Future Tense

Coronavirus Diaries: I Spend Hours Removing Outbreak Conspiracies From Reddit

Because of this, some users think the Chinese Communist Party pays me.

The Reddit logo covered by a surgical mask.
Kimmey12 spends two to four hours a day moderating the r/coronavirus subreddit. Photo illustration by Slate. Image by Reddit and iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

This as-told-to essay from kimmey12, a moderator of the r/coronavirus subreddit who works as a nurse in the Netherlands, has been condensed and edited for clarity from a conversation with Aaron Mak.

When the first outbreak in Wuhan came to light, I was interested in the fact that a new virus appeared in the world. As more cases appeared, I became more and more curious, reading about it and looking stuff up. Every day I check BNO News for the latest updates. I am a longtime member of Reddit, so I looked if there was a sub about it. I joined the r/Coronavirus sub for information around Jan. 20, just as a member. With only a few mods at that time, I sent a modmail to see if they could use some help, and two days later I got mail where I had to verify myself, and I was on board. I started as a normal moderator, and I am senior now. I am trying to be helpful and try to prevent fake news from concerning people. I like facts.

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We have a very nice group [of mods] if I may say so. We use Discord to communicate. We discuss posts, discussion bans, and other sub-related stuff we don’t want to decide alone. We always have to explain why we want to remove or ban anyone. If someone doesn’t like it, we discuss the reasons why or why not. We don’t have shifts; it’s more when I have time to check if there are things to be done. We get so many posts a day and we are a group, so no one is online 24/7.

I like to mod in my breaks and when I am at home in the evening. I think in a whole day I am modding around two or three hours. When I am free and have nothing else, it could be around three or four hours. For me personally it’s not stressful. I am in a stressful job [as an ER nurse] so I am used to it.

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My task is to keep the sub free from fake news and keep the sub information filled with reliable sources. A common myth about the virus is that it’s a bioweapon. We see some weird stuff. I removed a couple of videos where people fall on the street all of a sudden in China. We check the video source. I also look at the background, because it’s winter in China now and when I see trees with green leaves or people with T-shirts on the street, I know it’s not accurate. For other sources, we discuss in Discord. We have a group of people from all over the world, so there is always someone who knows something.

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There is also a myth we are paid by the Chinese Communist Party (we are a group of volunteers with actual jobs), because we remove unreliable sources and harassment against people. I’ve been called every disease and curse word you can think of.

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There are always people who try to give the best medical advice, but it’s not always true. I once saw a post about how garlic and a vegan diet help you to keep the virus away. I believe the person meant well, but we have a medical disclaimer—we are not doctors and can’t diagnose someone behind a screen.

I also watch out for abusive comments and other hate messages. I’ve seen horrible comments. It’s not very different from the rest of the internet or forums, I think. But coronavirus-wise, a specific group is targeted. I’ve seen comments that Asian people are filthy, scum of the earth, and people wishing all of China would be dead. We always delete and give out a warning. If they continue to do so after several warnings, we ban.

I am a nurse; it helps with claims people make and questions people have. I get a lot of private messages from worried people. When people have anxiety, I advise them to stay away from COVID news for a while. It can be overwhelming for people. I’ll refer them to r/covid19_support. It’s a sub for concerned people with anxiety or depression that’s virus-related. We have a professional therapist also as a mod there.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

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