Moderator Solidarity on Reddit: Predicting Participation in the Blackout of July 2015

For the last 40 years or more, online platforms have relied on people to facilitate and support our online communities. In the early 70s, they were the librarians and shopkeepers of Community Memory. In the 80s, they were the WELL’s “conference hosts.” In the 90s, they were AOL’s “community leaders.” In 2015, they are Wikipedia’s “administrators,” Facebook’s “admins,” Slashdot’s “moderators,” or XBOX’s “enforcement united.” And on platforms like Twitter without moderators, we find the need to invent them. These moderators are the founders, designers, promoters, facilitators recruiters, legislators, responders, and enforcers of our online social interactions.

This summer, I’ve been doing qualitative research on ways that Reddit moderators develop common interests as they face the company, as they face their subscribers, and as they relate to other moderators. Just in the top 20,000 subreddits by subscribers, Reddit has 50,790 moderators. This July, moderators of 2,278 subreddits joined a “blackout,” demanding better communication and improved moderator tools. The blackout is one moment in the wider research I’m doing, a moment where tensions and common cause rose to the surface. Blacked-out subreddits constituted 60% of the top 10 subreddits, 29% of the top 100, and 5% of the top 20,000 subreddits, representing a total of 134.8 million combined subscriptions.

Since I can only get so far by reading Reddit threads, I’m now interviewing Reddit moderators to learn more about your experience as a moderator and your experience of the blackout. If you are interested to talk, please message me on Reddit at /u/natematias.

Work In Progress: Charting the Reddit Blackout of July 2015

Since I’m also a software engineer and quantitative researcher, I’ve been complementing my qualitative work with data analysis on what I was able to collect from the public API, combined with /u/GoldTesting’s dataset of blackout participation. Mostly, I’ve used that data to decide where to look and who to reach out to. The conversations I found led me to think about several hypotheses I could also test statistically:

When moderators discussed the blackout with their subscribers, many debated the idea of “solidarity,” wondering if they were too small to have common cause with larger subs or if they were too small to make a difference. Others expressed strong opinions that joining the blackout meant standing with other moderators or standing for Reddit users as a whole.

The conversations I found led me to think about several hypotheses I could test statistically:

H1: Larger subreddits were more likely to join the blackout, maybe because their moderators were part of ModTalk, where much of the blackout was discussed, or because they felt a blackout would make a difference, or because they felt common cause with other mods of large subs.

H2: Subreddits with more moderators were more likely to join the blackout, perhaps mods in these subs would have greater solidarity with others.

H3: Subreddits with mods who also moderate other subreddits that participated in the blackout were more likely to join the blackout

To illustrate the data used for my statistical tests, here are two network graphs of shared moderators between subreddits. The first graph includes the top 20,000 subreddits in terms of subscribers (as of mid-June 2015). The graph one filters only subreddits with more than 10,128 subscribers. In the network graphs, subreddits that did not black out are tinted blue, while yellow-tinted subreddits joined the blackout.

Reddit Blackout July 2015: Top 20,000 Subreddits

Reddit Blackout July 2015: Subreddits with >10,000 Subscribers

The charts are laid out using the ForceAtlas2 layout on Gephi, which has separated out some of the more prominent subreddit networks, including the ImaginaryNetwork, the “SFW Porn” Network, and toward the center, the ShitRedditSays “fempire”. These networks are notable because some of them made network-wide decisions about their participation in the blackout.

Using this dataset, I conducted a logistic regression testing the above hypotheses.

Predicting Participation in the Reddit Blackout, July 2015

H1: Larger subreddits were more likely to join the blackout. This hypothesis is supported. On average in the population of top 20k subreddits, there is a large positive relationship between the log-transformed subscriber count and a subreddit’s probability of joining the blackout, holding all else constant.

H2: Subreddits with more moderators were more likely to join the blackout. This hypothesis is supported, very very weakly. I wouldn’t make much of this.

H3: Subreddits with mods who also moderate other subreddits that participated in the blackout were more likely to join the blackout. This is supported. On average in the top 20,000 subreddits, there is a positive relationship between the log of moderator roles in other blackout subs and a subreddit’s probability of joining the blackout, a relationship that is mediated by the overall number of moderators shared with other subs, holding all else constant.

So, is there evidence of moderator “solidarity” ? Yes, if we consider H1 to be a test of solidarity associated with similar subscriber numbers, and if we consider H2 to be a test of solidarity related to the number of moderators one works together with, then yes, we see support for the solidarity hypothesis. However, my qualitative research shows that many subreddits voted on this issue, indicating that subscribers also matter to this picture. Furthermore, many mods of smaller subs also expressed solidarity, even if smaller subs were less likely to participate. So more work needs to be done.

CAVEATS: This is just a preliminary statistical test. I have much more work to do before publication:

  • I need to define better hypotheses that can answer theoretically-meaningful questions
  • I need to do much more work to confirm the validity of my data collection, data processing, and models
  • I need better definitions of “solidarity”
  • This needs to be peer reviewed

In particular, I plan to spend more time with network scientists to understand the best way to set up my dataset for statistical analysis. There are many ways to project a complex network onto a single table for statistical tests, and I may need to try a different approach. Note also that this model does not include time as a factor, and that I use the term “predict” to refer to statistical inference rather than some ability to predict participation in the blackout before it occurred.

I’m sharing these preliminary results because I hope they’ll attract interest from Reddit moderators, and hopefully lead me to more interviews and data while I still have time to talk to people and enrich my understanding of what happened. If you are a Reddit moderator and want to talk with me, please message me at /u/natematias.

Reading list on the digital divide/digital inclusion

The Social Media Collective extended family compiled a bibliography on the digital divide (including gender gaps) and ICTD. Thanks to all of those who contributed!

 

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Attewell, Paul. 2001. “The First and Second Digital Divides.”Sociology of Education.74:252-259.

Attewell, Paul, and Juan Battle. 1999. “Home Computers and School Performance.” Information Society 15:1-10.

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Avgerou, C. (2002) Information Systems and Global Diversity, Oxford, Oxford University Press

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Boneva, Bonka S., Robert Kraut, and David Frohlich. 2001. “Using E-Mail for Personal Relationships: The Difference Gender Makes.” American Behavioral Scientist 45:530-49.

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Charness, Neil, and Patricia Holley. 2004. “The New Media and Older Adults: Usable and Useful?” American Behavioral Scientist 48:416-433.

Chen, Wenhong, and Barry Wellman. 2005. Minding the Cyber-gap: the Internet and Social Inequality. Boston, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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Compaine, B.M. 2001a. “Information Gaps.” Pp. 105-118 in The Digital Divide: Facing a Crisis or Creating a Myth?, edited by B Compaine. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

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Dutton, William H., Patrick L. Sweet, and Everett M. Rogers. 1989. “Socioeconomic Status and the Early Diffusion of Personal Computing in the United States.” Social Science Computer Review 7:259-271.

Ellison, Nicole B., Charles Steinfeld, and Cliff Lampe. 2007. “The Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12: article 1.

Entorf, Horst, Michel Gollac, and Francis Kramarz. 1999. “New Technologies, Wages, and Worker Selection.” Journal of Labor Economics 17:464-491.

Eshet-Alkalai, Yoram. 2004. “Digital Literacy: a Conceptual Framework for Survival Skills in the Digital Era.” Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia 13:93-106.

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Eynon, Rebecca, and Ellen Helsper. 2011. “Adults Learning Online: Digital Choice and/or Digital Exclusion?” New Media & Society. 13(4):534-51.

Fairlie, Robert W., Daniel O. Beltran, and Kuntal K. Das. 2010. “Home Computers and Educational Outcomes: Evidence from the NLSY97 and CPS.” Economic Inquiry 48:771-792.

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Forestier, Emmanuel, Jeremy Grace, and Charles Kenny. 2002. “Can Information and Communication Technologies Be Pro-poor?” Telecommunications Policy 26 (11) (December): 623–646.

Forman, Chris. 2005. “The Corporate Digital Divide: Determinants of Internet Adoption.” Management Science 51:641-654.

Forman, Chris, Avi Goldfarb, and Shane Greenstein. 2005. “The Geographic Dispersion of Commercial Internet Use.” Pp. 113-145 in Rethinking Rights and Regulations Institutional Responses to New Communications Technologies, edited by Lorrie Faith Cranor and Steven S. Wildman. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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2015 Advice for Your 856-Year-Old Ph.D.

(or, What’s New About Getting an Old Degree?)

I’m delighted to be teaching an intro seminar for all the new Ph.D. students in my department’s graduate program. One of my goals is to give these students a place to talk about the environment of graduate school itself. How does getting a Ph.D. work? What do you need to know?

This task has made me reflective. At first I thought I should pass along readings that had been inspirational for me during grad school. That sure didn’t work. Here is the advice I apparently once loved:

Once you have identified some [thesis] topics you are interested in, you can research them rapidly by spending a few hours on the telephone calling up experts in the field and pumping them for information…although it may cost you a few dollars in long-distance bills…  —Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or Ph.D., p. 182

Or:

I wrote the paper with which this book begins on a microcomputer. Though this first experience with one frightened me a little at first, writing soon seemed so much less work that I wondered how I had managed before. —Writing for Social Scientists, p. 151

Or:

Having surveyed the basics…it’s time to consider the role that electronic communication can play. The most important thing is to employ electronic media consciously and deliberately as part of a larger strategy for your career. —Networking on the Network: A Guide to Professional Skills for PhD Students

Or:

Fortunately, these days every legitimate library has a copy machine, and each copy costs about a dime. —How to Write a Thesis, p. 86

The process of getting a Ph.D. is very old. Wikipedia claims the first Ph.D. was awarded in Paris in 1150. I thought Ph.D. advice would be more likely to stand the test of time.

These days you’ll find better dissertation advice on Tumblr. Or at least you’ll find some comic relief from Tumblrs like When in Academia

when someone asks you how the diss is going

(That’s some great tagging.)

The upshot is that it looks like a fair amount of the advice about how to get a Ph.D. has to do with the available communication technology of the time.  Both the stuff that’s in everyday use, and also the scholarly communication infrastructure (which I’ve also blogged about recently).

Has anyone reading this ever attended a conference paper sale? (No, that’s not about buying pre-written term papers.) Or have you ever received an academic journal article “preprint request postcard?” Here’s an image of one:

reprint-request-1

Source: Google Scholar Blog.

So far I’ve come up with a list of things that seem to still be helpful. Caveats: I’m aiming to help the social science and humanities students interested in communication and information. Our first year students won’t be teaching yet, so I am not focusing on teaching with this list.

Hopefully there are some readers who will find this list useful too.

How to Get a Ph.D. — The Draft Reading List

Agre, P. (2002). Networking on the Network: A Guide to Professional Skills for PhD Studentshttp://vlsicad.ucsd.edu/Research/Advice/network.html  I’ll excerpt the following sections:

  • Building a Professional Identity
    • Socializing at Conferences
    • Publication and Credit
    • Recognizing Difference
  • Your Dissertation
  • Academic Language

anonymous. (ed.) (2015). “When in Academia.” http://wheninacademia.tumblr.com/

Becker, H. S. (2007). Writing for Social Scientists. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. — Don’t let the title of this book fool you, it is equally applicable to graduate students in the humanities and professional programs. I’m excerpting the following sections:

  • Freshman English for Graduate Students
  • Persona and Authority
  • Learning to Write as a Professional
  • Risk
  • Terrorized by the Literature

Cham, J. (2013, January 21). “Your Conference Presentation.” (image.) PhD Comics.

Edwards, P. N. (2014). “How to Give an Academic Talk.” http://pne.people.si.umich.edu/PDF/howtotalk.pdf (13 pp.)

Germano, W. (2013) From Dissertation to Book. (2nd ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press. — Note: “Passive Is Spoken Here” is a great section heading. I’ll excerpt the chapter:

  • Making Prose Speak

Sterne, J. (2014). How to Peer Review Something You Hate. ICA Newsletter. (2 pp.)

Shore, B. M. (2014). The Graduate Advisor Handbook. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. I’ll excerpt:

  • Mutual Expectations for Research Advising (pp. 143-146)

Strunk, W., Jr. & White, E. B. (2000). The Elements of Style. (4th ed.) New York: Longman. (Important: You must avoid any “Original Edition” or public domain reprint that does not include E. B. White as a co-author. The version without E. B. White is a different book.)

@yourpapersucks (ed.) (2015). “Shit My Reviewers Say.”  http://shitmyreviewerssay.tumblr.com/

…however…

I see that it’s a list woefully lacking in anything like “social media savvy for Ph.D. students” or “How new forms of scholarly communication are changing the dissertation.” I’m sure there are other newish domains I’ve left out, too. What am I missing? Can anyone help me out?  Please add a comment or e-mail me.

Yours in futurity.

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(this blog post was cross-posted to Multicast.)