Reddit Mods: Let's Test Ideas for Preventing Harassment and Fact-Checking the News

Apply by March 14th to discover widely-effective moderation practices

by J. Nathan Matias, March 1, 2019

Are you a reddit moderator interested to reduce harassment or manage the spread of unreliable news in your community? CivilServant is looking for communities to test ideas together.

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CivilServant is a nonprofit that works toward a world where digital power is guided by evidence and accountable to the public. Together with communities, we use citizen behavioral science to discover ideas that work for a safer, fairer, more understanding internet.

In recent years, CivilServant has tested ideas to reduce harassment, fact-check unreliable news, and manage political conflict. Last year, we met with over a dozen moderators to brainstorm new research and launched several new studies.

Discovering Widely-Applicable Moderation Practices

This year, our goal is to discover which of those ideas are widely-applicable. While individual studies like our projects with r/science, r/worldnews, and r/politics provide valuable knowledge to those communities, the culture and situations of different reddit communities vary. If a subreddit is different enough, a moderation practice that works in one place may work differently elsewhere.

One of the best ways to find out if an idea works (and how it works) is to try it in several contexts–a practice that researchers call replication. This spring, CivilServant and students in my Princeton class SOC412 are working with subreddits to find out if some of the lessons we learned about moderation might be more generally useful across reddit. We're looking for communities to test two ideas:

  • Preventing abusive comments by posting the rules with sticky comments (or potentially in private messages).
  • Fact-checking unreliable news sources and testing the effect on discussions and article rankings.

Communities interested in replicating these studies will need to:

  • Have a few online planning conversations with the CivilServant team and our team of students to agree on exactly how the experiments will work
  • Grant CivilServant's software permission to coordinate the experiment (for example, posting messages and archiving the modlog) (you can end the experiment at any time)
  • Provide feedback and other support when we analyze and interpret the results
  • Carry out the research in a way that is transparent to your subreddit throughout
  • (if possible) Choose someone from your subreddit to share the results at our next CivilServant Community Research Summit (date TBD)

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If you have any questions about this research, please message Nathan Matias at jmatias@princeton.edu or /u/natematias. This research is governed by Princeton University's ethics board.