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The once obscure online forum is playing an increasingly important role in city politics, even business

Reddit–the self-styled “front page of the Internet”–is a force to be reckoned with. The global online forum allows users to post news, images and other flotsam, commenting behind anonymous usernames and “upvoting” stories that they find most interesting. According to one survey conducted by a British marketing agency in 2012, Vancouver had the most Reddit users per capita in the world, based on Google search queries that brought viewers to the site.

Two years ago, local tech giant Hootsuite discovered the power of Reddit. Incensed by the company’s use of unpaid interns, a user named Ryl posted his complaint on Reddit on a Thursday evening after Hootsuite had shown off its new offices to the media. Within hours the post had attracted dozens of comments, and an anti-Hootsuite campaign on Facebook and Twitter. By Saturday the Vancouver Sun and Globe and Mail had picked up the story, the latter with the headline: “The Internet is angry.”

Soon Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes was forced to issue an apology–and two weeks later the company agreed to pay its former interns up to six months in back pay, around $20,000 in total, and promised to go “beyond the letter of the law in the future.” Similar firestorms hit Fairmont–advertising a position for an unpaid bus person–and CTV, each flame fanned by Reddit users.

Reddit Vancouver has 30,000 local subscribers: “active” readers who have signed up to comment on stories (typically about 30 per cent of Reddit’s total visitors). The noisy forum for posting and commenting has come to play a powerful role in deciding which stories merit attention, with many journalists turning to the site to figure out what’s bubbling under the surface and going underreported. Reddit also offers politicians, businesses and other organizations a forum to reach the masses unfiltered. In last November’s municipal elections, for instance, Vancouver’s leading mayoral candidates held Reddit town halls, known as AMAs (short for ask-me-anything), as part of their campaign.

Alfred Hermida, associate professor at UBC’s School of Journalism, describes the Reddit model as “gloriously messy and perplexing”: “It’s a community of people who come together and do what people do: they talk, shoot the breeze, sometimes spread rumours, but they also check each other’s information.” While Hermida isn’t ready to call what Reddit is journalism, he does think that there are “things that we call journalism happening within Reddit.

“Anyone can share anything, everyone decides everything,” he says, “and it changes all the time. On any given day pop culture tidbits sit alongside stories about scientific discoveries, discussions about religion or online memes. It’s news–but not as we know it.”

Originally posted on BCBusiness.

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