Last week, Josh Duggar of reality TV fame was convicted of downloading and possessing child pornography, almost two decades after abuse allegations against him first came to light. On Reddit, a community of over 131K celebrated that justice had been served.
In the Duggars Snark subreddit, an army of Duggar-obsessives has cultivated a community dedicated to analyzing the enormous gang of homeschooling Arkansas Baptists and their Little House on the Prairie lifestyle. A core tenet of the group is “no fans”; the community is strictly for condescension. It describes itself as “a board where you can snark on, make fun of, and criticize the Duggar Family.”
Since Josh Duggar’s federal arrest in April, the subreddit’s subscribers have doubled.
The community has developed nicknames and coded language for the subjects of its ridicule. Patriarch Jim Bob Duggar is called “Boob” and Duggar daughter Jinger is dubbed “Ofbabe,” a reference to her tendency to call her husband “babe” and the naming conventions in The Handmaid’s Tale. Participants frequently interject with “Nike,” the family’s codeword to signal an immodestly-dressed woman is approaching (the Duggar dad and brothers would keep their eyes on their shoes until the coast was clear). Josh, who has been publicly named in sexual abuse allegations since 2015, is nicknamed “Pest.” His recent guilty conviction was dubbed “Pest arrest.”
The lingo is draped in layers of inside jokes. To acquire the in-group language is to initiate, and newbies can catch up using an extensive post that breaks it all down.
Love to hate
In the dark world of snark subreddits, no kindness toward the subjects of the anti-fandom is allowed. When Jill Duggar Dillard dyed her hair blonde, a moderator pitched in to discourage comments of simple support. “Comments just saying that she looks pretty with no snark will be removed. A good comment would be one that has nuance/isn’t just “wow Jill looks great” as that constitutes a low effort comment.”
The focus on spite has a purpose, according to Pabs, a college student from Tennessee who is one of the subreddit’s moderators. “I think snark provides a catharsis to people, especially those that have grown up in fundamentalist or cult environments to let out all their thoughts regarding it,” she said.
“Snark provides a catharsis to people, especially those that have grown up in fundamentalist or cult environments.”
She went on to say the subreddit is more than just a cesspool of hate. “A lot of the good things I’ve seen are the charity donations, support of other members who may have experienced traumatic events, and a general sense of having a close-knit community of friends.”
It’s true that the group’s activity has led to positive events. In light of Josh Duggar’s trial, the subreddit organized a fundraiser for the Children’s Safety Center of Washington County, an organization dedicated to helping young victims. A local Arkansas journalist, C.C. McCandless, who has been an active participant in the subreddit as he has covered the trial for Fayetteville’s Fox24 KNWA, has gotten financial support from Redditors after he posted that he was struggling to pay his bills. Most notably, the subreddit provides a place for discussions of the dark sides of purity culture and personal experiences with sexual assault in fundamentalist communities, and users can reject or ruminate on aspects of Christian beliefs in a process known as deconstruction.
But for all the positives, there are also aspects that are invasive and cruel, like pointing out “ugly” fashion choices or participating in extensive conversations over which Duggar girl is most “boring.” Catty conversations are elevated into 24/7 discussions to which users return again and again and again.
The psychology of gossip points to positive, pro-social outcomes of shared snark, and collective condescension feels good for a reason: gossip triggers the brain’s reward circuitry. But at what point does the snark — waking up every day and logging on to Reddit to criticize a clan of washed-up reality TV stars — go too far?
The subreddit user base has considerable overlap with a number of smaller snark subreddits including r/blogsnark and r/fundiesnarkuncensored. And then there’s r/munchsnark, a community dedicated to belittling internet personalities who appear to be faking illnesses, which was banned for violating Reddit’s rule about promoting hate.
“We have good reason to snark on the Duggars. They promote bigoted views and harmful rhetoric.”
Duggar speculation isn’t exclusive to Reddit. It happens on TikTok, too, where “DuggarTok” videos have racked up over a billion views, according to Insider. The intense devotion to the reality TV family parallels the obsessive zeal that fueled internet users’ forensic investigations into Gabby Petito, “Couch Guy,” and Reddit’s 2013 r/FindTheBostonBomber disaster. Over and over, social media facilitates digital pile-ons and guerilla true-crime investigations that can sometimes be misguided.
While Josh Duggar’s child pornography convictions certainly warrant public disdain, other aspects of Duggar snark seem no more defensible than outright cyberbullying.
But moderator Pabs stands by the snark subreddit. “We have good reason to snark on the Duggars,” she told me. “They promote bigoted views and harmful rhetoric and are constantly trying to use their influence to harm others. Snarking on those beliefs is needed in today’s society in order to prevent them from becoming normalized or written off as being not harmful when they are.”