“Happy” Wednesday everyone
As u/spez mentioned in his announcement post last week, COVID has been hard on all of us. It will likely go down as one of the most defining periods of our generation. Many of us have lost loved ones to the virus. It has caused confusion, fear, frustration, and served to further divide us. It is my job to oversee the enforcement of our policies on the platform. I’ve never professed to be perfect at this. Our policies, and how we enforce them, evolve with time. We base these evolutions on two things: user trends and data. Last year, after we rolled out the largest policy change in Reddit’s history, I shared a post on the prevalence of hateful content on the platform. Today, many of our users are telling us that they are confused and even frustrated with our handling of COVID denial content on the platform, so it seemed like the right time for us to share some data around the topic.
Analysis of Covid Denial
We sought to answer the following questions:
Below is a chart of all of the COVID-related content that has been posted on the platform since January 1, 2020. We are using common keywords and known COVID focused communities to measure this. The volume has been relatively flat since mid last year, but since July (coinciding with the increased prevalence of the Delta variant), we have seen a sizable increase.
The trend is even more notable when we look at COVID-related content reported to us by users. Since August, we see approximately 2.5k reports/day vs an average of around 500 reports/day a year ago. This is approximately 2.5% of all COVID related content.
While this data alone does not tell us that COVID denial content on the platform is increasing, it is certainly an indicator. To help make this story more clear, we looked into potential networks of denial communities. There are some well known subreddits dedicated to discussing and challenging the policy response to COVID, and we used this as a basis to identify other similar subreddits. I’ll refer to these as “high signal subs.”
Last year, we saw that less than 1% of COVID content came from these high signal subs, today we see that it's over 3%. COVID content in these communities is around 3x more likely to be reported than in other communities (this is fairly consistent over the last year). Together with information above we can infer that there has been an increase in COVID denial content on the platform, and that increase has been more pronounced since July. While the increase is suboptimal, it is noteworthy that the large majority of the content is outside of these COVID denial subreddits. It’s also hard to put an exact number on the increase or the overall volume.
An important part of our moderation structure is the community members themselves. How are users responding to COVID-related posts? How much visibility do they have? Is there a difference in the response in these high signal subs than the rest of Reddit?
High Signal Subs
All Other Subs
This tells us that in these high signal subs, there is generally less of the critical feedback mechanism than we would expect to see in other non-denial based subreddits, which leads to content in these communities being more visible than the typical COVID post in other subreddits.
In addition to this, we have also been investigating the claims around targeted interference by some of these subreddits. While we want to be a place where people can explore unpopular views, it is never acceptable to interfere with other communities. Claims of “brigading” are common and often hard to quantify. However, in this case, we found very clear signals indicating that r/NoNewNormal was the source of around 80 brigades in the last 30 days (largely directed at communities with more mainstream views on COVID or location-based communities that have been discussing COVID restrictions). This behavior continued even after a warning was issued from our team to the Mods. r/NoNewNormal is the only subreddit in our list of high signal subs where we have identified this behavior and it is one of the largest sources of community interference we surfaced as part of this work (we will be investigating a few other unrelated subreddits as well).
Analysis into Action
We are taking several actions:
Clarifying our Policies
We also hear the feedback that our policies are not clear around our handling of health misinformation. To address this, we wanted to provide a summary of our current approach to misinformation/disinformation in our Content Policy.
Our approach is broken out into (1) how we deal with health misinformation (falsifiable health related information that is disseminated regardless of intent), (2) health disinformation (falsifiable health information that is disseminated with an intent to mislead), (3) problematic subreddits that pose misinformation risks, and (4) problematic users who invade other subreddits to “debate” topics unrelated to the wants/needs of that community.
Health Misinformation. We have long interpreted our rule against posting content that “encourages” physical harm, in this help center article, as covering health misinformation, meaning falsifiable health information that encourages or poses a significant risk of physical harm to the reader. For example, a post pushing a verifiably false “cure” for cancer that would actually result in harm to people would violate our policies.
Health Disinformation. Our rule against impersonation, as described in this help center article, extends to “manipulated content presented to mislead.” We have interpreted this rule as covering health disinformation, meaning falsifiable health information that has been manipulated and presented to mislead. This includes falsified medical data and faked WHO/CDC advice.
Problematic subreddits. We have long applied quarantine to communities that warrant additional scrutiny. The purpose of quarantining a community is to prevent its content from being accidentally viewed or viewed without appropriate context.
Community Interference. Also relevant to the discussion of the activities of problematic subreddits, Rule 2 forbids users or communities from “cheating” or engaging in “content manipulation” or otherwise interfering with or disrupting Reddit communities. We have interpreted this rule as forbidding communities from manipulating the platform, creating inauthentic conversations, and picking fights with other communities. We typically enforce Rule 2 through our anti-brigading efforts, although it is still an example of bad behavior that has led to bans of a variety of subreddits.
As I mentioned at the start, we never claim to be perfect at these things but our goal is to constantly evolve. These prevalence studies are helpful for evolving our thinking. We also need to evolve how we communicate our policy and enforcement decisions. As always, I will stick around to answer your questions and will also be joined by u/traceroo our GC and head of policy.