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Managing Misinformation On Reddit


The discussion and news aggregation site Reddit sees some of the most web traffic in the United States, ranking higher than both Netflix and Instagram. In Reddit's forums, called subreddits, users find cooking advice, book recommendations, thriving TV discussions, all sorts of topics - including politics.

Our next guest moderates the main political subreddit, r/politics. We're not calling him by his name because threats of physical harm and doxxing are so common on Reddit. He goes by the username Qu1nlan, and he told us that he sees mostly talk about impeachment these days. And though it has a slight leftward lean politically, there are users on Reddit from all over the political spectrum.

QU1NLAN: We see a lot of really high-level, good faith discussion with people citing links, citing sources, talking about why they think the way they do. But we also see some people who are just saying Trump 2020 or impeach him; lock him up. But we do see people changing their minds about lower-level, less divisive things, such like, do you support gender-inclusive restrooms, or do you support the Keystone XL pipeline? - things like that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We here at NPR have been covering, quote, unquote, "fake news" in its original sense - you know, disinformation, misleading information masked as journalism or facts - for years now. How do you and your team of moderators deal with that?

QU1NLAN: In short, we don't. We are a team of about 50 moderators on a subreddit of 5.6 million people. We don't have resources that a team like Facebook or Twitter might have with tons and tons of paid fact-checkers. So generally, when we see fake news that we know is not factually correct, we'll go ahead and encourage our user base to go ahead and fact-check it themselves and also comment - say, well, here's why this news is fake, and here is the sources to back it up. And here's why you shouldn't believe everything that you see on the Internet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It sounds like a pretty unregulated community. Is that what you like about it?

QU1NLAN: Well, I think that unregulated is not the word that I would necessarily use for it. But I think that...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Self-regulated, I think, would be a better word.

QU1NLAN: I think self-regulated is a great word for this. And people are using civility and discussing things in a fashion that would not necessarily be used on other forums in the Internet with more anonymity, such as places like 4chan or even any other places, any other online forums with the requirement to create a username rather than use your real name.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But I must ask you - you're unpaid, right? You don't get paid to do this. You volunteer your time. But the reason we're not referring to you by name is because of concerns about doxxing and users actually threatening you. That doesn't sound very civil.

QU1NLAN: Thankfully, it's rare that people will come in and threaten us with things like doxxing, things like personal harm. But when that does happen, it's very serious, and we will try to get protection from ourselves. Personally, I have been doxxed in the past. So I got my name in the Reddit-wide filter, which means that my full real name cannot actually be set on Reddit, that it will get automatically removed by the robots. So I'm very thankful that the Reddit admins also take it seriously.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've been doing this for four or five years now. What have you seen change?

QU1NLAN: I've seen a lot change. Back in the Obama administration, we had a lot of quiet times. And that was really nice, to be honest, as a moderator. We had people just generally discussing the issues. But as we've progressed through the 2016 election and the actual Trump presidency, I personally have seen incivility shoot up. I have seen things like hate speech shoot up. I have seen a lot of people a little bit more afraid to accept sources and, in general, a lot more divisiveness.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess my last question is, do moderators ever change beats?

QU1NLAN: So I am very thankful that politics is not my only subreddit. I'm also a big geek personally, and I moderate the "Star Wars" subreddit. So whenever politics becomes a little bit too much for me - I've had too many slurs for one day or I've had too many sources that I have to read in one day - I'll go ahead, and I'll read about baby Yoda. And that'll make me feel better.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Hear, hear - although I have to tell you "Star Wars" can also get pretty contentious.

QU1NLAN: Oh, I should tell you sometime about "The Last Jedi" movie release. That was something.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the Reddit moderator who goes by the username Qu1nlan. Thank you so much.

QU1NLAN: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.