Volunteers who maintain the standard of content on Reddit’s forums do 466 hours of work every day – labour that would cost 2.8 per cent of the firm’s revenue
24 June 2022
Reddit moderators provide $3.4 million worth of unpaid labour to keep the platform relatively free of unsavoury content – equivalent to nearly 3 per cent of Reddit’s revenue.
The social news website relies on moderators to maintain the standard of content on its subreddits, or individual forums focused on a theme. Moderators may settle disputes, levy rules on what is and isn’t appropriate and delete or edit content deemed unsuitable for the site.
“Reddit has become a really prominent platform when you search on Google,” says Hanlin Li at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She and her colleagues used public log data generated by Reddit automatically to calculate how much volunteer work is done, as well as data from a selection of subreddits that installed a bot tracking moderators’ actions.
The team recorded the work done to keep 126 subreddits moderated for an average of 142 days, and analysed automated logs generated whenever the 900 human moderators took an action.
In total, more than 800,000 actions were recorded. Some actions contained full timestamps of when work began and ended; others only contained a single timestamp – for removing a post, say – and so the time taken was estimated at what the researchers believe is a lower bound.
The median amount of time any individual spent working daily is 10 seconds, but the top 10 per cent of moderators spent between 3 and 40 minutes working for Reddit. Two in every three actions were taken by the top 10 per cent of moderators.
This work soon adds up. Every day in 2020, the moderation team worked for an estimated 466 hours, based on the logs of those moderators who participated in the study. Charged at the median cost of $20 per hour for content moderators on gig work website UpWork in the US, such labour would cost Reddit $3.4 million a year – or 2.8 per cent of the company’s total revenue in 2019.
“The paper is extremely interesting,” says Carolina Are at Northumbria University, UK. “It really shows how, still, internet labour of all sorts is really undervalued – not just by platforms, but by society as a whole.”
Are says that the paper highlights the precarity of online labour. “The fact such a crucial job like content moderation is either outsourced to commercial companies, or to volunteers who are not paid, shows how platforms are not really interested in investing in making the communities they create better.”
A Reddit spokesperson told New Scientist: “We believe that our approach to community governance is the most sustainable and scalable model that exists online today.” They highlighted various initiatives the company offers, including a $1 million community fund. “We are always exploring ways to best support our moderators and communities,” the spokesperson added.
Reference: Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media
More on these topics: