Can the internet help you become a better person?

Kai Ryssdal and Maria Hollenhorst Oct 28, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A Reddit forum presents moral questions from people's lives. Strangers post their judgments, which can provide life lessons. Or not. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Can the internet help you become a better person?

Kai Ryssdal and Maria Hollenhorst Oct 28, 2020
A Reddit forum presents moral questions from people's lives. Strangers post their judgments, which can provide life lessons. Or not. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter spent some virtual time on Capitol Hill on Wednesday defending how and why content gets on their platforms. That’s in part because the internet can be a dark place that brings out the very worst in human behavior. But freelance journalist Tove Danovich wrote recently for The Ringer about a corner of the internet where people try to learn from their mistakes and become better people.

She spoke with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal about how it got started and why it’s particularly popular now. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

Kai Ryssdal: So tell me about this place on the internet that we can’t really name on a family radio show.

Tove Danovich: Yeah, so Am I the Asshole? is what’s called a subreddit. It’s a small kind of community on the website reddit.com. People essentially go there and they post some kind of interpersonal conflict where someone has told them that they were in the wrong in this given situation. And they’re essentially posting asking, am I right or not?

Ryssdal: So, let us be clear, that will be the only bleeping in this interview, and here and after I suppose we will call it AITA just to save ourselves a lot of bleeping. It is not about advice. It’s about judgment. Yes?

Danovich: A little bit of both, interestingly. It did kind of start off a little bit more on the judgment side in 2013, when Marc Beaulac first created this community. He had a very simple question and wanted to know, was he right or was he wrong related to should the air conditioner be set high or low in the office — a very common conundrum that has come up over the last few years. And it’s just kind of ballooned since then. So one of the things that this site does is it will actually list a judgment 24 hours after a post goes up based on the majority of responses. So it does have those final judgments listed on each post. However, most people go into a little bit more detail with their comment. They will say, YTA — you are the — because of XYZ reasons. So a lot of people that do post these questions are actually reading more for the advice and for people kind of extrapolating on their situations. 

Ryssdal: Look, just for the record, the thermostat in the office ought to be set lower. Don’t @ me on that one. But if you go now to this subreddit, there’s something like 2.3 million subscribers, right? Which is just a lot of people looking for advice on, as you say, moral judgment issues that “are coming at us blindingly fast here in 2020.”

Danovich: Yeah, that’s correct. There are all these conundrums that we don’t know what to do about, both in terms of how to behave around COVID, you know, the political situations going on. Certainly, Black Lives Matter. All of these are really big moral questions that have kind of giant answers that we’re either unwilling to come up with or are impossible to answer at this current juncture. So AITA is a place where you have these small conflicts in comparison, and they’re very relatable to our everyday lives. So it’s something that anyone can go in and have an opinion on and sometimes see the people respond to those opinions and actually change. And it’s so cathartic to see that in 2020.

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