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University of Michigan School of Information


Volunteer content moderators are likely to experience burnout, new study suggests

A colorful phone with emojis and social media icons scattered around it.

Monday, 02/27/2023

Online communities play an important role in creating a sense of connection between strangers. 

But what happens when the people moderating our favorite online communities quit? Why do they quit, and what strategies can companies like Meta and Reddit implement to help prevent burnout? 

A study by University of Michigan School of Information researchers led by PhD candidate Angela M. Schöpke-Gonzalez says volunteer content moderators, or VCMs, experience burnout stemming from interpersonal conflict between moderators, time constraints and daily exposure to toxic online behavior. 

“It’s the unpaid labor of volunteer content moderators that make it possible for us, in many cases, to enjoy environments that support our wellbeing,” Schöpke-Gonzalez says. “We browse the internet every day, and many people are on social media platforms, but we often forget that it’s people that are responsible for keeping our information ecosystems alive.” 

The study aims to point attention to the critical roles of VCMs, to explore what causes burnout and help companies begin to understand how they can better support VCMs in order to help prevent psychological distress. 

“VCMs experience many of the same psychological distress challenges as crisis hotline volunteer responders, caregivers and volunteer support providers for persons who have experienced violence,” the study says. “Researchers, platforms and moderators can learn from work addressing psychological distress among similar volunteer groups to craft interventions that support VCMs.” 

Schöpke-Gonzalez’s research focuses on how computational social science research processes can avoid perpetuating social harms. “For example, what steps can computational social science research take to mitigate the risk of facial recognition algorithms’ use in law enforcement leading to wrongful detentions like that of Michigander Robert Julian-Borchak Williams in 2020?” asks Schöpke-Gonzalez.

Schöpke-Gonzalez is working on her dissertation with UMSI associate professor Libby Hemphill. This study was co-authored by Hemphill, PhD candidate Shubham Atreja, former graduate research assistant Han Na Shin and former UMSI research assistant Najmin Ahmed

Schöpke-Gonzalez is also a choreographer and performer, and before starting at UMSI, she worked in international and domestic politics. She came to UMSI to study how larger systems like political systems or algorithms can better serve those individuals and small communities they intend to serve. 


Read “Why do volunteer content moderators quit? Burnout, conflict, and harmful behaviors” at New Media and Society.

Read more about Schöpke-Gonzalez’s at UMSI and her personal website


Noor Hindi, UMSI public relations specialist