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Perceptions of Moderators as a Large-Scale Measure of Online Community Governance

Galen WeldLeon LeibmannAmy X. ZhangTim Althoff
Jan 2024
Millions of online communities are governed by volunteer moderators, who shape their communities by setting and enforcing rules, recruiting additional moderators, and participating in the community themselves. These moderators must regularly make decisions about how to govern, yet it is challenging to determine what governance strategies are most successful, as measuring the `success' of governance is complex and nuanced. Furthermore, the incredible diversity in community topic, size, and membership all but guarantee that there is no `one-size-fits-all' solution for community governance. In this work, we measure governance by assessing how community members publicly discuss their own moderators. We quantify perceptions of moderators through 1.89 million labeled posts and comments made on reddit over an 18 month period, and relate these perceptions to characteristics of community governance and to different actions that community moderators can take. We identify key differences between different types of communities, and highlight promising strategies for moderator teams. Amongst other findings, we show that positive perceptions of moderators are associated with other measures of community health, and that strict rule enforcement is perceived more favorably for certain topics, such as news communities, than others. We investigate what kinds of moderators have the most positive impact on the community when they join the mod team, and find that moderators who are active community members before and during their mod tenures result in the largest improvement of community members' perceptions of moderators. We make all our models, datasets, and code public.
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