Feb 25, 2014 · 4 minutes

Reddit is experimenting with a feature that allows users to create a "liveupdate thread," which features up-to-the-minute updates on specific topics, on the popular link-sharing site. The feature is currently being tested as a system through which Redditors can monitor Twitch Plays Pokemon, an online game controlled by many people at once, or the Ukraine protests.

News organizations have unsheathed similar tools to cover congressional hearings, product launches, natural disasters, political upheavals, and sporting events for years. The primary difference between those "liveblogs" and Reddit's "liveupdate threads" is that professional reporters are working on the liveblogs, often curating material from Twitter and Facebook, and independent enthusiasts are contributing to the liveupdate threads. (Oddly enough, these contributors are referred to as "reporters" despite their being nothing of the sort.)

These threads will make it easier to follow breaking news on Reddit. The current system relies on a variety of updates, the assumption that the community will "upvote" the most relevant information to the top, and plenty of scrolling past irrelevant comments. Having access to a tool like this might help make these updates easier to post, read, and comprehend. Or at least it would, if the "liveupdate threads" didn't also feature a karma system.

But perhaps the most pressing issue is Reddit's poor track record when it comes to "reporting" breaking news updates. The site's users infamously identified innocent people as suspects in the Boston Marathon Bombings; one of the people they named was eventually found dead. They have also banned news organizations for reporting stories they disagree with -- Gawker, which exposed a popular user's identity, key among them -- from popular sections of the site.

This is, of course, a technical update that won't affect Reddit's ability to convey accurate information about breaking news events one way or the other. But the more Reddit starts to emulate traditional news organizations by organizing up-to-the-minute updates and calling some of its users "reporters," the more important it is to keep the site's track record in mind.

Reactions from around the Web

Mathew Ingram, a media-focused writer at Gigaom, thinks that Reddit's "liveupdate threads" will be good for the site, and for journalism:

Will false news reports and other noise be contributed to and/or spread by Reddit’s new approach to live news? Undoubtedly. As I’ve argued before, the reality of news now is that all the messiness and chaos that used to take place primarily inside newsrooms is now happening out in the open. That may not be as neat and tidy, but it is far more true to the way that news actually occurs, and in true open-source style, the more eyes there are on something, the more likely that errors will be noticed and corrected by those who care.
The New York Times reports on Reddit's role in the Boston Marathon Bombing's aftermath:
In the days after the Boston Marathon bombings, the social media and entertainment site Reddit had the breakout moment it had been waiting for — but not the one it expected.
After site members, known as Redditors, turned into amateur sleuths and ended up wrongly identifying several people as possible suspects, Reddit went from a font of crowdsourced information to a purveyor of false accusations, to the subject of a reprimand by the president of the United States himself, to the center of another furious debate about the responsibilities of digital media.
Pando weighs in

David Holmes, our social media editor and head of experimental journalism, said the fury of social media reports in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings could be positive, but only when filtered through a trusted news organization:

Breaking news events are inherently confusing, and there’s no way to get it right all the time. And while Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Vine can be very effective at spreading truths and debunking falsehoods, it can just as easily have the opposite effect. What we saw today, however, is I think a step in the right direction. And we’re also beginning to see a separation between news sources that are able to relentlessly seek out the truth, even amid the noise and volume of social media (like Reuters’ liveblog) and the ones like the New York Post that play up unconfirmed reports for the sake of, what, pageviews? That style of journalism may work 99 percent of the time. But it’s when disaster strikes that we find out who we can really trust.
Cale Weissman commented on Reddit users' decision to block a large number of sites from the Politics subreddit:

Let’s look at what this creates: a Reddit-induced filter bubble. Reddit and its melange of voices has been working to create a space where people submit content that is voted up based on the “merits,” whatever that means. As the site has evolved, new criteria has been adopted about what, precisely, a Reddit merit is. This is just another chapter in this evolving story.

Now, instead of merely barring websites that ragged on Reddit or outright called out its hypocrisy because of these actions, it is claiming to introduce a new criterion called “quality,” which may or may not have to do with the source’s opinion on Reddit. And this gives r/Politics an even broader dominion of content control than ever before.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]