<pre><pre>The founder of Something Awful finds YouTube sucking on moderation

In the meantime, it should be very clear that YouTube has a YouTube problem. The platform has rules – deliberate, in fact – but the enforcers cannot enforce them because they are either powerless or afraid of appearing biased under the conditions of a few bad actors who act in bad faith.


YouTube's problems with moderation are how I found myself on the phone with Rich "Lowtax" Kyanka, the founder of the infamous and notoriously influential blog and internet forum Something Awful. Although he is unreliable for a number of reasons, Kyanka & # 39; s opinion on moderation does hold some weight, as he managed to tame what an indomitable community of the biggest weirdos and most productive posters on the internet should be been. The secret, he began to tell me, was threefold, with managers, mods, and a sense of humor. "You can tell a lot about someone through their sense of humor," he began – and then stopped. "And I just fell through a chair," he said, laughing in the surprised way you do when something unfortunate but undeniably hilarious has happened to you. (Kyanka informed me that he had indeed fallen through the garden chair on which he sat.)

YouTube has been particularly bad about moderation lately. Earlier this month, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki apologized to the LGBTQ community after the company had not taken definitive action against conservative YouTuber Steven Crowder, who over the years had thrown a literary series of homophobic slogans on Vox host Carlos Maza. (The edge is a part of Vox Media, which owns Vox.) There was massive outrage from everyone, from creators to employees at Google itself, some of whom even signed a petition against YouTube's decision.

Large internet platforms are only just beginning to confront user-generated content on a large scale because advertisers have recently made it unprofitable for platforms to show off their worst actors with generally accepted social codes of conduct. But moderation is complex: for every Alex Jones YouTube promotion, there are hundreds of others who follow the line of acceptable content according to the platform's own rules. There is so much that is borderline or open to interpretation because moderation, as a practice and art, is fundamentally subjective. Even messages that fall within the letter of the rules can be a reason for a prohibition, for example because of the previous behavior of a user.

There are of course ways to solve this problem. The first and easiest way is of course to follow the rules, regardless of the nuance. The second is to hire a competent moderating team and then authorize them. The second method works in all cases. And Kyanka has proven it himself.

In the annals of internet history, few websites will be remembered as Something Awful. It is suddenly a home for the strangest citizens of the internet and one of the last bastions of the old web; it is a place that has stated as a motto that "the internet has made you stupid" since its establishment in 1999, and a place that you can reliably claim has only released anarchy into the world. Over the past two decades, Something Awful has vastly transformed the way we interact online – you can recognize its influence in everything from memes (for example Slender Man) to the way people post online today (Weird Twitter). Something Awful was one of the (reserved, inevitable) parents of the internet culture.

Part of what made the site and its forums special was the moderation. They had all the usual rules – no doxxing or persistent harassment; no racism or discrimination – but it was their last rule that made the place innovative. "It ended with the catch-all where I just said," Remember, we can banish you for any reason we like. So if something falls through here, we can still ban you, & # 39; "Kyanka said.


Kyanka knew that there were restrictions that went against the specified limits and see how far they could get before they were banned. In Kyanka's memory, one of those people was Moot, or Chris Poole, who posted anime girls on the forum. "I didn't want to go all day looking for anime and find the age or assumed age of anime drawings," Kyanka said. "I just said," You know what? If it looks like a minor, it is a minor. Bye. & # 39; "(They eventually became 4chan.)

There was also the somewhat accidental discovery of an entry threshold: every user who wants to post something on Something Awful has to pay $ 10 to register an account, all because a user who got banned and then registered new accounts for things like triangles and magic 8 balls would not stop. "It was really funny, you know, seeing triangles and stuff, but in the end we had to ban triangam people," Kyanka said. "I'm like, okay, fuck this. You know, I'm going to charge you. If you want an account, PayPal," he said – and it took him off. If you don't follow the rules, you lose money, which is a good way to prevent bad behavior. (Regarding that bad behavior, however: it is important to remember that there was a lot of tasteless stuff on the site. It was by no means perfect; the point is that Something Awful had its own rules that actually enforced it.)

Kyanka believes that YouTube performs a "terrible" task to moderate their site. As he sees it, there are three steps you need to take to have a well-moderated site. The first is to have a good software platform that makes it easy for moderators to work. The second has a clear set of rules that everyone knows. The third piece, he thinks, is finding the right people for the job. The point is to make the use of the site as fair as possible. "Explain why certain things happen," he says, "but then also treat the mad people as they deserve to be treated, which is bad." By that he means the people who can cause real damage to your site.

"Those people must have the proverbial heads on the pike around your site so that people know they can't get away with cleaning up people, they can't get away with slapping people or something," he says. You have to tell people what is absolutely not allowed. However, Kyanka recognizes that economies of scale cause greater problems. "It all depends on the quality of the mods, the quality of the users," he said. "More online users create more problems."

At Something Awful the mods were organically chosen by the administrators: they were part of the community, with the same sense of humor and priorities as the admins, but close and dear to the user base of the forum. "Because no one knows your community better than the people in charge of cleaning up the community," Kyanka told me. The mods should be the basis of the community. That means that the site must have a real, solid identity. It cannot just be a game for engagement or advertising; you need to know what kind of person you want on your platform. "And hopefully, if that message is passed on properly, it will be a much easier way to have moderators doing the job well and being transparent about it."

And that is a task for a person. Kyanka does not think that an automated system can adequately monitor a community because they all have no nuance. "It will be a while before AI can catch up with how stupid the human mind is. Because it's too smart right now," he says. "But it has to learn to be stupid."

YouTube, for its part, is doing end a large number of accounts for violating its policies – 2.8 million in the last quarter alone according to a recent transparency report. "Our Community Guidelines apply to all creators and we terminate millions of accounts every quarter for repeated violations of our policies," said a YouTube spokesperson. In practice, however, makers often believe that the rules are selectively enforced.


Somewhere along the way, the internet lost its fear of mods. In the old days, the Something Awful days, users could be banned for anything. Mike Reed & # 39; s guide to Flame Warriors, an artifact from that time, accurately summarizes the types of people in a forum, and it is perhaps the best in his presentation of admins, the original mods: "Admin is the caretaker, the agent, the mayor, the judge and sometimes even the forum doctor who gets wounded in the battle by Warriors," Reed wrote. The person, in other words, who controls things. "Most admins are generally honest and even handed down, but the adage that absolutely corrupts absolute power is just as true on the internet as elsewhere, and it is a rare manager who can resist bringing the hammer down when he is seriously plagued by a determined enemy. "

That capriciousness has been lost. And much has been done with it, namely the idea that a website is better off without the most annoying, regulatory users. The Steven Crowder problem from YouTube is characteristic of the bigger problem with the site: it doesn't seem to follow or enforce its own rules, or even figure out what kind of site it is or should be. Until that changes, YouTube is always flooded by the worst people online. If you give them an inch, they always take a mile.