Encounters with the Reddit Hive MindSchwa
Today, we have a guest piece from Goonswarm Federation director Schwa. An active member of the #tweetfleet community, Schwa shares his recent experience, and personal opinion, of the quality of debate on /r/eve. – Niden
I vacillated quite a bit when debating whether or not I should even write this article. In the end, I realized that the fact that I was even considering holding it back, itself represented a symptom of the problem. The title itself carries a twinge of irony with it, and leaves itself open for bee jokes. There’s a legitimate fear that when this is published, it will be immediately written off as the petty whining of the big bad ebil gooniez. Seraph will likely repeat his rather witty joke about my grrsecution complex. And while I am perfectly fine playing the bad guy in a game that not only permits that kind of gameplay, but openly brags about the dark, cold, unforgiving landscape such behavior creates, there exists a large number of people that feel it is illegitimate, and a danger to the game and its community. I obviously don’t share that opinion, but I’m more than happy to have the debate.
Debate is a word whose meaning, I feel, is lost rather often on /r/eve. It’s perfectly fine to troll, shitpost, and generally be a verbally abusive bastard as far as I am concerned. I typically don’t do that myself, as it isn’t really my style, but I enjoy engaging with those that do. Unfortunately, /r/eve has shown itself to be a place where honest debate is not really feasible. Dissenting opinion is downvoted into oblivion, and the discussion stymied. All that is left is the howling echo chamber, whipping itself up into a zealous frenzy demanding the head of The Mittani on a pike.
Until recently I had avoided /r/eve as a matter of pride or principle, futilely hoping that it would not become the source for all Eve discussion — the replacement for Kugutsumen. I had hoped that TMC forums, or some other entity would become the discussion place everyone went to. Mostly my disdain for reddit was phony, built on a reputation I knew was just part of prior war propaganda. I had no legitimate reason to really hate /r/eve. Once the Endie leak hit, I began to engage the /r/eve community. Partly because I wanted to stir the debate, and partly because some of the things I had read were just factually incorrect. I didn’t understand reddit mechanics, and to a large degree I still don’t. I’ve never been one to give a damn about forum reputation, karma whoring, or being a board warrior in general. Most of my public thoughts about Eve happen 140 characters at a time. But what I quickly discovered about reddit is that it is, whether intentionally or not, designed to stifle dissent.
After a couple of Cloud Ring campaign-related threads in which I foolishly engaged with some ridiculous trolls who thought that planting new TCUs meant Pandemic Horde had “held sov” against the odds, I was quickly on the receiving end of a large number of downvotes. At the time, I didn’t give it a second thought. The majority of /r/eve readers hate The Imperium in general, and Goonswarm Federation in particular. My defense of GSF was inevitably going to lead to negative karma.
And then it happened.
In a post about an Imperium fleet getting whitewashed in lowsec, I posted a very conciliatory comment congratulating the enemy in their victory. About 15 minutes later, it was deleted. I didn’t understand why, and members of the community went into a frenzy speculating that I had been ordered to remove the post for not toeing the company line.
At first, I suspected foul play. The lack of Imperium moderators in /r/eve, and a history of deleted Imperium posts, led me to initially suspect that a rogue moderator was abusing his power to stifle anything that might not make Goons look like the horrible assholes some people want to believe we are. After some discussion with /r/eve mods I learned an even worse truth; reddit itself is designed to block posts of those people with negative karma. AutoModerator was the culprit here, blocking my posts due to my negative karma. This is probably something a lot of you already know, but it was a huge surprise to me. The consequences are immediately obvious. If someone posts an opinion that differs from that of the majority, it is downvoted, and eventually squelched. This design eliminates the possibility for /r/eve to ever develop the one thing that made Kugu so much fun – differing opinions.
In order to get around this issue, one has to track down a moderator, and get your posts approved. There are no mods in The Imperium, and some of the mods are openly hostile to The Imperium. Posts must be approved one at a time. There is no way to get whitelisted. That can make this a challenge. But even getting your posts approved won’t resolve the issue. It turns out that having negative karma also causes your ability to post and reply to comments to be throttled. Sometimes you must wait ten minutes to reply again – an eternity during a lively discussion.
So, I decided to do a little experiment. I was sitting at -35 comment karma, and I changed my flair from GSF to Dirt N Glitter. Within 2 hours I was at +8 karma. By the next day I was over +30. Posts that were previously posted with GSF flair, and downvoted significantly, suddenly had positive karma. New posts were upvoted. To me, this clearly illustrated how the community is truly not interested in meaningful debate. After getting my karma over +40, I set my flair to “cyno alt,” an innocuous icon of a covert cynosural field generator. Within hours, my karma had dipped into the 20s without a single new post.
So, while my initial disdain for /r/eve was founded on nonsense, it turns out the conclusion was correct. The mechanics of Reddit actively promote groupthink, and /r/eve has a particularly nasty case of mob mentality. The community is even aware of it, and openly mocks it with posts like “Can I hate cfc on a limited time schedule as a solo poster?” So while Eve is notorious, fairly or not, for having a rather caustic community, and /r/eve is also notorious (quite correctly) for being very grr goon, my real concern is that the site itself is designed to promote the worst parts of the community. I’m absolutely fine with a bunch of people being outwardly hostile toward The Imperium. However, I would like the ability to be honest in my replies, and add the flair of my choosing without worrying that my comments will be immediately treated as nothing more than spam.