Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Information Studies


Bryan Semaan


Asian American, Decolonization, Deliberation, Identity Work, Moderation, Pacific Islander

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Marginalized groups experience issues in managing their identities for a variety of reasons, and online spaces afford them the opportunity to make sense of and revise their intersectional identities. One such group is Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), who are at the receiving end of stereotypes that often manifest in inaccurate public perceptions. The dissertation consists of three empirical studies that disentangle how AAPIs construct and express their identity in online communities within Reddit.

The first study examines how users engage in an online community through a deliberation lens to understand the extent to which Reddit supports identity work as a deliberative process. Through a content analysis of 4,406 Reddit comments collected during the 2016 US Presidential Election, I discuss how the expression of identity, and thereby solidarity, in a politicized online setting may lead to a social movement.

The second study uncovers how moderators on Reddit shape the norms of their subreddit through the analytic lens of emotional labor. I conduct interviews with 21 moderators who facilitate identity work discourse in AAPI subreddits, present a thematic analysis of their moderation practices, offer recommendations for improving moderation in online communities centered around identity work, and discuss implications of emotional labor in the design of Reddit and similar platforms.

The third study examines marginalization through the analytic framework of decolonization, uncovering the threats and tactics that AAPI redditors encounter and employ to decolonize their collective identity. I find that moderators of AAPI subreddits develop collective resilience within their online communities by reclaiming space to confront brigade invasion, recording collective memory to circumvent systemic erasure, and revising cultural narratives to deconstruct colonial mentality. I discuss how algorithmic configurations within sociotechnical systems reaffirm existing hegemonic values and describe ways in which redditors may work toward resistance.

These three studies are woven together to uncover ways in which AAPIs negotiate collective action in the context of online identity work.


Open Access