Turns out, Reddit is good for more than just figuring out if you’re “the asshole.” Writer Jo Stewart dives into how the online network can show us how to be more responsible travelers.

If you follow the news, you’ll know that ‘tourist caught doing spectacularly stupid thing’ is a story genre that has skyrocketed in recent years. From tourists skinny-dipping in a war memorial fountain in Rome to beachgoers harassing endangered Hawaiian monk seals in Honolulu, barely a week goes by without a news story highlighting outlandish tourist behavior.

But instead of just allowing these stories to live as clickbait, academics are using them to more deeply understand the impacts tourists have on the communities they visit. Enter: Social representation theory. This theory contends with how we collectively grapple with and understand hot topics, problematic issues and concerning behaviors.  

Dr. Ismail Shaheer, a researcher at the forefront of modern social representation theory, worked for the Ministry of Tourism in the Maldives for years and now works as a researcher at the University of Otago’s Department of Tourism. He says he’s fascinated by “thought-provoking and controversial ideas.” And where is a researcher guaranteed to find controversy? Social media, of course.