(Gif by Julie Zeglen via giphy.com)
Philly’s infamous basement dwellers are surprisingly … social. They host weekly events at local bars. They know each other’s real names. They definitely don’t live in basements?
They’re Redditors, and on June 22 they were part of countless users across the globe who took part in the 10th annual Reddit Global Meetup. Vague usernames no more, users met IRL at locations all over the world. At home, the Philly Redditors linked up at Drinker’s Pub in Rittenhouse for a few hours of laughs, board games and brews.
In threads full of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” memes, SEPTA Key questions and newcomers looking for friends, the work of a Philadelphia Reddit monitor can get lost behind the scenes. These volunteer positions aren’t something to be placed on a LinkedIn profile, and many of their pages can go defunct or not gain enough traction (like the poor /r/Phillytech) before they find one or two that speak to the people of the internet.
But before that can happen, some serious work and time is required.
Vishal Bhatia aka vishalb777, is the seven-year Reddit user who serves as moderator of 10 subreddits, but mainly oversees /r/PokemonGoPhilly. His journey as a moderator began about five years ago, as the moderator of /r/MAA for the now-defunct Marvel Avengers Alliance game. When he first heard that Pokemon Go was coming out, he wanted to be involved with the community and made a page so people could “post there and have a good time” (highlights include the thread for “My husband could use some friends”).
Beyond being on the lookout for bots, on the day-to-day Bhatia’s job is to edit the design of the page, add relevant links and “sticky” posts (similar to pinned tweets) so people can find information and moderate the page to make sure users aren’t posting outside the Reddit rules.
“I like to be involved in the community and get a sense of pride from saying that I am the owner/moderator of a subreddit of around 2,500 users,” Bhatia said. “Plus, learning and continuing to learn CSS for modification of subreddit design is something I like to do in my spare time.”
The well-oiled /r/Philadelphia is a 100,000-person go-t0 for anyone interested in Philadelphia. The sidebar holds colorful links to popular question topics such as neighborhoods, transportation, things to do and a tourist guide, plus a link to its Facebook page and Discord server.
"It's like being the internet babysitter of 100,000 children."
In total, moderator Mike Panza, aka FitchMike26, spends about 25 hours a week voluntarily moderating, plus the six or so hours each week that he attends the group’s weekly meetup at the Cooperage Wine and Whiskey Bar and planning any additional events. It’s a part-time, volunteer job that he got by accident after offering to take over Facebook communications in addition to the five other subreddits he’s in charge of (including, delightfully, /r/FurnaceParty).
Each day, Panza opens up Reddit to as many as 300 posts flagged by users in the “Mod Queue” and either deletes the real, inappropriate comments or chalks them up to argumentative individuals tattling.
“People get into very heated political arguments, could be about anything from a social issue going on in Philadelphia, like safe injection sites, or things like taxes, traffic, anything,” Panza said. “And when people get involved in heated debates, instead of continuing to debate the topic they’ll just go back and forth and report each other’s comments. … It’s like being the internet babysitter of 100,000 children.”
He attended his first Reddit meetup two years ago, when there was a regular crowd of about 15 weekly attendees. Last week’s happy hour had 50 people, and Panza said they get five or six new people each week.
“[Moderating] brings me joy. It’s pretty much my number one passion in life right now,” Panza said. “I enjoy having the community be there, because I wonder if I did not step in when I stepped in, I don’t know what the situation would be now.”
Melissa Meier runs /r/PhillyMeetups, where conversations range from “I just moved here, let’s grab a beer” to “I’m going to XYZ show and would love to meet other people going,” she said. Meier has also regularly attended /r/Philadelphia events since she moved to the city from Brooklyn last year and organizes the Philly chapter of national meetup group Girls Pint Out for women-identifying craft beer fans.
"When people meet in person they’re just introducing themselves by their name, they’re not really going into detail about their Reddit life."
Girls Pint Out “really resonates with my experiences early on with craft beer, in that it’s a man’s world and can get lonely as a woman,” she said. “Women still need a safe space at times, and we strive to provide that, especially for [nonbinary and trans women]. So the organization’s goal is to built a community for women around craft beer, which sadly is still needed.”
Of course, the events get shoutouts on /r/PhillyMeetups.
“I sought out the subreddit since I made some amazing friends from posting about Girls Pint Out events when I lived on Long Island and ran the chapter there,” Meier said.
Clark Herman joined /r/Philadelphia about a year ago to search for friends after moving from New York. He’s now part of the unofficial welcoming group on the page’s Discord server answering questions from newcomers.
He attended the June 22 event as an opportunity to celebrate a culture that has allowed him to make friends and network, while show off the flower crowns he and his friends made for Swedish Midsummer. He declined the ask for his username, a practice that’s typical of Reddit meetups.
“A lot of people people don’t want people to know what their Reddit usernames are. A lot of my friends don’t even know what my username is,” Herman said. “When people meet in person they’re just introducing themselves by their name, they’re not really going into detail about their Reddit life.”
To Meier, meetups are a way to meet fellow Reddit enthusiasts — for real.
“With meetups there’s a name to a face, so I feel like you’re seeing someone as who they really are, as opposed to who they are when they’re hiding behind a screen,” she said. “I’ve met some amazing people who I’m happy to have as friends, and I don’t think we would have met outside of Reddit.”
No usernames, no laptops and a draft beer. Sounds like an IRL friendship to take on the digital age.
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