What reddit Does Right

Recently, I’ve posted a lot about how social media shames people. In class, my students mentioned that social media creates and perpetuates drama – sometimes in really poisonous ways.  In fact, one student is writing her Multimodal Advocacy Project about cyber bulling.

And yet, I see ways in which social media and collaborative writing spaces provide 30 Rockunique opportunities for people to connect. Today, I read this story about a reddit megathread in which women recounted stories about the first time they were looked at in a sexual way by a man (Trigger Warning if you decide to read the thread). This thread on reddit is really powerful because of the sheer number of women coming together to describe their experiences.  I should clarify. This question garnered thousands of responses and tens of thousands of comments.

The power of this megathread is manifold. First, the pathos of these women’s stories is powerful. Reading about an eight year old girl running away from a stranger in a store or about a twelve year old girl having obscenities hurled at her from moving cards, makes the reader realize how vulnerable young girls can be in the most mundane situations. In many of the stories, the girls didn’t understand what the men said to them. Their innocence emphasizes the threat. For women, the experiences are so familiar that they may feel sympathy.

While pathos is a powerful appeal, in some ways, this thread is really an appeal to ethos. The credibility of these women is created by their critical mass. When thousands of women in a relatively small corner of the world share story after story about harassment, their authority to make truth claims increases. Collaborative social media created a space for these women to demonstrate that this experience is real and ubiquitous. In other words, the massive response makes it an appeal through phronesis. It’s common knowledge now; prepubescent girls are sexually harassed before they understand their young bodies.

As much as I may rail against the sexism on reddit, I am impressed when women can use the space to make statement about the conditions they live in.

Facebook and Social Action

This week, we talked about what genres do.  We had some great conversations about the function of Twitter and other social media. What makes an exemplary tweet?  What makes an exemplary Facebook status? I think we realized that a lot of the ways we measure successful rhetoric may not work for something like Facebook because the social action is different.  The social action of social networking is to get noticed, liked, and shared.  This may mean that deliberate, well-written, and considerate writing does not receive notice, where as over the top, hyperbolic, or weird writing is most successful.

In fact, the worst behavior is often rewarded in social media. In “7 Ways to Be Insufferable on Facebook,” Tim Urban states that annoying statuses are self-serving: “A Facebook status is annoying if it primarily serves the author and does nothing positive for anyone reading it.”  I think there’s some truth to this, although I wonder what Facebook status isn’t a little self-serving. Regardless, here are his seven ways to be insufferable:

  1. The Brag, which includes greats like the “I’m Living Quite the Life” Brag, the Undercover Brag, and the “I’m in a Great Relationship” Brag
  2. The Cryptic Cliffhanger
  3. The Literal Status Update
  4. The Inexplicably-Public Private Message
  5. The Out-Of-Nowhere Oscar Acceptance Speech
  6. The Step Toward Enlightenment
  7. The Incredibly Obvious Opinion

These types of statuses are very common and very popular. That is to say, if you post, “Ughhhhhhhh,” you want someone to comment, “Oh baby, what’s wrong?”  And what’s worse, inevitably someone will.

And at the same time, this seems to be a rhetorically sound practice using a pathetic appeal. Your audience feels for you and responds accordingly. Perhaps we shouldn’t judge these masters of digital rhetoric.