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Photo via dollen/Flickr (CC-BY)
A new study casts that openness into question.
Reddit’s GoneWild is a community where the site’s users users can post racy photos of themselves in an environment that’s supposed to be welcoming and non-judgmental. Billing itself as ‟a comfortable environment without pressure,” r/gonewild is largely anonymous, entirely amateur and fairly low-stakes—think of it as training wheels for aspiring amateur porn stars.
However, a study published in the November issue of the Australian culture journal Scan, titled ‟Faceless Bodies: Negotiating Technological and Cultural Codes on reddit gonewild,” casts that openness into question.
Author Emily van der Nagel, a Ph.D. candidate at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, argues that an analysis of what images are upvoted to r/gonewild’s front page reveals, ‟an amateur pornography site that appears open and inclusive, but is instead closed to all but the few who fit the amateur pornography ideal: young, white, slender and female.”
Like all other sections of the massively popular social news site, GoneWild runs largely on content posted by individual users. In most cases, GoneWild submissions consist of naked, self-shot pictures that leave the model/poster’s face obscured. Pictures are then commented on and voted up or down by readers. Pictures that receive the largest number of votes receive increased advisability through a more favorable placement near the top of the site, while ones that don’t do as well are pushed to the bottom.
The study charges that, by a wide margin, the posts receiving the most upvotes and therefore getting the benefit of the greatest visibility are almost exclusively of young, white women.
Much of this can be explained by the demographics of Reddit’s user base. A Pew Internet study released earlier this year found 29 percent of male Internet users report they use Reddit, with just over half number made up of men aged 18 to 29. Only 13 percent of female Internet users said they did the same. This breakdown is in stark contrast to the Web as a whole, which more male than female has a significantly less stark divide.
‟To browse the subreddit is to be faced with the same kinds of photographs each day; although many post, only young, white, female bodies emerge on the front page,” van der Nagel charges. ‟To post is to conform to these standards or be rejected through a voting system that will push photographs of bodies that are not in this category down the list. Together, these codes produce a subreddit that perpetuates stereotypical ideas of the kinds of girls who ‘go wild’ on the internet, rather than the kind of setting it purports to be: a ‛safe, mature, low-pressure environment for true exhibitionists.’”
In an email, r/GoneWild moderator u/xs51 explained that the subreddit’s information page says it aims to foster a “safe, mature, low-pressure environment for true exhibitionists” isn’t a promise so much as “an appeal to the community to help us achieve such an environment.”
The moderator, an engaged user (as opposed to an actual Reddit employee) dedicated to ensuring the orderly functioning of the community, advised for users who want to see a more diverse set of submissions on r/GoneWild should browse by the “new” filter, which showers the most recent posts without regard to the votes a given post has received.
“We do attempt to encourage diversity when we have the power to do so,” added u/xs51. “For example, our holiday banners include a more colorful demographic, albeit still greatly limited (currently I see two men but no people of color) as we have a smaller pool of posts to work with.”
While there are other subreddits that take the GoneWild concept and focus it on other groups—such as r/gonewildplus (for plus-size woman), r/gonewildcurvy, and r/gonewildcolor (for ‟non-Caucasian” Redditors), the original r/gonewild subreddit is by far the most popular.
The heterogeneity of the most popular submissions isn’t the only way that GoneWild often ends up being a less inclusive place than how it advertises itself. An earlier investigation by the Daily Dot found that images women post on GoneWild often follow them on to other areas of the site.
‟The dark side of GoneWild’s supportive atmosphere is that it’s one of the few places on Reddit where women can participate as women without being sexually harassed, accused of being crazy or stupid, or worse,” Stephen Bruckert, a researcher who has studied online misogyny, wrote in an email to the Daily Dot. “Reddit is host to a huge amount of slut shaming, which is ironic considering whenever a woman posts a non-nude picture of herself on the rest of the site, ‘checking for gonewild’ is practically a Reddit tradition—there was even a novelty account called ChecksForGonewild.”
Posting users’ private information—known as doxing—is against the rules on Reddit. But there are instances where a woman who puts a nude picture on r/GoneWild ends up having her post follow her into the real world. In one case, a student at University of Central Florida, who intended to keep her identity a secret, was located by the dorm room background of her photo and was later specifically identified by some of her classmates at the r/UCF subreddit.
Van der Nagel writes that these issues with r/GoneWild are indicative of larger problems with the culture of Reddit as a whole. ‟Examining the ways in which Reddit users negotiate technological and cultural codes on Reddit gonewild demonstrates the ways in which the site appears to be an open, egalitarian space when in fact it is closed to all but a select few,” she insists.
As in many participatory communities, likely the only way for GoneWild to change from a forum where one definition of what’s sexy dominates to something more inclusive is for users to go in and upvote different types of content.
“We get a lot of criticism, but only rarely do we get suggestions for improvement,” noted u/xs51. “We’re always listening!”
Photo via dollen/Flickr
Aaron Sankin is a former Senior Staff Writer at the Daily Dot who covered the intersection of politics, technology, online privacy, Twitter bots, and the role of dank memes in popular culture. He lives in Seattle, Washington. He joined the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2016.