There’s a high correlation between the internet and social anxiety since the rise of social media in the early 2000s. A simple Google search can verify that. But generally, we’re concerned about the internet causing social anxiety in real life situations—like, I’d-rather-use-the-internet-to-socialize anxiety, or gotta-stay-connected-at-all-times anxiety. But what about the kind of anxiety that hits while you’re using the internet? Is that a thing?
I’m only bringing this up because recently I’ve noticed (by way of personal experience) how nerve wrecking it can be to submit a post to Reddit.
Some context: if you’ve never heard of Reddit, it’s often described as “the front page of the internet.” It’s an online community where the internet goes to discuss a wide variety of topics and current events. It’s governed by community moderators and a voting system where people can up-vote and down-vote discussions and comments. These points are what determine your “karma,” and karma is what determines your popularity and support. Reddit generates great positive vibes, but regardless of heavy moderation and reddiquette, it also generates negativity in the form of trolls.
Because of this, there’s an uncomfortable sense of stress and anxiety that hits me when I’m in the process of submitting something for the internet to consider. The social pressure of being accepted and liked by your peers exists on Reddit, and it feels like highschool all over again.
Dont get me wrong, I’ve submitted posts before and received positive feedback, but not without doubt and heavy reconsideration—what if no one likes what I have to say? Cue the trolls.
We all have legitimate opinions on various matters, and the freedom to share what we want, but the feeling of being scrutinized and rejected by the internet—millions of people you’ve never even seen face to face—can be enough to make us forget that. Say we do share with the internet, there’s still the comfort of anonymity giving people the green-light to respond how ever they feel, allowing for very personal, malicious attacks. Knowing what other people think of you, and solidifying those comments in writing for the world to read, makes them that much more impactful. Enough to deter many from contributing their potentially invaluable contributions.
I’ve had conversations about digital anxiety before with a friend, an avid Reddit lurker, who’s been a member for a little over 3 years. Recently we had a conversation in which I found out that he has never posted, commented, or voted. Not once. I asked him if he was scared to post and his first response was “no, I just don’t care.” After a long pause, he admitted his reluctance, having seen how redditors can react to submissions they don’t like.
It was nice to know at least someone else felt like I did. But there has to be others who feel like this besides us. So I thought it would be appropriate to ask r/AskReddit, the subreddit for those looking for honest human answers to a wide variety of questions.
I began to formulate and type out a question, one I would mark as [Serious] in an attempt to prevent any trolling. In my most Reddit friendly voice possible, here’s what I wrote:
But, before hitting the submit button, I began to rethink and doubt my submission. Needless to say, I decided against submitting my question. I know, how ironic that the anxiety I was trying to find out more about got the best of me.
Instead, I searched r/AskReddit and found a similar question posted about a year ago.
The comment that stuck with me most was from a user who created his account just to contribute his “first (and likely last) post.” He, along with many other redditors, provided the answer to my question, plus more. Here’s what he had to say:
This comment pretty much sums it up. And the fact that this question garnered so many similar comments, means this is an active issue amongst many users, or lurkers, of Reddit. And it’s not only limited to Reddit, it happens with other digital social mediums as well.
As open and anonymous as the internet is, understand that it’s always going to breed negativity and trolling. So don’t let that discourage you from sharing with the world. It’s a medium for free speech—a place to help and engage with people. Come as you are and contribute. Share your experiences, advice, opinions, but be human about it. Even though the internet is billed as a place where you can say whatever you want, that doesn’t mean you should contribute negativity. Always try to help and add value to the community, because the more value you add, the more the community will support you. We all know the internet can be a brutally negative place, but it’s always nice to see a bit of humanity and sincerity once in a while.
Originally published in Adventures in Consumer Technology.