The Dirty Business of Internet Moderation

The r/technology fiasco on Reddit is an example of how forum moderation can get messy very quickly.



Reddit has been going through a lot of changes recently, and not all of them are receiving a positive response. The community was outraged after a r/technology moderator banned a number of terms. This ignited a storm within the subreddit. Moderators were forced out, and eventually u/creq, the user who discovered the banned terms, became a mod of r/technology himself. But the damage was done, and r/technology was removed from the default front page.

This unrest within the community has led some to believe that Reddit’s mods were untouchable tyrants. “The mods come and go, it seems; the system stays. And still, behind a curtain many Internet-users don’t even acknowledge, a cabal of faceless, nameless wizards work controls that we can’t see,”  writes Caitlin Dewey, columnist for the Washington Post.

However, that’s largely the nature of any moderator within any system. If a social network, forum or any online entity doesn’t have all-powerful moderators, it’s very easy for comments sections to be overrun. Popular Science felt that a negative comment section affected the site so much, they shut down comments entirely in September of 2013.

Many claim that Reddit’s strength is its democracy. Even the new default subreddit list is up for debate. The upvote/downvote system surfaces the best content, and off-topic content gets downvoted. That’s the theory, at least. When the system breaks down, and a technology forum is flooded with news about Edward Snowden, the mod’s job is to keep the forum on track.

The frequent cries of ‘censorship’ can make moderation difficult. In the case of r/technology, the breakdown came from a moderator installing a blanket tool to remove off-topic content without appealing to users first. Creating a transparent moderation system has become the aim of r/technology, and rightly so.