Subcultures of the Internet – The Socialites

In the past few weeks, I have discovered a website called reddit.  I had heard of it before, and known of its reputation as “the frontage of the internet”, but I did not have enough interest to actually check out the site until its came time to study for my semester finals (and as anyone who has been through school understands,  most of the time you spend “studying” is actually spent doing anything but studying).  Anyway, I checked out the site, and I was amazed by what I found.  Reddit is a site devoted to discussion of… everything.

The front page is a list of the most recently popular threads, discussing news articles, politics, funny cat pictures, and more.  If your interests are more specific, there are “subreddits” for just about anything, from /atheism and /christianity to /movies and /books to /askscience.  Within each thread, redditors discuss the topic, providing a sometimes sobering revelation on what previously seemed to be an incredible discovery, or sometimes the exact opposite, a discussion on why something which sounds minor is actually a major  piece of news.

In my introduction post to this series, I described a group I then called the Posters.  That was a pathetic attempt to put a name to the group which is the most easily seen and traced across the internet.  A much more apt description of this subculture would be “Socialites”, because this group thrives on discussion and debate.  The major character trait of Internet Socialites is skepticism.  Every time a piece of major news is released, within a half hour there is a post discussing the validity and overreaching meaning of the news.  Nothing is taken for face value.  After all, it is amazingly simple to photoshop a picture so it looks like it was taken at the exact moment a man tripped over a ledge, or write a news article slanted to make a specific group sound like the bad guys.  Because of this, everything on the Internet is “disbelieved until proven true”.

But if the Socialites disbelieve everything they see on the Internet, how can any of them trust each other to give true information?  After all, all of them hide their identities behind usernames, and there is no safeguard against one person creating multiple identities.  As it turns out, this anonymity removes more problems of validity than it creates.  Socialites cannot possibly argue from authority, depending on the rest of the community to simply trust they are correct.  They must instead explain their opinions fully in every post they make, and even then any other person has the ability to point out faults in their argument, which the OP (Original Poster) then must respond to in order to preserve his validity.  This instant feedback is perhaps the most useful tool of the Socialites.

I like to imagine what the world would be like if all of academia was presented in this way.  Currently, a researcher submits his or her research to peer review, and revises multiple times before publishing a “completed” article or work.  But this takes a large amount of time, and how completed is it?  Without a doubt, there is some detail or implication which has been overlooked by the researcher and his peers, or a some discovery in a different field which could effect the publication.  And if it’s still faulty, what can be done about it?  The current system of academic publication worked during a time when it was impossible to get instant feedback from all around the world, but today, a researcher could post his raw data on reddit, for example, and instantly have hundreds of other people analyzing it and discovering trends which would have taken the researcher months to do himself.

I believe the only thing holding academia back from making this step to instantaneous feedback is the fact that it would remove the ability for the original researcher to get all the credit.  The Socialites have no problem with staying anonymous, and as a result, they create a hugely dynamic arena of debate which could eventually prove itself as an example for the rest of the world.