Adrienne Massanari argues that the digital community, Reddit.com, is an open-source platform that supports a pro-(male)geek, anti-feminist culture via its design and administrator/moderator policies. To support her thesis, Massanari examines how Reddit.com’s platform politics allowed the “#Gamergate” and “The Fappening” toxic technocultures to thrive and grow. As a female internet user and a feminist, I commend Massanari for attempting to draw attention to the ways in which certain Reddit features encourage anti-feminist activity to persist on the site. This is a particularly important trend to watch for in the digital age. However, I think her argument is too specific to be used to generalize the Reddit digital community as a whole. Certainly “#Gamergate” and “The Fappening” exemplify an anti-feminist culture, but other subreddits, particularly academic-focused subreddits, are fully gender-neutral and do not in any way promote anti-feminist activism. Instead, these subreddits are designed to provide useful information to all users, regardless of their real-life persona. One counterexample to Massanari’s argument is the subreddit titled “Law School Admissions” (https://www.reddit.com/r/lawschooladmissions/).
The Law School Admissions subreddit is intended to provide future law school applicants with information that will help them navigate the application process. Users generally post questions concerning LSAT scores, personal statements, financial aid, etc. Responses are drawn from current law students who have gone through the application process themselves as well as current applicants who share what they have learned about the process thus far. In terms of Reddit’s design, Massanari argues that the karma point system and the upvote/downvote system incentivize users to contribute to the site’s gender politics and geek sensibilities (p. 337). In turn, these systems encourage male geeks to post anti-feminist content and encourages new users to conform to the anti-feminist activism that plagues the site (p. 337). The upvote/downvote system makes this type of material more popular, allowing it to dominate the site. While this argument applies to subreddits that are misogynist in nature, it does not apply to Law School Admissions. Rather, the karma point system encourages users to provide helpful knowledge to their peers. The more useful law school applicants find a post, the more karma points the poster receives. In this case, Reddit’s design provides a win-win situation for the students and the educators. Furthermore, while Massanari argues that the upvote/downvote system allows anti-feminist content to be made more visible, thus creating a toxic technoculture, this system is one of the most useful Law School Admissions design features. After browsing numerous threads on this subreddit, I have realized that it is difficult to determine which advice is worth following, especially when users are giving contrasting advice on the same thread. The upvote/downvote system helps me decide which statement is the most reliable. I am always more likely to believe a post with 50 upvotes over one with only five upvotes, especially if the two posts were made at the same time. Thus, while there are certain cases in which Reddit’s design can be harmful to particular users, there are just as many cases when the site’s design benefits all users equally.
In terms of Reddit’s policies, Massanari argues that when administrators remain neutral it encourages the “continued presence of toxic technocultures” by valorizing “the rights of the majority while often trampling over the rights of others” (p. 339). Additionally, moderators are incentivized to look past content designed for the enjoyment of white males because it helps them maintain site traffic (p. 340). However, the role of Law School Admissions moderators makes the subreddit a more productive and friendly community to be a part of. The moderators of this thread have devised rules such as (1) be nice, (2) give as much information as you can (so that you can get the best advice for your specific situation), and (3) when giving advice answer the question first and then explain why. In this case, the moderators are simply trying to make the subreddit as helpful as possible. They are not trying to discriminate against particular users, nor are they trying to filter out posts that don’t align with their personal values. While Law School Admissions moderators are not faced with the threat of being banned, I still think that Massanari’s argument would have been more rhetorically effective if she had given consideration to the fact that her argument only applies to certain portions of Reddit’s content. Reddit.com does not promote anti-feminism, only certain (although popular) users do.
In conclusion, depending on what parts of Reddit.com a user is viewing, he can either view the site as one that promotes a misogynist geek culture or one that promotes a productive community learning environment. The same the designs and policies that promote an anti-feminist technoculture provide other users with instant access to useful information based on personal experiences.