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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Researcher urges rethink of online content moderation

An Australian National University (ANU) PhD researcher has analysed online platform Reddit and the effect of a ‘quarantine’ imposed on two notorious right-wing men’s rights channels, and suggests digital platforms rethink how they moderate harmful, misogynistic content online.

Quarantined channels on Reddit are still able to be accessed by the community, however, a warning is displayed, and users may be required to ‘opt-in’ in to the content.

Simon Copland said while the Reddit quarantine resulted in around a 50% drop in activity for both channels he examined, the users who remained did not become any less misogynistic in their language.

“More worryingly, it resulted in a significant campaign from users to migrate to other, self-moderated forums.

“These forums are watched far less closely and, in turn, allow hateful material to develop and spread more quickly,” he said.

“Essentially, this move from Reddit simply made the issue someone else’s problem.” 

A warning on online platform Reddit that lets the user know the content has been quarantined.
Quarantined channels on digital platform Reddit display a warning and require users to opt-in to the content. Image screenshotted from Reddit.

He said things like Reddit’s ‘quarantine’ or content bans could have further implications when banning hateful material from social media platforms, citing Reddit’s decision to ban the largest pro-Donald Trump channel and Facebook, Twitter and YouTube’s decision to ban accounts and material related to conspiracy theory QAnon.

“These bans are increasingly resulting in users, particularly from the far-right, migrating off large platforms to self-moderated ones,” Mr Copland said.

“This includes the far-right platforms of Gab and Voat, as well as self-moderated communities. Early research is already showing that QAnon followers banned from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are flooding to some of these platforms.” 

He said these online spaces lie outside of “the eyes of the broader community” and can potentially host “even more violent and extreme material”.

“Bans also lead these users to further distrust mainstream institutions, potentially entrenching more extremist views.”

Mr Copland’s research has been published in the Internet Policy Review journal.

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