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Reddit: More than one in eight users post toxic posts

An analysis of 1.2 million Reddit users found that about 16 percent of people wrote toxic posts and 13 percent wrote toxic comments, such as direct insults.


18 August 2022

Reddit posts have been analyzed for toxic content.

Postmodern Studio/Shutterstock

More than one in eight Reddit users post toxic content, according to an analysis of more than 2 billion posts and comments on the social news aggregation platform.

Hind Almerekhi at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar and colleagues compiled a dataset of Reddit posts and their comments from 2005 to 2020. They looked at any Reddit user who posted to one of the 100 most popular subreddits, similar to the forums on the site. – as well as another subreddit. That filtering resulted in a total of 2.2 billion posts and comments from 1.2 million users across more than 100,000 subreddits.

To judge the toxicity of comments, the researchers hired people through a crowdsourcing platform to manually label the toxicity level of a sample of 10,000 posts and comments. The team gave them very clear criteria about “what we consider to be highly toxic, slightly toxic and non-toxic,” says Almerekhi. Each comment was evaluated by at least three workers.

The resulting dataset was used to train a neural network to categorize the toxicity of the remaining posts.

The algorithm found that 2 percent of posts and 6 percent of comments were highly toxic. Another 7 percent of posts and 11.5 percent of comments were mildly toxic, with the rest of the posts and comments classified as non-toxic. Highly toxic posts included direct insults and profanity, mildly toxic posts included milder insults (such as “horrible”), while non-toxic posts contained neither.

Overall, about 16 percent of people in the data set were responsible for toxic posts and 13 percent for toxic comments. However, that behavior could and did change depending on the community. Four out of five people showed changes in the average amount of toxicity in their posts, depending on the subreddit they posted to.

Savvas Zannettou at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands says the analysis only focuses on the main side of Reddit. This means it’s likely to underestimate the impact a user visiting a fringe web community, which might be more toxic, will have, she says.

A Reddit spokesperson said New Scientist: “The study in question confirms our own research and ideas: that the vast majority of content on Reddit is healthy, and users tend to positively adjust their behavior according to community norms.” They added that some of the data was closer to 20 years, so they don’t summarize how Reddit’s policies on speech have changed.

Magazine Reference: PeerJ Computing, DOI: 10.7717/peerj-cs.1059

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