Collaborative Research: IIS: HCC: Small: The New Gatekeepers: Content Moderation and Information Threats in Local Communities

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project maps how volunteer moderators are functioning as gatekeepers of local civic information and first responders to information threats within online local community groups. This is a crucial first step toward building effective tools (social, technological, and policy) that can support moderators of online community groups in their efforts to respond to the threats caused by information pollution. Residents of American communities increasingly rely on geographically focused online groups to access local information. These local groups have the potential to enhance the quality of life in American communities by helping residents learn about their communities, connect with neighbors and local organizations, and identify important local issues. However, these groups face significant threats to information quality, including mis/disinformation campaigns, incivility, and trolling. Moderators of online community groups are typically untrained volunteers who serve as a first line of defense. However, they are provided only a limited set of tools and practices for threat mitigation. As a result, moderators are in a tenuous position to respond to information threats while simultaneously navigating change in the workings of platforms themselves, rapidly evolving user practices, and the increasing politicization of local issues.This project has three goals: (1) assessing how well platform companies prepare local group moderators to face information threats; (2) understanding how local group moderators manage information threats in their everyday practices; (3) understanding how moderator practices respond to challenges during periods of increased information quality threat. The results of this research will expand our knowledge of how to better support volunteer moderators on digital platforms as they are asked to function as a new kind of gatekeeper in increasingly complex local information infrastructures. The project does this through (1) an analysis of the tools and trainings provided to moderators by three platform companies: Facebook, Nextdoor, and Reddit; (2) an eight-week asynchronous remote community study with moderators of local groups; and (3) a follow-up interview study examining moderator practices during conditions of high-levels of information threat. This involves grappling with platform design and affordances, as well as social practices, behaviors, and competencies, so as to inform human-computer interaction, information science, and public policy.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Effective start/end date9/1/228/31/25


  • National Science Foundation: $187,289.00


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