AS129: Reddit Toxicity, with Idibon’s Ben Bell

Atheism’s Reddit Toxicity

 

Reddit Toxicity Study
Reddit Toxicity Study

The company Idibon recently conducted a Reddit toxicity that made a lot of headlines. The study can be found here.  Many subreddits reposted the study and reacted to their position. In a finding that might be relevant to the atheism community, r/atheism was found to be among the top in the Reddit toxicity measure. It also was among the top in bigotry, allegedly due to anti-Muslim bigotry. If these results are reliable, then this may be a concern to atheists active in r/atheism.

Joining me for an interview is Ben Bell from Idibon. Ben conducted the reddit toxicity study and is here to tell us all about his methodology. To give an idea what Idibon is about, here’s their mission statement:

“Idibon’s cloud-based natural language processing services enable organizations to efficiently organize and structure written language to answer critical business questions and automate their processes. We have the most accurate and adaptable systems in the market and support NER/text extraction, sentiment analysis, text/content categorization, language detection/identification. Our investors include Altpoint Ventures, Khosla Ventures, and Morningside Ventures.”

So essentially, what Idibon does is crowdsource language data processing. This allows them to annotate large quantities of language data, accurately. This expertise is what led Ben to the idea to test the toxicity of reddit communities. To begin, Ben came up with his definitions for both toxicity and bigotry, and then sought to create instruction that annotators would be able to use reliably. From there he ran a few pilot tests to see how his instruction fared before moving it to a larger scale.

So are these results reliable? If so what do they mean? You’ll have to listen to the episode to hear more at length what Ben did in order to rate the toxicity of different reddit communities in a scientific way!

Also, be sure to tune in on Thursday for part 2!

Support the show at http://www.patreon.com/atheist !

9 thoughts on “AS129: Reddit Toxicity, with Idibon’s Ben Bell”

  1. Well so far there isn’t much to comment on other than the impression I’m getting that he is a self appointed arbitur as to what is considered a bigoted comment.
    People who aren’t atheists, or anti-theists IMO often seem to perceive criticism of religion or the religious as synonymous with criticism of a race, or a person of color. While we often tend to see it as synonymous with criticizing an ideology, or someone who follows an ideology.
    Additionally he mentioned respect of anothers opinion as a measure used. It’s one thing respecting someone well considered, intelligent (albeit wrong) political opinion, and respecting someones ridiculous faith based opinions. Atheists in that respect are bound, and rightly so, to have little respect for contrary opinions.
    I’ll have more to add if we learn more in the next episode.

    1. I decided to make another comment, and provide an example of what I mean. Let’s say we’re having a secular discussion on gay marriage, or abortion. You oppose both for relatively reasonable thoughtful reasons.. Ben would likely consider it disrespectful of your opinion if I called you an idiot, or a fool, and I would likely agree. If on the other hand your reasons amounted to “cause God”, or “cause the bible”. I’m not going to respect that opinion, and might call you an idiot, or not find if problematic if someone else does. I suspect that Ben would make little to no distinction, or his algorithm wouldn’t, between these two examples. Not all opinions, or those who hold them are equally worthy of respect. Atheists tend to encounter many of these less worthy opinions, which might tend to skew the results. I’d really like to hear Ben’s response. If he doesn’t clarify in part 2 perhaps you could make him aware of this comment.

  2. I’ve only recently started looking around Reddit but I’m not too surprised that r/atheism is high on this lists. I think most people in the sub hold anti-theist positions so they tend to be very flippant about peoples religious beliefs. My impression is that at least half the point of the sub seems to be to make fun of religious people.

    I wouldn’t say this speaks to atheist in general because I don’t think people on Reddit are ever that representative of the general population. There are other secular or atheist focused subs on Reddit as well. A lot of people complain that there are too many young and angry people on r/atheism and I think that’s true to some extent. I would consider the Reddit community a specific group of atheist people because people really do build up their own little groups on Reddit.

    I’m reminded that I started going to Reddit because of the serial podcast and was surprised that a good majority of people thought Adnan is innocent because I would figure that in general people in the majority would be unsure. And people were really obsessive about picking apart every detain in the podcast, so quite distinct from the average listener.

  3. “My impression is that at least half the point of the sub seems to be to make fun of religious people.”

    I don’t do Reddit so I don’t really know what it’s point it. Your comment makes me wonder how an r/black would have rated if it had existed in the 1950’s and it’s focus was making fun of racists, or bringing attention to incidents of racism. I suspect there would have been a lot of disrespect shown for the opinion of others.

  4. Interesting discussion so far (haven’t listened to the second part but I think you’ve just put it up!). I remember when the press releases for this data analysis came out and I wasn’t too impressed with some of the methodology but hearing him explain it further I can see how it might be useful for some narrow purposes.

    One issue I did have was that near the beginning of the post (sorry don’t have exact times or words) he stated that one of the explicit assumptions of the model was that all of the subreddits were equal but this assumption actually falls apart. It’s clear how it falls apart when we look at /r/shitredditsays.

    SRS is a sub that has a significantly different aim to most of the other subreddits in that its entire goal is to collect and mock bigoted comments on reddit. As such, many of the comments collected from there are going to be bigoted comments. Also, the purpose of SRS is to act as a “mirror” to reddit, or an inverted version of how minorities view reddit.

    So when the commonly upvoted opinion on reddit is “Black people are lazy and are genetically violent/criminals!”, SRS serves to mirror that. They’ll take a comment like that, post it, and people reply in the way they’d expect redditors to respond if the situations were reversed. So they’ll make fun of how white people are all serial killers, or how they wish all straight people would just stop flaunting their sexuality, etc etc.

    The sub serves as a joke/parody/satire/circlejerk front for the actual discussion sub beneath it, which is /r/srsdiscussion. As such, I think the assumption that all subs are equal leads to the hugely misleading conclusion that SRS is bigoted or unwelcoming.

    As for /r/atheism being on the list, I’m not too surprised about that but it’ll be interesting to hear Ben’s take on it. It seems to match the way he described “toxicity”, which is a sub that even people who agree with the ideas and values of wouldn’t want to visit given that many atheists loathe the place. It’s improved a little since they banned all the memes and circlejerking but I still find it’s a pretty horrible place to visit.

    1. I have to disagree with you about SRS. sure, it started off as that, but it’s just now become Feminazis yelling “muh patriarchy” and “misogyny!” about anything they disagree with. Yeah, some shit on Reddit is massively racist, sexist and homophobic. So what? you find that everywhere, and its a fucking humongous site. I’ve looked at SRS, and most of the comments are racist, sexist and homophobic, but not as parodies! they’re just racist, sexist and homophobic! This guy’s study is very biased, as even /r/blackpeopletwitter is considered racist. That’s a subreddit run by black people highlighting great comedy by black people! You couldn’t get less racist!

      The guy seems to misunderstand subreddits. /r/justneckbeardthings is a pisstake of the stereotypical Redditor. /r/Tumblrinaction is a pisstake of Feminazis and their wild racist, sexist and hetero (and even homo)phobic remarks

      1. “I have to disagree with you about SRS. sure, it started off as that, but it’s just now become Feminazis yelling “muh patriarchy” and “misogyny!” about anything they disagree with.”

        I’ll be honest, I thought only people like Rush Limbaugh used the term “feminazi” seriously.. Anyway, I think there can be debates over some of the submissions but most reasonable people agree that the majority of submissions are real problems and not overreactions.

        “Yeah, some shit on Reddit is massively racist, sexist and homophobic. So what? you find that everywhere, and its a fucking humongous site.”

        They only link to comments from major subreddits and only when the comments are highly upvoted. So it’s not just the case that a big site will occasionally have bigots post there, the point is that bigots regularly post in highly visible places and the community heavily supports them.

        “I’ve looked at SRS, and most of the comments are racist, sexist and homophobic, but not as parodies! ”

        I get that, I felt the same when I first visited there too but when you look at it again and understand what its aim is then the parody becomes far clearer.

        “This guy’s study is very biased, as even /r/blackpeopletwitter is considered racist. That’s a subreddit run by black people highlighting great comedy by black people! You couldn’t get less racist!”

        I’m not sure if you’re joking or not. Blackpeopletwitter is run by the racist subs, just look at their mod list. It’s there to make fun of black people. The only black people that visit there are people like yungsnuggie who is calling them all racist bigots.

        ” /r/Tumblrinaction is a pisstake of Feminazis and their wild racist, sexist and hetero (and even homo)phobic remarks”

        TiA is a generator of bigoted comments and rarely finds any themselves. That’s why all the bad- subs regularly highlight their bad posts.

  5. Agree with Mike Paps about r/Atheism, and how Mike Samsa says r/ShitRedditSays is unique, well so is r/TumblrInAction. TiA is kind of the opposite of SRS. Except it’s Shit Tumblr Says. Your guest completely misses the point of both. TiA definitely DOES NOT target the LGTB community. It pokes fun at idiocy in every community. (FYI Many in the LGTB community don’t like it when they’re lumped in with people who identify as squirrels or some other such nonsense.)

    1. “TiA definitely DOES NOT target the LGTB community. It pokes fun at idiocy in every community. (FYI Many in the LGTB community don’t like it when they’re lumped in with people who identify as squirrels or some other such nonsense.)”

      I think there’s a distinction between what they say they’re doing and what they actually do. The community is very hostile to minorities. Just look at the “attack helicopter” meme which is often used to suggest that it’s ‘ridiculous’ that someone born a man might identify as a woman.

      And almost every discussion about discrimination on there ends in the TiA member arguing that the only real case of privilege is class privilege, and everything boils down to that.

      I don’t think many people would read TiA and think they’re not a bunch of bigots…

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