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 []