Reddit is formed by the “people formerly known as the audience”, Jay Rosen (PressThink 2006). This remark by Rosen implies that Reddit’s gatekeepers are removed, and in its place are only ‘the people’. But the gatekeepers are still ‘the people’.
Reddit suffers from a conflict “between the thoughtful and the jerks” (TEDGlobal 2005), an insight observed by Jimmy Wales on the moderation of his website Wikipedia.
To tackle this conflict, Reddit’s community is empowered by democratic tools to either upvote or downvote content, giving users the power to moderate conversations on Subreddits (or groups). Under Clay Shirky’s idealised model of the Internet (TED@State 2009), Reddit may be a medium that “supports groups and conversations at the same time.” But Reddit does not support conversations, it controls conversations.
The issue with Reddit is its eager ability to shut down conversations, for negative or positive reasons, by only a few downvotes. While voting helps to moderate the quality of conversations, ‘quality’ is loosely defined by the subreddit’s users. The decision to ‘upvote’ or ‘downvote’ a conversation is left up to ‘the people’. But who are ‘the people’?
If I only upvote, am I one of ‘the people’? Who becomes the audience under the open network of Reddit? I can identify six loose tiers of participation, that define the audiences of Reddit. There are the:
- Lurkers – the audience who remain the audience;
- Upvoters – ‘the people’, like myself, who vote on the content they see;
- Commenters – those that embellish the content with context and conversation;
- Submitters – those who generate and contribute content of interest;
- Doctors – the few who trawl through content to evaluate what should be seen; and
- Moderators – there will always be moderators.
But I believe only one tier remains the gatekeeper’s of ‘the people’: the Doctors.
They are the minority that upvote a topic thread in its infancy; a point in time where a few votes will decide what page the content will end up on. The value in Reddit is that anyone can participate and be a Doctor. But if I only upvote what the Doctors have chosen to be upvoted, whose content are we consuming on Reddit: the people’s or the people’s people?