Quick, Community-Specific Learning: How Distinctive Toxicity Norms Are Maintained in Political Subreddits
Online communities about similar topics may maintain very different norms of interaction. Past research identifies many processes that contribute to maintaining stable norms, including self-selection, pre-entry learning, post-entry learning, and retention. We analyzed political subreddits that had distinctive, stable levels of toxic comments on Reddit, in order to identify the relative contribution of these four processes. Surprisingly, we find that the largest source of norm stability is pre-entry learning. That is, newcomers' first comments in these distinctive subreddits differ from those same people's prior behavior in other subreddits. Through this adjustment, they nearly match the toxicity level of the subreddit they are joining. We also show that behavior adjustments are community-specific and not broadly transformative. That is, people continue to post toxic comments at their previous rates in other political subreddits. Thus, we conclude that in political subreddits, compatible newcomers are neither born nor made– they make local adjustments on their own.