Banning toxic communities has long-term effect on hate speech, study finds.
Reddit's banning of hateful communities has cut down on hate speech and abuse on its platform more widely, a new study has shown.
After Reddit banned the racist subreddit /r/coontown and fat-shaming subreddit /r/fatpeoplehate, instances of harassment and objectionable behaviour dropped dramatically, the study by the Georgia Institute of Technology, conducted with researchers from Emory University and the University of Michigan, revealed.
Researchers found that the ban resulted in users of these groups abandoning Reddit at significantly higher than average rates. Of the users who stayed on Reddit, their measured levels of hate speech were often greatly reduced, and the communities they moved to saw no appreciable increase in their levels of abuse.
"Following the ban, Reddit saw a 90.63% decrease in the usage of manually filtered hate words by r/fatpeoplehate users, and a 81.08% decrease in the usage of manually filtered hate words by r/CoonTown users," the report stated. "The observed changes in hate speech usage were verified to be caused by the ban and not random chance."
"Our findings indicate that the hate speech usage by the remaining user accounts, previously known to engage in the banned subreddits, dropped drastically due to the ban. This demonstrates the effectiveness of Reddit's banning of r/fatpeoplehate and r/CoonTown in reducing hate speech usage by members of these subreddits."
Moderating online communities is something that social networks have struggled to do effectively. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have come under fire for allowing extremist or hateful content on their platforms, and companies have struggled to strike a balance between ejecting harmful content and preserving freedom of speech.
The idea that banning hateful, abusive communities reduces the amount of hate speech and abuse may sound like a no-brainer, but at the time of the original ban, many voiced concerns that banning /r/coontown and its ilk would simply drive its users to take their objectionable behaviour into other areas of the site, rather than forcing it off the platform altogether.
However, this does not appear to be the case. In this instance, it would seem that Reddit has succeeded in ejecting neo-nazis, racists and abusers and making its platform a more pleasant place to be.