ToyTown: How an online community built around mutual aid is becoming a social wasteland because of hierarchy.

Today I wish to talk about ToyTown which is an online community, mainly a number of fora, where

English speakers can share news, ask questions, post answers, make advertisements, organise sports and social events, discuss current affairs, make friends, and generally engage with each other.

Now as some of you – particularly those following me on twitter or facebook – might have heard, I’ve been the victim of a real-life con (I will post details about this soon) as a result of which I started my own investigation to locate the perpetrator. At the advice of a colleague, I decided to try and ask for help in the ToyTown fora something which would also raising awareness of this type of scam to people living in my area.

Toytown?
Image by Bashed via Flickr

The reaction was a stunning display of hostility and mistrust, even after I went out of my way to substantiate my case. For a place which prides itself on its helpfulness, this just didn’t make sense.While I can understand people being snarky on someone who asks where to buy milk or not even making an attempt to use the search function, surely this

would not apply to my relatively unique thread right? Wrong.

Nevertheless,  it quickly dawned on me that what was really happening was that the overwhelming negative response I perceived came from a small number of vocal people who seem to have in face a very heavy presence in the fora. If one were to take the distinct people who posted in the thread and see their response, the reception was if not positive, at least neutral. The positive replies however were drowned in a sea of abuse…from the same few antisocials, either

trolling, deliberately insulting or simply being stunningly xenophobic, while also being under the auspicious eye of the mods who silently approved of obviously trollish behaviour, as long as it came from the “great old ones”.

To make this fact abundantly clear, let me show you one of the comments that was posted in the second page:

Now you see, this is why Greece is in the shit. And us German taxpayers are expected to sort your shit out for you. Bloody charming. And what’s more, we are led to believe you got scammed by a Greenlander…or was it by any chance an Icelander?

My reply to this borderline racist comment was to call the poster for the troll he is. The result? My post got pulled by the mods because the rules of the community forbid you from calling others trolls. Something which obviously facilitates their behaviour.

Surprised as I was from the results of asking for help in ToyTown, I asked my colleague as well as another, former colleague for their impressions. The former, while not as surprised as I was, still did not expect hostility of this magnitude and admitted that he feared this would happen. The latter said this among others…

yeah…trouble is..it’s the worst kind of forum, internet clique at its very worst mate – If you are new, more often than not you are ridiculed…if you have been there a while you should know better… Basically, be one of the normal 10 or 15 or forget about it.

Now both of these are expat brits mind you, very like the people who claim that this reaction is because people are expat. Bullshit. Just because you go to live in another country does not make people assholes. No, what was at play here was nothing else than a community gone astray after having morphed into a “old boys club”. Unfortunately it seems that the residents outside of this little clique have reached the point where they either passively accept this, or they feel helpless to do anything about it.

Soon afterwards a reaction post was in the forum where I believe everything bad with the community was put forth plainly. Unfortunately, the result was not a good discussion as the OP would have liked but a pathetic attempt by the good ol’ boys club and the moderators to skirt the issue with accusations of conspiracy or petty flamewars. The points raised where barely touched, even though there is an obvious support from the silent majority as can be seen from the positive ranking of the OP (which you must imagine persists despite the downvote brigade by those who like the community being difunctional)

So how come this situation persists even though it’s obviously unwanted by a lot of the community members? The reason seems to be the same as to why any class society persists even though change is wanted by the majority of people living in it. Inertia and Alienation.

You see, by now ToyTown has grown huge and it the stop for the english-speaking crowd in Germany. As this just happened naturally just because there was a demand for it, the one who happened to start it first became the de-facto leader and a hierarchy formed below him. First the mods and then the good ol’ boys AKA the vocal minority. Since ToyTown has always been the property of the admin, this situation has simply not been challenged, even though the value of the community lies in its numbers, not in its owners. The site, much like a nation, will keep on growing regardless of the actions and abuses of the admins due to the existing demand for an english speaking site in Germany. This leads to the the biggest challenge any new site will face when trying to setup a healthy community around the same goal. Oobscurity. The ToyTown administration and old boys club knows this and therefore have no reason to control their behaviour. And this attitude only worsens the more a community grows larger.

This is the curse of all hierarchy. Benevolent or not, it is corrupted by the sheer control that is centralized as it naturally grows. Those at the top see themselves as increasingly benevolent even while their actions become more and more intolerant and authoritarian. Those with social power, such as that coming from seniority or friends in high places, get more and more vain and expect that their social status grants them immunity from the same things that “lesser mortals” AKA newbies get punished for.

Those not in the upper strata of the community quickly learn what their place is and take on of two actions. They either leave or keep their head down, find a niche and try to work within it. As long as they do not draw the ire of the mods or the old boys club, they can function without many issues. To challenge and stop abusive behaviour coming from those higher than them is impossible however.The will of the mods will always be over the will of the old boys will always be over the will of the unwashed masses. As a poster called Jimbo said:

however, I think the quote above is quite wrong – it belongs to Ed Bob, and ultimately, the site is therefore created in his image. Or at least he allows it to be organic and grow in its own way.

Which is simply nonsensical. A community without Ed Bob is still a community. An Ed Bob without it isn’t. To quote another user

Uh, no it doesn’t and that is one of the huge problems around here. The site belongs to the users and without the users E.Bob would not be in a position to make a chunk of change by selling out to The Local. Our help and our comments made this site, he just gave us the vehicle. The real life E.Bob is a pretty cool guy, but can we stop kissing the virtual E.Bob persona for once and for all?

This is why hierarchy needs to be nipped in the bud. There’s no such thing as “too little” or “just enough” hierarchy. Just look at how it can even corrupt children’s relations in the same destructive manner. It is just disruptive to healthy human relationships making good people authoritarian and allowing bad people to be cruel. We need to learn to recognise this and start building our communities with this in mind from the start. Even when structurally necessary, as is the case for web sites which require at the least an admin, a community built around them will immensely benefit the more such privilege is consciously removed.

ToyTown may be too far gone to fix and like many online communities before, it may eventually implode. Just look at how quickly the immensely popular Richard Dawkins community self-immolated just by the actions of the few at the top who were completely disconnected from those at the bottom. Such events are not uncommon and more importantly, I’ve not heard of any of them which were not the result of hierarchical power gone bad.

Could it be salvaged somehow? Depends on how alienated the community is. For those at the top, things will always look good of course. They‘re at the top. This is why you see the vocal minority dismissing and trivializing the concerns others make. Unfortunately, from what I saw at ToyTown, those who do not like how things are going are not convinced or confident that they can make a difference which is not exactly true. I’ve seen a few fora and communities which managed to change things via dedicated non-conformity and persisting objection (think of almost everyone starting new threads to complain). If something like this cannot work, the only solution is an exodus which unless it is made to a system built around avoiding the same issues will only be a temporary solution.

Whatever happens, at the end of the day the power to change things is in the hands of those interested in it. The community itself, not the old boys club or Editor Bob. As long as people are too scared or apathetic to act, nothing will change obviously. For my part, I wash my hands of ToyTown. I do not care to wade into sewers just to take a shortcut.

UPDATE: It seems this blog entry is being linked from a private forum of ToyTown. I have no way of seeing what they’re saying but I’m guessing someone saw this post but was too scared to discuss it with the open public of the forum. Much better to mock me behind closed doors apparently.

UPDATE2: Given the responses that the second thread keeps receiving, I think this is appropriate

(h/t See Mike Draw)

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47 thoughts on “ToyTown: How an online community built around mutual aid is becoming a social wasteland because of hierarchy.

    1. The site seems to be run by a very small number of probably increasingly desperate people given the state of the sector at the moment. Like many (most?) similar websites a few people play many screename roles, post their own threads and get "answers" from the "community." Hence "Toytown". (also sounds like "Teuton"..). That would certainly be the logical way to run such a business (remember the scandal a few years ago about Facebook exaggerating its membership? Same principle, if lots of people appear to be using the site, real people are also attracted and hits can also be faked). A lot of the threads involve selling products – someone asks a question where some food, insurance, good bar etc etc is available and then suprise someone answers with a "recomendation". In other words it's scammy like a lot of similar sites. On the other hand the insults, "racism", swearing etc are normal for english-speaking humor unless you are a bit thin-skinned. This also probably attracts their target group which seems to be slightly groovy types who go in for cursing and being smart-asses.

  1. ToyTowN neEds AnArchY! RisE uP, fELloW pEOnS! ovERthrOw EDiToRbOb aNd HiS cORruPT cREW!

  2. I find it amusing someone whose blog is filled with numerous generalizing stereotypes about Americans whines about a "borderline racist comment ".

  3. In fairness, you did start going on about how you were an anarchist on that thread on TT – and subsequently came across as a spotty little virgin. Who the FUCK goes around calling themselves an anarchist? In fact, you must have realised that you looked like a complete cockjockey, because you edited your profile to remove the anarchy reference before you posed a screenshot of your profile in this blog.

    If you wandered into a pub, and said, "hi I am an anarchist", people would assume that you were a bit of a tit. If you got upset that everybody though you were a bit of a tit, and then started blogging about how the pub is shit, then people would have been spot on in their assumption that you were a bit of a tit.

    See how stuff works?

  4. In fairness, you did start going on about how you were an anarchist on that thread on TT

    Nope, I didn't. It was brought up by people visiting my blog to find red herrings and strawmen.

    In fact, you must have realised that you looked like a complete cockjockey, because you edited your profile to remove the anarchy reference before you posed a screenshot of your profile in this blog.

    You see? This is how ridiculous you are amd confident in your ignorance. I never mentioned my political orientation in the fora or in my forum profile. Nor did I bring it up.

    In the end, you're arguing against a completely wrong understanding of the history of what happened. Of course this is to the benefit of those who DID bring up my political orientation as a crudgel and the rest of you tools swallowed it, hook, line and sinker.

    See how stuff works?

  5. Such as your little rant about all Americans not understanding political terms as the rest of the world. As if every one of them watches fox news and none have ever read a political theory text. Generalizations.

    Also, do you click on the plus symbol for yourself every time you post, or get your coworker to back you up here too?

  6. Read it again. Did I speak about "All Americans" or about "American Terminology". Is there a difference between these?

    The points are just how the comment system works. If you're registered you always start with +1

    1. MasterBlaster you fucktard.. if you don't like what I have to say about TT, then stop coming here..

  7. Yes, it was in your profile, otherwise nobody would have bloody bought it up would they?

    Oh, and thinking that anarchy is "politics" is very funny. It is as political as vegetarianism.

    1. Apparently yes since as it actually happened they visited by blog and saw the two front-page posts about Anarchism. It's funny that you insist on your delusions even though the links I gave you from the forum make this blatantly clear. Can't accept being wrong can you?

    2. Oh, and thinking that anarchy is "politics" is very funny. It is as political as vegetarianism.

      Good thing we have non-anarchists to tell us what anarchism is about…

  8. Look at the Neckbeard Defense Force flock to a single anarchists blog because they're so butt hurt about a little criticism of their forum. If there are any people so in need of a life, it is these people.

    Just ignore them, db0.

  9. I actually find it funny how upset they are at my little criticism, just because it's outside their control. I've had something like 100 visits from their private fora where I'm certain they're fuming about “the nerve” or something. They too coward to even make a public post.

    Also, dude, “butt hurt” is not cool. Lets not perpetuate rape culture shall we?

    1. I freakin love your blog about the toytown wankers! Gen, Fraufruit, Robson, Kay, Keydeck, Allerhausen, Jeremy, to name but a few!

      They spend all day on toytown with a second account so they can give themselves greenies!

      WANKERS! The lot of them.

  10. Look at the Neckbeard Defense Force flock to a single anarchists blog because they're so butt hurt about a little criticism of their forum. If there are any people so in need of a life, it is these people.

  11. FYI most popular message boards and social networking sites are controlled by shills working for vested interests.

    1. Possibly. Doesn't explain why they would be hostile to the exposure of a scammer unless they were part of his crime network.

  12. Haven't read your post here (full disclosure) but have read the toytown threads on this and find interesting what Mariposa just said on the original scam-alert thread: that a while back, an old-timer posted photos of a scammer and named him by name, and even the site owner did so as well, and all was OK, but as soon as a noob like you do so, you get attacked.

    I think that even if you only manage to prevent one person from being scammed by this slimeball by posting what you did, you've done well.

    1. I also can't see what you would have to gain by concocting an eleborate story and posting pictures just to frame someone you hate if you're doing it on a forum with a link back to this blog, which is linked to Twitter, FB etc, shows many photos of you, etc. Or didn't anyone on that forum check your profile before jumping all over you?

    2. BTW Mariposa was incorrect in her post. That guy's real photos were only posted after the police were already looking for him and it was being reported in newspapers. See here: http://www.toytowngermany.com/forum/index.php?sho… And the OP in that case had also signed up explicitly to post about that scammer — but he didn't post any photos.

  13. The old boys club don't like me so straws need be grasped to avoid helping. I think it's as simple as that.

  14. I visited a gaming community for a well known game and was amazed at how trollish and hostile the people were there, so maybe it's just human nature to be jerks on the internet.

    1. There's quite a lot of truth to the G.I.F.T. and this is the reason I don't care about fora. Their hierarchical and authoritarian nature makes them a breeding ground for this behaviour.

      1. Yeah, damn people, sat around in their offices, being bored and stuff. They rely on hierarchical chains of command and authoritarian thought control police – petit bourgeoisie at their worst.

        Why did Lenin drink Peppermint tea? Because proper tea is theft. Arf.

          1. If you can't understand that basic construct, I doubt you're really a proper anarchist – more 'a bit of a pretentious nerdy cunt'

          2. Christ, it's all gotten a bit anarchic in here – I'll get me coat.

            Oh, and the Lenin joke? Stolen from Toytown I'm afraid…

  15. Hey,
    I read the article linked in your article ( http://realityismyreligion.wordpress.com/2010/02/… ) yesterday, just to find out today that a very similar thing has happened to Nexuiz… I don't know whether you're familiar with it, it's a free software quake-like FPS game and is lead by a developer group called Alientrap. Yesterday, as it turns out, they changed the website ( http://www.nexuiz.com ) to some flash shit with content completely unlike the one of the old website without any remark to the users on what this is all about. And as it turns out then, they just sold the engine, the name and the website to a corporation (without informing ANYONE beforehand, even though 90% or so of the game was developed by the community), which is legal because they asked the authors of those parts for permission and they agreed. Whilst the actual game code will have to remain untouched because it is GPL'd and the authors of that code won't give any permission to do whatever to it, there are now 2 games named "Nexuiz", the open, old Nexuiz and the new, console-only, commercial, closed-source Nexuiz, which will naturally lead to a lot of confusion.
    As in the case of the RD forums, the admins tried to portray this as something completely awesome when talking to the users etc., when in fact, it was an immensely stupid decision and nobody of the community would have agreed with it, if they had been asked.
    However, the leader of Alientrap has authority (even though he, as was the case in RD.net, NEVER showed up in the forums), so it will be done.

    We will see what happens now…

  16. "So how come this situation persists even though it’s obviously unwanted by a lot of the community members? The reason seems to be the same as to why any class society persists even though change is wanted by the majority of people living in it. Inertia and Alienation."

    It's funny, I just re-watched "Capitalism, and Other Kids' Stuff" <http://socialist-tv.com/&gt; (you can also find it on YouTube and Google Video, among other places), which is one of my favorite videos (great for showing to those new to anti-capitalist ideas), and it's got me thinking about your question, as it always does. The part where the presenter describes how the kids begin to question the social arrangement, and are quickly assured that their notions of equality are silly and unrealistic, that things never were that way, really, and that the status quo is how things have always been and always will be, because it's the natural order of things, etc., always evokes a feeling in my gut that's hard to describe, almost a panicky feeling, like I want to shout to the kids "They're lying! It's all lies! You don't have to accept this! Stop it now before it becomes too entrenched!" His description of authority figures adopting official-looking costumes, with judges sitting on elevated chairs to appear ominous, etc., is especially gut-wrenching for me. Don't people ever stop to think how all these figures are simply apes, just like the rest of us? We don't have to accept any of this, it's absurd! So why do we? It's like you said, we accept the emergence of authority figures, bullies, etc., because we've become convinced of our own impotence. Those who take the initiative to seize power have an immediate advantage over those who don't want power, and the latter will keep going along to get along as long as the situation remains tolerable, which they will do for far longer than they should, because they'll be more inclined to internalize the ideology of the authority figures, or laugh along with the bullies, than to rock the boat and draw attention to themselves by challenging any of it. This is where solidarity becomes power for those who don't want power for its own sake. If the quiet masses with their heads down would come together and act in unison, they could dethrone the bully-apes without having to be aggressive and/or charismatic as individuals.

  17. Look toytown is full of retards. Everybody knows this! Social misfits that dont belong anywhere else. Its like a playground bully group. They spend all day being keyboard warriers with nothing else to do.

    It has a very bad reputation. Fair enough its good to find doctors and dentists but thats about it really. Who wants to hang out with miserable 40 and 50 year old ex pats who do NOTHING but MOAN and COMPLAIN about the country they chose to move to. If you dont like germany LEAVE.

  18. I used to use Toytown regularly when I used to have a boring office job. At some point it just got annoying and I gave up caring what a few internet douchebags had to say. It’s a shame the place isn’t a bit nicer, but what are you gonna do?

    To the newbie- forget the posts of “what do you think about…” and focus on the what does “Somelonggermanwordforaspecificpurposethatisprobablywaytoocomplicatedanyway mean and should I be scared?” posts, in addition to the classifieds. Everything else is just those same boring assholes doing what they do. It’s a shame, but there is a lot of truth in this blog post, whether they care to believe it or not. Funny how the first people to reply to this post and either flame or defend are often the people who are being complained about. I kind of think that on the other end of that keyboard there’s just a sad individual who never confronted his own issues (except don_riina who still is just a funny guy).

    I just finally concluded that they ran away to Germany seeking a better life and still haven’t managed to sort themselves out. Wow, and now they have a place where they belong and feel powerful. If you were to see them in real life you’d probably chuckle and then REALLY not care about Toytown again.

  19. Just a note: In the CNN comments section I recently came across someone once called “keydeck” who moderates/used to moderate for Toytown. He (and perhaps other Toytown staff) now seem to work in the “brand protection” industry, ie anti IP piracy. From my experiences, I would guess that Toytown members’ computers have been searched for anything illegally downloaded and the date and time of the event forwarded to German law firms like Waldorf Frommer, and have likely had monitoring software downloaded onto them.

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