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Users, called “redditors,” submit links or short posts and decide what stories are important by voting them up or down. The Reddit home page automatically displays the most popular stories. Redditors who share popular articles gain “karma,” a score that is displayed next to each username. Many users post anonymously, and moderators are lax about allegedly defamatory comments.
Reddit was created in 2005, and Conde Nast acquired it the following year for a reported $20 million. In 2011, it spun off the site as an independent operation while retaining ownership. The site has become one of the most influential sites on the Internet. It had 25 employees as of 2013, and reached 1 billion page views in a month for the first time in February 2011 and 2 billion in a month by the end of the year. By mid-2012, it was averaging 3 billion page views per month, along with 400 million unique visitors and 30 million posts per year in 2012. A 2013 survey estimated that 6% of American adults who go online use Reddit. It was rumored in early 2013 to be valued at $400 million.
Though the site was not developed with news coverage in mind, Reddit users have provided live coverage of breaking news events, most notably the July 2012 shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater. In the wake of that event, Reddit was praised for the thoroughness and interactivity of its coverage and as a forum for social journalism. Reddit began experimenting with a live-updating feature that could be used for breaking news in 2014. Professional journalists have been known to frequent Reddit in search of popular memes, then appropriate them with or without credit. The BBC launched a video news channel on Reddit in 2014.
Reddit has also drawn negative attention for its involvement in breaking news, particularly in the search for suspects after the Boston Marathon bombing of April 2013. Reddit users misidentified the suspects, prompting the site’s general manager to apologize. The site was widely criticized for its users’ recklessness, though some defended the site’s work.
In August 2012, President Barack Obama participated in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) thread on Reddit. His participation was seen by some as a potential advance for digital democracy and arrival for Reddit, though others were skeptical of Reddit’s ability to allow a thorough questioning of public figures. In the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign, Reddit was also used as a forum for real-time fact-checking.
Reddit has been reluctant to deeply incorporate ads, taking no network-wide ads and employing only two ad reps as of 2013. By 2014, its ad staff was up to seven, and it was working to slowly integrate advertising into its site. In July 2010, Reddit staff member Mike “Raldi” Schiraldi appealed to users to help support the site’s overwhelming growth. A new Reddit Gold subscription service attracted 9,000 subscribers in 10 days. A subscription ($4 per month; $30 per year) offers premium commenting features and the ability to disable ads.
In late 2010, the Reddit community persuaded comedian Stephen Colbert to hold a mock political rally in Washington, D.C., after a user described having the idea in a dream. Users raised more than $200,000 for charity in an effort to win Colbert’s attention. The resulting “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” would attract hundreds of thousands of people to the national mall and raise the fundraising total to more than $600,000.
Reddit’s open structure has also allowed for the growth of many subforums dedicated to racist, sexually predatory, or otherwise offensive content. After a Gawker article revealed the identity of the moderator of some of those forums in 2012, Reddit was criticized for allowing such content and for the decisions of many of its moderators to ban all Gawker links. Reddit’s leaders responded by defending their commitment to free speech and hands-off moderation. Forum moderators are also free to ban links from individual news outlets, and certain subforums have drawn criticism for arbitrarily banning reputable news organizations.
Reddit is similar to Digg, an earlier link-sharing site created by Kevin Rose, and Slashdot, which focuses on science and technology. Many users abandoned Digg for Reddit in summer 2010, after a botched redesign. Observers declared Digg dead after its traffic plummeted.
PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that examines the statements made by American political figures and pundits. It is run by the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). PolitiFact was launched in 2007, a project of longtime political reporter Bill Adair (who left the site in 2013) and web developer Matt Waite. According to Waite,…