When @shania2_2 comes back home and finally opens her iPad she doesn’t expect to see much. She fires up her new muse – Reddit, and her feed is crowded with no less than three Elon Musk stories. But then suddenly, the 23-year-old sees a large number of news flashes with the title #MeToo.
Within three clicks and a 7-minute quick scan, she knows what’s up and feels an overwhelming sense of gratification. She opens up @3keya3’s post on her workplace harassment experience and comments, “We’re in solidarity. Stay strong”. She keeps scrolling down when a sore spot pops up because @akki75 had commented too.
He, from a claustrophobic, dark room in Mumbai was on the same webpage rolling his eyes away 32 minutes ago. While the pizza grease on his hands was wiped off onto his checkered boxers, he punched in the words, “#MeToo because I was harassed by the zippers of my pants lol”. He hits post.
The troll-behind-closed-doors is a trope associated with a considerable amount of Reddit’s male population and has thus also gotten the website the title of The Internet’s Most Toxic Community. There have been various instances where women have been threatened, trolled and compelled to leave the website because of its inorganically breeding demographic of misogynist trolls.
The troll-behind-closed-doors has also gotten Reddit the title of ‘The Internet’s Most Toxic Community’.
Take for example the case with Gamergate when video game developer Zoe Quinn made a game about depression called Depression Quest. The criticism for her game on sites like Reddit and 4Chan slowly evolved into death threats and details of her sex life, phone number and address being made public. Things became so volatile that the game developer had to leave her house and couch surf. All of this only because a few on Reddit went too far.
This is not the only time women have been made victims of hostile acts on the website. A set of nude pictures of celebrities were also leaked onto the subreddit r/TheFappening and even though the subreddit was taken down altogether due to public outrage, there are other ones like r/CelebNudes and r/toplesscelebs that are continually going unchecked.
A language and text centred data scientist, Ben Bell analyzed the top 250 subreddits and ranked them from the most toxic and bigoted to the most supportive ones. r/TheRedPill – a subreddit infamous and hugely popular for being dedicated to chauvinistic discourse – ranked on top in terms of bigotry and sexism towards women. While its offshoots – r/justneckbeardthings and r/ShitRedditSays followed closely. Nonetheless, the study also mentioned the other end of the spectrum with subreddits like r/Aww, r/Libertarian and r/Jokes which qualified as the least bigoted and one of the most supportive communities on the website.
When examining the flip side one can’t help but notice that the experiences of women on the website have also seen reasonably positive backing on some forums. The all-female run r/TwoXChromosomes or, r/feminism, r/AskWomen and even r/TrollXChromosomes have been virtual support systems, sources of empathetic humour and areas of recreation for the women’s demographic of Reddit.
Women on these subreddits are known for sharing stories of abuse, parenting, marriages, financial help and suicide and in return are received with “kindness, compassion and warmth”. Not only have there been instances of people donating organs, crowdfunding surgeries and strangers seeking and giving motivation every day on the digital platform but there are also secret subreddits present that are only open and known to members of a certain group like mothers or trans women to foster a better sense of community.
The virtual experiences for women on the platform are seen to be overwhelmingly positive at times. So now, where and how is the fence drawn between the good and the bad of Reddit?
Women joining a website whose 74% population is male, bridges the gap in numbers and also makes provisions for female agency.
A certain Reddit user who advocated for Reddit so much so that she called the website her “feminist utopia” suggests curating your feed with the good and not indulging with the bad. I personally seem to be in agreement. With my timeline being made of mostly humorous instances of r/TIFU or r/WritingPrompts or even r/mildlyinteresting, Reddit has made a sweet little spot for me to go on for witty comments, life hacks and intelligent reading which otherwise my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook can’t provide. I have actively made efforts to keep my involvement with the dark, dingy side of Reddit minimal and frankly, it doesn’t take much.
To define Reddit as good or bad for women (or anyone in general) would be an exercise in futility. It is after all the microcosm of the internet and the internet does have all kinds of people. It is the ones you choose to include or exclude out of your circle that makes the difference.
Reddit is providing you with an extensive menu card and you as the user choose what ends up arriving on your table. However, when the question comes to whether you as a woman should get on the website or not, the answer should be a vehement yes. Women joining a website whose 74% population is male, not only bridges the gap in numbers but also makes provisions for female agency, which in turn takes it away from the male chauvinists.
For a website that sees 110 million visitors on an average every month, it is imperative that their timelines see stories that are told by women and consist of female-driven rhetorics. Naturally, the same can only happen if women don’t end up shying away from what is undoubtedly the front page of the internet.
Featured Image Credit: Your Life Choices