Perry: I read it on Reddit

Alex Perry, Opinion Editor

Every year, come college application season, prospective students inundate the r/Northwestern subreddit. The subjects of their curiosities include admissions chances, the difference between computer science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences versus McCormick School of Engineering and whether attending Northwestern for undergraduate will increase one’s chances of matriculating into the Kellogg School of Management as a graduate student. 

I’ve often used our campus’ subreddit to hear different perspectives or to find a story that might’ve slipped under The Daily’s radar. Although the overall community is a wonderful place to ask for, give or receive advice, the anonymity of individual users creates an unpredictable platform one should only use to supplement advice from trusted individuals. 

For those unfamiliar with Reddit, the website is best described as an infinite apartment building that houses a multitude of units, each devoted to a topic. These units are called subreddits, as they are subsets of the greater Reddit platform. Within subreddits, redditors can create posts, comment, upvote, downvote and interact with them. According to Statista, users in the United States account for 48.93% of all users. There are over 430 million monthly active users worldwide, which is fitting for a website formerly known as the front page of the internet.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian said, “The vast, vast majority of these connections are benign: people finding a sense of identity and community when they’re feeling alone or hopeless — (even) about a shared love of an obscure Pokémon, which is wonderful.” Ohanian has also acknowledged that while some subreddits foster healthy communities, Reddit as a platform has housed toxic communities. 

Digital platforms like Reddit are an experiment for issues like self-moderation and community policing in the digital arena. Instead of having Reddit employees police content and members of subreddits, it is the responsibility of a subreddit’s moderators to dictate their guidelines and culture. Hearkening back to my earlier apartment comparison, it’s as if one unit’s family allows shoes inside while another requests that they be left at the door. Because of this self-moderation, the rules of one community can differ from the next, making each subreddit an unfamiliar territory. 

Let me break down NU internet culture: Twitter is the hot take hub; Facebook is for event planning, parents and alumni; and Reddit is the discussion board where community members from all walks can share their experiences. While the site can spread misinformation on questions like whether a class is curved or who is eligible for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, Reddit sometimes reminds me of its positive qualities. Just this week, a student found their missing laptop, and another gave advice on which bikes are best for the snow.

The r/Northwestern subreddit is fairly friendly, and has quickly become a resource that I’ve relied on to learn about the University in a way more formal and on-the-record mediums haven’t been able to capture. However, the perspectives offered on the site will remain supplemental to more credible forms of information, such as news sites or official government websites. There’s no harm in hearing advice, but it becomes dangerous when one starts to overestimate its universality.

Alex Perry is a Medill sophomore. You can contact them at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.