I Survived /r/anarchism's ShitStorm of 2010 and I Didn't Even Get a Lousy T-Shirt.

the calm before the shit storm.
Image by dearsomeone via Flickr

Anyone looking in on the subreddit of anarchism, would think that all-out-war is breaking out. Call-outs from people against the mods and call-out from mods against each other. Reactionary downvote brigades and sarcastic trolls. Posts about rules and posts against rules. And all the sideline, statists, Men’s Rights Activists and (right-)libertarians having the schadenfreude of their life.

Obviously anarchism can’t work right?

Well yes it can, but before we go into that, let me present the history of these events in as much an objective way I can (I will try to put in some links later).

The origins.

Until one point, we had the unwritten policy of simply modding anyone who is a contributing member of the community. This had been setup by one of the early mods, joeldavis, and it was an interesting alternative to the classic oligarchical mod structures of most other subreddits. It wasn’t perfect but it was good. At this point, there was a general agreement that mod’s only rule was to prevent the spam filter from catching legitimate posts and to check each other’s power.

The Failsafe mod

Given the way that moderation was implemented, any mod could de-mod any other mod, which presented the threat that a malicious person might masquerade themselves as a contributing member long enough to get modded up, and then quickly de-mod everyone else and destroy the reddit. To avoid this, we decided to elect a failsafe moderator who would be the owner of the subreddit and could not be demodded in this way. The candidate was chosen to be Veganbikepunk, the original creator of the subreddit.

Then reddit changed the code so that latter mods could not de-mod their seniors. This made things safer but ultimately more hierarchical unfortunately. This is isn’t so much related but a reason to understand why things progressed the way they did.

Showing our feminist colours.

I don’t remember exactly how it started, but at one point we started modifying the header icon of the reddit to point out our solidarity with other movements, such as radical feminism or queer anarchism. This was opposed by very few mods (particularly a few who were leaning more towards the propertarian values) and quite a few subscribers of the subreddit. Discussions heated up on this issue but most of the regulars agreed that pointing out this solidarity is important.

Unwelcome elements

A few misogynistic and white-supremacy  advocates started appearing in the reddit and posting, well, misogynistic and white-supremacy shit. Many correlated this to the recent change of the header icon, particularly since many of those elements were posting especially against this change. As one mod put it (paraphrase), “feminism made the reactionaries come out of the woodwork.”

This led to outrage from many members of the reddit, who felt that this community should not tolerate such speech which was reinforcing oppression of marginalized classes. This was usually called the “No Platform” position. Many of the old school mods (including myself) suggested that the organic moderation of the community via voting on the comments and their posts was enough to counter such elements and no further action was needed.

Others posted that the organic moderation was subverted via external reactionary brigades1 and thus, stronger action was required to combat this phenomena and preserve /r/anarchism as an anarchist community.

The Banhammer falls.

As this dicussion was raging, a mod called bmoseley07 (who has since deleted his account) went ahead and banned one of the most egregious scum. A person called Zamato Elite. This is pretty much the point where all shit hit the fan. The ban was quickly reversed by other mods, only to be redone and undone again and again.

The mod discussion pretty much exploded, and two sides quickly formed an polarized in the debate. On one side was the argument that banning is not inherently authoritarian when it combats oppressive actions and speech and that /r/anarchism should be a safe space for oppressed classes. The other side was arguing that free speech is not inherently oppressive, and especially not when it can be countered with other means such as downvoting, and that the problem with those reactionary elements is transient and they will leave discouraged when their comments are consistently downvoted.

Disclaimer: I was on the latter group. At that point, I didn’t believe that the issue was as big as it was made out to be, and certainly not requiring a banhammer.

Things went pretty much downhill from here. Quickly other people were nominated for banning and some did it with very little input from others, further aggravating the other side, who then undid any changes. Insults from both sides were common with one side being labeled “vanguardists” and other being the “manarchists”. Meta discussions on mod abuses raged and many people started posting articles explain why moderation is not inherently authoritarian.

It’s important to note that while this was happening, no mod actually de-modded another one who opposed them. Many people who look in from the outside, think that this actually happened, but this is not true. Even the most radical elements of each camp avoided this.

Guidelining

As things seemed to be devolving into an all out mod-edit-wars, a few people tried to come up with some common ground solutions. The first such attempt was QueerCoup’s Banning Procedure, which was a draft that was continuously updated with input from the community. It didn’t treat banning as taboo, but it also stipulated that it must be the last course of action after all other options have been exhausted. It also required a lot of agreement from the mods and gave a chance to people being targeted to avoid it.

Unfortunately, since many still felt that banning was bad in all cases, this procedure didn’t gain much traction. Some opposed it out of principle. The mod wars continued.

Seeing this, dbzer0 (that is me, in case you forgot) drafted a different policy which basically took the events that were already happening and used them as a basis for a policy. This would allow people who could compromise just a little to work with each other in a more organic way and make mod actions resemble a more direct action.This was met with more support and with the unsaid consent of most mods, since hey, this policy just allowed them to do what they were doing anyway.

Speaking for myself, I had started to accept than banning might be acceptable in some circumstances, in order to preserve the inclusive space of /r/anarchism. I was still very much for free speech and (perma)banning only as a last resort, and against making /r/anarchism a safe space (i.e. a place where no opposing views are requested).

The Purge

As dbzer0’s guidelines started to get traction, the unthinkable happened. Someone de-modded everyone (we had upwards of 50 mods at that point), including themselves, and left veganbikepunk as the only moderator of /r/anarchism. This was quickly identified to be the user idonthack who used to be the most senior after VBP. idonthack was a vocal proponent of the no-banning policies and I assume he did it because the accepted rules seemed to be moving in the opposite direction. He never did account for himself on this (quite authoritarian) act, so I can’t really say much more about that.

This was since known as the Great Mod Purge of 2010. It frustrated both sides, including the only mod left, VBP, who quickly found himself to be the centre of attention.

At this point, I used this release from my “duties” to take a break from the drama in /r/anarchism and go do something relaxing. As such, my knowledge of the events following this, until the last week are a bit sketchy, so If I’m getting something wrong, please correct me.

The Bro-Trolls come, a Monarch Falls.

Even though VBP had stated that he was not going to take any action until a community decision on moderation was reached, he was the de-facto monarch of the sub. He also quickly banned two of the most egregious scum, Zamato Elite and Godspiral.

Around this time, a new reddit was created, pretty much by the pro-ban group of /r/anarchism. This was /r/anarchocommunism and from what I know, it was used as a launch group for a coordinated trolling assault on /r/anarchism. It wasn’t created for this reason, but this happened because of VBP “fatal” mistake.

He banned longtime.

Longtime was one of the most outspoken radical feminists of /r/anarchism. She routinely called out the casual sexism of many members and was particularly fond of using irony and sarcasm as weapons and turning the words of people against them. This had the effect of making her both receive a lot of flak by the people she assaulted in this way, and to also make her a sort of an icon for people fighting against accepted sexism in /r/anarchism. A favourite tactic of longtime was to write a comment in ALL CAPS and exaggerating the sexism or derailment in the comment she was replying to and thus shaming them into submission (imho good) or angering them enough to lash out (imho bad). This will become important in a sec.

After the mod purge, the efforts of the radical feminists were effectively countered. They could no do anything else except use the voting mechanism of reddit and their comments. For longtime, this further drove her to intensify her campaign of ALL CAPS (at this point she was making practically only ALL CAPS comments) as it was one of the few weapons left to their side, until more mods were added.

Unfortunately, VBP who had never been the most active redditor, was not aware of longtime’s style, so he saw one such ironically sexist comment and did a knee-jerk reaction, banning longtime. He was quickly explained the situation and reversed the ban within one hour, but the damage was already done. Longtime left in disgust and soon after deleted her account. This was the catalyst for the Bro-Troll brigade.

The Bro-Trolls were ironic names of historical male anarchists, where part of their name was replaced by “Bro” (“Bropotkin”, “Brahkunin” and so on) , thus signifying the “manarchism” in the politics of /r/anarchism. These people, apart from continuing in the proud tradition of longtime’s ALL CAP sarcastic sexism, started a systematic campaign against VBP. Unfortunately VBP reaction badly to it, quickly making some comments that were uncalled for (such as calling a member of the forum by their real name) and getting defensive.

While this was happening, QueerCoup  started drafting a modding policy, so we can get more mods on the reddit again and then start building the policies of the subreddit. Many others were at the same time requesting that no mods would be added and that we go completely unmoderated, but the rampart sexism that was rising up on the sub convinced many of us that such an option would be unacceptable for an inclusive space.

It was at this point that I started becoming more active again in the sub.

After about a week of harassment, and as the campaign against VBP escalated, he was asked to step down and so he did, leaving skobrin in his place. Frustratingly for many, skobrin wasn’t really active at that time so no further action was taken in the next few days, until he came back and modded dbzer0 and griffjam, who were some of the most supported mods in the new modding suggestions thread.

The meta is diverted.

As you can imagine, the meta discussions in the reddit were intense and drowning all other submissions. As my first act as a mod, I decided to try and work with this by creating a dedicated area for meta discussion which would both facilitate more of it and allow the main reddit to concentrate on actual posts and news about anarchism. This was not a mandatory move however, so anyone who wished could still post their meta topics in the main sub. Many people did find the idea good enough and started using it voluntarily.

At the start, /r/metanarchism was set to restricted mode, which meant that anyone could see, vote and comment on articles, but only the approved members could submit new ones. Soon however, the Bro-Trolls (which had reduced their posting by then) along with a few new accounts started trolling this area as well, so in an attempt to maintain discussion, I switched the security to private, which meant that one approved members could see it. Of course, since it is very easy to be approved, I didn’t consider this an issue, but apparently some did.

The same afternoon, QueerCoup denounced this action and the subreddit and called dbzer0, skobrin and VBP out for de-modding. And this pretty much started the second round of shit-flinging.

Everybody points and laughs

dbzer0, skobring and VBP are called out by QueerCoup, QueerCoup and enkiam is called out by hummanerror and anarchoal, chromalux and reqem is called out by VBP, the classic reactionaries from MRA and whatnot are called out by QueerCoup. Mod and ban guidelines are challenged. And as if on queue, everyone else chimes in to informs us how this is proof that anarchism can’t work,

At this moment, the debate is still raging but at a less intense level. QueerCoup and myself have achieved more cooperative attitude (I’d like to think). We seem to be cautiously moving towards an commonly accepted modding policy that will be very similar to my “Direct Action” proposal. We’ve had a vote and a compromise and those seem to have been well received.

Most of the current drama revolves around QueerCoup being a mod after his position was blocked by other members of the reddit. There’s also some bad blood between the regulars of the subreddit which will take a long time to heal (if ever). The also the issue of the visibility of /r/metanarchism. Mods, as of now, are treading very carefully to avoid being seen as abusing their power or supporting sexism and I’m fairly certain that we will soon reach an understanding and a new balance. Of course, I could be wrong, and things will explode yet again in a third round of drama. Time will tell.

So now you know what’s been going on. I hope I gave you a perspective that shows how the drama is not at all illegitimate and that this is a discussion that needs to happen to allow the subreddit to grow beyond the casual sexism that permeates reddit as a whole. In a future post, I will expand more on why dissent is not necessarily a sign of an unhealthy community.

  1. We do have proof that white-supremacy groups like stormfront have had organized plans to make their position heard, by collectively voting on their positions. People from other subreddits such as /r/mensrights also often request help from their group when they are downvoted and confronted []
  • longtime

    Hi, longtime here. I left reddit because of you actually. After telling you I hated you because of your disgraceful pro-MRA tactics you saw fit to follow me around other subreddits to further harrass me. That was the last straw; when I realized no part of reddit, not just r/A, was safe for me to feel safe or speak freely. You. You got me to leave reddit.

    Please stop talking about my intentions. You do not know them because you never asked. This is a disgraceful tactic I see employed over and over again by you and your subreddit. None of you know my feelings or intentions because none of you have ever once asked me. So sure, get all the mileage you can out of his banning me being the major crux of the story. But know it's bullshit you and your friends have invented whole cloth.

    You harrassed me into leaving reddit. Does your campaign know no end? Or am I at some point allowed some peace? Ever?

    • http://dbzer0.com db0

      Are you sure you're not thinking about another person? Because not only did I not follow you anywhere, but I wasn't even active in the period where you left.

      Please stop talking about my intentions. You do not know them because you never asked

      Apologies, I was trying to present the story as accurately as possible from my side. I didn't actually speak about your intentions except saying that you left in disgust, which seems accurate.

      So sure, get all the mileage you can out of his banning me being the major crux of the story. But know it's bullshit you and your friends have invented whole cloth.

      How is this bullshit? Your ban by VBP was the main cause of the campaign against him. People bring it up against him even today.

      You harrassed me into leaving reddit. Does your campaign know no end? Or am I at some point allowed some peace? Ever?

      Do you have a persecution complex? This post isn't even about you.

      • http://sitakali.org Sitakali

        Haha, wow, seriously wtf.

    • http://dbzer0.com db0

      Since I have you here, I might as well tell you that even though I enjoyed having your feminist perspective on reddit, the blatantly dishonest slandering tactics you're using here are a surprise. I don't understand what you're trying to achieve. You did the same thing in reddit by quote mining my posts. What possible use do you see in this?

      I don't have a problem with you hating me, although it makes me sad that you do so, but it would definitelly not be a reason to "follow you around" or harrass you.

      • longtime

        I won't link the subreddit here but you can find a comment you left in it 20 days ago once again harassing me about the same fucking thing you always harass me about (except this time in a feminist space). I immediately deleted my account after reading it. I don't know what data mining a post is.

        • http://dbzer0.com db0

          The only thing I can remember is the one comment I left in a post in /r/radicalfeminism. And that wasn't harassing you. Unless you consider it harassment just to leave a comment there.

          • chromalux

            If a woman tells you that something YOU did to THEM was harassment, the only appropriate response is to apologize. You can't say "no I wasn't harassing you", "no I didn't offend you", "no your feelings are not real". When you say shit like that, you deny their human agency thus denying them their very humanity. It also makes you look like a douchebag.

            But you already know that though cause you're such an awesome feminist.

          • http://dbzer0.com db0

            Perhaps I didn't phrase it correctly: The comment I left wasn't meant to be harrassing and it wasn't directed to longtime at all. It was a commentary on the OP (iirc).

            This is why I don't understand how I was harassing longtime, since "harassment" implies someting personal and direct. In other words, I didn't "do it to THEM".

          • Reality

            "You should grow up" is what we tell kids, teenagers, and men when they're butthurt. If women are equal to men, then it is certainly possible that some individuals will need a bit more emotional maturity. If that is not a feminist attitude, then feminism is merely masquerading under the banner of equality.

          • http://dbzer0.com db0

            First of all, butthurt is just another way to promote rape culture. Well done.

            Second, this has nothing to do with emotional maturity. Chromalux is absolutely right that it's not up to males to tell women to "grow up" just because we're privileged enough not to have the same reaction to oppression.

    • Real Anarchist

      longtime, arent you the piece of shit who arbitrarily accused a transgender person of being transphobic?
      http://www.reddit.com/r/Anarchism/comments/cxlg9/

      Why yes, yes you are
      Stay gone and good riddance scumbag

  • gatsby137

    This was quite helpful; thank you for writing it. I've been trying to wrap my brain around the /r/Anarchism ShitStorm for weeks. If anyone from the "other side" wants to write their version of things, I'd love to read that, too.

    Db0, the only bit of drama that seems to be missing from your account is the disappearance of griffjam. Any ideas as to what pushed him over the edge?

  • liko

    Wow. I am really disappointed to see griffjam go.

  • http://www.ZamatoElite.blogspot.com ZamatoElite

    HAha, I am now "insidious scum!" That's a new one! First I was a "racist", then a "fascist", then a "homophobe", than a "troll", than a "misogynist", and finally "insidious scum!"

    This wasn't about white supremacy (i'm not even white, ass clown) or fascism, this was about people who had the audacity to critique radical anarcha-feminism. You're all for free speech…as long as it leaves feminism alone. Because we all know feminism is a crock of shit that can't take the heat. It only stays alive through censorship. And I don't give a damn about your stupid post, it's just an elaborate justification for censorship. That's all it is, censorship.

    And you're wrong, this recent drama most certainty is an argument against Anarchism. When anything controversial comes up, you fucking unstable babies begin throughing crypto-authoritarian temper tantrums.

    Your mere existence is the greatest argument against Anarchism. Case closed.

    -Zamato Ravenous Elite

  • http://agnarchy.com David Z

    I haven't been around r/Anarchism lately. For me this is a great summary of what went down over the past we weeks, but at the same time, I gotta admit I'm glad I wasn't around for all that SNAFU…

  • Real Anarchist

    First of all dbzer0 you did not "survive" /r/anarchism's "ShitStorm of 2010," you and the other authoritarian moderators have been voted out of power by the community in an open referendum:
    http://www.reddit.com/r/Anarchism/comments/e6quu/

    At time of writing, 1688 votes to remove moderators versus 746 votes to keep moderators.

    You have lost all legitimacy, and only remain in power because you refuse to step down, revealing your true colors as an authoritarian NOT an anarchist.

    • http://dbzer0.com db0

      A "referendum" created in completely the wrong method and influenced by 10 times the number of unique visitors we have on the reddit daily, is not really representative. In fact, the most likely thing is that this represent the reddit hivemind, but not /r/anarchism at all

      • Real Anarchist

        /r/anarchism has 12,000 unique subscribers. That 2,000 of them might take the time to boot a Stalinist like you out of his self-appointed pedestal is hardly surprising.

        You're just making excuses to cling to your power, a lesson once again in why anarchists must always fight against authoritarians, not only outside our movement but from the treacherous fifth column within (ie. you) as well.

        • http://dbzer0.com db0

          12000 subscribers does not mean 12000 anarchists. These 2000 were not even subscribers if one looks at the traffic stats for those days. Case in point, similar votes that were called before or after, did not get anywhere near the participation and got downvoted in general.

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  • KDcn

    I couldn't be the only one who thought the whole shitstorm thing was such stupid bullshit? It's a SUBREDDIT. The rules of law and man do not apply in the same way.

    If I write a script that creates accounts and then upvotes a post of mine, so massively that the community can't combat it, then what? In real life, I can't just print out a bunch of clones. The rules online are different.

    • http://dbzer0.com db0

      That doesn't prevent us from trying to figure out the most anarchistic way to do things.

  • geek_hammer

    This has corrupted my faith in an Anarchist society and left me disillusioned to (what I used to think) the brilliance of it.

    • http://dbzer0.com db0

      Why did this leave you disillusioned? Were you under the delusion that anarchists agree on everything?

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  • Anarchy!=Auth

    Everytime someone reminds me of r/anarchism and it's utter failure I get a wonderful glowing feeling inside. It's bloody hilarious.

    • http://dbzer0.com db0

      What utter failure?

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