Social Sharing Site Reddit Had Big Year, But Not All Positive Attention

The bare-bones post and link sharing website Reddit may not look like much, but its reach is tremendous. Started by two recent graduates from the University of Virginia in 2005, it now receives billions of page views each month. This year, it even attracted the likes of President Obama to participate in the site's "Ask Me Anything" feature. It has some darker elements too, however, and with little oversight and few rules, the website took heat in 2012 for allowing users to share rape jokes and explicit photos of under-aged girls. All Things Considered host Audie Cornish talks with Anthony De Rosa, social media editor for Reuters, about Reddit's big year.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Here's a motley crew for you. Newsman Dan Rather, rapper Snoop Dogg - or is it Snoop Lion - actress Molly Ringwald, Public Radio host Ira Glass and President Obama. All right, what do they all have in common? They all hosted question and answer sessions on Reddit this year, a link sharing website that's become one of the most popular social media communities online. This month, the site reported more than three and a half billion page views.

To tell us more about why it's been a big year for Reddit, Anthony De Rosa is here. He's the social media editor for Reuters.

Hi there, Anthony.

ANTHONY DE ROSA: Hey. How are you, Audie?

CORNISH: So, Reddit is best known as a link sharing site, where users essentially vote up or down. If they like something, they rank it. And the most popular links make it to the top. And all those celebrities we mentioned, they all participated in a part of the sites called Ask Me Anything, and tell us more about how it works.

ROSA: So, Ask Me Anything is sort of an interview that's conducted on Reddit. A thread is started by the person who wants to be interviewed and people post questions in that thread. At first, it was just regular people. It could be a plumber, it could be someone who works at a factory.

But it's really been incredible the level of celebrity that they're attracting now to do these Ask Me Anythings. That's where it starts to get really interesting, because you often don't have that one-to-one connection with these people. And people are very unguarded. I think Obama answered some provocative questions, so it's really interesting to watch people's reaction to them.

CORNISH: Right, people ask him about how he balanced is a work life and family life. They also asked him about marijuana laws.

ROSA: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSA: Yeah, and there was some questions about indefinite detention, about drones - those he obviously kind of steered away from. But, you know, you can go to those threads and see the questions that were asked. And sometimes the questions that are unanswered are as interesting as the ones that are.

CORNISH: One thing about Reddit is it's really a mixed bag of information. I'm looking at the site right now and there's a post that says: How do I tell my wife she has a mustache? There's another post where someone says they're a World War II veteran, ask them anything. And we also heard about forums on the site this year for rape jokes and explicit photos of underage girls.

I mean, what are the limits that Reddit imposes on its users, if any?

ROSA: Yeah, before some of these things came up this year, the site was pretty much the Wild West. People were posting everything and anything on the site. And they are now starting to think about the governance of the site, consider how they decide what content can be on there, what cannot. So there's sort of an evolution of the way that the site is run that's taking place now.

CORNISH: Who is the audience? I mean, we talked about this enormous number, more than three and a half billion page views, but who is the intended audience for Reddit, who flocks to the site?

ROSA: Well, the site - if you look at some of the services that rank these websites, have them anywhere in the top 140 websites in the world. In the U.S., they're around the top 40. The demographics is kind of skewed towards young white males, fairly affluent, college-educated. It doesn't have a very wide demographic. It kind of tends towards the real geek underbelly of the Internet.

CORNISH: But at the same time, it sounds like this group is very influential in terms of pushing content that might end up on other websites. And could that be why politicians, for instance, would want to tap into it?

ROSA: Certainly. Reddit is sort of known as the front page of the Internet. Every site on the Internet usually goes to Reddit to find out what's going on. And oftentimes you'll find that the content you see on other blogs comes from Reddit. They'll go to Reddit and they'll either take stuff wholesale from Reddit or they'll take a spin on what Reddit is reporting or take bits and pieces of it and rewrite it.

But Reddit is very much a kind of a resource for bloggers and even mainstream writers who are looking for something to write about.

CORNISH: It's interesting you mention that motto: The Front Page Of The Internet, because Reddit has also played a role in some breaking news situations this past year as well.

ROSA: Yeah, that's right. In fact, there was real-time updates about the shooting both in Aurora and the one that had taken place at Sandy Hook. People were posting information coming from people directly on the scene who were tweeting it out, posting it on Facebook. So we're seeing Reddit starting to become more of a real-time news resource, as well.

CORNISH: Anthony, any ideas about what's next for Reddit in 2013?

ROSA: I think now it's really starting to go into the mainstream. Hopefully the demographics are beginning to change. There's going to be people from different walks of life and different backgrounds, and that's when it really starts to get interesting 'cause those people will find ways to leverage Reddit and the community there. And topics that haven't been broached up until this point will start to be discussed. And I think you'll continue to see Reddit used in ways that may not have even occurred to us.

CORNISH: Anthony De Rosa, he's the social media editor for Reuters. Anthony, thank you.

ROSA: You're welcome. Thank you.

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