Reddit culture well-tuned to spot hoaxes

In professor T. Mills Kelly's class, students act out clever public hoaxes. But while Wikipedians are easily fooled, Redditors exposed the latest jape—Do you think my 'Uncle' Joe was just weird or possibly a serial killer?— instantly. Yoni Appelbaum at The Atlantic unravels what happened.

Although most communities treat their members with gentle regard, Reddit prides itself on winnowing the wheat from the chaff. It relies on the collective judgment of its members, who click on arrows next to contributions, elevating insightful or interesting content, and demoting less worthy contributions. Even Mills says he was impressed by the way in which redditors "marshaled their collective bits of expert knowledge to arrive at a conclusion that was largely correct." It's tough to con Reddit.

This isn't quite true. Reddit is vulnerable to cons: just not this kind of con. Academic hoaxes are the sort of thing Reddit can see through easily. Superficially weighty evidence doesn't trick an audience exquisitely tuned to the forensic texture of information; the site's machinery heaps attention on anything interesting; and the social milieu makes it hard for would-be hoaxers to avoid adopting a pattern of behavior ("karma whore") that threatens their credibility from the outset.

On the other hand, Wikipedia is easy to deceive because it's easy to accumulate low-profile, cross-referenced edits, and the site has a rigid, exclusionary culture that is easy to exploit once it is understood.

However, those iffy props really didn't help! To quote Redditor TruculentTravis: "The papers look falsely aged. I can tell from the burnt edges, and from having seen many falsely aged papers in my time."


    1. Reddit gets millions of unique visitors a day. There’s going to be a whole pile of shit in there. Try not to overgeneralize.

      Facebook has just as much misogyny and casual racism…and there people put their real names to it!

  1. How far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go?

    There’s a (very plausible) reddit conspiracy theory that the US armed forces are using the site for propaganda purposes. New users with no previous posts often post military-affiliated content, then the account ends up deleted.


    The military is known to be active in social media, but it’s increasingly creepy the deeper the propaganda gets.

    1.  Based on the premise that Reddit can spot hoaxes, what does Reddit have to say about this particular conspiracy theory?

  2. ‘Milieux’ is plural of ‘Milieu’, so you want either ‘… social milieu makes…’ or ‘social milieux make’. /pedant

  3. “Wikipedia…  has a rigid, exclusionary culture that is easy to exploit once it is understood.”

    Now there’s something I’ve been trying to figure out how to say concisely for years.

  4. As a longtime and dedicated redditor, I have to say thank you for stroking the site’s users’ already swollen egos. I didn’t think there was a way you could make us feel more superior to the rest of the internet, and yet, you found a way!

  5. So, this guy is edit:was having his class vandalize Wikipedia for class credit.  Nice.  I wonder how he would handle a student refusing to deliberately damage a public resource.

  6. They are hostile and suspicious of EVERYTHING there.  In this one example, it just worked out that they were right.  Any ten other true stories would have gotten the same response.

  7. I don’t know if you meant this as some sort of meta-joke but the last line, 
    “The papers look falsely aged. I can tell from the burnt edges, and from having seen many falsely aged papers in my time.” is a parody of the meme “This looks shopped. I can tell from some of the pixels and from seeing quite a few shops in my time.” Source:

  8. “…an audience exquisitely tuned to the forensic texture of information…”
    What a fantastic description of a certain type of webhead (many BBers included). That kind of innate sensitivity to information flows is quite hard to describe to older folks and the non-web-savvy.

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