Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


The Community Industry: An Analysis of Reddit and /r/socialism

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Samuel T. McAbee (Other)

Third Advisor

Lara Lengel (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Yanqin Lu (Committee Member)


Social media is an increasingly important space for community formation and interactions. Coinciding with the rise of social media has been an increasing interest in leftist ideologies once outside the mainstream. This analysis seeks to understand the social media site’s enabling and constraining features on the community /r/socialism. Using the communicative theory of identity and Marxist media theory not only to look at Reddit and /r/socialism’s relationship, but five key functions of a media: capital-economic, media sales and media market function, commodity circulation, domination, and the audience. Employing a mixed-methods approach enabled various data to be analyzed and relationally understood. Qualitative content analysis was used to examine user’s salient topics and their uses for the community. Survey methods were deployed to the community to gather demographic data on the /r/socialism community and user opinions on the group's relationship with Reddit. Finally, secondary documents were analyzed to provide greater context to the other findings. Findings from the content analysis of salient subjects showed a preference for contemporary capitalist critique, socialist quotations, and class issues. However, topics impacting women and other minority groups were light to nonexistent. Analysis of platform uses found the top three uses to be a general discussion, information-seeking, and information-giving. The user survey was plagued by low participation and participants who were under the age of consent. As such, data from a community-administered survey filled in the gaps. Secondary document analysis shed light on many features of Reddit, particularly how the social media’s systems are designed to elicit data and authenticity. Reddit’sprimary focus was on creating a space suitable for advertising with minimum corporate input. To attract users, Reddit sells the premise of community and interactions. For businesses, Reddit serves as an ad platform that can also help brands appear 'authentic' to their customers. As part of their role as an ad platform, the company has implemented multiple system designs and practices which encourage constant consumption. These features also propagate capitalist, corporatist, and Americanist ideologies dominant in society. Community members were diverse in socialist thought but demographically consisted mainly of young suburban/urban dwellers with less than five years of interest in socialism. Overall, the platform’s relationship with the community was complex, with multiple feedback systems designed to deemphasize individual users and emphasize the group to encourage data exchanges and support advertising.