Reddit General Manager Erik Martin on the site’s civic side

 

Erik Martin, Reddit, interview
Reddit general manager Erik Martin.
Credit: Getty Images

There’s social media, and then there’s Reddit, where users both socialize, edit each other’s work, recommend stories and attempt to uncover government secrets. That has made Reddit the world’s most powerful viral machine, with its featured stories quickly racing up search engine rankings.

However, Reddit is potentially dangerous, like when its users identified the wrong suspect after the Boston Marathon bombings. But, argues General Manager Erik Martin, the site encourages civic participation and even helps Generation Y get involved with politics.

Metro: Reddit seems like a forum for would-be talking heads with a bit too much time on their hands. What’s Reddit’s main contribution to society?

Martin: It’s a place where people can go to talk with people who have similar interests, live in the same neighborhood, work in the same field.

But how does society benefit from people opining on matters online rather than getting together in real life?

There are benefits to society: What we’re seeing a lot is that people make a connection online and then meet offline, or vice-versa. It’s especially valuable in places where it’s hard to congregate to talk about shared interests. If you don’t live in a gigantic city, it will be hard to find people who’re interested in World War I history, a certain type of programming language or music. So, Reddit is a forum for all these people.

Your users are anonymous. Do you know who they are?

Seventy percent of our users come from North America and an even larger percentage from the English-speaking world. They tend to be young and male, and we have a large percentage of users who come from a computer or engineering background. But beyond that, we don’t know a whole lot. We don’t require any information, not even an email address, when people sign up.

Doesn’t that affect the public’s trust in Reddit? If user XYZ has an exposé of government secrets, how can I verify the information?

There are some subjects where that’s the case. But there are some subjects, like sex, religion, politics and mental health, where you really need an anonymous or pseudo-anonymous identity. These are all things that are difficult to talk about when a real name is attached.

WikiLeaks is your comrade-in-arms in your fight for freedom of information and government openness. Given the actions of Julian Assange, is WikiLeaks a good ally?

As a company, we don’t have any allegiance or relationship with WikiLeaks. But the younger generation, especially, wants to see everything, wants to see behind the curtain. Our audience is very interested in WikiLeaks, a small organization that gets a lot of impact by using an open-source collaborative approach, so in that sense we’re close.

Speaking of WikiLeaks, among its recent exposés were emails that showed Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian offering services to Stratfor, an intelligence firm hated by freedom of information activists for its close links to the CIA. Did that embarrass you? Are users right to be worried that Reddit may not be fully committed to freedom of information?

The fact that WikiLeaks published these emails made it seem somehow dirty, but there’s nothing unseemly about them. We offered to do some basic consulting work for Stratfor, but we never worked with them. And I think our track record, from going open-source to fighting against various laws, speaks for itself.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Reddit wrongly identified a man as one of the suspects. Are you worried about vigilante policing spreading on Reddit?

Yes. In the Boston case, we already had policies and rules in place, and they were basically followed, but it wasn’t enough. There was so much traffic. The threads you mention were up for an hour, which on a normal Tuesday is OK, but in this situation it caused a lot of pain and confusion, which was not OK.

The best way of preventing it from happening again is for every user of social media – be it Reddit, Twitter or Facebook – to remember that if you mention someone’s name, it’s not the same as if you’re speculating with the person sitting next to you. On the Internet, the same conversation can have a vast impact, and we have to figure out how to deal with that.

The amount of time people spend on social media doesn’t seem to square with the nation of the stressed-out modern generation. Do we have too much time on our hands?

I know from anecdotal evidence that a lot of the time people spend on Reddit is time not spent watching TV. In general I think that’s a good trend. People participating in something, even if it’s just uploading or downloading or posting comments, means they’re having more control than when they’re just watching a show.

Can that translate into civic engagement – a solution to disillusionment with politics?

I think it can, especially when you look at the longer-term impact. We have a generation now that has grown up expecting to be able to make their opinion known. I hope they don’t lose that once they get older and start buying houses and having families.

This, I think, will lead to more people who haven’t traditionally been involved in politics getting involved in it. There are whole subreddits (online communities) designed to help people figure out how to run for office. If I wanted to run for something in New York State, I’d have no idea how to do it. It’s very confusing if you’re not in that world. Getting more programmers, teachers and artists into politics would be very good, and I think Reddit can be part of that process.

How would you rather spend an evening: hanging out with friends or uncovering government secrets on Reddit?

I’d much rather spend an evening hanging out with friends.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.