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Online mod­er­a­tors suck. We’ve all expe­ri­enced arbi­trary dele­tions, woe­ful­ly uneven enforce­ment of polices, and mods who are just plain rag­ing cunts. But why do they suck such a moul­der­ing bag of dicks? What is it about being a mod­er­a­tor, or the type of per­son who is attract­ed to being a mod­er­a­tor, that makes some so unsuit­ed to man­age peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties?

Mods are more often than not just the peo­ple who were around at the time, and had enough free time to burn mon­i­tor­ing a forum or com­ments sec­tion in any capac­i­ty. The oth­er ways I’ve seen absolute­ly awful mods be appoint­ed is through friend­ships and ass-kissing. Quite often, the peo­ple who have a large por­tion of their day to spend san­i­tiz­ing oth­er people’s posts have very lit­tle else in their lives and very few oth­er social out­lets. I’ve seen break­downs in the vein of “This web­site is all I have” when mod­er­a­tion posi­tions are stripped.

mod insert 1For peo­ple who are deeply invest­ed, online com­mu­ni­ties can be ugly lit­tle social pres­sure cook­ers full of grudges and egos. In the worst places, who gets the mod posi­tion is less a mat­ter of who is capa­ble of doing the job and more about putting a stamp of approval on cer­tain com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers who best toe the line and kiss the ass. Once you get a peek behind the sce­nes in a com­mu­ni­ty it can be dis­tress­ing to watch; there is a lot of dra­ma and bick­er­ing in mod­er­a­tor groups as peo­ple jostles for a big­ger slice of the tiny sliv­er of influ­ence they are given.

Almost all mod­er­a­tors are unpaid, so why do they do it? Mods often paint them­selves as the self­less ide­al of the inter­net; the thin blue line between chaos and the ever present boo­gie­man of “trolls.” In actu­al­i­ty they do the job for pure­ly self­ish rea­sons. It enables them to shape a small cor­ner of the inter­net to their will, and cru­cial­ly it gives them a degree of pow­er over oth­er peo­ple. The type of per­son nat­u­ral­ly attract­ed to being a mod­er­a­tor is often the worst suit­ed to doing the job in a way that serves the com­mu­ni­ty. Being a mod­er­a­tor, espe­cial­ly on a plat­form like Reddit, is the only mod­icum of pow­er the­se peo­ple will receive over oth­ers.

You can tell the mea­sure of a per­son by what hap­pens when they gain a taste of pow­er — even illu­sion­ary pow­er. We’ve all met the forum mod who thinks they’re hot-shit — the wield­er of the Ban Hammer. They mythol­o­gize them­selves and slap down any­one who points out how ridicu­lous they look with their lit­tle paper crowns and demands of def­er­ence. This is the error of putting vol­un­teers in a posi­tion of pow­er who may have very lit­tle respon­si­bil­i­ty and con­trol in their own lives. They become tiny dic­ta­tors of their own grub­by lit­tle fief­dom, even if they start­ed with the best of inten­tions.

Some peo­ple sim­ply don’t have the tem­pera­ment to be a mod­er­a­tor; a decent mod­er­a­tor who has enough spare time to reg­u­lar­ly be online to enforce the rules fair­ly is an extreme rar­i­ty. If you have a good enough skill set in that area then you’re going to be busy get­ting paid to man­age peo­ple. Balanced peo­ple with decent tem­pera­ment sim­ply don’t want to sit on an inter­net forum all day. The peo­ple best suit­ed to being mod­er­a­tors tend to have the least time for it. So we get the pow­er hun­gry inter­net tough guys instead more oft than not.

Using your lit­tle dig­i­tal shit­pile as the source of your ego makes you an incred­i­bly pathet­ic per­son. I cringe to the core of my soul when I see a mod­er­a­tor preen and sneer after ban­ning some­one like they just part­ed the Red Sea. Go warm up anoth­er Hot-Pocket and pre­pare your glo­ri­ous forum mop for anoth­er unpaid day of clean­ing the shit and graf­fi­ti from the toi­let wall of the inter­net. Who knows, you might get to cen­sor anoth­er “harm­ful opin­ion” from sur­fac­ing on your forum. We can’t have the low­ly users dis­agree­ing with you.

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In some places the mods have turned their jan­i­to­ri­al duties into a divine mis­sion. Some sub­red­dits on Reddit put up warn­ings with bor­der­line bib­li­cal lan­guage. They pon­tif­i­cate from the stick­ies about “hate speech” and “prob­lem­at­ic words” like they are heresy again­st estab­lished dog­ma. Heretics are cast out and excom­mu­ni­cat­ed for their thought crimes. They take up their posi­tions in the delu­sion they can be “trans­for­ma­tive peo­ple” They often real­ly think they are chang­ing the world.

As we saw in the var­i­ous rounds of Mod Talk Leaks, the high­er up mods are in the peck­ing order the more they seem to have a com­plete dis­re­gard for their users and a decep­tive approach to mod­er­a­tion, giv­ing rea­sons for dele­tions and bans they know are bull­shit. Here the mod­er­a­tor fief­dom men­tal­i­ty extends to out­right attack­ing users or fel­low mods who break with the group­think, going as far as to pub­lish per­son­al infor­ma­tion.

There is anoth­er self­ish moti­vat­ing fac­tor for mods on higher-profile plat­forms; cold hard cash. Reddit mods have been known to take bribes, and in the case of the now more con­trite and reflec­tive Ian Miles Cheong, out­right sell his influ­ence. Our inter­view with Cheong was a can­did and fas­ci­nat­ing insight into how mod­er­a­tors can eas­i­ly get into a posi­tion to arti­fi­cial­ly influ­ence what we see for their per­son­al gain:

Concerning red­dit, while I served as a mod­er­a­tor on front­page sub­red­dits, I sub­mit­ted and pro­mot­ed arti­cles for var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions for pay. It was very uneth­i­cal of me to do so and I’d like to apol­o­gize […]”

On a large enough plat­form, the temp­ta­tion will always be there to sell that tiny bit of pow­er that’s been bestowed upon you.

Thin-skinned con­tent cre­ators also over-moderate their own com­ments sec­tions, their frag­ile egos unable to take crit­i­cism. Giving pow­er of mod­er­a­tion to some­one who treats their writ­ing like their baby is a ter­ri­ble idea, it ends up with the shut­ting out of real­i­ty. No one can look at their own work objec­tive­ly, and trust­ing peo­ple not to delete neg­a­tive posts is naïve.

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I’m a fan of light touch mod­er­a­tion, and try­ing to lim­it mod­er­a­tion to as lit­tle as pos­si­ble. If a forum is explic­it­ly labelled for adults then there shouldn’t be much con­tent off the table as long as it sticks with­in legal bounds. A large part of increased polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness and the clamp­ing down on major forums and social media plat­forms is due to adver­tis­er con­cerns. Money, not decen­cy, is the biggest moti­vat­ing fac­tor behind how pol­i­cy is for­mu­lat­ed the­se days.

I see a lot of posts thank­ing the mods made by web­site admins or com­mu­ni­ty man­agers even when they’ve been doing a ter­ri­ble job. The dirty lit­tle secret is pow­er hun­gry mods are only bare­ly tol­er­at­ed. “Bad mod­er­a­tion is bet­ter than no mod­er­a­tion” is the ethos in many places where the mod­er­a­tors are active­ly run­ning off users. After all, who else would be will­ing to under­take unpaid jan­i­to­ri­al work on behalf of a site?

Communities and forums are incred­i­bly impor­tant to the traf­fic and appeal of many gam­ing web­sites and emerg­ing plat­forms. Everyone wants a healthy com­mu­ni­ty, but no one wants to put the effort into mak­ing one. The easy route is to hand over the keys to a bunch of self-appointed busy-bodies. Worse still, many mods serve as use­ful idiots to inter­ests of the sites own­er or adver­tis­ers. I know many online spaces have asinine rules only put there to assuage the fears of a speci­fic type of adver­tis­er.

Pure mod­er­a­tors ulti­mate­ly have no pow­er. They have no use­ful­ness to the site apart from being its vol­un­teer enforce­ment arm. They can’t act again­st the inter­ests of the admin­is­ters and own­ers in any way; their influ­ence above an ordi­nary user is very lit­tle. Their rela­tion­ship is asym­met­ri­cal. The mods do all the work and have none of the pow­er.

So hang the mod­er­a­tors, they are nei­ther spe­cial nor pos­sess any skill set above the aver­age user. After all, they do it for free. On the inter­net. They don’t even get hot-pockets. They do it FOR FREE.

John_Morris SweeneyOpinionOpinion,Shouting into the VoidOnline mod­er­a­tors suck. We’ve all expe­ri­enced arbi­trary dele­tions, woe­ful­ly uneven enforce­ment of polices, and mods who are just plain rag­ing cunts. But why do they suck such a moul­der­ing bag of dicks? What is it about being a mod­er­a­tor, or the type of per­son who is attract­ed to being…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.