A Balancing Act

A Balancing Act

A Balancing Act

A research study on moderation of the subreddit r/AskWomen and how it aims to create a safe space​.

A research study on moderation of the subreddit r/AskWomen and how it aims to create a safe space​.

A research study on moderation of the subreddit r/AskWomen and how it aims to create a safe space​.

A little girl writing someting to a paper
A little girl writing someting to a paper
A little girl writing someting to a paper

Disclaimer: Contains explicit language in user interviews and screenshots

Disclaimer: Contains explicit language in user interviews and screenshots

Reddit is one of the largest social networks today, boasting over a billion registered users and 430 million monthly users. Oldenburg (1999) writes about the third place, a place that is “inclusively sociable, offering both the basis of community and the celebration of it.” In this study, we discuss r/AskWomen- a subreddit that we believe fits the criteria he lays out for a third place. Further, we discuss how this online space is moderated and regulated and assess the efficacy of this system. This study was done with the guidance of Dr. Amy Bruckman. Click here to read the research article.

Reddit is one of the largest social networks today, boasting over a billion registered users and 430 million monthly users. Oldenburg (1999) writes about the third place, a place that is “inclusively sociable, offering both the basis of community and the celebration of it.” In this study, we discuss r/AskWomen- a subreddit that we believe fits the criteria he lays out for a third place. Further, we discuss how this online space is moderated and regulated and assess the efficacy of this system. This study was done with the guidance of Dr. Amy Bruckman. Click here to read the research article.

Reddit is one of the largest social networks today, boasting over a billion registered users and 430 million monthly users. Oldenburg (1999) writes about the third place, a place that is “inclusively sociable, offering both the basis of community and the celebration of it.” In this study, we discuss r/AskWomen- a subreddit that we believe fits the criteria he lays out for a third place. Further, we discuss how this online space is moderated and regulated and assess the efficacy of this system. This study was done with the guidance of Dr. Amy Bruckman. Click here to read the research article.

Project Goals

Conduct environment and participant observations of the subreddit.

Develop an interview protocol that focuses on evaluating r/AskWomen as an online community

Recruit and conduct interviews of members of the community

Analyze findings based on Amy Jo Kim’s “9 Timeless Principles For Building Community”

r/AskWomen

The r/AskWomen subreddit is a community for asking and answering questions, created for the benefit of women. It was created in 2010 and currently has 5.5 million subscribers. According to the description posted, it is “a subreddit dedicated to asking women questions about their thoughts, lives, and experiences; providing a place where all women can comfortably and candidly share their responses in a non-judgmental space.” Being a thriving community with strict moderation, r/AskWomen makes for a great place to study the many nuances of gender, gender roles, and stereotypes, both practiced and perceived.


The space is currently moderated by 9 Reddit moderators and 1 automoderator.

The r/AskWomen subreddit is a community for asking and answering questions, created for the benefit of women. It was created in 2010 and currently has 5.5 million subscribers. According to the description posted, it is “a subreddit dedicated to asking women questions about their thoughts, lives, and experiences; providing a place where all women can comfortably and candidly share their responses in a non-judgmental space.” Being a thriving community with strict moderation, r/AskWomen makes for a great place to study the many nuances of gender, gender roles, and stereotypes, both practiced and perceived.


The space is currently moderated by 9 Reddit moderators and 1 automoderator.

User Data Collection

The three of us working on this project conducted 30+ hours of participant observations in total and recruited 10 participants who are active on the subreddit for semi-structured interviews. We received IRB certification and presented consent forms to these users who were recruited via Reddit's internal messaging system.

The participants' demographics information and brief introductions to the four users I interviewed are presented below (the names are pseudonymous).

Analysis

We use some of Amy Jo Kim’s “nine timeless design principles for community building” to analyze the various aspects of our chosen subreddit. The following are the principles and how they apply to r/AskWomen based on our observations and participant interviews.

01

01

01

Does it have a clear purpose?

Does it have a clear purpose?

r/AskWomen's purpose is made clear on their community page. It says it is "a place where all women can comfortably and candidly share their responses in a non-judgmental space." To enforce this, on-topic discussions are emphasized by removing comments on grounds of ‘derailing’. Additionally, any and all debates/arguments are removed and there are several rules regarding respectful behavior- including words that are prohibited for being derogatory and potentially offensive.

r/AskWomen's purpose is made clear on their community page. It says it is "a place where all women can comfortably and candidly share their responses in a non-judgmental space." To enforce this, on-topic discussions are emphasized by removing comments on grounds of ‘derailing’. Additionally, any and all debates/arguments are removed and there are several rules regarding respectful behavior- including words that are prohibited for being derogatory and potentially offensive.

02

02

02

Does it have distinct and extensible gathering places?

Does it have distinct and extensible gathering places?

The community follows the standard subreddit format i.e. a single gathering space comprised of posts and their threads (comment and discussion sections). The flexibility of the place comes from the "hot" questions posted by members of the community.

The community follows the standard subreddit format i.e. a single gathering space comprised of posts and their threads (comment and discussion sections). The flexibility of the place comes from the "hot" questions posted by members of the community.

03

03

03

Is it designed for a range of roles?

Is it designed for a range of roles?

Roles in this subreddit range from newcomers to long-time members, but also extend to other representations. Newcomers are first presented with a "barriers to entry" which in this case, doesn't allow members to post unless their email is verified, they've been a member for at least 24 hours, and meet an undisclosed Reddit "karma" requirement.

Roles in this subreddit range from newcomers to long-time members, but also extend to other representations. Newcomers are first presented with a "barriers to entry" which in this case, doesn't allow members to post unless their email is verified, they've been a member for at least 24 hours, and meet an undisclosed Reddit "karma" requirement.

Furthermore, users can choose to add a "community flair" to their username while posting. This is one of the elements of identity (while remaining pseudonymous or anonymous) that users leverage to present themselves. While women tend to be more active in terms of responding to posts, men often engage through posting questions and refrain from answering them. An interviewee summarizes this.

Furthermore, users can choose to add a "community flair" to their username while posting. This is one of the elements of identity (while remaining pseudonymous or anonymous) that users leverage to present themselves. While women tend to be more active in terms of responding to posts, men often engage through posting questions and refrain from answering them. An interviewee summarizes this.

“So I mean the way the subreddit works is that most of these questions should be answered by women. So I'm pretty active in the sense that I'll read all of the prompts. I like to read them, but I don't really respond to 'em cuz that's not the point of that sub. So I'll read them. I like certain posts and I'll post in there often, but I don't really comment on it very often."

By assuming these roles naturally, the community enjoys an unspoken balance between users from different genders with little to no friction.

By assuming these roles naturally, the community enjoys an unspoken balance between users from different genders with little to no friction.

04

04

04

Does the site have effective leadership?

Does the site have effective leadership?

AJ Kim emphasizes the importance of leadership in an online community. As mentioned in Reddit’s guidelines, moderators “create, facilitate, and maintain a stable community.” r/AskWomen has 9 moderators (mods) and 1 AutoModerator. There was a post on r/AskWomen asking the mods about how they were chosen where one mod replied “bribery and a vicious death match.” She later, more seriously, answered the question saying

AJ Kim emphasizes the importance of leadership in an online community. As mentioned in Reddit’s guidelines, moderators “create, facilitate, and maintain a stable community.” r/AskWomen has 9 moderators (mods) and 1 AutoModerator. There was a post on r/AskWomen asking the mods about how they were chosen where one mod replied “bribery and a vicious death match.” She later, more seriously, answered the question saying

“1. I created the sub myself. 2. I became known in the sub for consistent and thoughtful contributions and they were like dang she's cool she should totes mod and shit. 3. Bribes & assassination.”

In this community, one gets the sense that the final word is always the moderators’. This is an effective form of leadership in a world where trolls plague most virtual communities.

In this community, one gets the sense that the final word is always the moderators’. This is an effective form of leadership in a world where trolls plague most virtual communities.

05

05

05

Does it promote cyclic events?

Does it promote cyclic events?

r/AskWomen has day-of-the-week specific rules that are cyclic events. These are:

r/AskWomen has day-of-the-week specific rules that are cyclic events. These are:

Mate-Free Mondays: On Mondays, between midnight and 11:59 pm Eastern, questions about relationships, dating, and attraction will be removed.

Thersday: On Thursdays, between midnight and 11:59 pm Eastern, questions relating to our users' relationships with other people (romantic, friendship, familial, etc) will be removed.

An interviewee comments on why these themed posting days are a success in r/AskWomen

Mate-Free Mondays: On Mondays, between midnight and 11:59 pm Eastern, questions about relationships, dating, and attraction will be removed.

Thersday: On Thursdays, between midnight and 11:59 pm Eastern, questions relating to our users' relationships with other people (romantic, friendship, familial, etc) will be removed.

“It helps keep things a little bit more organized and it helps keep the same stuff from just getting posted every day. At least get some differences day to day.”

06

06

06

Does it integrate the online world with the real world?

Does it integrate the online world with the real world?

Most of our interviewees reported not having formed any long-lasting ties or friendships through r/AskWomen. However, some have used Reddit's direct messaging feature to follow-up or continue conversations started through posts. This helps integrate with the real world as it ground the discussions in reality and extends to beyond their Reddit personas/

Most of our interviewees reported not having formed any long-lasting ties or friendships through r/AskWomen. However, some have used Reddit's direct messaging feature to follow-up or continue conversations started through posts. This helps integrate with the real world as it ground the discussions in reality and extends to beyond their Reddit personas/

07

07

07

Does it encourage appropriate code of conduct?

Does it encourage appropriate code of conduct?

r/AskWomen has a comprehensive set of rules that can be easily found on their page, like any other subreddit. These rules include stringent regulations on what kind of questions and comments can be posted.

“Derailing” is one of the broadest grounds for disqualification which seems to be a frequently seen reason for content removal. Different followers have different opinions on the extent to which the “no derailing” rule is applied. This is what inspired our subsequent research on moderation of online communities.

r/AskWomen has a comprehensive set of rules that can be easily found on their page, like any other subreddit. These rules include stringent regulations on what kind of questions and comments can be posted.

“Derailing” is one of the broadest grounds for disqualification which seems to be a frequently seen reason for content removal. Different followers have different opinions on the extent to which the “no derailing” rule is applied. This is what inspired our subsequent research on moderation of online communities.

Moderation of r/AskWomen

Moderation of r/AskWomen

In their efforts to make r/AskWomen a safe space for women, the moderators are very active and strict about implementing the rules of the subreddit. However, some of these rules fail to make much sense to users and others seem a bit ‘heavy-handed’. Here's what our interviewees had to say about the strict content moderation, especially pertaining to "derailing from the topic".


In their efforts to make r/AskWomen a safe space for women, the moderators are very active and strict about implementing the rules of the subreddit. However, some of these rules fail to make much sense to users and others seem a bit ‘heavy-handed’. Here's what our interviewees had to say about the strict content moderation, especially pertaining to "derailing from the topic".

"I give less replies to comments on my posts because I generally don't know oftentimes what can I reply? I can't argue, I can't disagree. I can't agree. How are they derailing? This is weird. So, it definitely made me reply less."

"I've had to rephrase a lot of questions but at that point I'm rephrasing it to such a degree that it's no longer the original question that I asked."

"I feel like some of the moderators have certain odd rules on there, like not asking for specific advice. Sometimes the moderators cut you off at a certain point and they're like, Oh, you can only post once a day."

"Basically a lot of people gave up on participating because a lot of their comments got deleted at the very beginning when they joined. It might discourage users from participating, ending up quitting"

We found that these sentiments are shared across the community. Members were posting on other subreddits about how r/AskWomen's moderators seemed to excessively filter content, often disappointing and discouraging its members.



While digging up more dirt on r/AskWomen's moderation policies, we wondered why people didn't just migrate away from the subreddit; and that's when I found…


While digging up more dirt on r/AskWomen's moderation policies, we wondered why people didn't just migrate away from the subreddit; and that's when we found…



While digging up more dirt on r/AskWomen's moderation policies, we wondered why people didn't just migrate away from the subreddit; and that's when we found…



The discovery of this subreddit got us extremely excited. We went back to some of our participants to conduct follow-up interviews, specifically asking about r/AskWomenNoCensor. Some quotes from these conversations are presented below.

The discovery of this subreddit got us extremely excited. We went back to some of our participants to conduct follow-up interviews, specifically asking about r/AskWomenNoCensor.

“I would rather see a barrage of shitty posts and just down vote them than have my comment deleted for derailing every time.”​

“The other sub has just a little bit of mod abuse. It used to be pretty okay several years ago back near when I first joined Reddit. I like it here [r/AskWomenNoCensor] though.”​

“I think it’s great they don’t censor but maybe they should start checking how many posts a user makes every day and eventually limit that. Everyone should have the freedom to ask anything they want but not 3 times a day”​

“It's tough to be the 'free-speech' alternative. People just have to be more active in downvoting that type of post.”​

It is interesting to see how r/AskWomen compares to r/AskWomenNoCensor​. Today (February 2024), r/AskWomen has 5.5million subscribers, while r/AskWomenNoCensor has 32.8k. The former is definitely still more popular and more regulated, but there is a significant section of the community that has migrated over to the latter because of the stringent moderation. Trying to moderate effectively while not deterring natural conversation and debate is definitely a balancing act.

It is interesting to see how r/AskWomen compares to r/AskWomenNoCensor​. Today (February 2024), r/AskWomen has 5.5million subscribers, while r/AskWomenNoCensor has 32.8k. The former is definitely still more popular and more regulated, but there is a significant section of the community that has migrated over to the latter because of the stringent moderation. Trying to moderate effectively while not deterring natural conversation and debate is definitely a balancing act.

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Reflection

This project helped me refine my abilities in conducting research and provided a more profound insight into the structure of online communities. During the course of the project, intriguing questions began to surface, such as, what is the impact of subreddit moderation on community participation? To what extent do women in the community feel secure when sharing personal experiences online? Dr. Amy Bruckman's guidance helped us refine these questions and direct our studies towards moderation.

The project underwent changes as we grew more acquainted with the subtleties of the community and its operations. In conclusion, this project significantly improved my interviewing and field observation skills. It shed light on the need to maintain a balance between stringent conversation regulation and foster natural dialogue.


This project helped me refine my abilities in conducting research and provided a more profound insight into the structure of online communities. During the course of the project, intriguing questions began to surface, such as, what is the impact of subreddit moderation on community participation? To what extent do women in the community feel secure when sharing personal experiences online? Dr. Amy Bruckman's guidance helped us refine these questions and direct our studies towards moderation.

The project underwent changes as we grew more acquainted with the subtleties of the community and its operations. In conclusion, this project significantly improved my interviewing and field observation skills. It shed light on the need to maintain a balance between stringent conversation regulation and foster natural dialogue.


This project helped me refine my abilities in conducting research and provided a more profound insight into the structure of online communities. During the course of the project, intriguing questions began to surface, such as, what is the impact of subreddit moderation on community participation? To what extent do women in the community feel secure when sharing personal experiences online? Dr. Amy Bruckman's guidance helped us refine these questions and direct our studies towards moderation.

The project underwent changes as we grew more acquainted with the subtleties of the community and its operations. In conclusion, this project significantly improved my interviewing and field observation skills. It shed light on the need to maintain a balance between stringent conversation regulation and foster natural dialogue.


Get in Touch!

+1 (470)-919-2752

rghosh85@gatech.edu

ramyani.ghosh@gmail.com

© Ramyani Ghosh, May 2024

Get in Touch!

+1 (470)-919-2752

rghosh85@gatech.edu

ramyani.ghosh@gmail.com

© Ramyani Ghosh, May 2024