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What is Reddit - and what do you need to know?

Reddit is a content-sharing and discussion platform which calls itself “the front page of the internet”. It has around 52 million active daily users and consistently places in the top 20 most-visited websites in the world.

Reddit’s millions of forums or “subreddits” cover every conceivable topic and interest – and some rather niche ones too – where users can come together to discuss, creating a wider sense of community. Reddit is particularly well-established as a place for gaming communities to gather, with subreddits on Genshin Impact and League of Legends among the most-viewed in 2021.

However, concerns have been raised about the ease with which users can stumble across inappropriate or harmful content. While the site claims to be for users aged 13 and over, there are no age verification mechanisms, making it easy for younger users to access. Other concerns include the prevalence of negative interactions or harassment on the site, the prominence of disinformation and the imperfect moderation techniques available. 

Read on to find out more about how Reddit works and what parents need to be aware of. 

How does it work?

Reddit can be accessed via a web browser or as an app (iOS, Android). It is essentially a collection of millions of forums – “subreddits” – where communities can chat about any topic they are interested in. And we really mean anything: more than half a million new subreddits were added in 2021.

Each subreddit begins “r/”, and topics can range from the mainstream (e.g. r/football) to the more unusual (e.g. r/ShowerOrange –  encouraging users to eat oranges in the shower). Subreddits offer connection and conversation between users – “redditors” – about shared passions. However, they can also leave opportunity for exposure to inappropriate or harmful content, and heated or unpleasant interactions. 

To create your own subreddit, redditors must have a certain (undisclosed) amount of positive “karma points”, earned by posting popular links or comments. 

Users upvote or downvote others’ posts to increase or decrease their visibility. Users can also give posts awards by purchasing the site’s currency, Reddit Coins. This is encouraged as a way to support the community – as is joining membership programme Reddit Premium. Premium users receive a monthly Coins allowance, can use the site without viewing adverts and access an exclusive subreddit “lounge”. Reddit also has a chat function, where users can send private messages. 

What do parents need to be aware of?

Inappropriate content

While you can find subreddits for pretty much any topic, this includes things that you may not want your child to see. 

Many posts are labelled NSFW (“Not Safe For Work”), meaning of an adult or sexual nature. While you can filter out adult content (find out how below), it may not keep out every single such post. 

The discussion-based nature also means it’s easy to stumble across hate speech, bullying or other inappropriate interactions. Opinions can get heated, particularly around subjects users are passionate about – which is the point of a subreddit, after all. 

Communities from one subreddit can infiltrate and harass others, and there have been allegations of inaction over racist language and disinformation (see below). 

Misinformation

Reddit has come under fire for failing to tackle disinformation – information that is false or inaccurate – especially around the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Having initially resisted calls to ban subreddits spreading disinformation about coronavirus vaccines, explaining the site was a place of “open and authentic discussion”, it banned r/NoNewNormal and clarified its guidelines to prohibit “posting health information that has been manipulated and presented to mislead”. 

Despite this, community moderators describe an “ocean of misinformation” still available on the site. With that in mind, read our advice on how to help your child develop their media literacy skills, and learn to think critically about the subreddits they participate in.

What safety settings are available?

Safety settings

While Reddit states that users must be 13 or older to create an account, there are no age-verification measures in place; you simply need an email address. You can also view Reddit without an account – although you can’t comment or respond to posts – meaning younger children could easily access the site’s content. 

There are settings you can help your child to apply to increase their privacy and safety on the site. Discuss these with your child and agree on the settings that would be suitable for their account. 

In User Settings -> Feed Settings, you can turn Adult Content off so that it does not appear in newsfeeds or search results. And in User Settings -> Chat and Messaging, you can turn “Who can send you chat requests” and “Who can send you private messages” to Nobody, to limit contact from strangers. Note that admins and moderators will still be able to message your child privately. 

Be aware that once a user logs out, they’ll still be able to view Reddit without any of the safety settings specific to their account. 

Moderation

All redditors are asked to adhere to a shared set of rules: its Content Policy. This prohibits harassment, bullying, revealing personal information or posting illegal content. Users are permitted to post “potentially objectionable content” – as long as it doesn’t violate the Content Policy. Reddit also discourages users from impersonating others – although creating multiple accounts is allowed. 

Each subreddit may set its own rules for interactions, defined and overseen by moderators (“mods”). Mods are volunteers who can specify and enforce rules, edit content, remove posts and ban users from that subreddit.

Administrators (“admins”) govern Reddit as a whole. These individuals are employed by Reddit and have wider-reaching powers than mods, including being able to ban or demote moderators and remove entire subreddits from the site. 

Concerns have been raised over the reliability of Reddit’s moderation techniques. It’s not clear how much content, or what kind, is flagged or removed from the site. And with almost 1 million new posts each day, there is plenty to contend with.

Reporting and blocking

If your child experiences hateful comments or inappropriate content on Reddit, it’s important that they know how to report it. You don’t need an account to report posts – you can still do so even if you were just browsing the site.

If using the Reddit app, report a post or comment by tapping “...” and then selecting Report. Select a reason from the options given and then click Submit

On the Reddit site, click the Report button underneath the post or comment, select a reason and click Submit.

Users can also block individuals so that they can no longer contact you. Go to the user’s profile, click More Options and then Block User. 

Reddit: the Parent Zone view

Reddit is a community-focused site with content created, rated and moderated by its users. Subreddits on shared passions give a level of connection that is hard to find elsewhere – but passionate debate can easily overstep the line into harassment or bullying. 

Browsing its seemingly never-ending supply of topics, you never know what you might stumble across: a dramatic improv game, hilarious memes – or something entirely inappropriate or wilfully misleading. While it has filters and moderators, with millions of posts per day, harmful or upsetting content can and does slip through the net. 

If your child wants to use Reddit, help them learn how to use it safely and responsibly. Make sure they are aware of the role of moderators and know how to use its reporting and blocking functions – and to come to you if they have an upsetting or negative experience. By sticking to discussions about their interests, they can reap the benefits of a whole community of like-minded others, whatever they’re passionate about.