Redditors with absolute powers

For the past few years, I've been conducting an experiment. It began unconsciously, simply because my obstinate character has sparked conflict. (I'm trying to defuse this tendency.) However, I've continued because I realized what was happening to me was unfair, and the problem was bigger than me. In the absence of external limitations, I wanted to see how much of a reason people need to indulge their power in unfair ways.

I'm talking about Reddit moderators. Though their power is a despot in a teapot, these are as close to "divine beings" with absolute power as we have. Even police officers – who in the US can kill people at random, or throw flash grenades into children's cribs – even they face inconvenience. They might hear a reprimand from their boss, their department might face a lawsuit, there may be media attention. There might even be a grand jury, though almost never an indictment.

In a virtual community though, there are no consequences for a mod, and a permanent ban is as close as it gets to death. Moderators give them out liberally. The bans can be bypassed: you can create a new account, but doing this with a purpose to bypass a ban violates terms of service, and can lead to a site-wide ban. While violating terms is not a crime, bypassing technical barriers might be.

In addition to that, I like my existing account. Therefore, I don't bypass bans.

... but I do not avoid them either.

My experiment, such as it is, consists of how many bans I can collect by simply going about my ways, communicating like a reasonable – but sometimes passionate – person. One goal is to see just how much of the site I can continue to use if I keep this up for, say, 10 years.

The unwise things I do are a bit Rorschach-like:
  • I respond to moderators when I disagree with their actions or opinions.
  • I do not go out of my way to supplicate in responses to moderators.
  • I try to treat moderators as equals, hoping they will treat me the same.
I annoyingly stand up for something when I'm powerless, and leave myself at their mercy. For the mod, this is a test whether they will follow objective reasons (did I do something ban-worthy?) or subjective (I'm being annoying).

They virtually always follow subjective logic. The outcome is a ban, and an excuse that makes it sound objective.

So far I've been banned by the following subreddits:

SubredditReason

/r/polyamory

Disagreement with another poster in comments led to harsh words. Mod gave out a warning expecting submission. I defended myself. Permanently banned.

/r/wow

I stated a non-aggressive opinion about an aspect of World of Warcraft. Another person attacked me for it. I responded in kind. Permanently banned by an abusive mod with no warning.

When I complained about the ban, I was taunted by the mod in private messages of the form: "Aww, show me on this doll where the bad mod hurt you."

At some point, this mod had been removed from /r/wow. In an exchange about a year after the ban, the mod freely admitted sadistic motivations are normal for her.

Also about that time, a main mod offered to unban me. The offer was conditional on a statement of submission, i.e. unequal groveling. I respectfully declined. I remain banned therefore.

/r/cpp

I expressed a negative opinion of the GCC C++ compiler. Another commenter somewhat savagely attacked me for it. I responded in similar measure. Permanently banned with no mod warning.

/r/SoulNexus

A small subreddit inhabited by funky "spiritual" types. One of the moderators expressed an opinion which was particularly unreasonable. I engaged in disagreement. After some back and forth, she flashed her moderator credentials. I did not withdraw disagreement. Permanently banned.

Raised issue with other mods. They did not try to be impartial and responded like a clique. I had to block them individually because they kept harassing me in private messages.

/r/explainlikeimfive

I posted a topic to ask what prevents US phone companies from blocking scam calls from faked numbers which are common in the US. Unlike in other countries I've lived, in the US, multiple scam calls per day are usual. Mod #1 removed my topic claiming "it's not the phone company's job" and claiming my question is loaded. I was confused by this and wrote to mods about the removal. Received a private response from Mod #2 who suggested I post a reworded topic. I made my best effort to reword. Both topics were upvoted by subreddit participants. I disagreed with Mod #1.

Permanently banned by Mod #1 for bypassing removal (even though my second post was on suggestion of Mod #2). I wrote to mod team pointing out unfair ban. Was offered opportunities to show unconditional submission. I gave deference to their views (it's their subreddit, I respect their interpretation of their rules), but I argued reasonably without groveling. Ban upheld.

I've had other exchanges with moderators in other subreddits which did not result in such bans. I post many comments; I can't imagine the number of times a moderator might have read and disagreed, but did not ban me because they wield their powers appropriately. I disagreed with moderators directly in /r/AskHistorians, or in /r/slatestarcodex, and this did not result in a ban.

So it's not that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Instead, absolute power offers a choice:
  • One can be aware of one's power to harm other people while being numb to their pain. One therefore serves the community and restrains use of power to what is necessary. Do not punish disagreement. Judge dispassionately. Do not mix mod credentials and personal opinions. Follow procedure. Offer a warning before a ban.

  • One can exploit being numb to other people's pain and simply use power to serve oneself.

More often than not, if you see a moderator expressing a personal opinion while wearing a mod hat; if you see someone flashing their mod credentials in a disagreement; they are the second type of person. They're going to use their power to serve themselves. At this point, there are three things you can do:
  1. Supplicate and submit. The person may use language such as "rules" and "community", but what they're really after is for you to make them feel right. You can do that and be on their good side. However, it enables them.

  2. Disengage. I do not mean reply in a way that shows you're disengaging. Any little peep from you that is not groveling and submission will result in a ban. If you do not reply at all, you can postpone this until the next time the mod disagrees with you on something. This is a lesser form of enabling.

  3. Respond in a way where you do not grovel and submit. This results in a ban. However, it does not enable.

When this is done by police officers, the only good option, ever, is to grovel and submit. But when it comes to virtual monarchs, the cost of not enabling them is comparatively lesser. I will therefore likely continue to incur this cost and, perhaps, report on the results. :)

Comments

go1dfish said…
You might be interested in an alternative I'm building at https://notabug.io
denis bider said…
It's a good initiative, but when the main problem is human behavior when given power, any successful solution needs to involve some type of system for restraining mods, or completely getting rid of the mods but still having moderation. I can think of two approaches:

1. Don't permit subreddits with fewer than 5 mods. This isn't too high a threshold; you can't form a guild in World of Warcraft without multiple signatures, either. Then, instead of each mod being able to act alone, require any removal or ban to be voted upon by 3 or more mods, and they have to be unanimous. A single mod's veto is enough for removal or ban to not be effective.

2. Don't have mods at all. Instead let users do the modding through a mechanism similar to upvotes and downvotes, but apply high thresholds for mod actions (e.g. to ban a user, 80% must vote to do so). This is susceptible to brigading though.
Brian Akers said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Akers said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Akers said…
(sorry bout the deletions) This is an important topic - thanks for you blog. I recently discovered a 'brave new' m.o. in mod censorship at reddit - that goes far beyond bannings, deletions and other forms of such - to which I've been 'treated' previously.

In the past - whenever some dark axe of censorship has fallen upon anything I've had the temerity to say - I've always been able to see whatever I said that was just too much (for whatever mod whim to tolerate) - if not at the thread where I'd posted whatever, then at my own 'doctorlao' user page at least.

But never before have I had a post I left in some subreddit disappear - even from my own user page without a trace - along with the listing of the thread title itself (in which I'd posted it) from the main page of the subreddit, where threads are listed.

Apparently, at the 'terence mckenna realm' (r/terencemckenna) - SEO is being disenabled, in order to prevent anyone from ever being able to find whatever thread requires - a more complete kind of disappearance than mere banning "in sunshine or in shadow" can accomplish.

Here - http://archive.is/8a9PS - is a thread posted in Mar 2018, at reddit's 'terence mckenna realm' (r/terencemckenna) that has been more than merely censored or banned i.e. thrown in jail per reddit's 'customary and usual' - it's been DARK-WEBBED (as i might call it). To throw away the key so that nobody could ever retrieve it, or even find where it, as more deeply thoroughly - 'disappearanced'

Not only has the title ("A Terence McKenna inspired Quora article on Jordan B. Peterson’s book Maps of Meaning..") vanished without a trace from the subreddit's main page (where threads are listed): www.reddit.com/r/terencemckenna. It can no longer be found, even by search engine using key words like the thread title - give it a try ("seeing is believing") - A Terence McKenna inspired Quora article on Jordan B. Peterson’s book Maps of Meaning.

I can find this thread now only because, before it had chance to be 'vanishing' acted upon - I archived it against precisely such subterfuge. For some time, in context of studying post-psychedelic cultism I've noticed an escalating, deepening darkening trajectory of a rising tide of this .... stuff ... and accordingly have realized good purpose in acting before such censorship measures are deployed "above and beyond" the standard operating procedures of speech suppression, and discourse control - message management by whatever broadcasting authority.

Even using google with any number or combination of search words regardless how unique to my post at that r/terencemckenna kommunitary - I'd be completetly unable to find my own post ever again - except by having archived it against - more than just the 'customary and usual' burial (by 'ordinary' censorship) that leaves traces search engine can locate. "We can do better than that" now by sneak SEO crippling - anyone's ability to even find the page by internet search subverted, and let whoever wonder how that happened, unable to recover their own post - much less afford anyone else to read it.

Long story short - yeah. Keep up the good blog work. Even if, truth be told - based on everything I discover and detect 'in the mix" - II feel the 'devil of detail' for this reddit censorship mongering biz is a bit livelier - the problem for which it stands as one minor sample, and a mere example (as it were) - far more complex, nuanced and frankly uglier than is generally realized or recognized - especially by the usual advice column 'solutions' approach to discussion about it - where such discussion is actually allowed (!) - much less - tolerated!

Either way thanks and be cool or - as you prefer being.

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