“The moderatocracy lives on inside us all.”
July 21, 2015 12:21 PM   Subscribe

When the Internet’s ‘Moderators’ Are Anything But [New York Times] The title suggests a steward of civility and decency. But online, unpaid moderators can become a force for mayhem.
Let us begin with a toast to the unsung hero of the social-media age: the moderator. Slayer of Internet trolls! Extinguisher of flame wars! Bulwark against race hatred and child pornography! The Internet as we know it could not exist without moderators, constantly pruning back the wild undergrowth of human nature that proliferates there. Nearly every major commercial site with user content is policed by human moderators. Some are unpaid volunteers who agree to enforce administrators’ rules; others are outsourced workers in the Philippines who flag dirty pictures posted to social media, or domestic employees who delete libelous comments. If you want to see what the Internet looks like without moderators … well, I’m not even going to tell you where to go, because we’d all be raided by the F.B.I. Let’s just say it’s immoderate.
posted by Fizz (60 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
First!
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:24 PM on July 21, 2015 [37 favorites]


Let’s just say it’s immoderate.

I see what you did there.
posted by Fizz at 12:29 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is where I get to be the first to praise the moderation here at MetaFilter... and get my comment deleted for it, right?
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:29 PM on July 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


There is nothing moderate about holding the 10th-most-visited website in America hostage over a personnel change. How could a site’s moderators turn into its main source of volatility?

Setting aside the complete misrepresentation of both the timeline and of the legitimate objections of moderators (e.g. give us more tools to help us run the site better!) Is the author seriously proposing that, because people moderate discussion threads, they must therefore be moderate in all things?
posted by leotrotsky at 12:31 PM on July 21, 2015 [20 favorites]


So I have this axe here. It sure could use a grinding...
posted by effugas at 12:36 PM on July 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


The moderator class has become so detached from its mediating role at Reddit that it no longer functions as a means of creating a harmonious community, let alone a profitable business. It has become an end in itself — a sort of moderatocracy in which the underlying logic of moderation has been turned on its head.

I just, this is so, not even wrong. Where does the NY Times find these people?
posted by leotrotsky at 12:37 PM on July 21, 2015 [16 favorites]


Plastic.com
posted by y2karl at 12:46 PM on July 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


WWJD?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:48 PM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


From the NY Times comments:

This piece conflates two independent issues: 1) banning hate subs and, 2) the reddit moderator revolt.

Banning hate subs resulted in an argument about how companies regulate online speech and much of the vitriolic comment towards Ms. Pao.

The moderator revolt resulted in a shut down due to years long dispute with the company about promises to improve moderation tools and resources which were continually broken.

I'm not sure why this is published when there's a glaring issue with factual accuracy.


Yep. It's funny because the print media has their own form of gatekeeper/moderators, Fact checkers and editors. I suppose because this is an opinion piece the standards are a bit different (lower)?
posted by leotrotsky at 12:49 PM on July 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


Modocrats.
posted by jamjam at 12:50 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think you mean: The Modocrats!
posted by the bricabrac man at 12:51 PM on July 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


The author is Adrian Chen, formerly of Gawker. Previously
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 12:52 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Where does the NY Times find these people?

This is Adrian Chen. He's had an ax to grind at Reddit for a long time.
posted by zabuni at 12:52 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Although unpaid, the moderators of Ask Me Anything approach their task more seriously than many people do their day jobs.
Sure, they're all too busy browsing web fora.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:56 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Has the author of this ever been on the internet? Do they understand how an online community/forum works, and the role of the moderator in it? Because claiming the moderators behaved immoderately in shutting down Reddit (when Reddit admins could have reopened all the subreddits whenever they wanted to) completely ignores/misunderstands the power relationship between the volunteers who run a community on their own time and the people who have, you know, the actual keys to the entire infrastructure that those communities depend on.
posted by nubs at 12:57 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sure, they're all too busy browsing web fora.

i think you mean web trilbies.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:58 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Force for mayhem." Great moderator name!
posted by No Robots at 12:59 PM on July 21, 2015


I suppose because this is the New York Times an opinion piece the standards are a bit different (lower)?
posted by Fizz at 1:07 PM on July 21, 2015


the man of twists and turns: "WWJD?"

Let's be all egalitarian up in here... WWJ/CD?

(Hope no feelings are hurt by the choice of only two people. Not in the mood to run it out to the ludicrous extreme end today.)
posted by Samizdata at 1:18 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just, this is so, not even wrong. Where does the NY Times find these people?

The same place they got Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman and David Brooks for the op-ed page, presumably. They must get them in bulk.
posted by Gelatin at 1:21 PM on July 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


The same place they got Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman and David Brooks for the op-ed page, presumably.

I'm assuming that slitting open a fleshy, bioluminescent pod that mysteriously appeared during the night was involved
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:23 PM on July 21, 2015 [20 favorites]


Gelatin: "I just, this is so, not even wrong. Where does the NY Times find these people?

The same place they got Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman and David Brooks for the op-ed page, presumably. They must get them in bulk.
"

I just figured each was $20.

You know, the same as in town...
posted by Samizdata at 1:24 PM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh man, this reminds me of some of my favorite Internet drama. Back on LiveJournal, the mods of important niche communities would build up little fifedoms and they could be usurped in various ways. It was awesome.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:25 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anyway, I wished that this article was about stuff like that but turns out that it's a weird reddit thing

O well
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:29 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Eh, let them click Dig.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:38 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


You've got to admit, once you think about it, being an unpaid moderator is a bit weird.

It's one thing if it's a small forum for a cause you care about, but what's in it for you when the group you're moderating doesn't like you (or at least has a loud, annoying contingent that makes your life less than awesome) and the company who owns the site is clearly doing whatever it can to make as much money from your free labors as possible, without even giving you good technical tools, most of the time?
posted by maxwelton at 1:39 PM on July 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


maxwelton, that's the problem at the crux of this for Reddit, I think. The model depends on the passion of the moderators for their community/topic to keep things running. But that passion can disappear in a hurry when the volunteers don't feel supported, heard, or involved.

It would be one thing if Reddit was a platform that someone could take and set up for their community and in effect be the admin as well as the moderator. But right now, the moderators have to deal with policy and procedures that they are not part of developing, and then it seems they are not given the tools or support necessary to do the job.
posted by nubs at 1:53 PM on July 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


The closing paragraph makes a big leap between moderation on Reddit and 'flagging' type systems on Twitter and Facebook. Flagging on twitter is fundamentally the same as here (as far as I know) -- paid employees look at things that are flagged and decide what to do with them. This is far different from the user communities that are a part of Reddit, that are independently "governed", in a sense, and often have little interaction with the people who are actually running the website. The balance between freely available online communities, companies taking advantage of volunteer 'fan' labor, and speech issues is an interesting one, but I don't think this article really focuses on anything substantive.
posted by demiurge at 1:54 PM on July 21, 2015


This article from the Daily Beast sums up the difficulties with the model really well.

"The Web 2.0 dream has always been to outsource all of the hard jobs to your users—that unpaid enthusiasts will do all the work of creating your content, curating your content, and promoting your content out of love, and all you have to do is pay some techies to keep the lights on.

Reddit is built on this premise."
posted by nubs at 2:10 PM on July 21, 2015 [22 favorites]


On a site as large as Reddit, how is unpaid moderating anything other than a form of corporate welfare? The only reason Reddit mods put in the time is because power is fun, and if Reddit dilutes their power, a major incentive to keep volunteering has been eliminated. What incentive will Reddit replace it with, free t shirts? This problem isn't going away anytime soon.
posted by Beholder at 2:55 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The thing that's not understood well is that the reason reddit never had elaborate moderation tools was the same overall philosophy of lightweight control. Reddit's original appeal was the idea of the users generating, sharing, and controlling content. The idea of a sub managed top-down by volunteers was subordinate to the primary control of the reddit voting algorithm.

What this means is when the mods complain about "not enough good tools", they fail to see that this statement comes out of certain assumptions about the philosophy and direction of reddit as implied by the values held by these moderators. Tools have no meaning in and of themselves, so the conversation is a dead end unless it graduates to the social implications of particular tool use. And of course when it's made clear that this is really a political problem and is best engaged on these terms—the values of the owners/staff versus the values of moderators on reddit versus the values of the users—predictably the mods shy away from this, no differently than the other classes of participants.

In other words, if you were a perceptive reddit moderator you would have already realized you were never supposed spend much time and energy on your part. It's apparent from the structure of the site. Yet why do so many subreddits and moderators behave the exact opposite, constructing these little social empires that nevertheless rest on the thin substrate that is reddit's infrastructure? Because power, i.e., the seduction of social capital.
posted by polymodus at 2:56 PM on July 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Because power, i.e., the seduction of social capital.

I think it also has something to do with preventing their subreddit from becoming a hate site.
posted by maxsparber at 3:10 PM on July 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think that's a bit of an uncharitable reading of the moderators, polymodus. Some of them are in it for the "power", sure, but I think there are plenty of others who did it because of genuine interest/passion for the topic, and are now dealing with a busier, nosier, more complex environment that requires better tools. And they also may just want to keep the shit out.
posted by nubs at 3:11 PM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


The same place they got Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman and David Brooks for the op-ed page, presumably. They must get them in bulk.

It's a joke but there's a difference. Those guys are paid columnists - editorial columnists. Chen is a freelancer who submitted a thing to the op-eds. Anyone can submit. The standards are different for submitted op-eds, which are soapboxes provided for pointed rants by a mixed bag of contributors, but still, I agree they should have had him clarify the issue.

This other piece he wrote is interesting.
posted by Miko at 3:34 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Because power, i.e., the seduction of social capital.

I'm a moderator on Reddit. I don't feel much "seduction of social capital"; most of my moderation is done in quiet, and people often don't know I'm a moderator unless they actually pay attention to the sidebar. I deliberately use a different username over there as well, so that people don't know it's me.

I do it for one primary reason: Because I was asked to, and because I like the subreddit and don't mind helping out. The only "power" I really enjoy is the power to influence moderator decisions w.r.t. content, because I have an idea of what makes the subreddit better and what makes it worse.

I think you might have to cynically classify most human interactions as power-seeking or self-serving to group all moderators' motivations together like that.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:42 PM on July 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


People become moderators for the same reason they fix up their houses, clean the office coffee station, go to church, or donate to Greenpeace - because they want to be part of something good that's bigger than themselves. To contribute in some way to a cause they find worthy, or even just entertaining.

Reddit has grown to the size it is now in large part because it's been ignored by the people who own the site. Instead of making disastrous changes (ala Digg) they've mostly neglected it and left the enthusiasts alone to build their shared kingdoms. I think this could've continued (and no doubt will continue) for some time yet, with the mods making do with their jerry-rigged software and barely controlled chaos, but the owners made two problematic changes. First they introduced a couple of staff members who actually helped the people who use the site, and then they took them away. If they had never hired those people, or never fired them, there would've been no problem. But doing both things incited a revolt.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:56 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


A buddy of mine is the creator and moderator of r/horrorpunk. He does it because he loves horrorpunk and the Misfits and it lets him provide a place to discuss it and plug stuff that one might be doing that fits into that. I would never, ever describe his actions as power-seeking.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:57 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure why this is published when there's a glaring issue with factual accuracy.

I'm not sure there is, but maybe someone can describe the problem more clearly. I think this might be an example of someone who's taking a zoomed-out view so they can offer an analysis of a big phenomenon, versus people who are in the weeds and see the details as completely different because they are concerned with the nuance. I could be wrong but would appreciate knowing how. He's pointing out an issue with an economic model which of course intersects with ideas of empowerment, and doesn't seem all that off base to me.
posted by Miko at 5:00 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


you would have already realized you were never supposed spend much time and energy on your part.

This is my confusion about the Reddit model as well. I thought it was all about upvoting/downvoting being the moderation. Everyone's a distributed moderator. Spam, vile, and offtopic shit should get downvoted. If it doesn't, that's the community saying they don't care; it's allowed.

I swear that's what it was like when I first had a Reddit account and it was a brand new thing. No moderators, just topics of the sub, which functioned more as predictions about what would likely get upvoted or downvoted. I could be misremembering that.

It seems like actual official moderators break the whole premise of the site, no?
posted by ctmf at 5:04 PM on July 21, 2015


Hell, remove the moderators' power completely. Remove the rule against vote manipulation and brigading. Let them start a moderator sub where they coordinate trying to mass-downvote the stuff they don't like, with only the same vote everyone else gets. Vote gangs and cartels will evolve. Want your post to stick around? Guess you better get to know the right people. Eventually bots will control everything and whoever can bring the most computing power calls the shots... for a time, but it will be unstable because internal drama will eventually cause a split and the whole thing will start all over again. A huge chunk of the world's computing power will be going to reddit vote-bots.

That was the original premise, right? Quit propping it up; I want to see the inevitable conclusion of this libertarian paradise.
posted by ctmf at 5:22 PM on July 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


I find your ideas intriguing and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:26 PM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: turns out that it's a weird reddit thing
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:31 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


internet fraud detective squad, station number 9: Back on LiveJournal, the mods of important niche communities would build up little fifedoms

I don't care if you meant fiefdoms; the mental image of a crazed moderator presiding over their own little world while furiously tooting away on a fife is deeply satisfying.
posted by dr_dank at 5:55 PM on July 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


Want your post to stick around? Guess you better get to know the right people.

And who are you going to cry 'censorship' to then? Not my fault you didn't have the money to buy millions of upvotes per second to keep it visible.
posted by ctmf at 6:01 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


And that's where Reddit makes their money. Posting is free, but charge a fraction of a penny per vote and let the bot gangs feed in the money. In theory, the casual user could go a long way on $5 and the monetary cost would discourage frivolous organized campaigns by armies of sockpuppets.
posted by ctmf at 6:57 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do it for one primary reason: Because I was asked to,

Hmm, I don't know, that sort of exactly is evidence for my point. You did it because "you were asked to", and apparently that's that. This narrative termination is typical of redditors' political attitudes.

I'm a long-time user on reddit, so my statements about it are made on the basis of observing its demographic change over time.

For example, one has to answer the next questions: who asked you to do this? Why? Just think through the incentives for a moment.

There's a big difference between cynicism and critical skepticism. The only thing I would accuse today's redditors of in general is their relative inability to think deeply and reflexively (meaning, if you invited an average redditor to read mefi, what do you think their reaction would be? That's what I'm referring to). I'm not the first person on metafilter to point out something about the demographic, and the exercise is not to judge (moralize upon) a demographic, but to state that it is a real difference.
posted by polymodus at 8:07 PM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


The only "power" I really enjoy is the power to influence moderator decisions w.r.t. content, because I have an idea of what makes the subreddit better and what makes it worse.

And don't even get me started on this one.
posted by polymodus at 8:11 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


dr_dank: "internet fraud detective squad, station number 9: Back on LiveJournal, the mods of important niche communities would build up little fifedoms

I don't care if you meant fiefdoms; the mental image of a crazed moderator presiding over their own little world while furiously tooting away on a fife is deeply satisfying.
"

I'm seeing a uniformed Don Knotts goggling at a keyboard here.
posted by Samizdata at 8:39 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Stay outta mah fifedom m playin mah fife
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:44 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


What Would Jessamyn Have Deleted?
posted by ostranenie at 9:54 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I would never, ever describe his actions as power-seeking

Unless you count seeking the raw, decimating power of horror punk as power-seeking. MOMMEH CAN I GO OUT AND... KILL TONIGHT?!
posted by ostranenie at 9:57 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, polymodus - I'm not sure if you realize how condescending you're being. "This narrative termination is typical of redditor's political attitudes," seriously? Then you tell me that I "must" answer the question of incentives, like the concept of self-reflection has never occurred to me before. It's a little offensive.

TBH, this strikes me more as you attempting to preserve your own narrative, and that's that.

And don't even get me started on this one.

I don't much like it when academic discussion is hijacked by people who reflexively reject all viewpoints that could possibly be interpreted is feminist, it's true. I think this makes the subreddit worse.

As the only female moderator, I also think that I can bring some perspective to a group of all-male moderators who, while on the whole are sympathetic to the problem, do not have the same experiences as I do.

Yes, any desire to influence the world is power-seeking, in a literal sense. Okay. Well in that case power-seeking isn't always a bad thing and it's kind of a strange assesment to focus on!
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:58 AM on July 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Unless you count seeking the raw, decimating power of horror punk as power-seeking. MOMMEH CAN I GO OUT AND... KILL TONIGHT?!

The only thing he uses it for is to get people's skulls, so I'm not too worried...
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:46 AM on July 22, 2015


And that's where Reddit makes their money. Posting is free, but charge a fraction of a penny per vote and let the bot gangs feed in the money. In theory, the casual user could go a long way on $5 and the monetary cost would discourage frivolous organized campaigns by armies of sockpuppets.

No, you'd need to give each user a number of free votes, call it 15 per week, otherwise it'd be swamped with paid content upvoting.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:25 AM on July 22, 2015


It's worth pointing out that some of the most successful subreddits, such as /r/AskScience, just couldn't exist without a lot of top-down moderation. Reddit might not have intended for there to be communities like this at the outset - but they're there now, and Reddit is profiting from and even promoting them. It's not as though this is a change that Reddit has opposed. The site has evolved into a more general hosting platform.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:48 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Welcome to my fifedom 🎺🎶🎶🎶🎼🎼🎶🎼🎶🎼
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:36 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, polymodus - I'm not sure if you realize how condescending you're being. "This narrative termination is typical of redditor's political attitudes," seriously? Then you tell me that I "must" answer the question of incentives, like the concept of self-reflection has never occurred to me before. It's a little offensive.

Yes, seriously, "This narrative termination is typical of redditor's political attitudes" is either true or it isn't. How many people have either witnessed or experienced an argument in which a redditor makes an appeal to social norms ("this is the way it is, if you don't like it go find another sub"), or compartmentalization ("this is what this sub/topic is "about", if you don't like it, too bad"), or selective authoritarianism ("this sub is not a democracy [actual quote, that I've seen at least twice], if you dissent with the mods' views you are wrong and will be downvoted"). What happens is when redditors argue ostensibly relying on these habits of thought, you don't get a debate but instead a semblance of intellectual discussion. You get, for example, people who earnestly believe r/science represents the "academic". Personally I find the prevailing attitudes frustrating and discouraging.

So it is not condescending to point out my personal experience in having used the site for a long time and see the prevailing attitudes change. I think it would be valuable for more people to hear about it—and predictably people don't want to hear it because it threatens their personal ideology or identity, making them uncomfortable no matter how I couch my terms. I can understand that. But redditors don't get to deem what is offensive, if I also as a reddit user has already been continually "offended" by problematic discourse on that site and had to endure the unpleasantries in without being heard for so long.

But to reiterate, I never tried to make this an issue of taking offense. Who would deny that a young, suburban white male demographic would generate its own political values on a communication platform, and that certain real social consequences fall from this dynamic? It's either true or it isn't, and to interpret this conceptual issue as me being condescending, or implicitly making a personal attack, is a distraction from what I actually, literally, stated earlier.

The complementary proposition is that reddit the algorithm-driven internet platform tends to encourage certain political values and ways of thinking—for example, "reddiquette" virtually exists to be disregarded in a hegemonic way. Put together, to deny that a system plus its users reproduce certain undesirable—undesirable as evaluated from outside reddit and also from within certain niches of reddit, which do exist—intellectual habits is what's precisely it's own hypocrisy; this is beyond issues of offense but about social phenomena in general.
posted by polymodus at 2:17 PM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, any desire to influence the world is power-seeking, in a literal sense. Okay. Well in that case power-seeking isn't always a bad thing and it's kind of a strange assesment to focus on!

There is a world of difference between people seeking empowerment, and an organization that exploits the basic human need for empowerment to its own political ends. There's nothing strange about this distinction, yet what's funny is people demonstrate a need to be constantly reminded about it (actually, redditors are pretty good about that, in part due to reddit's current neoliberal/libertarian bias as a media platform).
posted by polymodus at 2:31 PM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I’m not even going to tell you where to go, because we’d all be raided by the F.B.I.

Yeah, you go on ahead and get raided alone. We don't all need to take the fall for you.
posted by OwlBoy at 3:12 PM on July 22, 2015




« Older Comicbook confidential   |   "The Fate of the World in the Hands of a Dame!" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments