Toxic Content and User Engagement on Social Media: Evidence from a Field Experiment [paper]
With George Beknazar-Yuzbashev, Jesse McCrosky, and Mateusz Stalinski
As much as forty percent of social media users have been harassed online, but there is scarce causal evidence of how toxic content impacts user engagement and whether it is contagious. In a pre-registered field experiment, we recruited participants to install a browser extension, and randomly assigned them to either a treatment group where the extension automatically hides toxic text content on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, or to a control group without hiding. As the first stage, 6.6% of the content displayed to users was classified as toxic by the extension relying on state-of-the-art toxicity detection tools, and duly hidden in the treatment group during a six-week long period. Lowering exposure to toxicity reduced content consumption on Facebook by 23% relative to the mean – beyond the mechanical effect of our intervention. We also report a 9.2% drop in ad consumption on Twitter (relative to the mean), where this metric is available. Additionally, the intervention reduced the average toxicity of content posted by users on Facebook and Twitter, evidence of toxicity being contagious. Taken together, our results suggest a trade-off faced by platforms: they can curb users’ toxicity at the expense of their content consumption.
The Effect of Content Moderation on Online and Offline Hate: Evidence from Germany's NetzDG [paper]
With Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz
Social media companies are under scrutiny for the prevalence of hateful content on their platforms, but there is scarce empirical evidence of the consequences of regulating such content. We study this question in the context of the "Network Enforcement Act" (NetzDG) in Germany, which mandates major social media companies to remove hateful posts within 24 hours. Using a difference-in-differences strategy, we find that the law was associated with a statistically significant reduction in toxic posts by far-right social media users. Further, we show that the NetzDG reduced anti-refugee hate crimes in towns with more far-right Facebook users. Together, these findings suggest that online content moderation can curb online hate speech and offline violence.
The Economics of Content Moderation: Theory and Experimental Evidence from Hate Speech on Twitter [paper]
Social media platforms ban users and remove posts to moderate their content. This "speech policing" remains controversial because little is known about its consequences and the costs and benefits for different individuals. I conduct two field experiments on Twitter to examine the effect of moderating hate speech on user behavior and welfare. Randomly reporting posts for violating the rules against hateful conduct increases the likelihood that Twitter removes them. Reporting does not affect the activity on the platform of the posts' authors or their likelihood of reposting hate, but it does increase the activity of those attacked by the posts. These results are consistent with a model in which content moderation is a quality decision for platforms that increases user engagement and hence advertising revenue. The second experiment shows that changing users' perceived content removal does not change their willingness to pause using social media, a measure of consumer surplus. My results imply that content moderation does not necessarily moderate users, but it marginally increases advertising revenue. It can be consistent with both profit- and welfare-maximization if out-of-platform externalities are small.
Publications and accepted papers
Estimating Repugnance toward Price Gouging with Incentivized Consumer Reports [paper]
With Justin Holz and Eduardo Laguna Müggenburg
Forthcoming at the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics
Cash: A Blessing or a Curse? [paper]
With Fernando Alvarez, David Argente, and Francesco Lippi
Journal of Monetary Economics, 2022
Work in progress
The Economics of Social Media
With Guy Aridor, Ro'ee Levy, and Lena Song
Proposal accepted at the Journal of Economic Literature
The Fountainhead: Analyzing the Impact of Intraday Liquidity on Payment Behavior [paper (gated)]
With Aldo Marini and Javier Pérez Estrada
Journal of Financial Market Infrastructures, 2014