Committed to a life of social distancing, we need people that we can trust to tell us how the world looks. Tuning in to the prime minister’s evening speeches is one way, but for many, the conversation is really happening elsewhere.
For some, one of these places is the Reddit message board r/Coronavirus. The ‘subreddit’ has over 1.6 million users, almost a million of whom signed up in the first two weeks of March. Putting this into perspective, it is now the third-most active subreddit and one of the fastest growing ones, according to Redditlist, a website that tracks Reddit.
While it is only logical that a publisher as widely used as Reddit – the self-proclaimed ‘front page of the internet’ – would see both a significant uptick in overall use of its app and dedicated subreddits focused on the COVID-19 outbreak, there’s something more going on.
Users of Reddit are clearly highly engaged and vocal online, often posting comments and upvoting or downvoting content. It’s the engagement that really stands out even though no one on the platform knows the identity of any other user.
Bindu Reddy, the founder of Candid, which allowed users to post messages anonymously, sees a direct correlation between the level of anonymity users are offered, and how forthcoming and honest their behaviour on the platform is.
Of course, the challenge with any anonymised platform is trolls. Today on Reddit, 60 volunteer content moderators, including researchers of infectious diseases, virologists, computer scientists, doctors and nurses, spend hours policing the more than 50,000 daily comments posted by the community for misinformation, trolls and off-topic political discussions.
What we are left with is a stream of live updates from users all around the world, posting content with no ulterior motive than the hope it is received well by others. r/Coronavirus is one of the most authoritative, up-to-date and civil forums for information and discussion about the pandemic.
As we reflect on all the change that is happening as a result of recent events, there’s an invaluable opportunity for us all to reflect on the distinction between what we say and what we really think. If so, what would it take to close the gap?
People are turning to Reddit and other social media networks as a source of information about the pandemic but also as a means of finding online community.