A Picture of Health: Measuring the comparative health of online spaces

This report, as part of the Good Web Project, explores online behaviour, and finds that the design of online spaces fuels negative behaviour, including trolling.

A Picture of Health, using an algorithm to analyse discussions on the social media platform Reddit, found that users in online spaces do not behave consistently across multiple forums, but adjust their negative behaviour to the rules of the platform they are using. The research suggests that the same user might behave well in a well designed space, and badly in another one.

The research focuses on Reddit, a site which allows moderators of its various forums – dubbed ‘subreddits’ – a large amount of freedom over how they are governed. It found that smaller subreddits with clear rules and expectations around behaviour contained more positive conversation and language than spaces that were unmoderated and allowed bad behaviour.

The report therefore recommends that Government, tech companies and civil society should focus more on how online spaces are designed, and less on individual behaviour of users, in order to tackle online harms, abuse and misinformation.

Commenting on the findings, Alex Krasodomski-Jones, Director of the Center for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos, said:

“When we think about online abuse, racism and trolling, we often imagine bad apples and keyboard warriors spoiling things for everyone else. What we saw on Reddit was evidence that this is too simplistic. Someone who might be rude and abusive in one place could be civil and constructive in another.

“As governments look for solutions to harms online, it is vital that regulation encourages the growth of healthy online spaces. Spaces that have rules, enforced by an engaged community, with a culture of good discussion can turn trolls into citizens, and be resilient to disinformation and harmful content.”

Read the report here.