Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version

Fall 9-2016


Kienzle, J., (2016). The technological factors of reddit: Communication and identity on relational networks (unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Nebraska.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Jordan Soliz. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2016

Copyright (c) 2016 Jennifer Kienzle


The relational network reddit is one of the most popular and visited websites on a global and national (United States) level. Communication on reddit lends itself to intergroup communication in that reddit users engage with audiences from ingroup, outgroup, and mixed audience compositions. Reddit’s voting system allows for negative and positive feedback to enhance or impede on one’s message. I examine how these technological factors influence a number of communicative and identity processes: (a) identity salience, (b), identity gaps, (c) group and interpersonal evaluation, and (d) accommodative language. Drawn out of intergroup contact literature and theories about group processes and technology, I hypothesize and question how each technological factor maps onto each of the aforementioned outcomes. By analyzing each technological factor, I am able to understand how audience composition, valence of content, and nature of feedback have varying impacts on communication.

I created an online experimental interface that simulated reddit’s user interface and technological affordances. A total of 316 participants entered into the online discussion board and contributed a comment to an ongoing discussion about their thoughts and beliefs on 4th of July. Two time segments were used in the study, revealing a 3 (audience composition: ingroup, outgroup, mixed) X 2 (valence of content: hostile, neutral) X 2 (feedback: negative, positive) between-groups design.

Results revealed that audience composition influenced the enacted-communal identity gap in that users had a lower enacted-identity gap with ingroup and mixed audiences compared to outgroup audiences. Similarly, the enacted-communal identity gap, interpersonal evaluation, and group evaluation measures were dependent on the valence of the conversation. However, identity salience and the personal-enacted identity gap did not fluctuate based on any of the technological factors. Accommodative language was higher in ingroup conditions and when the valence was neutral. Time 2 results revealed that negative feedback influenced a perception of change in the enacted-communal identity gap and in the group evaluation measures. These results add to existing knowledge on the influence of reddit’s primary technological factors on group and identity processes and is informing of how social recommendations can change a user’s perception of their message.

Advisor: Jordan Soliz