Uncharted Social Media Territory
Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay
If you are anything like me, and the extent of your social media reach includes Facebook, Instagram, and Linked In, then Reddit is about as foreign as it gets. For someone who doesn’t use Reddit, it can be an extremely confusing forum. It is hard to see the benefits or the dangers of something if you can’t even tell how to use it. That’s what we are here for! This blog will overview a few basic facts about Reddit, followed by Reddit’s intended purpose, and finally will discuss the dangers that could be looming on this foreign planet of the social media universe.
Originally founded in June 2005, Reddit, considered the “front page of the Internet,” now boasts 330 million monthly active users and has beat out sites like Instagram and Twitter to be the sixth most popular website in the world. While 64% of the user base in between the ages of 18 and 29, there is no real age restriction on Reddit. It says it is not intended for use by children under the age of 13, but there is nothing to stop children from lying about their age. While young adults are the majority demographic, I don’t doubt that there are a number of younger teens within that same group who are lying about their age.
As stated above, Reddit considers itself the “Front page of the Internet.” Reddit was created to be a news source for hundreds or thousands of different categories and topics. Users are anonymous, and they can up vote or down vote posts on Reddit. The more up votes a post gets, the more popular it becomes. Users who post these things collect reddit karma, which has no more value than a like on Facebook or a Retweet on Twitter.
Reddit was created to be a news resource, and the anonymity of the website does make it easier to express oneself freely. However, anonymity and “free” expression are not always good. When one person’s free expression tramples another person underfoot, whose rights do we protect? Do we protect the bully, or do we protect the victim? Like all social media sites, it becomes what the user wants it to be. If the user uses the site properly and for good, it can be a resource; but if they use it to cyberbully others or slander people, it can be a powerful weapon. The real question is whether, knowing the dangers, you as a parent want your child on the site.
This brings us to three dangers of Reddit.
Danger #1: ANONYMITY!!!
Anonymity is the mask that Reddit users (and users for dozens of other websites) wear so that they can supposedly say whatever they want with no consequences. Reddit particularly is known for its trolls, people who use such sites specifically for slander and cyberbullying. It also makes it impossible to know who you are connecting with on the website, unless a group of friends know each other’s usernames. Therefore, we not only have the stranger danger concerns of connecting with random people whose intentions you cannot know; we also have the risk of cyberbullying and slander. Since the largest user base is between the ages of 18 and 29, realize that if your teen connects with these people, their intentions may or may not be pure.
Danger #2: Content…
Reddit specifically states that it does not cater to an audience under the age of 13. This is a good thing, since Reddit has some ADULT content, and random searches can connect you with those posts. There are porn subreddits (categories) all over the place, and you nor your teen can totally guard against them, unless you block the whole site. The good news is that Reddit can be blocked on both your PC or Mac and your iPhone or Android.
Danger #3: Value…
Teens are in a particularly unstable time in their lives, and they need guidance- NOT CONTROL, guidance. This is a time to sit down and have a tough conversation with your teen. First, digital respect is a must. Trolling and cyberbullying are unacceptable, and if you don’t agree with that, imagine that it was your child being bullied. Those comments online hurt people in real ways, and with the way teens attribute so much value to other peoples’ opinions of them, cyberbullying can do some real damage. Also consider Reddit Karma. That is essentially the value the user has as a user. The more posts and likes and up votes and comments a user gets, the higher their score. The dopamine hit that comes from that high score is not only addictive; it can lead to literal withdrawals if the Karma score drops or they were not allowed to use the website anymore. It’s like your Instagram and Facebook-addicted teens. They don’t really care about the content as much as they care about the dopamine hit from the likes and comments. Explain to your teen that their value is not tied up in what random people think about them on social media.
Use your judgement and be careful. Any website can present an opportunity and a threat. It is up to you to determine whether it is worth the risk.