If you're a parent of teenagers, you may have seen them browsing a site called Reddit, and you may have been unable to decipher what they were looking at. Not only do Reddit pages bear an incredibly confusing design, but there's so much happening on the site that you probably wouldn't know where to begin.
You also may have seen Reddit in the news. And that might give you pause to wonder what your children are doing on there and who they're doing it with. We have some answers.
What is Reddit?
Often referred to as "the front page of the internet," Reddit is a social news website. Its content is generated by more than 243 million monthly active users (who call themselves redditors) that come together to share stories, links and images, as well as engage in often-heated debate. All of that activity is monitored by unpaid yet dedicated forum moderators.
If you visit Reddit, the first thing you'll see is its front page, also known as r/all, which compiles the most popular posts at a given moment. That list contains trending news, controversial stories or random thoughts (often posted to r/ShowerThoughts, which has 6,883,426 subscribers as of June 2016). The posts that make it to the front page are originally found on subreddits, which are forums dedicated to a single topic. You're also likely to see a ton of cute animal photos and funny memes. (Because why wouldn't you want to see adorable pictures of teacup pigs.)
Reddit became a phenomenon almost as soon as it launched in 2005. By May 2016, the Alexa analytics firm ranked it the 30th most trafficked site on the web. The site's user voting system and the site's Ask Me Anything events, which let regular users get answers from celebrities, including Peter Dinklage, Al Gore and Snoop Dogg, were instantly popular. However, over time, the more seedy and malicious corners of Reddit have earned it a reputation as being the premiere destination of angry folk with unsavory desires.
How does Reddit work?
Redditors submit links or text that other users then upvote or downvote. Users comment on those posts, creating threads that rise and fall based on upvotes and downvotes. An upvote is given to great content, and according to Reddit, downvotes should be given to something that "does not contribute to the subreddit it is posted in or is off-topic in a particular community." The posts with the most upvotes make it to the "Hot" page of their respective subreddit, and if a post is especially popular, it could wind up on the site's front page.
One way redditors reward each other (or themselves) for stellar content is by giving Reddit Gold, a process they call gilding. A unit of Reddit Gold can be purchased for $3.99, and it can be exchanged for a month of premium membership (or for $29.99 per year).
A Reddit Gold member gains access to a bunch of features, including a switch that turns off advertisements and themes that change the site's appearance. You also get a custom Reddit Alien avatar (that mascot with the antenna you see on the front page is named Snoo).
Redditors measure success on the site by karma points, accrued when other users upvote the posts and comments you submit. While it must be nice to have a lot of karma that you could brag about, there is no usable perk to amassing these points. But, if a redditor develops particularly low karma, they may have their ability to post or comment taken away.
What's a subreddit?
Reddit is comprised of more than 853,000 topic-based forums called subreddits, and they're commonly referred to with an "r/" in front of them, which is standing in for "reddit.com/r/". By subscribing to subreddits, that content will appear on your own personalized Reddit.com main page.
Subreddits focus on broad topics such as r/Technology (5,039,654 subscribers) as well as more specific sections including r/Zelda (141,754 subscribers). Subreddits sometimes form around random topics, such as images of Vice President Joe Biden eating sandwiches (r/joebidenandasandwich, 1,606 readers) to photos of birds that feature photoshopped-on arms (r/birdswitharms, 82,679 subscribers).
While you may be able to learn from these rabid enthusiasts, their comments and posts can sometimes border on the inappropriate. For instance, as often as this site resembles Rule 39 of the internet (One cat leads to another), Reddit can also often embody Rule 34 (If it exists, there is porn of it). You'll need to have a talk with your teen about what's appropriate and what's not. Then they'll need to be careful before clicking on any links that are tagged NSFW or NSFL (more on those later).
Reddit is also known to have a trolling problem. A troll is a commenter online who says hateful or aggressive things, often with no other goal than to be offensive. It's important to talk frankly with your teen about bullying online, and to know how to downvote such comments. You can also formally report trolls to the site.
How do I participate on Reddit?
If you're ready to jump in, you'll need to start by creating an account and then searching for subreddits that match your interests. For starters, you might want to subscribe to r/Parenting (98,891 subscribers) to talk to others who are dealing with teens. If you're feeling brave, check out r/College (32,613 subscribers) to see what kids are saying about higher education.
Once you've subscribed to subreddits (click the green button in the right rail), you can click on a link to see its contents, or click on the comments link underneath to see what others have to say about that post. Remember to upvote posts and comments you like, and downvote anything you think reduces the quality of the conversation.
When you're going to post to a subreddit, check to see if someone's already posted the same thing (self-appointed moderators will remove your post if this happens). If your post is about breaking news, check for similar posts in the New tab, which sorts by newness.
But I don't speak the lingo!
AMA (Ask Me Anything): Posts that feature persons answering questions submitted by redditors. Whether this is a movie star promoting a new film or someone with a specific career (a garbage man, a pizza delivery person), AMAs are meant to be informative sessions that open users to new experiences.
DAE (Does Anyone Else?): No one wants to feel alone in the world. You can use this shorthand in any post on any subreddit to find out if others empathize with you. But many of these questions get posed in the r/DAE section.
FTFY (Fixed That For You): If someone's wrong on Reddit, and you feel the need to correct them, you might precede your correction with this snarky acronym. FIFY (Fixed It For You) is an accepted alternative).
IIRC (If I Recall Correctly): Someone isn't exactly sure about their memory, and is willing to admit it.
ITT (In This Thread): Referring to what takes place in the current post or thread.
Karma whore: A redditor who's just out for raising their karma points, and doesn't care about how. These folks will repost already submitted links and make up stories for the sake of the upvotes. They're a relative of the internet troll, acting for their own benefit, but without any malice or ill will. Whore may be a dirty word that you may not want your teen using in any sense, and you'd be right. This phrase is definitely an insult on Reddit.
Lurker: Someone who visits Reddit, but does not post or comment.
OC (Original Content): Reddit is best when it's made of new posts and links, as it keeps things interesting. You'd use this term when appreciating someone's content, or calling out someone for posting rehashed material.
OP (Original Poster): The user who creates a thread.
NSFW (Not Safe For Work): A label slapped on explicit content that is not appropriate for all ages or all settings (at work, for instance).
NSFL (Not Safe For Life): A label on explicit content that is likely to be something so horrific that you'll wish you never saw it.
Repost: A link that's already been shared on the site. If a moderator or another user sees reposted content, it'll be taken down.
Throwaway: A Reddit user account made to post once to avoid being traced.
TIL (Today I Learned): A shorthand acronym used to preface an explanation. This is a way for a redditor to acknowledge that he or she only recently acquired this knowledge.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read): Often found at the end of a lengthy post, TL;DR headers are followed by the short version of the story. It could aptly be described as the CliffsNotes of the internet.
X-post: A link that's already been submitted to a different subreddit.
What's a Reddit AMA?
Reddit gained a lot of popularity with its Ask Me Anything (AMA) events, where one person — often a celebrity — answers a series of questions from redditors. The most famous AMA hosts include President Barack Obama, UFC fighter Ronda Rousey and Captain Picard himself, Patrick Stewart. As its title suggests, you can anonymously ask any question. Just because you ask doesn't mean they will answer — trolls and malicious types often send nasty questions — but no topic is considered off limits.
There's even a subreddit just for AMAs; it's r/iama (11,372,544 subscribers), which stands for "I'm ____ Ask Me Anything." Our sister site Laptop Mag conducted an AMA about ThinkPad notebooks in May 2016.
Who are my kids talking to on Reddit?
There is no way to know who your teens are talking to on Reddit. The site is built on the idea of anonymity. Redditors rarely post under their given name and there's no verification of identity (unless you're hosting an AMA). That means it can be a dangerous place for young people, and a nightmare for parents, particularly since redditors often do in person meet-ups.
Meeting IRL (In Real Life), is most common for members of the same subreddit. Plus, there are subreddits devoted to organizing meet-ups, such as r/Meetup (14,631 subscribers) and r/NYCmeetups (5,601 subscribers). If your teen is already on Reddit, it may be beyond time to have a conversation about stranger danger and how to stay safe on the internet.
Why is Reddit controversial?
Reddit management is very hands-off, which is a policy that often leads to a whole mess of trouble. Although helping people find like-minded friends can be a noble goal, that same practice can foster communities of those who share beliefs that some find destructive or toxic. That has led to moderators running subreddits by their own rules, and the site's troll side that has evolved over time.
While the site is still very much about free speech and open discourse, the founders did realign some company policies in 2015. In order to hide "Communities that are dedicated to shocking or highly offensive content," the site instituted a Quarantine feature so only users with verified email addresses can enter. One such locked community is r/Ferguson, which has been run by white supremacists, though the r/WhiteRights (9,251 subscribers) subreddit is still public.
The site's troubles with free speech still persist, as on June 12, 2016, the moderators of r/news (8,929,571 subscribers) showed poor judgment in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Moderators banned comments to the most popular thread about the story, removed additional links to the story, and then deleted comments that included information about how to give blood donations.
One moderator went so far as to respond "kill yourself" to a commentor. Then, the main page was suddenly flooded with posts from the r/The_Donald that accused the site of censorship. All of this behavior seems contrary to Reddit's goals, and serves as an example of how a subreddit's unpaid and unregulated mods can go rogue.
In response to that event, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman made some changes to how the site works, but stood behind the site's moderation policies. Huffman told the Washington Post that if he could change how it happened, "We would have stepped in right away and created a live thread," a tool that Reddit developed for live events.
To prevent the main page from being deluged by a single subreddit's content, Reddit changed the way posts make it to r/all, so that according to Huffman, "the more often a community is in [r/all], its 'hotness' gets demoted a little bit."
But even while Reddit's algorithms are tweaked, its policy on community moderation looks to stay the same. Huffman stood behind the current standards, saying, "Reddit should be operated so that communities can operate how they like — you can be as strict or as lenient as you like, as long as you’re not more lenient than Reddit's rules."
Can I restrict access to Reddit?
If you don't think your teen is ready for the wild world of Reddit, there are steps you can take to block their access to the service. You can blacklist Reddit.com using parental controls on Windows 10 PCs, Windows 8 PCs, Windows 7 PCs and Macs. You can also block your kids from downloading the official Reddit App using the parental controls for iPhones, iPads and Android devices.
Can I report bad content on Reddit?
If you see something horrible on Reddit, use our guide for reporting abuse to flag content. Hopefully, the moderators will take care of it.
Any more questions? Ask me anything in the comments below.
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Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.