Reddit, how to effectively moderate reality

Reddit, 2018, all rights reserved

 

 

What is a Reddit?

Reddit has held prominence in internet culture since its inception in 2005 as it introduced new innovations such as upvoting rather than chronological content ordering and has sparked numerous debates on how the internet should handle dangerous content. In this analysis, I will be outlining how Reddit rose to prominence in the early 2000s, its business model, how it creates profit, its investors, and the implications the social media site holds for real-world events especially its dictations of socio-political discourse. 

 

Role/Historical Overview:

Founded by Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffmanin 2005 Reddit is a very prominent media sharing website in which users can upvote and downvote various posts. In 2006 it was purchased by advance publications at the estimated price of $240 million(Anderson, 2015). As of 2020 more than 430 million monthly active users inhabit the site(Reddit, 2020)and according to Statista.com the site is dominated by users from the united states(49.91%) followed by the UK(7.91%), Canada(7.49%), Australia(3.94%) and Germany(3.2%). Together these users have contributed to over 2.2 million subreddits boasting more than 130,000 communities (Reddit, 2019).

Unlike other social media platforms which use a chronologically algorithmically sorted newsfeed, Reddit uses upvotes and downvotes. Upvotes bring content forward to the front page and downvotes put it further back into the sea of content that is shared on the platform every day. Reddit also allows for groups of people to come together to form subreddits where they share/create content in which adheres to the certain topic of that subreddit such as gaming, economics, politics and other social niches even porn.  Unlike other social media sharing sites, Reddit allows the users to moderate their own content rather than the company under whatever alias they choose allowing users to speak their minds guilt-free(Anderson, 2015). However, that is slowly changing due to certain antisocial behaviours becoming commonplace on the site. Underprovisions on the Reddit website have held strong implications in recent social discourse on moderation of anonymity and hate speech on the internet. As of 2013 Reddit had overlooked 52% of its most popular posts(Gilbert, 2013). Future provisions, however, have been put in place such as machine learning programs such as their automated system (Jhavier, Birman, Gilbert and Bruckman, 2019) which will be explained further in detail under their business model analysis. However, the Reddit community as Anderson(2015) explains are…

 “a fierce defender of rights, from free speech to net neutrality as Reddit was the first site to suggest a blackout on January 18, 2012 to protest the internet censorship bills SOPA and PIPA”,

The Reddit community was also highly opposed to the recent anti-net neutrality bill from the FCC in 2015 which garnered the respect of Barack Obama as he sent a thankyou note to Reddit(Anderson, 2015). Although the community may be purveyors of the right to exercise free speech in any form this can also have dark consequences for the platform disregarding, as Reddit calls it “reddiquete” as Anderson(2015) states, “it is not possible to discuss Reddit without including the darker human element.” how this darker element comes to fruition will be examined more in-depth further in the analysis. 

 

LEFT, BY JASON HENRY/THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX; RIGHT, BY ROGER ASKEW/THE OXFORD UNION/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK. All rights reserved 

Analysis of ownership

 

Ownership of the company in 2006 was originally the founders, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian then in 2006 was acquired by Conde nast publications then became independent yet again in 2011 with Huffman remaining the Ceo of the company whilst Ohanian became one of the key board members.

Advertising and profit generation

Reddit has created profit and revenue through selling advertising space on their website since 2009. Unlike Google, Facebook, Instagram and nearly all other social media sharing websites, Reddit does not require your personal information when you create an account. As Business models inc.(2020) puts it “They are literally sacrificing profit to keep their customers happy. ” Cleverly Reddit also keeps away from autoplay ads before video content negating the need for ad blockers as it is whitelisted by most of its consumer base. 

Another way Reddit makes a profit is through their Reddit premium system which acts as a subscription service. Reddit premium provides less intrusive ways of revenue streaming it unlocks ad-free usage and free access to an exclusive premium only subreddit called r/lounge at $5.99usd a month(Business Insider 2020). Reddit rewards you with Reddit coins as well which is a form of enhanced upvoting where you can gift coins to users for valuable quality content then, in turn, they receive a free month of premium. Reddit coins otherwise are purchased on their own if the user does not have a premium account.

Investors

According to Investopedia (2020) Reddit is valued at 3 billion dollars as they’ve raised to date 550 million. Among these large investors are Tencent Holding Ltd. leading the investments at $150 million among the top investors interestingly enough is none other than Snoop Dogg, investing $50 million into the company(Investopedia, 2020).

GETTY IMAGES / KEVIN MAZUR All rights reserved

 

Research agenda and moderation innovations

 

As Reddit prides itself on its values of free speech it comes at a cost. In order to address concerns and anti social content on the social media website in 2018, they announced a new type of innovative quarantine moderation function which launched an introduction to an appeal like the process for offensive content(Shen, Rose2019). Reddit’s content moderation offered an alternative to outright banning, this quarantining approach offered a solution to subreddits where their antisocial status may be up in the air. Reddit restricts access to these certain subreddits to the wider public through not appearing in search results and on recommendations. However, subreddit members retain access yet if a member of the public wishes to see the content of a certain subreddit they must go through several warnings and make a choice(Bruckman, Jhaver, Gilber, Chandrasekharn, 2020). Although these changes drastically affected the influx of Reddit users it failed to change anti-social discourse in subreddits such as r/theredpill and r/TheDonaldQuarantine both far alt right groups participating in anti-social rhetoric. (Bruckman, Jhaver, Gilber, Chandrasekharn, 2020). As Reddit may not hold the responsibility for other people’s actions they do provide a platform for dangerous individuals and this quarantine moderation strikes a balance between censorship and free speech. Reddit also employs the use of an automatic moderator or “Automod” for short which identifies phrases commonly used in misinformation campaigns as a tool for its moderators(Singh, Bagchi, 2020). 

 

Group Thinking and collective identity formation 

Mother Jones illustration, 2020 All rights reserved

Reddit has changed the socio-political landscape to great effect with its subreddit systems and group thinking. IT can be argued that this is one of its greatest strengths and also downfalls because the more subreddits there are the more divided it can be. However, Reddit creates a sense of community and belonging for its users and then feelings of validation for when users’ content is upvoted in that group(Anderson, 2015). The defence of free speech also is rooted in Reddit’s ethos. However, this also reflects real human life as it sows division between communities, especially political subreddits. This is the case when it comes to right-wing leading communities of EU and US politics. Right-wing communities in Reddit get caught in a thought bubble as they are most commonly linked with only other right-wing media(Soliman,Hafer, Lemmerich, 2019). There have also been several links drawn between right-leaning subreddits and outright banned communities such as r/whiterights(Soliman,Hafer, Lemmerich, 2019). This differs to the left-leaning media which is generally linked in all subreddits. Reddit has changed the way that people think politically as members of certain groups can get caught up in not thinking critically of the information they are absorbing from the group they perceive themselves to be a part of. This is partly due to the voting systems in place on Reddit as well as it can be used as a tool of mobilization(Gaudette, Scrivens, Davies, 2020). As a tool of mobilization mainly being used in right-wing groups to spread hate to other subreddits through trolling producing one-sided narratives to “ReinforceMembers’ extremist’s views, thereby strengthening bonds between members of the in-group” as Gaudette, Scrivens and davies explain(2020). Although Reddit’s grouping of like-minded individuals may give the socio-political world critical discussion it also promotes echo chambered thinking and mobilizations against the “other.”

Disinformation and Reddit in the age of covid 19

CDC, Science photo library all rights reserved

As reddits structure and focus on the freedom of speech are the platform’s backbone it can create conditions ripe for misinformation and disinformation from users pushing Anti informative agendas. During the age of Covid 19 Reddit has been doing their part to prioritize informative subreddits and official information forward to the site and quarantine or notify moderators what information is clearly misinformation or false or even coordinated attempts(Singh, Bagchi, 2020) They are also particularly targeting threats of violence and harm. To combat these efforts the company has been coordinating in detection experiments with Microsoft and Google and organizing famed Reddit AMA’s or Ask Me Anything featuring health experts(Singh, Bagchi, 2020). Reddit is also buffing its automated tool for moderators and giving all users a reporting tool to report such content, distributing and localizing these moderation tasks to individual subreddits. 

 

 In Summary

Reddit has fundamentally changed the way that the online world of the internet handles negative influences ultimately for the better. Reddit has learned to identify flaws in human behaviour and learned that the freedom of expression is paramount to a functioning internet. With its clever ways of capturing a balance between censorship and dangerous freedom of expression, it has helped the internet learn that everyone has an opinion and that like-minded individuals exist throughout almost anything you can imagine. Although Reddit has had a negative influence upon the internet wither through thought bubbles, dangerous anti-social behaviour, misinformation and disinformation it has always captured how raw our reality beyond the internet can be. This overall I believe has a positive impact on the minds of individuals and learning for yourself what is right or wrong through multiple opinions, facts and lies that reside on “the front page of the internet.” 

 

References

 

Chandrasekharan, E., Samory, M., Jhaver, S., Charvat, H., Bruckman, A., & Lampe, C. et al. (2018). The Internet’s Hidden Rules. Proceedings Of The ACM On Human-Computer Interaction, 2(CSCW), 1-25. https://doi.org/10.1145/3274301

Chandrasekharan, E., Jhaver, S., Bruckman, A., & Gilbert, E. (2020). Quarantined! Examining the Effects of a Community-Wide Moderation Intervention on Reddit. arXiv preprint arXiv:2009.11483.

 

Gaudette, T., Scrivens, R., Davies, G., & Frank, R. (2020). Upvoting extremism: Collective identity formation and the extreme right on Reddit. New Media & Society, 146144482095812. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444820958123

Gilbert, E. (2013). Widespread underprovision on Reddit. Proceedings Of The 2013 Conference On Computer Supported Cooperative Work – CSCW ’13. https://doi.org/10.1145/2441776.2441866

How Reddit Makes Money. Investopedia. (2020). Retrieved 20 November 2020, from https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/093015/how-reddit-makes-money.asp.

Jhaver, S., Birman, I., Gilbert, E., & Bruckman, A. (2019). Human-Machine Collaboration for Content Regulation. ACM Transactions On Computer-Human Interaction, 26(5), 1-35. https://doi.org/10.1145/3338243

Jhaver, S., Bruckman, A., & Gilbert, E. (2019). Does Transparency in Moderation Really Matter?. Proceedings Of The ACM On Human-Computer Interaction, 3(CSCW), 1-27. https://doi.org/10.1145/3359252

Singh, S., & Bagchi, K. (2020). How Internet Platforms Are Combating Disinformation and Misinformation in the Age of COVID-19 (pp. 15-16, Rep.). New America. doi:10.2307/resrep25418.7

 

Soliman, A., Hafer, J., & Lemmerich, F. (2019). A Characterization of Political Communities on Reddit. Proceedings Of The 30Th ACM Conference On Hypertext And Social Media. https://doi.org/10.1145/3342220.3343662

The business model of Reddit. Medium. (2020). Retrieved 20 November 2020, from https://businessmodelsinc.medium.com/the-business-model-of-reddit-8d6f7596eec3.

‘What is Reddit Premium?’: A guide to Reddit’s membership tier, which hides ads and gives you access to exclusive features. Business Insider. (2020). Retrieved 20 November 2020, from https://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-reddit-premium?r=AU&IR=T.