In Reddit’s numerous topical subsections, so called subreddits, users post and share diverse content. The social news aggregator claims to be ‘a website about everything, powered by community, democracy and you’ (Figure 1). However, one can observe internal conflicts which indicate discrepancies between such idealistic claims as opposed to quantitatively-oriented participation. While some users emphasise topically focused motivations for their participation, others suggest that they mainly post content with the aim of collecting ‘Karma-points’. The latter approach has been called ‘Karmawhoring’. The term references Reddit’s ranking and evaluation system through the allocation of Karma-points. This paper examines how such a quantification of user participation influences interactions and content posted on Reddit. By looking at participatory practices and users’ interplay, it investigates opposing justifications and controversial incentives for contributions. It analyses particular cases of Karmawhoring, user criticisms of such merely achievement-oriented contributions as well as attempts to counteract (alleged) ‘Karmawhores’. The website’s ranking system is described as strategy that aims at decentralising the governance of content: it leaves the subjective determination of quality criteria to the crowd. The aforementioned conflict between idealistically and quantitatively motivated contributions has however led to a discrepancy between value assessments of content. The numerical representation of a contribution’s value through Karma-points, calculated by users’ up- and downvotes, does not function as uncontested signal of content quality. Instead, Karma-points have been criticised by users since they seem to economise participation and inhibit innovative content. Such an ‘econometrisation’ of participation particularly appears to be a result of the community’s rapid growth in scale. A focus on achieving Karma-points becomes primarily appealing once the visibility of communication is regulated by a vast amount of users and interpersonal feedback becomes less likely. Subsequently, Karma functions as main, quasi-monetary incentive and reward of participation. By analysing Karmawhoring and its criticism on Reddit, this paper describes how users’ claimed social values and the website’s quantitative valuation of content fall apart.
Reddit, participatory media, social news media, gift economy, econometrisation, karma and value, governance