“I run the world’s largest historical outreach project and it’s on a cesspool of a website.” Moderating a public scholarship site on Reddit: A case study of r/AskHistorians

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Online communities provide important functions in their participants’ lives, from providing spaces to discuss topics of interest to supporting the development of close, personal relationships. Volunteer moderators play key roles in maintaining these spaces, such as creating and enforcing rules and modeling normative behavior. While these users play important governance roles in online spaces, less is known about how the work they do is impacted by platform design and culture. r/AskHistorians, a Reddit-based question and answer forum dedicated to providing users with academic-level answers to questions about history provides an interesting case study on the impact of design and culture because of its unique rules and their strict enforcement by moderators. In this article I use interviews with r/AskHistorians moderators and community members, observation, and the full comment log of a highly upvoted thread to describe the impact of Reddit’s design and culture on moderation work. Results show that visible moderation work that is often interpreted as censorship, and the default masculine whiteness of Reddit, create challenges for moderators who use the subreddit as a public history site. Nonetheless, r/AskHistorians moderators have carved a space on Reddit where, through their public scholarship work, the community serves as a model for combating misinformation by building trust in academic processes.