Arts

The Reddit page r/geegees. Photo: Edits Rame Abdulkader/The Fulcrum

Manuel Reed says it’s been a simple and rewarding 10 years moderating the GeeGees subreddit

Ten years ago, Manuel Reed, a former University of Ottawa commerce student now working as a software engineer, decided to create a subreddit for the U of O. This past month, the r/geegees page hit 10,000 followers. To mark the occasion, the Fulcrum interviewed one of the moderators behind it all to learn how everything started, and how it’s all operating a decade later.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

The Fulcrum: How did the subreddit start? When and why did you decide to start the page?

Manuel Reed: Back in 2009, there was a competition called “Grow a University subReddit.” It was an initiative by Reddit to find universities campuses, or college campuses, that didn’t have subreddits created for them yet, and to encourage people to go ahead and do it if there wasn’t one present already. So I looked around. There actually was a U of O subreddit at the time we were trying to create it, which is I think why we weren’t able to get the uOttawa name. We messaged the person who had started the subreddit but they hadn’t responded in the time that it took for us to start our own, so we went with GeeGees, which is of course the name of the mascot. And it kind of took off from there.

The Fulcrum: When did the page start to take off and what happened when your follower count really started to pick up?

MR: It was really only in the last year or so, I think, that traffic started to become a lot more significant. Reddit was a very niche thing, I think, for a few years after its inception, and it’s kind of like a nerdy computer-science–type of community, until it became really big all of a sudden. The point for the GeeGees subreddit was probably around 2018, 2019, when we got our first couple thousand users. Things really just kind of reached critical mass by themselves after that.

The Fulcrum: The page has two moderators. At what point did you decide to take on another moderator?

MR: We actually did a meetup early on in the days of the subreddit. I was the first and only moderator at the time and it had been a couple of months when I met /u/TheCleverestUsername, and it was as part of a meetup. We tried to do a U of O subreddit meetup, and at the time there were probably like 250–300 users. So only about four or five of them actually showed up to the event. We haven’t tried to do one since, mostly because I’m in Toronto, and because /u/TheCleverestUsername, I believe he’s still in Ottawa, but he’s also in the workforce. I met him there and he expressed his interest in becoming a moderator, and I needed some help so we have remained the only two moderators the entire time. 

The Fulcrum: Congratulations on hitting 10K subscribers! Today with that amount of followers, how do you find managing the page in terms of difficulty and the time you have to put in? Especially since you’re not at the U of O anymore?

MR: We’re very fortunate in the sense that the community really moderates itself for the most part. Most of the users are, of course, young, they’re university age, and I think being in Ottawa, and Ottawa being a school that puts their social issues at the forefront of its identity as a school, you find that reflected a lot in the community. So people are pretty forward towards most things except those things that cross the line into harassment, homophobia, racism and just general things that you as a moderator are looking out for. 

We’re very fortunate because the community really polices itself. We always encourage people to use the report button, and they do, maybe sometimes even too much so, reporting things that they kind of dislike instead of things that are very blatantly against the terms and service rules. We sort of just take it from there. We only have to check our moderation cue a couple times a day, it’s really not a heavy workload for how many people are in that community. It’s surprising actually.

The Fulcrum: A lot of people might not know what moderating a subreddit entails. Could you explain what you do and what challenges you face?

MR: We’re essentially internet janitors, and anybody who tells you otherwise is trying to talk themselves up! Pretty much all that we do, all that we’re meant to do anyway, is establish a baseline of rules and then enforce those rules. As far as the rest of it goes, if you check the sidebar, we don’t have any rules explicitly laid out. We leave it up to common sense and mentality. If you think it’s going to break the rules it probably is. But we also make sure not to punish people for doing things that they weren’t aware weren’t appropriate, so we always take the opportunity to take somebody aside and be like “hey, you probably shouldn’t be saying things like this, consider it a warning.” Really, what we’re here to do is just to enable people to have conversations. 

I think the intention for me was always to have a bulletin board for the U of O, where people can put up anything at all — events or just how they’re feeling, or a nice meme that they found, or anything that might come to their mind and not try to shape that narrative too much or edit it in any one direction or other. I think that’s part of the reason why it was so slow to pick up. We didn’t do any active promoting of the subreddit, but it’s also one of the reasons why it’s grown. It still feels like a small subreddit, like a community-grown thing. 

The Fulcrum: Are a lot of people in your personal or professional life aware that you run the GeeGees subreddit? Has anything interesting happened because of it?

MR: Not that many actually! It doesn’t come up that often, not because I don’t have the opportunity — I do work in software development — but more so just because it’s not exactly the kind of thing that will help me that much on a resume. It’s a fun fact that I bring up once I know people well enough, and I say “hey, by the way, you know, I moderate this community with like 10,000 people in it,” and they’re like “oh, that’s cool,” and that’s usually about as far as it goes. 

Challenge wise, the most challenging thing I’ve faced as a moderator has been members of the community who are clever, because we do have a lot of very intelligent, very clever people in the community… people who very cleverly jet around any notion of rule-breaking, who sort of figure out where the line is and then they’ll say “OK so you’re saying I can’t say anything that’s homophobic, or transphobic, or racist, or all these other things, is that right? OK, anything else that I should know?” Then proceed to try to find where the line is by saying borderline inappropriate things all over the place and basically daring me to ban them so that they can make a big deal out of it. Those people are sort of few and far between, they’re fairly well known and make themselves apparent, and are interested in the attention of habitually rule-breaking like that. It’s more of a curiosity and a funny thing that happens occasionally than it is a nuisance, so it’s really not a problem at all.

The Fulcrum: What is something that makes Reddit a unique platform for an account like this, among other social media platforms?

MR: Anonymity. For me, that’s been the number one thing that Reddit can provide. Even to that extent, it’s fairly flimsy, all the IPs are tracked, so anybody on Reddit would be able to figure out whose IP address belongs to which account very, very easily. But from the perspective of talking to your peers, they don’t know who you are, they have no idea who’s behind that account, it could be anybody, and it’s very easy to create an account too. So I think that’s one thing that differentiates Reddit from most other social media platforms — the ability to go online in a sort of honest and candid take and completely anonymously while doing so, which of course brings its own set of challenges. Like how do you prove that somebody is who they say they are. That’s one of the big themes of the modern era, not just Reddit.

The Fulcrum: Is there a funniest post you remember that stands out to you?

MR: There have been so many.  I mean every time that I see them they always make me laugh. For having more than 10,000 people, if you go on the top posts of all year, you’ll find that very few of them are upvoted beyond 200 points. Something between Reddit’s algorithm, and just the fact that we don’t have that many active users makes it so that the content that comes through is hyper-specific. Like a lot of it is tailored to things that happen on campus or things the students are currently going through. I’m turning 30 this year, and being in the workforce and away from all that makes it difficult to catch the in-jokes. But it’s a hilarious bunch of people over there, and I always really enjoy seeing all these hyper-specific U of O memes they come up with.

The Fulcrum: Do you have a wildest story concerning the page?

MR: No, we’re a pretty sleepy community. The wildest thing that you’ll see on a regular basis is just kind of people very blatantly being offensive on purpose on a brand-new account, just trying to get themselves banned or something like that. That’s not wild, it’s a silly thing that people do for attention, and that’s to be expected, and to me the less attention that you bring towards that kind of thing the better. I wish I did have a wild story for you but it’s been a very sleepy 10 years of existing. 

The Fulcrum: Finally, is there a message that you want to send or broadcast about yourself or the subreddit?

MR: I would say, if you see an opportunity to create something that can be a part of your community, and nobody else is stepping up to fill that role, don’t be afraid to do it yourself, even if you’re not as qualified or if you don’t have anything actively in mind of what you want to do with that opportunity, just do it as a project and see what happens. For me, it’s brought a lot of people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met, a lot of experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise had, and a fun little thing to bring up in conversation whenever I meet people. Nothing bad has really come as a result of it, so I would encourage anyone to do the same. It’s one of those things I did as a side thing ten years ago, and I didn’t think ten years later someone would be calling to have a conversation about it.