Networked Scholarship and Reddit
One. An article in Inside Higher Ed last week noted that for some academics, Reddit is becoming a “credible platform to discuss academic interests with people whom they otherwise would not have had a chance to debate.”
Owens (2014) provides more history into this phenomenon and describes in more detail into how “ Reddit created the world’s largest dialogue between scientists and the general public.” The argument goes something like this: Social media (like Reddit) allow scholars to network with diverse audiences – a valued activity, considering that knowledge generated in universities can have significant benefits for society.
Reddit is a popular content aggregator. Various communities within the site are called subreddits. One subreddit is called IAmA, which stands for “I am A.” In this community, users post “Ask Me Anything” or “Ask me Almost/Absolutely Anything” threads, inviting others to ask questions of them. This community is one of the most popular on the site, and it features more than 8 million subscribers. “Ask me Anything” threads appear in other subreddits as well (e.g., in the Science subreddit).
A number of scholars have initiated threads and have sought to share their knowledge with this community. Such scholars included Tina Seelig (a professor of innovation and creativity at Stanford), Steven D. Munger (a researcher of tastes and odours at the University of Florida), Peggy Mason (a Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Chicago who studies empathy in rats), David Kimhy (a professor of psychiatry at the University of Columbia who discussed the results of his latest research study), and Mae Jemison (former NASA astronaut who discussed the teaching and learning of science).
Two. It’s not all rosy.
Reddit’s creators impose little restrictions and take a hands-off approach to user-contributed content. Thus, while Reddit features some shining examples of networked scholarship and knowledge exchange, it has often – and rightly so – been critiqued for being a festering ground for communities promoting misogyny, racism, and homophobia.
We need critical accounts of networked scholarship – because even though Reddit, any “Reddit” allows people to come together and network, the technology is not as democratizing as anticipated.