wholesome memes community study
A study of the Wholesome Memes subreddit community.
January 2017-May 2017
Amidst a vicious election cycle and the general darkness on the Internet in late 2016 emerged a new subreddit, r/wholesomememes. This community provides a stark contrast from how most of reddit and most memes present themselves. While the chief goal of most memes is to be funny and witty, the aim of memes posted to r/wholesomememes is to be uplifting. Our research team became an involved, engaged group of users in this community in order to study the behavior of other users and get to know their view and thoughts on the community. Through posts, comments, private messages, and a series of interviews, we came to understand the inner workings of this community as well as the tastes and motivations of those involved. We set out to understand how this group of people, very few of whom knew any other users' real life identities, had cultivated a community that was entirely positive and uplifting and how it was able to have such a profound, positive impacted on the lives of its users.
Through two and a half months of active participation or reflection and writing about this community I was able to come to a couple conclusions. Many of the users who are not active participants, but rather just view, comment on, and upvote posts, are coming to the community to help lift them up. All the users who I interviewed shared that they suffer from mental health issues and they felt that Wholesome Memes was a safe, accepting community where they could develop relationships with other users and eventually become virtual friends who spoke outside the platform of reddit.
I learned that anonymity through obscuring personal details behind the veil of usernames, actually helps people open up more details about their personal lives. People are willing to be trusting and vulnerable to others, so long as their identity is not attached to the things they say. This allows the users to develop close, deep relationships quickly, at which point they then feel comfortable sharing their identity. Many users told me personal information that they said they hadn't shared with their best friends for fear of judgement.
Knowing the willingness to disclose information to strangers through the internet based on anonymity is something to keep in mind when creating user experiences, whether the aim is to get users to open up (ex. a support group that meets in virtual reality) or protect the personal information of users (ex. a application or online community with a user base consisting of a large number of teenagers).