that are no longer active. But it gives you an idea of what has been on there. And what was enough to cross the threshold of - No, I'm sorry, you're out. There was one called ‘beating women’, which featured graphic depictions of violence against women. Yeah, I don't even want to get into that. There's one called ‘creep shots’ where they were sharing sexualized images of women but without their knowledge. There was one called ‘fat people hate’. And it, it actually posted photos of overweight people for the purpose of mockery. And it had an estimated 151,000 subscribers at the time of its banning in 2015. And finally, there was one called’ the Fappening’. Yeah, that one got into news. But it was created as a hub to share and discuss naked pictures of celebrities that had essentially been stolen from their private AppleID clouds. And as they show, I mean, there's a lot. There's a lot of sex and graphic content on there as well.
I know there's a lot of the forums sort of got this tag on them, which is ‘not suitable for work.’ And it makes me question why there is so much porn on there still. The Reddit CEO Steve Hoffman, he gave an interview to Business Insider, when asked during an interview whether hosting pornographic content on Reddit would ever change, Hoffman replied, “sex is universal. And like many topics on Reddit, sex is one of those topics that's often not well served online or offline. He said, porn can be exploitative. And that's not the content we want on Reddit. But I think there's another aspect that's empowering. And these are people sharing stories themselves, pictures themselves, and we're perfectly supportive of that.” And I have to say, when I read that, after watching the recent Pornhub documentary on Netflix, which basically says Pornhub knowingly puts content on there that is traffic, you know, it's exploitation of women, trafficking, even of children. But people conveniently turn a blind eye to it. And I do have a problem with this statement, because it's a bit sort of, Oh, yeah, you know, like Gwyneth Paltrow, we're empowering women. Yeah. Are we really?
Well, it's difficult when you claim things are empowering. There's something of worth to be able to have shame free conversations, open and honest conversations about things. But it's quite hard to like, find the line really. Reddit has often, one of the big topics that comes up on Reddit is the idea of free speech and being against censorship. But it was even behind the backlash against the US anti piracy bill, there were several of them. And because of the online resistance, they actually defeated the bill. And they regularly rage about corporate censorship, things like that. But it's quite difficult, really, because it also, you've got to make it a safe space for people and not be encouraging hate and encouraging violence and encouraging abusing people. So again, the co founder, Steve Huffman, he said in a Q&A in 2015, he said,” Neither Alexis nor I created Reddit to be a bastion of free speech, but rather is a place where open and honest discussion can happen”. And it's a big topic that comes up time and time again, where is that line between free speech and hate speech or free speech and encouraging dangerous and hurtful behaviour and harassment? And I don't think there's a really clear answer on that. It's, it's you have to judge it post by post, and that's where it gets really complex.
Yeah. And let me just say that I'm not saying we should censor people's fantasies and desires and sharing that, you know, that's not what I'm saying. But what I find interesting is that he well knows, like the Pornhub owners, that the porn is driving a lot of the site activity. Yeah, and a lot of it is unchecked, and unmoderated, they, they don't want that headache. And I think that they conveniently sort of say, well, it’s what people like, but we won't go into it too deeply. I think they just don't want to.
I think they're also financially profiting from it. And that's probably another reason why they want to keep that line. They don't want the backlash publicly. They don't want the huge controversies, but they don't want to lose their bottom line. So it's quite hard.
I said, when we started this episode, as my gosh, going on Reddit the last few days, I feel like I read the internet's mind.
Yeah, yeah. All the, you know, all the unspoken thoughts that you didn't necessarily need to hear.
I mean, despite all the controversial and worrying content that does exist on there. There's also kind of a lot of humour as well.
Oh, absolutely. And I think that's the sort of part I really enjoy. There's a lot of comedy, a lot of fun. A lot of warmth, a lot of support.
So let’s end it on our roulette funnies. So let's spin the wheel again.
Are you going to read your one first?
I'll go first. Okay, so there's a subreddit called ‘fed legs’. And I don't know if you can guess what that’s about.
Yes. And you're definitely not going to guess, because I couldn't have even imagined a Reddit, I couldn't have even imagined a forum that would exist, but it's a subreddit wait for it, dedicated to the fetish of basically one man called Jim the Feeder, of women with their legs painted yellow, not the torso, not the feet, just the legs and specifically the colour yellow. That's it. That's a whole forum.
Oh my gosh, did he just explain where he gets this fetish from?
I didn't find that. I don't know. But it was, there was quite a lot of Simpson, people dressed the Simpsons as well on there. But it didn't seem like horrendous, you know, it was it was quite a harmless fetish. It wasn't, you know, abusive or overly graphic. It was just such such a weirdly specific and interesting thing.
Oh my gosh, it makes me think of like, did Mr blobby have yellow legs?
There was one where with a woman dressed as a teletubby, the yellow Teletubby and they were like, well, I don't know if this counts, but okay, well, this, you know, yeah,
Yeah, I'll spin the wheel. So I've got this comment come up from ‘casually funny UK’. It says this guy has posted “randomly on this subject, my Egyptian wife has never heard of Stonehenge when I mentioned it recently. So I showed her photos of it, assuming she'd recognise the look, but not the name, etc. And she was just like, This is pathetic. Your ancestors were small and weak”.
So someone responded, “pyramids are good, but can they build them on a cold rainy night in Wiltshire?” And I say fair play.
Should we spin again?
Yeah, so I'm going to spin again
What have you got Sarah?
Okay. So there's a subreddit called ‘no such thing as stupid questions’, which I think is great. But the questions are hilarious. “Would it be strange for two straight guys to go on a long scenic walk together?”
That's actually a good question. Don't lots of men go hiking together?
Yeah, exactly. Well, I think if you call it a long scenic walk, or someone said, “Yeah, hiking is quite popular, dude”.
I don't know why this is cracking me up, the world.
Nowadays, it's just so earnest as well. I think that's why because it's not just, you know, I know this is controversial. It's like I'm sitting here worrying about asking a guy if I can go on a walk with him.
And it's scenic. It's not just around town.
That's the important part.
Okay, so I picked this forum because I thought you being a super cat lover, you're gonna love this one. It's a site setup for “cats to get legal advice”,
Are the cats getting or giving legal advice?
No, they're getting legal advice or legal advice for the kitties and kittens who's humans don't know how to be good servants. So I hope there's none of these about you, Sarah?
“My human is making me work a whole hour a week in her nursing home. I'm payed nothing but treats and cuddles. This must break minimum wage laws. What should I do? What sort of lawyer should I need? I want catpensation.”
Yeah, the cat wrote this “my human is threatening to leave. I does not want this. They does this all the time claiming they have to work. I think their job is to love me. Can I make them stay home and do their job? Help?”
Yes, if you pay them.
Yeah. But this site is really really popular with cats asking for pawyers. And all the time their humans are letting them down. So I love it.
Yeah, my cat does this thing where I'll pour her her cat milk. And I'll pour like half a bowl, and then I'll stop pouring. And she looks at me like, Well, that wasn't enough. And she hasn't even drank it yet. She's just like,
Well, she needs to get go on Reddit. Exactly.
What do I do and I'm shortchanged on my milk?
Oh, this one I could just read it all day. So we've ended it on a high talking about cats, which they say the internet was invented for cats. I've really enjoyed playing Reddit Roulette today with you. But I think we’ve barely scratched the surface of the Reddit universe. I mean, truly. But Sarah, I'm curious, what are your final thoughts?
Well Reddit. It's something that I definitely heard of before, but I didn't really know much about. And I can now see why it's so addictive. It was so easy to go down the Reddit rabbit hole. Well, that was a mouthful. And it really does have something for everyone. And in a way, that's great. I mean, I love the idea that people with niche interests can find each other and then feel less alone. When you and I were growing up. I think being different in any way was really isolating. And humans are innately social creatures. We want to feel like we're not the odd one out, finding others who have the same idiosyncrasies can make us feel validated and that we're not the only weirdo in the village so to speak. And as someone who grew up in a village I feel like I can say that. Anonymity plays a really big role in this. I mean, one aspect of being social creatures and being part of a society is that we feel beholden to societal norms and mores. And if we suspect our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviours, are outside these norms, then we often keep quiet out of fear of being shamed. I mean, having a forum where people can ask these difficult questions and get things off their chest without repercussions can be very cathartic. It's almost like crowdsourcing therapy, but there is a danger. Anonymity also means there's very little accountability and as with their Am I the Asshole threads, while some commenters are genuinely trying to help the original poster, many wants to give black or white judgments and even extrapolate out huge generalisations on people's lives and relationships based on very little information or by projecting their own woundings onto the situation. The anonymity can also allow people's most unhealthy sides to come out. So for example, misogyny, racism, shaming strangers publicly, etc. And that's why the moderation is so important. Often, it can be tricky to find the line between protecting freedom of speech and keeping people safe. But whichever way you look at it, Reddit is an absolutely huge platform, and it obviously fulfils a need that a lot of people have. But ultimately, as with everything else, it's up to us to choose what information we want to consume and decide whether it's supportive or harmful in our own lives.
Thanks for that, Sarah, that was really great. For my final quote, I'm just going to leave it with someone who said why they use Reddit on Reddit and they said “I love Reddit because it lets me socialise without having to deal with people”. Thank you for listening, and see you next week. Thank you to our lovely producer Emily. If you enjoyed today's episode, please don't forget to leave a review and subscribe. It really does help us in reaching more people.
Also, you can follow us on Instagram at straight to the comments podcast. Our handle is @s2tcpodcast, and join us next week where we'll be diving headfirst straight to the comments. See you there. This podcast has been produced by Emily Crosby media