Back in 2017, I was just getting into Android development and spent a lot of time moderating Android-related subreddits. This was a good way to keep myself busy and give back, but 5 years later I… don’t moderate any subreddits. Ever. I wanted to dive into why I lost all motivation, as a warning to others!
Just to get it out of the way, I am fully aware internet moderation is essentially unpaid labour, and often an excuse to power trip. I promise I’ll get on to both of those points later!
- Mid 2016: Created /r/PixelBlacksmith to promote my game.
- Early 2017: Added to /r/AndroidGaming and /r/AndroidApps mod teams.
- Mid 2017: Added to /r/Android, /r/AndroidQuestions, and /r/PlayMyGame mod teams.
- Late 2018: Added to /r/AndroidDev mod team.
- Mid 2019: Took ownership of /r/AndroidDev.
- Early 2020: Lost all interest, stopped actively moderating.
Ultimately, I do a lot of things online primarily to help others. It’s why I write blog posts, it’s why I started moderating, and it’s what I enjoy doing. However, some of the people I moderated with had very different motivations.
Instead of wanting to help others, they wanted to have power and control over people or the communities they’re in. Whilst these goals sometimes aligned (e.g. tackling spammers), they would frequently cause conflict when discussing rule changes, actions to take, etc.
If you’re a moderator in a community right now and wondering if your colleagues are just after power or want to help others, a great indicator is the way they refer to community members. If it’s with some sort of insult, they’re not trying to help. After I’d started moderating larger subreddits for a year or so, I noticed my own motivation changing too. Instead of trying to improve communities I was…
Once I’d started moderating a few Android-related subreddits, I got a bit too into it and basically claimed all the subreddits I could. This meant reaching out to tangential subreddits (e.g. /r/PlayMyGame), coordinating subreddit merges (e.g. /r/Fuchsia), and adding redirects for abandoned communities (e.g. /r/AndroidGamingNews).
Whilst my fellow moderators were generally supportive of this, I take full blame for the extent of it! It became a bit of a game, trying to collect as many Android-related subreddits as possible, and “capture” outliers like /r/AndroidDev. The end result was pretty much every Android community on Reddit having at least 1-2 moderators from the core “group”, effectively stopping any community finding it’s own way.
With monthly minimum quotas, various extensions to post semi-automated removal messages, and policies for handling user complaints, my “helping out” became more of a second, very dull, job. As a developer myself I didn’t get any satisfaction from taking down another developer’s post because they didn’t meet some criteria, despite understanding why the policies were in place. I felt I was just making other people’s days a little bit worse, as well as my own.
The first hint that I should reconsider moderating was the direction the site seemed to be taking. The administrator’s changes and focus didn’t really align with why I used Reddit, and initiatives like the new (ad & tracker filled) homepage redesign, autoplaying videos, awards, and “trending” notifications alienated power users like myself.
It seemed pretty obvious the site was chasing the Snapchat / Tiktok audience, which of course makes total business sense, but didn’t include me. Around this time “redditor” as an insult took off online, and justifiably so. The stereotype it invoked was unfortunately often accurate, leaving me disconnected from both sides. I wasn’t a super-vocal advocate of privacy / gaming / open source (a “redditor”), nor a casual user looking for memes and cute pictures.
In case you’ve somehow missed the redditor stereotype online, here’s the top 3 UrbanDictionary definitions, it’s easy to see why someone would want to distance themselves!
- “An introverted and emojiphobic person who spends way too much time on Reddit to gain virtual internet points because they can’t get a girlfriend”
- “That Fatass with a Fedora, who won’t shut the f— up about facts we never asked.”
- “a person who scrolls through Reddit everyday with nothing better to do with their life.”
Whilst it’s fair to say I perhaps did meet some of the stereotypes when I joined Reddit in 2011, a decade later I was a very different person! Considering I was spending at least 20-30 minutes a day volunteering to essentially help the Reddit corporation please investors, and had a job I actually enjoyed, I gradually stopped moderating.
Besides Reddit, I’ve moderated plenty of online chats and forums, from RuneScape clan chats to PHPBB forums and more. I realised the communities with a realtime chat I was able to actively participate in, and actually be a part of, instead of just an aloof faceless rule-enforcer.
Whilst I moderate a couple of Discord servers now, I don’t feel like my main role there is a moderator; I’m there for the social aspect and the moderation is just an occasional action to keep things running smoothly. With larger forums and subreddits, the moderation aspect becomes your entire persona and you can’t interact normally. You’ll get hatemail just for existing.
I believe this difference between the two types of community (realtime / post based) is due to how many users and / or pieces of content you’re responsible for. On a Discord server, there isn’t really any concept of a moderation backlog or queue, only the current conversations. If you’re there talking to a friend, you’re doing the most you possibly can as a moderator, whilst also being a member and socialising. On a forum / subreddit if you’re posting then you’re not reviewing reported / flagged posts. You are either being a member or a moderator, not both at the same time.
What a rambling rant, apologies. If you take one thing away from this post, it’s that I really recommend taking a look at any communities you help moderate, and considering if you’re enjoying this. Does it bring either tangible or emotional benefits to you, or are you doing it out of a sense of obligation?
I think one of the hardest things to do as you get older is to leave behind aspects of yourself that were previously very important. For me that’s reddit as a whole, and unpaid moderation for imagined “career growth” or “networking”!