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Moderators on Reddit perform $3.4 million worth of unpaid work

Every year, moderators on Reddit perform $3.4 million worth of unpaid work

Moderators on Reddit perform $3.4 million worth of unpaid work annually, according to computer scientists at Northwestern University.

Reddit, a social networking site relies on volunteer moderators to keep the site free of chaotic material. Material such as hate speech and to keep users interested. Although unpaid, the firm values this effort highly.


Two recent studies led by computer scientists at Northwestern University put its value at at least $3.4 million per year. This is estimated to be 2.8% of what Reddit made in 2019.

The main research author, Hanlin Li, a PhD student at Northwestern, stressed that social media companies and digital platforms have grown to play an increasingly disproportionate role in determining how information is consumed and shared.

For the first time, giving volunteer content moderators a monetary value. This might give regular people weight against big tech when it comes to content moderation.

Li said that “big tech corporations have adopted some detrimental tactics. This tactic aids in the dissemination of false information. Also, neglecting to provide volunteers fighting the expansion of bad content online with enough support.” “In general, our study involves considering how we may include the authority to make decisions in digital business to include people. To that end, this is the first step,” Li added.

On Reddit, users can join dozens of “subreddits” or communities. They post and debate information relating to their interests, including comedy, news, art, video games and memes.

Moderators on Reddit perform $3.4 million worth of unpaid work

Reddit hosts and makes the subreddits available to users for free, so it would seem like a reasonable trade-off. The subreddits are managed by volunteers whose jobs are frequently presented as a labor of love. They do it because they care about and are interested in preserving dynamic online communities.

However, the research highlights a crucial question. By contributing their time, data, and effort, do volunteer moderators and other users give tech corporations a “free ride”?

Reddit and Facebook, which both host groups with members who share interests, are for-profit organizations with business models centered on user-to-user advertising sales.

On the other hand, volunteer moderators are unaware of the amount of labor required to maintain such online communities’ viability and safety. This also includes the value of that work to the organization. One may ask if having that information at hand affects discussions between customers and tech companies?

Li stated that “putting a price tag on the work that people have subsidized is leverage that moderators might use. That is, when asking platforms for improved resources and tools to assist them in monitoring more effectively.” In this example, content moderators on Reddit.”

Li co-authored both publications with Stevie Chancellor, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota and her mentor Brent Hecht, an associate professor in Northwestern’s School of Communication.

Hecht is the director of Northwestern’s People, Space and Algorithms (PSA) Research Group. The group’s overarching goal is to “Identify and address social problems that are produced or aggravated by developments in computer science.”

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User contributions to social media sites

Li said that a key part of the PSA Group’s work is redefining user contributions to websites. This includes Google, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit as “work” instead of passive online use.  This is because companies use the information and time that users provide to make money. They use it to improve their algorithms, better target ads, attract new users and ultimately increase revenue.

They used this new perspective and created the phrase “data labor subsidy.” When putting a monetary value on the efforts of tech platform users. Li will talk about these new Reddit findings at the International Conference on Web and Social Media in June. This is one of the best conferences for computational social science.


The authors of the first study, “Measuring the Monetary Value of Online Volunteer Work,” worked with moderators on dozens of subreddits to determine how long it took them to complete various moderation tasks like approving posts, deleting comments and banning users by tracking the timestamps between clicks and calculating the average time spent on each task.

Li points out that their study shows that moderator activities aren’t only limited to mundane tasks like suppressing comments, especially in the second article “All That’s Happening Behind the Scenes: A Data-Driven Analysis of Volunteer Moderator Labor on Reddit.” They also entail more subtle content curation techniques such as labeling to make user searches easier.

The study team used data from both studies. They also included publicly accessible data as well as data from a subset of moderators they requested to participate (those asked were picked at random, but they did not form a completely random sample).

worth of work performed by moderators

In the first investigation, they extrapolated from the amount of time these moderators spent regulating each day. This is to estimate how much time all active Reddit moderators spend moderating collectively on a certain day (currently, there are about 21,500 such moderators).

In the second investigation, they went into great detail about these moderators’ actions. They discovered that on average, the whole Reddit moderator community spends 466 hours per day filtering content on the website.

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This is a lower limit estimate since the study was unable to take into account all possible moderat ing behaviors. They figured out that the annual cost would be $3.4 million. That is, by looking at how much similar paid services cost in the U.S. on the freelancing site UpWork ($20/hour).


Reddit now only offers a small number of tools, such as keyword filters to moderators faced with managing groups with thousands, often millions of members.

Li says that this makes moderators feel too busy and makes them ask the company for more tools all the time. When it comes to requesting assistance, she noted “Volunteer moderators are in such a disadvantaged position.”

She said that studies now show that volunteers have done real work for the organization, which they can bring up in negotiations. In order to ensure that this sort of transaction is a fair value exchange, she stated, “Our objective is to put the necessary information in place.”

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