Mods, memes, morality: The Reddit story, in trivia – Hindustan Times

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Wall Street predictions, parenting advice, tips on carpentry, Garfield comics without the grumpy cat — Reddit’s threads are so varied that the platform has the feel of a global community bulletin board.

How does it work? Which are the most popular subreddits? Why are photos of comedian John Oliver flooding the site? And how did a statement posted here by a videogame company enter the Guinness Book of World Records? Take a look.

HOW IT WORKS

The moderators: In 2008, three years after the website was launched, it allowed users to create their own communities, or subreddits. The creator, by default, is the moderator, but a community typically has more than one person performing this function. Popular communities can have upwards of a dozen. (Many are nominated; some volunteer.)
Moderators create their own rules, by consensus. They then enforce these rules; fact-check; review and delete posts; scour for spam; issue warnings and ban users.
As in the real world, this kind of self-policing works effectively across many threads, but not all. The policy has helped build a vibrant community invested in the platform and its content. But it has also enabled pockets of activity that verges on the criminal. There remain threads of graphic violence, conspiracy theories, revenge porn, and other dark materials, on the platform.
The algorithm: The millions of links and posts on Reddit are synchronised and ranked through the simple use of the upvote and downvote feature. The most-upvoted content rises to the top, ending up on the website’s home page. Crucially, the most downvoted content sinks. (See the interview alongside for more on the algorithm.)
A downvote may not imply that content is bad. It is often just a sign that the user found it irrelevant. In this way, the platform acts as a space where consensus rules, rather than a centralised ranking system determined only by advertising, revenue goals or other centralised missions.
TOPPING THE CHARTS
The most popular: Shower thoughts (“when you fall over, you technically get hit by a planet”), wholesome memes, Wall Street investment tips and predictions, and cute cats rank high among Redditors. The website’s Top 100 communities span the worlds of humour (r/funny, r/nottheonion, r/memes, r/jokes, etc); science and statistics (r/space, r/dataisbeautiful, r/todayilearned); news (r/worldnews, r/news, r/uplifting news); life hacks (r/writingprompts, r/relationship_advice, r/explainlikeimfive); as well as nature, gaming, food and TV shows.
The campaigns: GameStop is perhaps the best-known instance of Reddit activism. In 2021, an r/WallStreetBets thread about the videogame company raised its stock price by over 600%, in a campaign that aimed to disrupt the shortselling plans of Wall Street brokers.
This community, founded by entrepreneur Jaime Rogozinski in 2012, has conducted similar campaigns around the stocks of companies such as the mobile phone makers BlackBerry and theatre chain AMC Entertainment.
Incidentally, Rogozinski was banned from the platform in 2020, for “attempting to monetise a community”. The subreddit continues to be monitored by its other moderators.
The protests: Across the platform, through the years, there have been campaigns aimed at Reddit itself — often in response to new policies. These typically take the form of blackouts. Popular communities turn private or, instead of fresh content, post the same image over and over.
Often, that image is a black square. Sometimes, it’s a person, animal or icon. In June, in response to an announcement that Reddit would now charge third-party apps for access to its content, the image fixed upon by protesting users was the face of John Oliver, host of the long-running late-night show Last Week Tonight — in funny costumes, sharply tailored suits, as a koala, etc.
The most-viewed community: We’ve all come across them somewhere, the threads with random strangers asking: Am I The Asshole (AITA). The posts are often horrifying insights into dysfunctional relationships, posed as moral dilemmas. (“AITA for telling my cousin he’s adopted”; “AITA for letting my husband hit my baby while my other children cry about it (I love him and he’s a good dad)”; “AITA for skipping my sister-in-law’s wedding because I hate the dress code”). Created in 2013 by photographer Marc Beaulac, Reddit’s 2022 Review report cited it as the most-viewed community last year, and that’s not counting the frequent reposts on Twitter and Instagram.
AMA: The Ask Me Anything format was created by the platform in May 2009. r/IAMA has seen world leaders, celebrities, astronauts, Nobel laureates, and everyday men and women share strange, insightful, educational and inspiring stories. Among the most popular are AMAs by a vacuum-repair specialist and an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor.
The record for most downvotes: In November 2017, user u/MBMMaverick shared their anger at having to pay $80 to have the key character Darth Vader unlocked in the game Star Wars Battlefront 2. In response, other Redditors ranted about the “pay-to-win” offering. Videogame publisher Electronic Arts responded the following day, justifying the fee and claiming that it was intended “to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes”. With a score of -683,000, the comment ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2020, as the most downvoted one on Reddit.
ART PROJECTS
A public canvas: Since 2017, Reddit has been running a recurring collaborative project on r/Place. It’s a digital canvas that users can edit by changing the colour of a single pixel. The canvas is refreshed each year. Currently, the colourful collage features, to one side, several pixels arranged to read “Fuck Spez” (possibly a reference to co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman’s Reddit page, u/Spez, amid ongoing protests).
The fictional hero: He’s possibly bald, middle-aged, divorced and has a cat. On some days, Norman makes an elaborate smoothie; on others, he eavesdrops on the train. Short Tales of the Life of Norman (r/LifeOfNorman), founded in 2013, is a community storytelling subreddit dedicated to spinning yarns about a “remarkably unimportant individual”. The only guideline is to treat him kindly, since “we all have a bit of Norman in us”.
In 2017, the community’s stories were compiled as an anthology, The Book of Norman, edited by moderator Cameron Crane, with proceeds donated to cat shelters.

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