Misinformation on Reddit has become unmanageable, 3 Alberta moderators say

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The misinformation that is flooding some of Alberta’s largest online communities has become a major problem during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to three volunteer Reddit moderators in Edmonton.

In separate interviews with CBC News, moderators said the number of posts promoting disinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 has increased in their Reddit communities. The vast majority of posts, they say, come from users who have never participated in their online communities before.

Thousands of Albertans rely on local Reddit communities as news aggregators and discussion forums, but volunteer moderators say keeping these places safe from pandemic-related misinformation and misinformation – misinformation intentionally spread – has become increasingly difficult and time consuming.

Articles questioning the safety of vaccines and masks, linking vaccines to 5G networks, comparing COVID-19 to influenza and promoting unproven treatments like ivermectin have become mainstream, moderators said.

“Our moderation queue has probably gone from one or two a week to tens to hundreds each day, and it’s unbearable – we can’t keep up with that,” said a 32-year-old Edmonton man. ans who is a moderator for r / Alberta, a community (also known as a subreddit) with over 138,000 subscribers.

CBC News is not naming the man because he has received personalized threats and harassment from people whose posts he has deleted in the past and he fears he will be targeted again.

Another r / Alberta moderator, who is an Edmonton student in his 20s, said death threats have become common in the team’s inbox and writers of disinformation posts often urge moderators to commit suicide.

Moderators often receive messages from people urging them to kill themselves. (r / moderator from Alberta)

r / Alberta isn’t the only online community facing a deluge of misinformation.

Troy Pavlek, a moderator of r / Edmonton, a subreddit with more than 136,000 subscribers, said moderators handle between 50 and 100 disinformation posts per day.

He said people opposed to masks and vaccines masqueraded as healthcare workers and spread messages such as “Have you heard that vaccines can kill you?” “

“The acceleration, just like our case counts, has become exponential,” he said.

Troy Pavlek, an r / Edmonton subreddit moderator, says misinformation on Reddit has become a big deal during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Troy Pavlek)

Moderators protest and call on the company to act

Last month, moderators of r / Alberta and dozens of other subreddits around the world protested the “widespread disinformation about COVID-19” on Reddit and called on American society to take responsibility for it.

In the wake of the online protests, the company banned one subreddit, quarantined 54 others, and added a flagging feature for moderators to report community interference.

A spokesperson for Reddit told CBC News the company takes the issue very seriously and aims to reduce the burden on moderators.

The spokesperson said the company has changed the way it detects users who escape bans by creating new accounts and said moderators can turn to a group of experienced peers for help with any issues. unexpected traffic spikes.

Moderators say recent changes are inadequate because the flow of disinformation has not slowed down.

Reddit volunteer moderators say they feel exhausted but responsible for keeping online communities safe from pandemic-related misinformation. (Nathan Gross / CBC)

“The very spread of these ideas in multiple spaces, over and over again, is undoubtedly doing real damage to society, increasing the spread of COVID-19 and almost certainly leading to death,” said Rebekah Tromble, director of the Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics at George Washington University.

She said the problem will persist unless massive social media platforms like Reddit downsize.

Regulators could step in, she said, and many are waiting to see how a set of internet governance rules play out in the European Union.

Rebekah Tromble of George Washington University says online disinformation is hurting society and accelerating the spread of COVID-19. (Madeleine Cummings / CBC)

Fight burnout

Edmonton moderators said their teams had been struggling with burnout for months. Some moderators have left their posts and recruiting new ones can be difficult.

Despite being the butt of so many invective, the volunteers said they couldn’t bring themselves to walk away as it would mean allowing more misinformation to spread in the communities they care about.

“If I were to stop doing what I do, then the misinformation would only get worse, and once we make it a hotbed for misinformation, once we say it’s okay, it’s not not something we’re going to do stop, then it gets bigger and bigger, and this community, which has been a joy to me in the past, will never be a joy to anyone again, ”Pavlek said.


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