Why I Still Use Reddit
Let me give, as an example of what I mean, a description of how an intellectual match might work in New York City. Each man, at any given moment and at a minimum price, could identify himself to a computer with his address and telephone number, indicating the book, article, film or recording on which he seeks a partner for discussion. Within days he could receive by mail the list of others who recently had taken the same initiative. This list would enable him by telephone to arrange for a meeting with the persons who initially would be known exclusively by the fact that they requested a dialogue about the same subject.
Ivan Illich envisions 'learning webs' in Deschooling Society, 1970
While I have cancelled most of my major social media platform accounts by now, I continue to use Reddit. Here's why.
A big platform
Reddit is one of the big players in the world of social media. It is a news aggregation site and a place where like-minded individuals can connect and discuss topics of shared interest.
Reddit had over 1 billion global users in 20221 and around 50 million daily active users early 20222. It was ranked the 8th most visited website worldwide in 2022.3 Reddit earns income with targetted advertising on the platform itself, as well as with internal subscription and credit options.
This week I discovered a new video game podcast titled My Perfect Console, hosted by Simon Parkin. His first guest was Josh Wardle, the creator of the word puzzle game Worlde, which became massively popular towards the end of 2021, and which he subsequently sold to The New York Times early 2022. Josh started his career at Reddit. During the interview, he describes what Reddit is:
pseudonymous people interacting with one another about their passion
This definition struck a chord with me and goes some way to explaining why I would compromise and give Reddit a 'pass', despite some of its potentially intrusive features. The fact that it is the shared topic of interest that brings people together, and not the identities of the individuals involved, is precisely what interests me.
Comparison to other platforms
Reddit has features designed to develop compulsive checking, like an up/down vote button and reward stickers. Your upvotes are pooled into your 'karma', highlighted by a red icon in the upper right hand corner, right next to where notifications appear, also in red. As with other platforms, there is a curated 'feed' which includes promoted posts - the ads. There are options to block, follow and message other users. I find most features easier to ignore than their parallels on other social media platforms, with the exception of the notifications icon.
This is because, in most cases, your real-world identity is of little significance. There are exceptions (the Ask Me Anything threads, for example), but the majority of Reddit users use pseudonyms. This tends to naturally shift the focus towards ideas, jokes and arguments. Some posts are disarmingly honest or intimate, which is possible as a result of pseudonymity. In that sense, Reddit reminds me a little of PostSecret.
If the subreddit is big enough, engagement is fast. When I was trying to build my first server, I benefited from almost 'live' help from fellow Redditors. There are toxic subreddits - unfortunately some privacy-focused ones - but on the whole engagement feels normal. In some of the crypto currency forums you may run the risk of being scammed, however. Be cautious about help offered via direct messages there.
Privacy on Reddit
One thing to be aware of is that clicking on someone's username will give you a list of all that individual's engagements in reverse chronology. This is not ideal from a privacy standpoint, as a dedicated sleuth could get quite far in profiling you. Past comments can be taken out of context and reused unfairly, a favourite pastime for some.
How I use Reddit
There are a number of steps I take to create separation between my real-life person and my Reddit profiles.
Delete profiles - Since I really don't care about Reddit's karma, I will delete my profile a few times per year in order to avoid building up a narrative attached to any username. While I feel some guilt at pulling out of documented meaningful exchanges, the comments remain with the user label '[deleted]'.
Pick random interests - Reddit forces you to select several personal interests when you sign up, as a quick way to get you (and them) started. To randomise my user profile, I pick subjects I am not interested in at all. This makes for a fun feed: as u/theprivacydad I get a mix of domestic interiors and US college basketball, neither of which interest me.
Use uBlock Origin - This browser extension blocks advertisements and tracking. On Reddit, uBlock Origin removes promoted posts, and it also seems to stop recall of visits to past subreddits. Instead, my feed defaults to the random topics I signed up for at the start.
Check privacy settings - https://www.reddit.com/settings/privacy.
Use a VPN - This will mask your IP address. I recommend Mullvad VPN.
Log out after every session - This may seem unnecessarily tedious, but the fact I need open up my password manager every time I want to log in works as a deterrent to building up addictive habits.
Use desktop - See here and this article
Nostalgically, Reddit feels like a last bastion of an older Internet where ideas were the primary focus, not identities. I like how even the most high engagement threads will eventually die out when users move on the next discussion, but stay documented and searchable for newcomers with the same questions. In that way, Reddit functions like a forum or knowledge database. I find the attitude of others and helpfulness generally good, though I am aware that this is in part determined by the subreddits I choose to follow.
Using Reddit is a compromise for someone looking to improve digital privacy, but one where the benefits trump the costs, most of the time. As I have hopefully shown, there are some practical ways to control your addiction and engagement with the platform. The truth is that when I need to learn about a new privacy tool, I usually turn to Reddit for help.
My Perfect Console video game podcast
I found this blog post "How Does Reddit Make Money?" informative and well-sourced.
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