Reddit bills itself as “the front page of the internet,” and aims to be the starting place for all news and discussion happening across the world wide web. Eight percent of fourteen to seventeen year-old US teens are active users on Reddit – and that number is growing. Your children are probably familiar with Reddit, and they have certainly seen content that came from the site. So, what is Reddit, and how should we think about our kids browsing it?
Reddit Is “Social News”
Reddit is a democratic form of news and discussion. Users vote for the posts and comments that they find worthy. Individual users are also responsible for creating the content that will be voted up or down in the system. There are no Reddit journalists, or Reddit proprietary content (at least not until very recently). The will of the people alone dictates what content is most visible on the website.
If you hop onto http://www.reddit.com, you will be browsing the “r/all” page with the “Hot” filter. This means that everything on the site within the last several hours will be ranked by popularity. The style is sparse, much like craigslist, with a list of links alongside thumbnail photos. You will also notice that each post has a “subreddit,” shown as “r/______.” Subreddits make up the individual communities of Reddit. If someone wants to post a link or photo or story, they have to post it to one of the site’s subreddits, and if it gains enough up votes, then it will appear on the front page (“r/all”).
Within a single post, comments are also moderated democratically, receiving votes up or down and being shown by popularity. The users of Reddit are listed as “u/_______,” and gain karma for receiving up votes on their posts and comments.
The most widely known subreddit is r/IAmA (“I am a…”), which has thirteen million subscribers. On this subreddit, an interesting or important person will answer questions from online users. The comments are up voted in real time, thus facilitating live discussion between thousands of users instantaneously. Steve Wozniak, David Attenborough, Bill Gates, Bill Murray, and even sitting president Barrack Obama have participated in at least one AMA (or “Ask Me Anything”) session on r/IAmA. AMAs are often a fifty-fifty split between serious discussion of hard-hitting issues and fun banter between important people and the rest of us.
Reddit Is Big
Reddit would not be relevant without an army of users, and boy does Reddit have users. Web analytics firm SimilarWeb tracked roughly 542 million active monthly users throughout the last year. By Reddit’s own count, the site saw over eighty-two billion page views across more than eighty-eight thousand active subreddits in 2015.
Reddit has massive subreddits like r/politics or r/funny. These subreddits boast millions of members and gain constant attention on the front page. Reddit also has vibrant small communities, tailored around a specific niche. In my area, r/Portland is a popular subreddit for local news and interests. If you have an interest, hobby, or passion, there undoubtedly will be a subreddit for you. There’s r/Parenting, r/Vinyl, r/Sewing, r/Gaming, and many more – each with its own subculture and structure.
Reddit Is Unfiltered
The site’s greatest advantage in the world of web-news and social media is its discussion platform. This is also why it is extremely problematic for parents of web-browsing children. Adult discussion on the internet is plagued by trolls – bullies and naysayers who make a point to mock or berate others.
Similarly, Reddit’s discussion pages are routinely vulgar and inflammatory. This is not to say that everything on the site is trashy – if this were the case, the site would not carry its credibility and notoriety as a news source. The vast majority of trolls are down voted into obscurity or specifically edited out by subreddit moderators.
In general, Reddit users are not concerned with keeping their comments G, PG, or even PG-13. Their focus is on the topic at hand, and not their potentially young readers. For this reason, Reddit is not a particularly kid-friendly site.
Your children’s safety online is the number one priority here. They may be exposed to damaging content, haunted by images that they do not understand, hurt by the words of bullies and trolls, or simply confused by online adults behaving in all the ways they have been taught not to act. Having serious and ongoing discussions with our kids about what they are accessing online is a necessity in this generation. Your children are likely familiar with Reddit already, so catch up with your kids on this topic, continue to have meaningful conversations, and protect them with hard boundaries.
Pete M Richardson is a contributing author to online and print publications. He also runs a humor and culture blog called NoiseWise. A Puget Sound native, Pete is currently west-coasting in Portland, OR with his wife and daughter. Find him on Twitter & Instagram as @peterichardson9. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org