The Trouble with Reddit: New Data Shows What a 'Few Bad Apples' Can Do

A sweeping study proves what the site's leaders have long said.

Screenshot/ Reddit

Reddit’s polarizing public image is largely thanks to a minority of overly active posters, a new study claims. Marred by negative publicity of its fringe communities that espouse extreme, sometimes violent opinions and calls to action, Reddit leaders have long said a small percentage are responsible for its bad rep — now there’s data that seemingly proves it.

A team of researchers at Stanford University found that most of the forum clashes that occur on Reddit (the seventh most-visited site on the internet) are caused by a small number of users. The study concludes that only one percent of Redditors are responsible for causing a whopping 74 percent of conflicts on the social platform. The new data supports claims by Reddit insisting that a vocal minority are causing conflict. The study shows that the “negative mobilization” is typically created when a small group of Redditors cross-link a post from one community’s page to an opposite community’s page.

The findings echo “those on anti-social behavior, which show that trolling is most active in a few subreddits, and that taking precautionary measures, such as banning particularly egregious communities, can be effective in curbing this behavior,” write the researchers. Srijan Kumar, one of the study’s authors, tells Inverse the data could be used for good: “I can not comment on what Reddit may do. But the findings of our research could potentially be used to create a rapid early warning system to alert the moderators of the relevant communities about a potential influx of toxic users.”

The red nodes (communities) in this map initiate a large amount of conflict, and we can see that these conflict intiating nodes are rare and clustered together in certain social regions.

“The reality is the content that people talk about is probably less than 2 percent of the content on the site itself,” said Melissa Tidwell, general counsel for Reddit, at the Tech Inclusion SF conference back in 2016, when asked about the perception of Reddit as a hub for racist, sexist, extremist discussion.

The study on Reddit will be presented at The Web Conference in April in Lyon, France.

While it’s unclear how Reddit will address what appears to be a statistical realization of the old adage of “a few bad apples,” the majority of its most-visited myriad of virtual communities are newsy, supportive, intellectual spaces. Having concrete evidence of bad actors might inspire change to its user policies in the future.

Related Tags