Social Graph Reveals Disturbing Connections Between Subreddits

By Annalee Newitz on at

The people who moderate Reddit's most popular forums, including ones that have been defaults, are also the same people creating forums for nonconsensual pornography and snuff pictures.

In a story about Reddit's new CEO Ellen Pao in the Guardian, Alex Hern and Helena Bingsston explore the commonly held idea that there is a "mainstream" Reddit which hasn't got much to do with the "dark" subreddits like /r/watchpeopledie. Apparently the two groups are actually deeply connected.

Social Graph Reveals Disturbing Connections Between Subreddits

Many of the dark subreddits are run by the exact same people who run popular, mainstream subreddits like Advice Animals and DIY. What this suggests is that Reddit's moderators for its most widely read forums are also the ones creating space for the kinds of non-consensual pornography that Pao has declared the site will no longer tolerate.

Hern and Bingsston write:

The Guardian looked at just how tight-knit the Reddit community was the week before the latest privacy policy came into effect, by taking data from the 500 most-subscribed subreddits and examining the links between them. While the list of subscribers isn't public data (and frequently numbers in the millions), the list of moderators is. Any subreddit can have any number of moderators, and any moderator can moderate any number of subbedits.

As a result, it's possible to use the networks of moderators to draw links between the subreddits. For instance, a moderator of Advice Animals (a default subreddit until May 2014, meaning that new users were automatically subscribed to it) and the StarWars subreddit also moderates the soft-porn subreddits gentlemanboners and rule34; a moderator of the default subreddits internetisbeautiful and tifu (today I fucked up, a forum for sharing stories of terrible mistakes) also moderates porn forum PerfectPussies and Gore, for sharing gory images.

By tracing connections like this, it's possible to draw up a network of how the subreddits of the darker side of reddit are linked to those which the community is happier to present to the outside world. In the top 500 subreddits, there are 80 subreddits which we've classified as belonging to "dark reddit", 49 of which are straight-up porn. Those 500 subs are moderated by 4444 people, the vast majority of whom only run one subreddit. But 662 of them are in charge of two or more, and of those, 22% of them run at least one "dark" subreddit.

The crossover is small but pervasive. When the subreddits are divided up into topic areas, that becomes clear. Of the 38 moderators who work on news-themed subreddits, 11 of them also moderate something less savoury. The cluster of subreddits focused on cute and funny content, like r/aww and r/AdviceAnimals, share 32% of their moderators with dark Reddit.

In fact, two of the cleanest sets of subreddits, sharing just a single moderator each with the dark subs, are those focused around drugs and music. Part of the reason for the wide influence is that, by and large, the moderators making these subreddits are some of the most active users of the site.

Is Reddit really a bunch of isolated groups that don't have much to do with each other, or are these dark subreddits setting the tone for the whole community? Read the rest of the post at The Guardian.