The first post on the ASU subreddit reads, “GO ASU” in bold style. And directly below it, in a slightly smaller font, “YEAH.”
It was practically a shout into the void. And an enthusiastic one at that.
Reddit user u/BroughtToUByCarlsJr posted the comment on May 7, 2010. Met with one response and seven upvotes, the interaction was underwhelming but expected.
At the time, Reddit had little pull. And the ASU subreddit had even less. Its 13 subscribers were composed of computer science savants and cutting-edge internet users.
The creator of the board, Alan Hogan, or u/alanjhogan, wrote in the description, “Please tell me enough of us are on Reddit to make this worthwhile.”
Eventually, there were.
Ten years after the lone first post and a semi-defeated description, the ASU subreddit has amassed over 22,000 subscribers.
Throughout a decade of changing campus cultures, the subreddit continues to be a staple for student-to-student connections across the four campuses with chat rooms.
Reddit got its start in 2005. And like most internet bulletin boards, Reddit started with a single thread — r/reddit.com. The subreddit became a catch-all for the small community active on the site.
The site gained more traction by 2006. But as conversation and content ballooned, users wanted some level of division on the main subreddit — one of the main reasons being the copious pornographic images that somehow found their way onto the board.
Due to the boobs, the first subreddit, r/NSFW, meaning Not Suitable For Work, was created. Though a slightly crude concept, the start of the subreddit eventually set the framework for the entire site.
Continual requests for subreddits started a string of mitosis. Subreddit split into subreddit split into subreddit. By early 2007, there were 42 subreddits and by early 2008, nearly 350 and by 2009, over 10,000, according to Reddit Metrics.
“What you want in a conversation, site or service is people who want to talk about something that's in a fairly specific area,” Dan Gillmor, professor of practice at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, who has reported on technology since the dawn of the internet, said.
With more and more communities forming, university subreddits naturally got their start too. Created in 2008, r/college became a common ground for incoming and current students.
The creation of the ASU subreddit followed in the steps of similar public universities.
“I just found it kind of incredible that there wasn't yet an ASU subreddit,” Hogan said. “I felt obligated to create it.”
Formed on Jan. 24, 2010, it had a bit of a slow start. Initial posts typically covered ASU sports, general questions and small connections.
“I believe in people being able to have a community and space for themselves and to represent themselves. Sometimes on campus, it felt like students didn't have as much of a voice as they should have,” Hogan said.
Though Hogan was not involved in moderating, the board started gradually growing on its own.
In December 2010, a user posted asking for ASU pro tips. Again, a modest discussion ensued.
Two people recommended the Secret Garden but warned against smoking anything there. Another user noted that they’d “consumed a lot of alcohol there, though. :D.” Other exchanges included praise for Dave’s Dog House chili dogs and dissent claiming it caused diarrhea.
As it grew in numbers, moderators came in to manage content and discussions.
Moderators typically monitor boards to ensure conversations are on-topic and appropriate.
Guillaume Azurdia, known by his username u/chaggy, was one of the first moderators to take an active role in the community. Azurdia moved to Arizona from Mexico City a year before attending ASU to study industrial engineering.
He heard about Reddit in 2010, wandered into other university subreddits and eventually found the ASU subreddit. At the time, posts were still sparse and it only had about 80 members.
But Azurdia was interested in web design, and he wanted to revamp the subreddit. He contacted u/alanjhogan and offered his services.
After coming on as a moderator, Azurdia did some basic coding and design work and grew the page by reaching out to other similar subreddits. He cross-promoted on the Tempe and Phoenix board and started setting up some rules.
“For all these communities, really what it takes for them to work and function is a little bit of active moderation,” Azurdia said. “When you have some people, a little bit more of a boundary-setting, a few rules, putting a little bit of extra effort, it’s like throwing little sparks into the fire.”
And the fire grew from there.
The ASU subreddit hit 1,000 subscribers in October 2012, 5,000 in August 2016, 10,000 in July 2019 and finally 20,000 in January 2020, just three days after the thread hit its 10-year anniversary.
As page views and members grew, the content posted on the subreddit swelled as well.
The same questions kept reappearing, so moderators set up the r/ASU Wiki where users could find answers to frequently asked questions.
Griffin Wiebel, a moderator known by his username u/parion, notes that it really took off once people realized the subreddit was more than a question-and-answer forum.
“There are these types of apps out there that were trying to capture that sense of community in the University. But the thing is, with subreddit communities, anybody can just log in,” Wiebel paused, “or they don’t even have to log in, they can just see the post, and they're able to understand what ASU is about.”
Wiebel also notes that humor unites the community.
Like most Reddit boards, the ASU subreddit has its fair share. Some of the most notable include the infamous “number one in innovation” tagline.
One meme depicts ASU President Michael Crow painting over student concerns and questions with the cover-all cloak of innovation.
EVOLUTION OF MODERATORS
Though the majority of the content remains focused on the University, rising page views and new users led moderators, like Azurdia, to establish rules. And subsequent moderators added to them as the needs of the subreddit changed.
“It's something that a lot of big tech companies with hundreds of lawyers and all kinds of experts in policy have a really hard time to do, so I’m surprised that sometimes even tiny communities like this can manage it by themselves,” Azurdia said.
Once Azurdia graduated, he handed his role off to other Redditors.
The process of handing off started with casual email inquiries. Now, with a higher number of subscribers, current moderators vet new ones, requiring engagement and appropriateness on the board.
Currently, the board has eight moderators. Three users, u/Running_is_Life, u/SaiyanDevil and u/karmakazes are currently the most active in moderating the subreddit. Each is responsible for upholding the rules of the community.
But rules evolve with each cycle of moderators.
Now, the standing rules include keeping posts civil, relevant, new and academically honest. Personal sales must be between ASU students and the board does not allow job advertisements or trolling.
Moderators also make sure users follow “reddiquette,” a code of conduct among Redditors that outlaws, “brigading, witch-hunting, vote manipulation, flamebaiting, clickbaiting, personal information, text spamming or intentional rudeness.”
Typically, moderators wield the “banhammer” at their discretion. Gillmor noted the value in that. He sees moderation similar to a dinner party.
“I feel like I'm having a bunch of people over to the house,” Gillmor said. “And it's great if people are disagreeing about stuff. But if they spit on the floor, I'm going to invite them to leave. And that's that.”
One of the newest challenges for moderators is controlling the spread of misinformation.
When Brian Goegan, a former assistant economics professor at ASU, sent out an email to students detailing how two policies in the economics department were setting students up to fail, the message was quickly posted to Reddit.
When the post went live and spread across other media platforms and into local newsrooms, moderators worked to control the spread of misinformation on the board. It is now the top post of all time on the subreddit.
There was a similar spike in page traffic and misinformation when the first case of the coronavirus was reported at ASU. The news also brought on an onslaught of racist posts that the moderators had to address.
“ASU is this vast campus with tons and tons of different unique views, diversity, races, beliefs,” Wiebel said. “So it's been a real challenge in how we moderate those posts to create an inclusive community while also trying to keep out some of the posts that just hurt people.”
Reddit as a whole faced backlash in the past regarding hate speech on the site. The ASU subreddit tries to break the stereotype.
“Use judgment and don't assume that because some relatively small numbers of subreddits are snake pits and just rancid, disgusting, terrible stuff, doesn't mean that the rest of it is. Find the good stuff and don't waste your brain cells on the evil stuff,” Gillmor said.
As the ASU subreddit continues to engage more students, Wiebel keeps in mind, and reminds others, of one thing.
“Just remember to be human.”
Kiera Riley is a managing editor at State Press Magazine. She also interns at the politics desk for the Arizona Republic