Livestreaming as therapy: How people experience reddit’s Public Access Network

A groundbreaking digital ethnography book is in the works – Livestreaming As Therapy – the first book to explore and document how people experience reddit’s Public Access Network (“r/pan”), and to broaden our understanding of how livestreaming monologues and social narratives are shaping individuals and society.

Over the last half of 2020, one hundred r/pan video discussions and observations took place in the context of major social changes related to increased isolation in the global pandemic and tensions from the 2020 US election.

Early findings suggest that r/pan livestreaming was experienced by people, or broadcasters and panners, mainly as a form of live therapy or self-counseling to cope with the restrictions from the global pandemic and also to recover and heal from some of its effects.

r/pan is quickly becoming a lifeline and positive vibing space for people from all walks of life across the world dealing with mental health issues in this time of social distancing.

r/pan moderates the spiritual and human connections through challenging times, rather than as a superficially polished marketing tool, like most other social media and livestreaming platforms.

Early findings reveal six forms of r/pan livestreaming therapeutic experiences:

  1. Exploring self-identity

r/pan provides a low-key anonymous space to discover your true self, values and passions and share these with others.

“Being alone has allowed me to embrace my self-worth. I am no longer comparing my situation to others”

2. Self-improvement

r/pan provides a safe and enjoyable, low pressure motivating space to improve a skill and gain confidence – anything from public speaking, languages, music, art, writing, building, cooking – where you don’t have to be a polished person.

“Everyone’s livestreaming so we’re practicing the new way of socializing – the new norm. We’re feeling love and encouragement from random people giving us fun awards!”

3. Positively vibing

r/pan is a space for random positive vibes – anything from live video gaming commentary to cute animals to music jams, live memes and amusing mixes.

“Anyone can do it. This is not anything special so come chill… I’m not gorgeous or have exceptional talent but I feel appreciated by people who resonate with me anyway”

“I enjoy making people laugh in real time”

4. Vicarious wanderlust

r/pan enables vicarious live travelling the globe and cultural learning for many who are unable to travel.

“I’m an American living abroad in Thailand livestreaming and documenting my walk through a busy city and making cross cultural comparison commentary, such as differences in cooperating with face mask wearing.”

5. Mental health

r/pan is an everyday mental health booster, free counselling using self-talk, telling their stories knowing people are listening and not judging, with faith in humanity restored and a spiritual non-materialistic path.

“I want to share my struggle with mental health with others from anywhere who might relate, as its never visible and want to break the stigma of talking about it. I live in a place where it’s never talked about”

“I’m not going to capitalize on my homeless situation by asking for donations… hard times can reveal the difference between opportunists and people who want to be known for modeling and practicing the moral thing. My mental health has improved because I’m no longer thinking about failed expectations trying to keep up the race maintain with society’s standard, which causes depression. I can focus on loving myself and looking after mental health.”

6. Inclusive distant socializing

“I love talking to people from all over the world. With Covid you can’t go out and socialize. I don’t drink and go to the bar, it’s harder to make friends these days so being able to livestream and connect with people on a deeper level even though I don’t get to see people, I can still feel the love and care and that’s what really matters”

“I’m in self-isolation and tonight I’d typically be out with friends. I think r/pan is huge because we are basically searching for a sense of normalcy, we are trying to communicate with people.  I used to sit and watch people on r/pan for hours and I thought it was pretty cool, you meet a lot of interesting people. But this is trying to get back to normalcy in a sense.”

Any other year, this would be seen as a social taboo and frivolous waste of time. In 2020, r/pan is a lifeline for many in isolation. Have our perceptions on distant socializing changed since the pandemic? Has it been normalized to be socially acceptable? Will this normalization continue into the post-pandemic future?