Participatory Cultures of Digital Games: The Double-Edged Sword of Being a Reddit Community Moderator

Have you ever wondered what happens with all the invisible content on social media platforms? That content that you momentarily get a glimpse of the second it is posted, with all its profanity, bigotry, capital letters and malware infested hyperlinks?

Contrary to what we might expect, the invisible content is still very much handled by humans, either voluntarily or not. In the article Participatory Cultures of Digital Games: The Double-Edged Sword of Being a Reddit Community Moderator, Daniel Nielsen seeks to provide insights into this hidden job and how volunteer moderation for platforms like Reddit is so much more than merely removing content.

Building on previous research on moderators’ practices (Roberts, 2021; Matias, 2019), this paper seeks to highlight this form of human-driven platform maintenance by exploring the ways moderators engage in community and volunteer moderation of video game related subreddits, and how they experience the ways other users, such as content creators, game creators, and journalists participate by abiding or resisting moderation in the subreddit channels.

By adopting Nico Carpentier’s concept of participation as a site of political–ideological negotiation, the study draws two conclusions: First, the field of subreddit moderation involves multiple actors, namely content creators, content generators, moderators, content consumers, Reddit administrators and game studios. Here, moderators hold power in two processes of decision-making: (1) ensuring that content abides by the sitewide rules and subreddit specific rules; and (2) promoting content that is relevant to the subreddit’s cultural context. In decision-making moments, the technical affordances of the Reddit platform put moderators at a disadvantage, as they are forced to implement their decisions using negative reinforcement, such as banning a user, reprimanding, or removing content as opposed to achieving cultural change in the subreddit through positive reinforcement. Secondly, community moderators exist within a participatory process of checks and balances, making any moderation a double-edged sword where intervention by moderators can result in backlash or disagreement from content creators and their supporters whose involvement in the participatory process is primarily determined by their social capital and therefore their vested interest.

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