Aita? How a Reddit forum poses the defining question of our time (2023)

First you need to imagine what the sandwich looks like.

It's a six-foot-long party sandwich from a local deli that weaves the bread together to make one super sandwich—nearly twice the width of the standard width and packed with filling. Enough to feed 20-25 people and a lot less people come to watch the game.

But the host did not explain Allen's situation. While everyone was distracted by the TV, he ate most of the sandwich himself. "What I didn't consider a problem at all has turned into a big problem," Allen began posting online the next morning.

His owner's girlfriend threw a tantrum at him, calling him an "incredible pig" for eating a four-foot sandwich. Allen protested that he brought homemade wings to share (“It's my specialty”), but his offer to order pizza for the group fell on deaf ears.

The next day, Allen woke up to an angry text message telling him he had embarrassed himself. "I thought I'd post here to see if what I did was really that bad," Allen said.wrote on the online Reddit forum. "Am I an asshole for eating so many sandwiches?"

Everyone, except the most forgetful among us, sometimes asks the question: am I the bad guy in this situation? Is it wrong if I want to socialize my dog? For a destination wedding? Telling my friend he can't order KFC because I can't eat it? Telling my six-year-old stepsister that she's not my real sister?

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In a time of uncertainty, RedditAm I an asshole?The forum exists to tell us this directly. About 2.4 million people gather here to review real-life misconduct and then issue a verdict: YTA (“You're an asshole”) or NTA (“Not an asshole”).

Of course, if you're looking for help to live a better life, AITA is just one of many options. For example, advice columnists have grown in popularity over the past decade and the range of topics they cover has expanded. "People used to write to sweet Abby or Ann Landers about problems with annoying neighbors or nosy mothers-in-law," says New York Magazine, author of "Ask Polly," an existential advice column. Heather Havrilski says:2014 explained. "Women who are smart give short, specific instructions like, 'Tell her to go!' and, "Run, don't leave, find the nearest mental health counselor!" Now I think people are more interested in asking specific questions about the bigger picture of their lives."

Author Cheryl Strayed is considered a precursor to a more ambitious incarnation of the ailing aunt. As "Dear Sugar" on the Rumpus website, she writes long, lyrical answers to readers' problems, such as:"How can I not be defined by student debt?"In:"How can I trust God if my six-month-old daughter has a tumor?"

However, as the internet has given us the space to express our deepest concerns, it has also taught us to expect definitive answers. "Am I a bad person?" ranks as high as an autocomplete search on Google, as if a code of ethics could be as easy to find as a recipe. This is where AITA really comes into play, offering what it calls “catharsis for frustrated moral philosophers.”

We may think that modern society is not interested in morality, but it is surprising how much contemporary popular culture is concerned with the question of how to do good. Taylor Swift in her 'Miss America' documentaryto give inThe need to be seen as moral constitutes its 'total moral code'. critic Lauren OylerconfirmedThe same fear of self-consciousness can be found in the novels of Sally Rooney, Karl of Northgaard, Ben Lerner, Jenny Ofir, and Sheila Hetty. That's the whole premise of the popular sitcom "The Good Place," in which the moral justification of going to heaven is pushed aside by the complexities of modern life. Just buy a tomato,explain Ted Danson's demons"You are unknowingly supporting toxic pesticides, exploiting labor and exacerbating global warming".

As much as the internet has made us aware of this quagmire, it's also an often unforgiving environment. On social media, users compete for dominance over the big and small issues of our time, like whether you should wash your legs in the shower. as author Dolly Aldertonsomeone once said, views on “Brexit, skincare, gluten, feminism” are presented as “a dogma written in stone that you must follow”. We live in fear that, if we are not careful, this will provoke#TaylorSwiftIsOverPartytrend, or ask for 'cancellation'.

As William Davis, author of Tension: How Emotions Take Over the World, puts it:recently writtenThe infrastructure of the internet has created a "perpetual referendum society," where each question is reduced to a yes-or-no poll in which anyone can vote. This "tyranny of binary views" is in part a response to the information overload online, Davis said, "clicking buttons labeled 'like' or 'dislike'… allows us to engage in as many critical activities as possible."

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We're even extending this to people like Airbnb, Uber, and eBayreduce characterRatings (although Peeple is an app that started asking for one to five star character reviews from everyone you know in 2015,Rejected outright because the bridge is too far)。

existReddit, AITA awards a prize based on the answer that receives the most votes: YTA or NTA. Allen has over 3,200 reviews: YTA.

The AITA forums also have "in-between areas, 'everyone is bad' or 'no one is bad'—areas that, in my opinion, are woefully underused," said Elizabeth, a panel of about thirty members from the global bodies of the Lord. But in today's cultural age, where being an asshole seems not only permissible but also rewarded, AITA's willingness to take responsibility is shocking, perhaps even exciting. “I would love the chance to tell Jeff Bezos or Trump that they are assholes,” said May, another host.

"If you don't want to hear people's opinions, don't be here," she added. The hunger for this is reflected in the frenzy on the forum, with an average of 30,000 posts per day and some 800 arbitrage scenarios.

The more shocking or bizarre puzzles draw popcorn crowds from far and wide. by Emily Gouldannounced last monthAITA has been publishing 'Mainstream Short Stories' for almost ten years. Aita herselfcorrectlyThe "best" and "most controversial" posts are easy to read (although the obvious "creative writing exercise" has been removed).

Eleanor Gordon-Smith, ethicus, Princeton Universitywrite a philosophy columnWhen even the most extreme curiosities can be quickly satisfied online, the most intriguing interest is people's common sense of shame, says The Guardian. "It's almost exciting to look into someone else's life and listen to their strange thoughts — their innermost thoughts about their partner, their children, their friends."

Against a background of frenzied messaging and judgment, AITA stands out for the accuracy of its discussions, and even for the altruism of its aims – described in a detailed FAQ that aims to help people “see what they could do.” Where did I go wrong?

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Steven, another presenter, said many online spaces today are "dedicated not only to discovering who is wrong, but multiplying it." "I think we're unique in that we're talking about individuals' morals, not tearing them down."

"It's not supposed to be entertainment, it's just a fun by-product," May said. "We had to make sure it was a fully functioning place where people could get an authentic outside perspective."

Commentators were asked to remember, "We were all 'bastards' once," while those calling for a verdict were warned to take the decision with grace.

Maintaining a mutually respectful discussion is an "almost Sisyphean" feat of moderation, but AITA works on people's freedom to express their feelings of vulnerability, and on the thoughtful feedback they receive during their exchanges, says Steven.

"If someone you care about and respect tells you you're wrong, even though it may seem black and white to you, you should probably learn your lesson," says Elizabeth. "Even though I think my reasons are valid, maybe what I did or how I handled it was wrong."

Modders say they often hear from past posters that AITA's opinion has greatly improved their lives. A woman who criticized YTA for refusing to take an interest in her teenage daughter's hobby later returned and said their relationship had improved as a result.

David Ryan Polgar, founderAll technology is humanThe group, which advocates the use of ethical technology, said AITA remembered an earlier, less polarizing version of the internet — when it was primarily a source of information that we visited largely anonymously.

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Being able to express ourselves online, free of our names and offline identities, was part of the web's "original promise," Polgar said, but has since been abandoned by social media. AITA's popularity for unbiased opinion widely reflects the desire for a less governed, identity-driven Internet.

Polgar said many people want to seek answers and advice that can't be easily crowdsourced personally or under their own name on Facebook or Twitter, without any "reputational risk." "A friend doesn't tell you the unfiltered, unvarnished truth: If you want total honesty, you need strangers."

Judgment after judgment, AITA is in fact crowdsourcing a code of ethics – perhaps in a place where no other code of ethics exists. In the past, society looked to religion or science as a moral framework, Gordon-Smith said. In the modern world where both are challenged, our sense of right and wrong has become "untethered".

“I think people have a very deep sense of uncertainty about whether they are right and whether other people agree with their reasons,” said Gordon-Smith. "One way to find out is to take philosophy classes and think hard about the origins of morality — another way is to ask people directly."

However, the huge limitation of AITA's "ethical arbitration" program is clear: it is opt-in. If you want to ask "AITA?" - let alone ask for another opinion - you're probably an NTA. Past analysis has shown that the vast majority of posters have done nothing wrong: 56 percent are classed as NTA and 22 percent are considered assholes.

"People who come here obviously think it's very important [the possibility that they're wrong] because otherwise they wouldn't be here wondering if they're jerks. We should at least respect the fact that they're thinking about it," says May. said.

Of all the shocks reported by AITA, Allen's story stuck with her because of her relative health, she said. "There's no real malice in it; it's just completely incomprehensible that eating a six-foot party submarine that can feed thirty people might not be the best move."

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Many commentators expressed sympathy for Allen, sharing his own experiences with eating disorders and expressing hope that the incident would serve as a wake-up call that he had not just hurt himself by being "a fat man," as he claimed.

Steven's memory is different. After Allen received his sentence, the post had to be closed; Allen's account was later suspended. “He argued about the comments. He just can't accept being the jerk."


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