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Review: Internet-centric ‘ReplyAll’ explores weirdos on web

Reply+All

Reply All

In her book, “Digital Citizenship: The Internet, Society and Participation,” Karen Mossberger defines a digital citizen as someone who “uses the Internet regularly and effectively.” “Reply All” is a podcast about the Internet and the dark, tragic and hilarious corners its citizens populate.

The podcast is hosted by Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt and produced by Gimlet Media of “StartUp” podcast fame. Their 20-30 minute weekly episodes uncover some of the strangest stories of how the Internet intersects our lives. Since November 2014, Goldman and Vogt have introduced listeners to Internet scammers, the man who invented the pop-up and the most popular dog on Instagram.

In an episode titled “The Writing On The Wall,” Goldman introduces listeners to Melissa Melendez, a student at Colgate University. Colgate is a small, liberal arts college in Hamilton, N.Y., and when Melendez entered as a freshman, she experienced racist stereotypes and remarks from other students every day. Only 12 percent of Colgate students are African-American or Hispanic compared to UA’s 24.5 percent.

Melendez formed a support network of other minority students at Colgate, which eventually morphed into the Association of Critical Collegians. The ACC hosted sit-ins to protest the racist attitudes on campus, and the administration responded by trying to improve its practices. Online, the sentiment was drastically different.

Colgate students took to the anonymous social networking app Yik Yak to counter-protest the ACC. For months, Colgate’s Yik Yak was filled with racist, violent posts targeted at the ACC that were up voted by almost 100 students, which is drastic when you take into account that Colgate has less than 3,000 students. Dozens of minority students moved off campus because they felt threatened.

To combat this, a group of professors began to post mundane and cheery Yik Yak posts signed with their own names. These posts drowned out the racist posts and showed minority students that they had the faculty’s support. While this hasn’t eliminated the problem, all the minority students who left last spring returned in the fall semester.

In another episode titled “This Proves Everything,” Vogt tells listeners the story of Keith Calder, a film producer with an unfortunate last name. Two years ago, Calder began receiving hundreds of tweets asking whether he had a sister. He discovered that he shared the same last name as Eleanor Calder, One Direction band member Louis Tomlinson’s former girlfriend.

Keith Calder had been discovered by a large group of One Direction fans who believed that not only was Tomlinson gay, but that he was secretly in a relationship with his also publicly heterosexual bandmate, Harry Styles. These fans believe that One Direction’s record label has forced Tomlinson and Styles to hide their relationship from the public eye in a corporate conspiracy to sell more records.

To mess with them, Keith Calder posted a tweet saying that he could not confirm nor deny any rumors about One Direction, and this firmly cemented him into the conspiracy’s lore. For Keith Calder, this shaped his online image. Every few weeks, he was hit with a wave of hundreds to thousands of tweets when there was new One Direction news or when that news was translated into another language. When Keith Calder meets new business partners, he often has to explain his nonexistent association with One Direction.

Like other Gimlet Media shows, “Reply All” tries to make its advertisements funny and interactive. Goldman recently had a son and had not seen Vogt since he left on paternity leave. Goldman decided to shame Vogt into meeting his newborn son by using a sponsor’s service to create a website that displayed a timer with the amount of time since his son was born.

While “Reply All” may be about the Internet, it’s not a technology show. Goldman and Vogt instead highlight the people who use it. A resounding theme of “Reply All” is that the Internet is a tool that connects people and allows them to communicate more easily. In celebration of this, Goldman and Vogt are starting Email Debt Forgiveness Day on April 30 to give everyone a clean conscience to send those awkward emails that you have been putting off sending for months.

You can listen to “Reply All” by streaming or downloading its episodes for free from its website.

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Follow Patrick O’Connor on Twitter.

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