It’s often said that the answer to any question can be found on the internet — and most of the time, said answers can be found on Reddit.
But even with Reddit’s prominence on the first page of Google search results, only 51 of 116 students polled on Jan. 29 said they had used the website, and only 20 have an account.
So to address the question the other 65 students may have: What is Reddit?
Reddit is a platform that hosts a series of separated discussion pages known as subreddits — subs for short. A sub’s topics can be anything from pictures of birds with arms (r/birdswitharms) to how to survive a zombie apocalypse (r/ZombieSurvivalTactics).
But there are also lots of subs discussing photography, gaming, entertainment, news and college, plus lots of humorous content — especially memes.
Unlike other forms of social media, Reddit allows users to subscribe to specific topics rather than to only other users. Thus, a fan of a show can go to one place — the show’s subreddit — to read fan theories and news releases, keep up with actors’ personal lives and glance at memes referencing the show.
Sometimes, if the demand is large enough, people will create subreddits with niche foci, allowing a huge amount of personalization for users.
Junior Spencer Scott is one Reddit user — or redditor — who subscribes to smaller niche subreddits.
“I’m subscribed to one sub called r/pirateirl (pirate in real life) where about every two weeks or every month, someone writes in pirate-speak and a few people answer in pirate-speak,” Scott said. “I also follow one called r/bearjokes, and the only posts on it are weekly bear jokes.”
Other than these highly specific subreddits, Scott enjoys academic content.
“One of my favorite subreddits is r/askhistorians, which is moderated by a bunch of actual historians,” Scott said. “I found an entire thread of someone analyzing the book ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe, and there was a whole detailed response about Nigeria in the 19th century.”
Scott said he also subscribes to a mapmaking sub, and he likes seeing other redditors’ content.
While academic content is fairly prominent on Reddit (14 of the 51 students who use Reddit to do so for academic purposes), there is also a large concentration of movie and entertainment subreddits.
Senior Harrison Moon views mainly those kinds of subs. He created his account four years ago.
For his and his fellow users’ privacy, Moon, a moderator (an unpaid volunteer who maintains a subreddit), requested the subreddits he uses not be specified.
“(A TV subreddit) was one of the first I ever looked at,” Moon said. “Since I was looking at their content a lot and saw an opening for a moderator position, I applied.”
Moon said he had to fill out 10 questions in an application request to moderate; after it was reviewed, he was added to the team.
Most redditors use the site purely as a form of entertainment — as Moon once did. But when Moon became one of the sub’s 10 people moderating over a million subscribers, his time on Reddit became more work-like.
“You have to police the entire community and make sure they can talk about the show safely,” Moon said. “I delete comments, make sure the posts I approve follow the rules and make sure there’s no hate.”
But, Moon said, it isn’t just work.
“I like it for the satisfaction of being a bigger part of the community,” Moon said. “I think I’ll keep doing it for the foreseeable future.”
Moon isn’t the only student who’s had a moderator position. Sophomore Carter Joost became a moderator six months after he started using Reddit, though his application process was far simpler than Moon’s.
Like Moon, Joost requested the sub he moderated not be named.
“For most people, (the nine existing moderators) had an application, but they let me in without one since we had gotten to know each other,” Joost said. “It wasn’t much work since there were only about 30 or 40 active members on the sub, maybe 100 subscribers in total.”
However, unlike Moon, Joost said his moderating experience didn’t last long.
“I discovered that some of the mods would go out and harass certain members that they didn’t like on other platforms,” Joost said. “They took their game way too seriously and lashed out at people.”
But most students polled use Reddit simply as a form of entertainment and/or social media, not as moderators.
Senior Josh Friedman is one of those students. He started using Reddit over five years ago and created his account on his 13th birthday.
Reddit allows users to interact with their communities in three main ways: posting content to subreddits, commenting on those posts or simply upvoting and downvoting those posts.
Upvoting and downvoting are Reddit’s take on liking or disliking a post.
“I used to comment a lot, but now I really just upvote,” Friedman said. “I also spend a lot of time looking at a specific subreddit and staying on that subreddit for a while.”
Friedman said he mainly uses Reddit to look at video game, board game and news subreddits.
And Friedman’s not alone.
Of the 116 students polled, 15 said they used Reddit for gaming, and 16 said they used it for news. Board games weren’t on the poll, showing how niche and broad Reddit content is.
The most popular content type was general humor, e.g. memes or funny stories; 30 students polled said they used Reddit for this type of content.
Junior Larkin Barnard-Bahn even posted to one of these subreddits.
“I was at the airport, and I was really tired, and I tried to plug in my phone, but the outlet was actually a really convincing sticker, and I thought it was really funny,” she said.
r/badlinguistics is a subreddit where users post incorrect or misleading theories about linguistics for humourous and educational purposes in the form of screenshots, photos, text posts or links.
“I like it because it’s both educational and funny. It’s educational because you can learn so much by looking at faulty reasoning. And it’s also so hilarious when you understand it. In order to understand the jokes, you have to understand pseudolinguistic theories about Sanskrit, Dravidian and PIE.” —Senior Chardonnay Needler
Apparently, 10,000 other redditors agreed — the post earned over 10,000 upvotes and 314 comments, a shock to Barnard-Bahn. Though she continued to post to Reddit occasionally, with varying degrees of reception, she never broke that number.
But many students view this type of humorous content, especially memes, without even realizing it. Many memes found on Instagram or other mainstream social media originate on Reddit, according to Friedman.
“Instagram and Facebook are notorious for stealing memes from Reddit and not giving credit to either the creator or who posted it originally,” Friedman said.
Still, the 14-year-old website continues to grow in popularity.
Sophomore Brian Chow said seeing his friends use Reddit was one of the reasons he recently got an account.
“Before, I used Instagram for all my memes, but I realized they got most of them from Reddit,” Chow said. “Reddit gets their memes a lot earlier too, so I don’t miss out on any new memes.”
In fact, Barnard-Bahn’s picture even found itself on Instagram, according to sophomore Sarina Rye.
“I saw that post multiple times on Instagram, and most of the accounts that posted it have over a million followers,” Rye said. “I was really surprised to find out it was (Barnard-Bahn).”
College and photography/art were tied for being viewed the least, chosen 14 times each.
However, in recent years Reddit has made a push toward mainstream social media.
Reddit added a chat feature that went live in August 2018.
Although this was supposed to be a groundbreaking new feature for Reddit, it isn’t widely used among Country Day redditors.
“I didn’t even know Reddit had a social feature,” Friedman said. “I knew about friends but not what they did.”
Moon said he knew about the feature but rarely uses it.
“I have a couple friends I message on Reddit, but we just send each other posts,” Moon said. “We mainly talk on Discord, iMessage or Slack (third-party messaging services).”
r/fiftyfifty is a “risky click” subreddit, according to its front page. Users post photos that are either something adorable or horrible, and viewers take the risk when they click on the image.
“I look at it because I like probability and statistics. It’s fun to test your chances, and most of the time it’s a pretty even split with what people post. You’d think people would always want to post awful, disgusting stuff, but they don’t. It’s kind of fun to think, ‘Am I going to see a cute cat or a dog get hit by a car?’’’ —Senior Leo Eisner de Eisenhof
Messaging isn’t the only major change Reddit made, however. It also redesigned its online website, focusing more on the mobile app, according to Friedman.
“When I browse on my desktop, I use old Reddit and not the Reddit redesign,” Friedman said. “On my phone, I don’t use the main app; I use Narwhal (a third-party Reddit browsing app). It looks more like old Reddit and not like your typical social media app.”
Friedman said he prefers third-party apps since those developers can spend all their time on the app, whereas the Reddit team has to split its resources between design.
Meanwhile, Moon likes the redesign, though he doesn’t always use it.
“The redesign is worse for moderating, but for viewing it’s a lot more convenient,” Moon said. “The old design was 10 to 15 years old, so it looks dated. It wasn’t the easiest thing to use.”
—By Mehdi Lacombe