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Participatory Culture, Community, and Play

Learning from Reddit


Adrienne L. Massanari

What does online community look like in the age of social networking? How do participatory culture platforms reflect both their designers’ intentions and the desires of their users? In this incisive and timely work, Adrienne L. Massanari discusses how culture is created and challenged on, the self-proclaimed «front page of the internet». Reddit enables the sharing of original and reposted content from around the web, and provides a platform for like-minded individuals to commune around topics of interest – everything from the joys of drinking beer in a shower (/r/showerbeer) to celebrating the pleasures of tidy penmanship (/r/penmanshipporn). Massanari’s ethnographic work provides a detailed examination of the contradictions that shape Reddit’s culture and how they reflect its role as an epicenter of geek culture. The book explores the ways in which community on Reddit is formed and solidified through play and humor, and the complex ways in which Redditors come together, which demonstrate a deep capacity for altruism and charitable giving, but can easily lapse into mob action. It also explores the community’s troubling gender and racial politics and how some Redditors are carving out their own space on the site to fight back.
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Chapter 6. Open platforms, closed discourse


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At a 2013 SXSWi1 panel, “It’s Reddit’s Web. We Just Live in It,” three journalists offered their insight on the community. After spending some time covering the community’s admirable activism around SOPA and CISPA, two attempts by US legislators to restrict internet freedom, the panel moved on to other, not-so-positive aspects of reddit—namely, the small segment of the community dedicated to posting images of unsuspecting women (/r/creepshots), previous problems with child pornography, and the sexism and misogyny rampant on the site as a whole. During the Q&A session for the panel, a conference attendee commandeered the microphone to rattle off a list of positive actions the reddit community had engaged in, including the largest Secret Santa gift exchange, relief efforts in Haiti, and other charitable giving by members.2 Rebecca Watson, founder of the blog Skepchick, stepped in to suggest that the panel had covered the good parts of reddit but that the negative aspects of the site still needed to be addressed, opining, “The good things that reddit and redditors do doesn’t negate the inherent problems of reddit. And I think it’s more important, especially in a site that promotes all the good it does—it’s crucial for them to look at the problems in an honest and open way and try to address those.” After asking whether the individual (later identified as Imgur3 founder Alan Schaaf) agreed, he responded affirmatively if reluctantly, adding, “I...

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