The Magic of Reddit’s ‘Am I The Asshole?’

Published on November 25, 2020

‘Am I The Asshole?’ is a corner of the popular internet culture website, Reddit. Think of it as the modern answer to the advice column, but with a little less polish. 2.4 million people subscribe to this sort of crowdsourced courtroom. Even more users interact with the community through other forms of social media. There is something that folks of all ages and backgrounds clearly love about the AITA subreddit.

This free platform provides a certain catharsis, for everyone involved. For the lucky posters, having hundreds of people around the world deem that you are not, in fact, an asshole, is deeply validating. For those responding to each scenario, it’s a catharsis that comes from judging the problems of strangers with no fear of consequence. Even the unlucky few who the community judge to be quite obviously in the wrong reap the benefits, in the form of helpful advice on how to remedy their wrongs.

How Does It Work?

In this forum, anyone can post a story about a situation or conflict between at least two parties followed by the essential question, “Am I The Asshole?”. Subscribers from around the world can then put forth judgments, advice, and commentary in response. Each commenter answers the original question with one of four judgments, followed by their own thoughts and comments. NTA means “Not The Asshole”, YTA means “You’re The Asshole”, ESH means “Everyone Sucks Here”, and the last (and most rare) NAH means “No Assholes Here”. The original poster, often abbreviated to OP, can respond to comments and provide more information. However, the creators encourage posters to accept their judgments without significant argument.

The creators of ‘Am I The Asshole’ describe it as “A catharsis for the frustrated moral philosopher in all of us, and a place to finally find out if you were wrong in an argument that’s been bothering you. Tell us about any non-violent conflict you have experienced; give us both sides of the story, and find out if you’re right, or you’re the asshole.”

A forum like this one could easily descend into chaos, if not moderated by rules. The creators want posters and commenters to remain civil. There is no violence or talk of violence allowed at all. Posts like “AITA for breaking up with/ghosting/cutting contact with” or “AITA for doing sexual act _ (or not)” or anything related to reproductive autonomy or cheating are not allowed. There are various other rules and regulations meant to keep things on track. It’s all about passing judgment on interpersonal conflict, and nothing else.

What It’s All About

There are some significant themes that reoccur often on the forum. Not all posts conform to these themes, every once in a while someone will come up with a truly unique, often deeply weird, or disgusting problem that no one has ever heard of before. However, most posts can be categorized fairly easily. There are marital issues, men that refuse to grow up, nightmarish mothers-in-law, parenting problems, roommates conflicts, and my personal favorite, wedding drama.

The comments on this post leaned largely towards the original poster being Not The Asshole, with the mother-in-law taking the asshole title. Comments are not always in such synchronized agreement. At times the comments section will become just as contentious a battle as the original conflict itself. This is when AITA comes to its full glory. The original post is the case, the comments are the jury deliberations. Eventually, enough votes roll in to convict someone of being an asshole.

Posts on this subreddit range from funny to deeply weird, from traumatic to disturbing, and from heartwarming to heartbreaking. If you scroll far enough through ‘Am I The Asshole’, you will encounter every kind of shenanigans.

There are parents complaining about the nannies who they are dramatically underpaying. In some alarming posts, there are women who are blatantly abused by their spouses. There are husbands trying their best to raise their kids. There are siblings bickering over bedrooms or inheritance. The site often features conflicts over money, love, and boundaries.

The holidays are one of the best times for ‘Am I the Asshole’, as this time of year tends to bring out some truly knock-down-drag-out family conflicts. Especially with the added drama of COVID-19, there are truly fabulous conflicts over Thanksgiving taking over the forum this week.

For the record, the community largely voted the above parent to indeed be the asshole.

The Popularity

Over 2 million Reddit users subscribe to this specific platform. At any given time, tens of thousands of people are reading, posting, and commenting. The AITA community has also spread to other social media platforms. On Twitter, there is an account that screenshots the best posts and retweets them. The comments section functions in the exact same way that it does on the original Reddit. The Twitter page, however, as figured out an added feature that allows people to click on a poll to vote. That way people who aren’t usually commenting can still have a say in the ultimate asshole in the conflict. That account has nearly 449k followers. There are various Instagram accounts with varying amounts of success that function in a similar fashion.

With this level of popularity, it is clear that there is something that makes ‘Am I The Asshole’ special. Beyond its mass appeal, it is distinctly possible that this forum might actually be helping people.

Actually Helping?

When someone posts on the site, thousands of people respond with reasoned advice. Whether the poster is the wrongdoer or the one being wronged, they will find several ways to remedy the situation in the comments. At least one of those remedies is bound to suit their needs and help them resolve the conflict. The forum is largely anonymous, so there is little way to know or tell if this advice ever works unless the poster updates. Occasionally a poster will update the community on the conclusion of a situation, often after they implement the advice of the community.

It’s hard to tell, without consistent updates, whether the forum is actually serving to help solve these interpersonal conflicts. However, there is undeniably a catharsis for the commenters that’s undeniably beneficial to a certain extent. Immersing oneself in the twisted problems of others is a tried and true coping mechanism.

In the comment section, it’s not unusual to see a form of group therapy. People empathize with the original poster, and then with each other. They share similar stories that have happened to them, and how they chose to handle it. There is an element of sharing and community that is doubtless comforting for those who participate.

It is still Reddit, so not every part of this is rainbows and roses. There is a certain toxic element to every internet subculture that is, to an extent, unavoidable. Not every commenter is genuinely trying to help, and people are often cruel and mocking. It happens on the internet. However, for the most part, ‘Am I the Asshole’ is at the very least a deeply satisfying form of entertainment.

While ‘Am I The Asshole’ may not always serve to solve the interpersonal conflicts it handles, or make people better, it allows us all to play judge and jury to the mishaps and messes of others. This might be actually helping, or it might just be incredibly fun. Either way, it seems that this pseudo advice column blended with an online courtroom is here to stay.

Olivia Smith is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in San Francisco, she covers events, entertainment, fashion, and technology. She also serves as a Voices contributor at PopSugar.

Read more

More GD News