North Texas Daily

Denton Reddit: the faces behind the usernames

Denton Reddit: the faces behind the usernames

Denton Reddit: the faces behind the usernames
February 06
00:27 2014

Obed Manuel // Senior Staff Writer

On May 20, 2013, Cassi Mejia stepped out the front door of her Moore, Okla. home moments after a 200-mph tornado tore through her neighborhood. The scent of fresh pine wafted through the air and sparkly pink fiberglass dust floated around her.

The streets around her house were littered with downed power lines, debris from destroyed houses and carcasses of cats and dogs. The town she had called home for 11 years was reduced to rubble.

“I didn’t really want to be there because nothing was the same,” Mejia said. “I couldn’t even find my way around without all the landmarks.”

Mejia moved to Denton on July 1, completely unaware that the local Reddit community of more than 2,000 subscribers was ready to soften her landing and welcome her into a new social circle.

Reddit is a link-sharing website that aggregates shared content based on users’ preferences. The website has close to 2.5 million registered users navigating the Internet forum boards.

Denton is no exception. Currently,  the “r/Denton sub-Reddit,” one of the website’s numerous forums, has 2,723 subscribers made up of both students and locals.

Mejia, an active Reddit user for five years, found her way to “r/Denton” through her appetite. She subscribed to the sub-Reddit and posted a message: “I’m new here. I’m hungry. I want something to do.”

“Next thing I know – 300 comments later – I have all these people being, like, ‘Let’s go do this.’” Mejia said. “Ever since then, it was true love.”

Meeting the “redditors”

Mejia joined a Facebook group of about 300 “redditors” who actively planned outings at bars and restaurants in Denton. She met dozens of students and local residents at the outings, eventually meeting Kaitlin King, a moderator of Denton Reddit.

“It’s so much easier to go out and meet people whenever they’re people who have the same interests as you,” Mejia said.

King, a communication studies senior, said she understands why meeting strangers from a website would seem unappealing to most people, but her experience with meeting fellow redditors has been mostly positive.

“It’s just normal people. Everybody goes on the Internet now,” King said. “It’s not like it’s a bunch of weird, creepy losers that hang out in their moms’ basements.”

King said the local users create a welcoming atmosphere because their personalities are genuinely different. Some are extremely introverted while others are outgoing enough to break into song in a crowded Fry Street bar.

“Everybody likes the Internet and everybody likes hanging out with people,” King said. “That’s what we’re there for.”

King said that when she became a moderator of the page, she began pushing for changes in how meet-ups were organized.

“Most of the young population in Denton is underage because most people going to school are underage,” King said. “You can’t really get them to come to bars, so it feels like you’re excluding them.”

King said the group began organizing events like picnics at public parks and dinners at local restaurants, allowing underage redditors to participate in the offline aspect of the group.

King also said the group has seen an increase in the number of women who join in the outings. She said she feels the presence of female leadership has helped.

“People usually expect more guys than girls and that’s true,” King said. “But it’s not as drastic as people think it is.”

As of press date, the Facebook group has 647 members.

A different kind of communication

Technical communications professor Jordan Frith said that what sets Reddit apart from other social networks is the willingness of its users to be connected to the entire Reddit population.

“Facebook is about connecting with people you already know” Frith said. “Reddit is much more about talking to people you don’t know and making new connections.”

Reddit users are much more open in how they express themselves because the site requires only a username that typically reveals nothing about the user, Frith said.

“On Reddit, because you’re using a pseudonym, you have the freedom to comment on things

that you don’t on those other sites,” Frith said.

Frith said the willingness of Denton users to meet people from the Internet is not a groundbreaking development for making connections. But, he said, they have an advantage over people who simply go out without prior associations.

“They have at least one shared interest,” Frith said.  “You can find people who are interested in the same things you are much easier online than offline.”

“Redditors” lend a helping hand

Recently, the Denton Reddit community welcomed Army veteran Matthew Willich, a mechanical and chemical engineering sophomore.

Willich, who moved to Denton in mid-December, posted in the Denton sub-Reddit asking about possible job opportunities in the city. Within the hour he had several responses about places that may have openings.

“They gave me a lot of feedback that I didn’t have and I can use these ideas that they gave me in the future,” Willich said. “Whenever strangers reach out and help you, that’s just good karma for them.”

One of the most recent planned events took place on Feb. 1, 2014, celebrating Mejia’s birthday. The caravan of redditors moved from Mellow Mushroom to Paschall’s Bar on the Denton Square.

The final stop for the group of about 20, was Lucky Lou’s where, in the middle of a crowd of nervous onlookers, the crew sang “Happy Birthday” to Mejia.

“They have been the best friends I could have ever asked for,” Mejia said.

Mejia said that anyone interested in joining is welcome to, but they have to be willing to  take a chance.

“We’re all equally as awkward as they are,” Mejia said, laughing. “It’s a trust fall. You kind of just dive into it and we’ll catch you.”

Feature photo: Redditors, Cassi Mejia, a Denton local and communications senior Kaitlin King celebrate Mejia’s 22 Birthday Saturday night at Lucky Lou’s Bar on W. Hickory St. Photo by Margaret Saucedo / Staff Photographer 

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