If you need to see the very best of Reddit, go to r/WhitePolitics, r/faggots, or r/FatPussy. You’ll not discover sickos and slurs there—not anymore, anyway. As an alternative, these subreddits are obsessive about, respectively: the colour white, bundles of sticks, and quite massive cats.
Previously few years, Reddit communities as soon as dedicated to outré topics, every little thing from InfoWars’ Alex Jones to objectifying tall girls, have seen themselves hijacked and changed by tame, typically literal-minded send-ups of their unique function. It’s totally humorous, it is very Reddit, and it is all of the doing of a band of counter-trolling moderators who take their duties very severely. Their antics are easy to root for. What’s much less understood is how these people function—and at what value. Trolling the trolls, it seems, takes a toll.
First, contemplate basic trolling: the icky variety. It takes time and group, and people are its practitioners’ greatest weaknesses. If you are going to pop up like a hobgoblin sowing discord in feedback sections throughout the web, you may’t spend too many sources in anyone place. Far-right trolls, specifically, are notoriously disorganized and prone to infighting. Which means there are an terrible lot of hateful however poorly moderated subreddits on the market, ripe for the hijacking.
The work of changing these swamps into arable webland is difficult—and sometimes deeply private. (Although some mods say it is “just for shits and giggles.”) The first job is figuring out hateful subreddits, tracked at locations like r/AgainstHateSubs. As soon as you discover one, lurk on the threads for some time, getting a way of who’s there and what they’re saying. However keep quiet: You would possibly share an id with the group the sub is designed to assault, so it is best to not entice consideration. Then, you wait. Ensure that the earlier moderators have been asleep on the change for 60 days or extra and submit a request to directors to be made the brand new mod. Voilà. The subreddit is yours.
Drewie, who has been a redditor for greater than seven years and moderates greater than 50 subreddits, has at all times saved a watch on subs that sting her most. She’s trans and is aware of the harms and humiliations the web can convey. She has a string of profitable hijackings to her title—communities like r/Trannys (now about car transmissions) and r/Dykes (you recognize, like water-retaining embankments) make up her kingdom. Her most up-to-date conquest was r/AlexJones, however the one she remembers finest is r/faggots. She’d been eyeing the group from a distance for some time, however then there was rumbling amongst Reddit’s moderators: The deposed alt-right troll king Milo Yiannopoulos had simply requested control of the sub.
Controversy ensued, however with no opposition, the directors would doubtless grant it to him. Drewie would not have it. Yiannopoulos is a Gamergate alum, skilled at trolling the folks she wished to guard; r/faggots, she feared, would turn into one other platform to rally his troops. She submitted a counter request, telling the admins she deliberate to make the hate sub into one thing enjoyable and satirical. They gave her the keys as an alternative.
Since harassment and bullying are verboten, Drewie promptly scrubbed r/faggots of hateful posts and posters, turning the subreddit into an empty area for her and her allies to fill in. She thinks she gained over the admins—who’re infamous for leaving moderators to scrap out issues on their very own, it doesn’t matter what sort of hate speech redditors are spewing—by making them giggle. For Drewie, although, changing homophobia with piles of sticks is about greater than the lulz. “I’m Asian, I have a middle-class job, I pass, but a lot of the people I know don’t,” she says. “I have to use that to do something. I can’t just sit down and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got it good.’ I have no choice.”
Not everybody sees it so unambiguously. Drewie’s vigilante ways could be within the service of fine, however they have been pioneered by the very trolls she’s making an attempt to battle. To Whitney Phillips, writer of multiple books on on-line trolling, the anti-hate hijacking of subreddits most carefully resembles the “RIP trolling” circa 2011. “If, for example, a woman had been murdered by her husband, the troll would make a seemingly legit RIP page designed to get the most responses and followers possible,” Phillips says. Then, as soon as the honeypot had attracted sufficient flies, the troll was free to flip the tone of the web page totally, utilizing it to mock the deceased and threaten those that sympathized with them.
Over time, this tone-flipping tactic turned much less randomly malicious and extra focused. Earlier than being banned from Reddit, r/antifa wasn’t a stronghold of the controversial antifascist motion however one in all alt-right trolls pretending to be antifa so as to make the motion look unhealthy—and possibly entice some naifs to a fake protest or two. It is also the identical college of trolling that is given us Russian operatives posing as black activists on Fb.
Little about this could counsel that these trolling strategies would ever be used for social justice on Reddit. They rely, of their unique conception, on mockery and exclusion, not acceptance and bonhomie. As Phillips places it: “Why would any progressive aspire to something so regressive? It very quickly becomes a conversation about whether the master’s tools can ever be used to dismantle the master’s house.”
There are two methods to consider that. The first is, do the instruments work? This grasp’s home is constructed from bricks of bigotry. In keeping with Casey Fiesler, who research on-line governance on the College of Colorado, ousting homophobes and white supremacists and purveyors of nonconsensual pornography from their strongholds is unlikely to vary their minds—and a few researchers fear that pushing these folks into ever-more-fringe areas of the web will only increase their extremism. Most of the hijacked communities have certainly regrouped elsewhere underneath a special spelling or a special title. Nevertheless, it’s a must to be deep on this planet so as to discover these new locales. Maybe the informal searcher—the 14-year-old child typing slurs into Reddit—will not expend the hassle.
The second a part of the counter-trolling ethical conundrum is extra existential: What do these instruments do to the one who wields them? “It’s exhausting!” Drewie says. “I would love not to do this. You get no benefit, you just lose time.” On prime of a full-time job, she spends a minimum of 5 hours a day scouring Reddit for hate and monitoring the subreddits she’s hijacked, and that does not even embody peeking between conferences, throughout lunch, or on her commute. She thinks of doxing and loss of life threats—inevitable on this line of activism—as “the cost of doing business.” The different is worse. “I get through the day by telling myself it’s just internet trolls. But I’ve lost so many friends who can’t take the hate,” she says. “I don’t want to go to another memorial.”
At occasions, the objective of those moderators appears unattainable. Hate on the web is a hydra: Minimize off one supply and three extra rear up. Nazis nonetheless publish; cyberbullying nonetheless occurs. And since these mods favor to remain nameless, they’re hardly ever acknowledged for his or her work. (Many of the mods I reached out to by no means returned my request for an interview.)
Observers like Fiesler say the distinction they make is subtler, incremental shifts in Reddit’s tone and ethos. “These people are signposting what it means to be Reddit,” Fiesler says. “It shows people the power you can have as a moderator to change the culture of a community. Even if you’re not taking over subreddits yourself, you might be emboldened to say, ‘Hey, maybe we should ban hate speech.'” These trolls will not have the ability to dismantle the grasp’s home totally, however possibly their efforts can clear area to put new foundations.
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