Feel free to follow me on Reddit!
I love Reddit, but believe that anonymity brings out the worst of it. So, I’m Reddit-ing under my name.
Way back in 2015, I apparently set up a public Reddit account for myself. Feel free to check it out at /u/danielrosehill (I say apparently because about a year ago I went to set it up only to find that it already existed).
Since then, I set up a conventional (ie anonymous) Reddit account and have been reasonably active. The identity of this account must remain a strictly guarded secret. But you could say that maintaining it has taught me the Reddit ropes. And then some.
The Positive Aspects of Reddit
Having been on active on the network for five years now, I have a few thoughts about Reddit:
- I think that its positive potential is massive. Reddit allows very niche communities to form. Actually, that’s basically what it is: a handful of relatively generic subreddits (e.g. /r/politics) and then a massively long tail of smaller subs (see: redditlist.com to get a feel for the scale here). Some of my favorite subreddits, for instance, are /r/backup (backup related discussions) and /r/datahoarder. I can ask questions about my ongoing training for an AWS cert in /r/awscertifications. I can ask about gastritis in /r/gastritis. Etc, etc. Name something you want to know more about or discuss and you can find it on Reddit.
- Reddit is an addictive haven for people like me with niche interests. Reddit takes all the aspects of Facebook that I like — namely groups — and gets rid of those that I hate (profile feeds; people trying hard to look cool etc). Oddly enough, in freeing itself of one form of social media toxicity — people trying to look better than the other, hence spreading jealously and one-upmaship — it falls prey to another one: the potential for abuse that anonymity creates on the internet. But as a place to discuss things which people I know IRL (in real life) aren’t interested in, and further my knowledge of those subjects, Reddit is amazing.
- Quality of discourse varies enormously between subreddits — and each sub has its own atmosphere. It’s very rare to find toxicity in the /r/backup subreddit for instance although it’s also relatively inactive and sparsely populated. Backups are certainly a niche interest even within technology. That alone tends to make people treat each other with reasonable civility. Some subreddits, however, are filled with infighting and online abuse. /r/Israel contains some interesting discussions about Israel but has (in my view) a rather strong hasbarist vibe to it that I find offputting (although others wouldn’t). Every subreddit has its own flavor, its own level of friendliness, and its own frequent posters. Despite how many of them exist, every subreddit is truly its own online community.
What I Dislike About Reddit
There are two major things about Reddit, however, that I dislike:
- Toxicity. Far too often, Reddit is simply a haven for online toxicity. Redditors, in my experience, can be needlessly derisive, argumentative, and trolling — simply because the vast majority of them do not disclose their identity.
- Spiteful Downvoting: Downvoting was designed to make more appealing content appear at the top of subreddit feeds. However, it has, in my opinion, become an effective conduit for groupthink and downvoting contrarian opinions into non-prominence (Reddit collapses comments if they are downvoted heavily enough, making them all but invisible to casual scrollers). Moderating Reddit is a massive endeavor. Downvoting, in a sense, appears to have been designed to let the community take care of that function itself. But Redditors often downvote comments and threads for no good reason other than that they don’t agree with the content. That detracts from the quality of debate and marginalizes non-mainstream opinions, in my opinion. It’s also not been unheard of for Redditors to make determined nemeses who will follow them around Reddit downvoting their posts and comments. No, I’m being serious.
Why I’m Redditing Publicly
While I still think that anonymous online posting is a massive facilitator of online/internet abuse, I think that anonymity has its places.
Within the Reddit context some of those would be:
- Whistleblowers whisteblowing on what’s happening in their industry (or company).
- Mental health subreddits: Reddit is a place where people suffering from mental or physical health problems come online to discuss their issues with others. Naturally, many people wouldn’t want to air this information under their real name.
Because I see so much needless harm come from Reddit anonymity despite its occasional requirement and innate usefulness, I’ve decided that, going forward, all my Reddit activity is going to be coming from my public account. This will be the case unless there’s a strong reason why anonymity would be preferable or necessary.
/u/danielrosehill has my name in it. My profile page has my now grossly overused headshot that is badly in need of a replacement.
And even if what I post is sometimes ill-conceived, casts me in a less than idyllic like, or otherwise detracts from the impression of what anybody snooping through the profile might think about me I’m taking credit for it. Yes, even if, by reading the profile,the internet-at-large can know that I’m currently dealing with gastritis after my gallbladder surgery, am considering walking as a low-impact alternative to biking, and am thinking about upgrading to VPS web hosting — that’s all okay with me. I’m not hiding.
In fact I’m adopting non-anonymous-forum-usage-until-proven-a-bad-idea as a general policy, for all my internet usage. In other words, unless there is a strong imperative to go anonymous, all accounts I set up will be publicly attributed to me. If I need to set up anonymous accounts for specific questions I will.
But I believe that a little less anonymity in certain quarters would probably make the internet a more welcoming, transparent, and less hateful place.
Originally published at https://www.danielrosehill.co.il