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XavierMendel interview

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Former Reddit /r/games moderator XavierMendel gave an interview describing a corrupt culture among Reddit's administrators. The interview was posted to Soundcloud on September 7.

Summary Edit

Reaction Edit

On September 7, Reddit user Walter_Candles posted a link to the Soundcloud interview on /r/games with the topic "#Gamergate, Reddit Admins outed as corrupt" along with some commentary of his own. Walter_Candles was banned and his commentary was deleted.

Partial Transcript Edit

This transcript is known to be incomplete but should cover the key points.

Speakers:

  • Brit = host, has a British accent,
  • Red = XavierMendel, former /r/games moderator.

Hierarchy of moderators Edit

00:42

Red: There are no levels of moderators, really, but there also is unofficially. If you are a moderator of a tiny subreddit... then the admins are never going to talk to you unless you go talk to them first, for like spam or whatever, but they're going to deal with their job and that's all that they're going to do with you. That's the entire point of you being there... If you're a big moderator, like if you're a moderator of /r/games, you're going to have a lot more discussions with the admins. You might get one of them in a Skype chat and that's how you know you've really made it big.

If you want to be an active moderator ... then you're going to have a lot more interactions with them and they are going to expect things of you. They're not going to come and and say "Hey, we want you to keep your subreddit clear of this certain thing." If your subreddit isn't clear of that certain thing, that line of communication with the admins is just gone. You won't be able to talk. They won't trust you anymore.

Ignoring death threats Edit

(02:10)

Red: I know of a moderator who is so hated by the admins no matter what the situation is they will not speak to him, ever. Not unless, I'm fucking serious, not unless a lawyer is present. What happened to him is -- I don't want to talk too much about this -- but basically he's had his life threatened over and over for years on Reddit. He's had his personal information posted on Reddit. Reddit admins have condoned this many times. They don't care about him. I've personally asked admins about it and why they don't do anything about it and the essence is they don't give a fuck about this guy.

Need for administrator powers Edit

(03:06)

Red: If you want to be an effective moderator, you have to be able to speak to the adminsbecause we don't have any powers as moderators. We can hide things -- we can't even really remove things -- we can hide topics and we can ban users from that one server. That's all we can do. If you want anything else done, you've got to talk to the admins.

Brit: So moderators... are entirely dependant upon this line of communication existing then.

Red: Yes, and this line of communication barely exists in the first place. Even among moderators, a lot of people don't talk to the admins. Even on /r/games, most of the moderators of /r/games don't talk to any of the admins besides me. I made it a point to talk to as many as possible so I could talk to most of the team. Half of them hate me because, you know, I have strong opinions on different things.

Secret Skype rooms Edit

Red: If you were to ask half of them, half the moderators in /r/games, is there, like, this informal communication between mods and admins about expectations or whatnot they are going to say no because they've never been in that kind of room.

Brit: So it depends upon access then, access and knowledge.

Red: I've been in a big Skype call with different mods and admins and given big rundowns whatever giant drama like this was happened. I guarantee that there's a Skype room for this right now.

Brit: A Skype room for this interview?

Red: Not for this interview, but when... censorship, etc, I guarantee you a lot of people go into Skype rooms and ask to do whatever or expect it to do whatever because I've been in these rooms.

Brit: These rooms then, can you tell me a bit more about them, what sort of content you see discussed between moderators and admins? If not specifics, can you give me an idea?

Red: They don't like to have more than one admin in a room at the same time as far as I can tell. I've only ever talked to two admins.

Revitalization project Edit

(5:30)

Red: What I was involved in is that I was heading this project to revitalize a portion of Reddit that had been destroyed by the admins a long time ago and so the last time I as poointed to a room was to talk about this and what I was going to do and whose toes I was not going to step on.

Opposition to network encryption Edit

(8:15)

Red: If your goal is something that they don't particularly care for like /r/netsec, it's this community dealing with privacy and encryption, they don't really care for that community because their end goal is for all communication to be encrypted, so they're going to look over it a lot more closely than they do /r/games because if they see something they don't like they've got to shut it down before it gets too big or before people know about it because once it's public, it's a problem.

Log release Edit

(09:05)

Red: Those logs that were leaked a few days ago mention that admins can read PMs from any user, combination of users, whatever. That is true. They can read any PM, any mod mail, any private subreddit, any page on the website. It's their website. I don't know why this is a surprise to everyone.

Encryption plugin and child porn threat Edit

(09:34)

Several months ago, maybe last year, I can't remember, I created a browser app for Chrome and Firefox that would have end-to-end encryption for Reddit PMs and mod mail as well as entire subreddits. You could pair it with a program on computers that even images would be encrypted. You would click a link, it would download it, it would go through the program, you could have entire subreddits where the admins could not look at it. It does not exist anymore.

Brit: What happened to that? Was it deleted? Was it taken down by them, or...

Red: It was never put up. It's not like they could delete it. I had it on my computer, but it's kind of complicated. It was a very complicated situation in that basically, I wasn't told this directly by the admins but it was kind of insinuated that if I were to release this, then I would be marked as somene who was helping in the distribution of child pornography on Reddit. That would be very bad for me, of course, 'cause that's something that never goes away, so I decided that encryption really wasn't worth it. The people that I did tell about it were kind of heartbroken because they really like it. They wanted to feel like James Bond or anything, They wanted to send their Dick Butt pictures in total secrecy.

Deleting threads from the database Edit

(12:50)

Red: In the mod log there's a feature where you can show deletions by admins. I don't think it works, though, because an admin removed something from a subreddit that I moderated and it didn't show up there.

Unlogged private communications channels Edit

(17:45)

Red: There's private subreddit after private subreddit and private irc rooms left and right...

Brit: And none of these uses, we'll ever see them, I'm guessing.

Red: No, hell no. Even if you make it as a moderator. Even if you make it as a moderator, if you're a moderator of /r/games you'll get to the /r/games private IRC. That's cool. If you're a trusted person or a good Redditor or at least you're neutral you'll get to the private mod IRC. Just the one though. But then you still have all of these tiers blocked off to you.

Red: As a moderator if you're trusted with certain groups then you'll get into their private IRC to discuss certain things, or you'll get into another private IRC server itself, not even a room, it's an entire other server. I'm in one right now where they discuss things like vote manipulation and brigading to all this stuff and you use this to shut people down.

Even if you get all the way up there you've still got Skype rooms blocked off to you, Mumble servers, entire mod tools and all this stuff. There's even a private web site that deals with shit on Reddit. That's blocked to everyone but 35 to 40 people.

Administrator attitudes Edit

(19;15) Brit: So being a successful moderator, is it a matter of making it from one room to the next, the idea of progressing in terms of contacts and being able to see, included into IRC chat channels?

Red: Inclusion isn't really enough. It's about being better than everyone or at least making them think that you're better ... Becoming the best moderator and being trusted, holding the most secrets, it's all about convincing people that you can be that person and that you're the best at being that person already because if they feel they gain something from simply telling you something, they're going to tell you even if they don't actually gain anything. And that's how I -- I put myself up as the best person possible. I would say "hey, I'm in this private IRC. It's pretty great." And they're like, "You're in this? I'm in this." I'm like "Oh, you shuodl give me an invite and I'll give you an invite into this." You trade a favor and you trade another favor.

People are talking about nepotism in games journalism and everything, buddy-buddying, favor trading, all that, I've been doing that for two years all the time every single day. That's the only way you can be the best at this.

Favor trading Edit

(20:50)

Brit: Have you ever seen, specificaly, people trading favors to advantage a particular discussion --

Red: Oh course!

Brit: -- on something videogame-like related to /r/games. A platform-specific discussion about a game or a journal piece. Have you rever seen favors traded for that?

Red: Hell, many people have tried to trade favors to me for that ... I had this one company, this one website, say "Hey, we'll do an AMA if you do us a favor first."

(the rest of this discussion was speculation.)

Admin personalities Edit

(25:15)

Red: When I say "the admins" I more or less mean at least one admin. I've never had any conversations with them as a group.

One admin will always be very direct whenever we can talk but he barely ever talks. He'll only say exactly what he wants to say and that's fine, I dig that, make yourself scarce, I know. Another admin will always be vague but ifr you want to talk to him, you can always talk to him. He will just be like, "what do you need?"

But then another admin, this admin will send you a message saying "hey, you need to do this." Just outright "hey, we need you to do this." And you just do that.

Brit: When you do do it, is it out of fear for your position as a moderator?

Red: They're not going to take your moderator position. But what they will do is say that you manipulated votes, you created some alternate accounts, and they'll ban you. Because here's the thing about admins. They don't tell people, including the people they banned, exactly what evidence there is against the people who banned them. And I'm not saying this because it's exactly what happened to me, it's because they've told me exactly how this works before, personally, that if they don't like you, if you're doing something they don't like, they're going to make a few alt accounts, they're going to say it came from you, and they're going to ban you for it.

They're going to ban every alt account you have unless you do exactly what they say. If you make a fuss, they're going to just kind of bury you. They just say you're doing vote manipulation, you're brigading, these are their go-tos. You can't prove that you didn't. You can't absolutely prove it because they have all the data on their end. You just have to trust them.

Administrator financial interest Edit

(29:40)

Brit: What would you reckon it takes to become an admin?

Red: Basically, you just have to make them money. That's all it is. The admins have one goal and one goal only: to make as much profit as possible. I'm not kidding. Reddit's profit margin is very low. They were in the red for a very long time and they just barely inched over the black this year. They don't want to go under. So if you can't make them money you're not worth anything to them. All their decisions go back to "How could we make money?"

From the bigggest things like new products and whatnot -- they just opened up more t-shirts, I think, they have like soap -- to the smallest ones like what comments they should delete all come down to making money. That's what everything comes down to. So what it takes to be a Reddit admin? How much money you can make.

Gamergate censorship Edit

(30:55)

Brit: The Zoe Quinn scandal. It was going to come up. These questions have to be asked. Is there anything you can give me, like outright knowledge about the scandal that nobody else knows about the shadowbanning on Reddit?

Red: There's two tiers of what you're asking me. There's what can you give me that you're willing to give, and what can you give me that would implicate people that you like, which -- dear god help me -- I still don't want to implicate my friends in anything. I just can't do it. I wish it were different because it would change the tides of a lot of different things. I could tell you man, I know some shit, some shit shit, but I can't do it. If they were going to come out and try some shit against me again I could maybe rethink my position.

Brit: Is this specifically, with regards to Zoe Quinn? You know stuff?

Red: Zoe Quinn, Phil Fish, Adam Sessler, what's his name -- the other guy.

Brit: Nathan Grayson?

Red: No, the guy with the funny hair.

Brit: there are a lot of guys with funny hair.

Red: You know, the guy that she slept with with the rainbowy hair --

Brit: Oh, I know the guy that you're talking about. I saw his Twitter picture.

Red: I don't know Nathan Grayson. I never talked to Nathan Grayson. I never talked to the guy with the funny hair either but I know enough about him --

Brit: What, that other people don't know or --

Red: Yeah, that's what I mean. Personally I'm not entirely involved in this Zoe Quinn thing. I don't care much about Zoe Quinn. I know, I like, I want to support the whole "change journalism" thing because I do support that. I want better journalism.

Brit: But you're not willing to do so at the cost of personal things?

Red: I wish that I could change journalism but doing so would burn a lot of people that I like. I'm completely fine with implicating myself in things. I don't care at all about what's going to happen to me. I don't work in the game industry at all. Nothing happens to me. For other people, they don't work in the games industry either, but ... I'm not as good as them at hurting my own friends.

Brit: This entire controversy just seems to have, I can't quite explain, it leads from one case to the next of people finding out the most remote information someone coming forwards, and that getting picked up. Zoe Quinn says something really obviously fucking stupid, and somebody comes along and tweets it and more shit gets kicked up and it just becomes some PR battle, and then the knowledge you have, which is the knowledge that may be able to change something, remains out of the way. It's only ever regarded in this implicit manner. It might exist. We can't confirm it. And it forms into two fucking camps of "these people are stupid for suggesting this" about video game journalism is corrupt, and people who suggest it, take the line, and yet can't prove it...

Closed-source software Edit

(35:10)

Brit: You said in the IRC chat channel that there's these closed-off doors, and there's part of Reddit in terms of software we don't see software users don't see. Could you explain a bit more about that?

Red: Reddit calls itself open source. You can go to reddit.com/code and find out supposedly all of its source code. However the admins have always said that part of this code will always be closed-source. And whenever a regular user asks them about this they'll say "it's part of our spam filter fighting algorithms." Which is fine. I'm fine with their spam fighting algorithm being behind closed doors. I dig that.

I was asking them, "could you provide me with these spam fighting algorithms, show them to me, explain how they work, so I can develop on them?" Because I was tired of spam and I was, hey, I could actually improve Reddit, and I learned that not all of it is just spam fighting algorithms. They've got more code than that. I know for a fact that there's automated code to shadowban users from the website that you cannot see on reddit.com/code. You can't see it on the git, etc. I know this one for a fact. I've seen it in action. I've figured out exactly how it works. I know about it.

Brit: Is there anything, specifically, you can tell me about it? Is there anything that would cause a controvery? I don't mean to get into a state of hysteria, but is there anything controversial within this code that people don't know about?

Red: Whenever you go to post something on Reddit whehter it's a comment, self-poost, link, whatever,

there are a lot of different things that get looked at. First, there's the spam filter itself which concerns whether or not it's on a list of things that are banned. If it's hard banned that means you cannot submit it at all. Things like On Gamers, or WNSMBC or whatever, some news site is banned because of spam I think. There are a lot of sources that are hard banned and that's fine. It will tell you you can't submit from that domain. That's what hard banning is.

Soft banning is where it says it's submitted, everything looks fine, but no one will ever see it. Ever. And that's sites like, hell, a massive amount of websites. We've soft banned everything. They've soft banned so much stuff that you can't get a lot of things past. If it does get past those, it gets looked at from the subreddit's spam filters. If something has spammed onje subreddit more than the others they can kind of change up the spam filter.

Past that it goes to Automoderator. Automoderator is a bot that's used by hundreds of hundreds of subreddits. Almost all of the big ones at least. I think only or or two defaults don't use it, which they're kind of silly not to. It's a very good tool. What Automoderator is, it's a bot created by Deimorz, an admin, that uses a list of rules and rejects to remove and approve different things

This is all configurable by Deimorz and by the mods, and it pulls from two differents sources. It pulls from Deimorz's personal wiki thing, and it pulls from the subreddit's wiki. If Deimorz wants something banned from all Automoderator things, he must add something to his own wiki and then, without the mods ever knowing, it will get banned.

If the mods want something removed from their own subreddit, they put it on their own wiki but they can't control other subreddits. I don't know why they didn't think about this, but I do have a copy of our automoderator config file which, it's big, very very big, but I will point out, like the word "cunt" is automatically removed ... it can automatically report things to the moderators like "gaming master race," "bias" -- it reports the word "bias" -- hell, it reports the word "/r/games". You talk about this somewhere it will report you and sometimes remove it. "XBox One," yeah, it removes "XBox One," "Youtube comments" "peasant," "plebian," "peasantry," "bribe," it removes "bribe," "bribes," "bribed," "paid off," "clickbait," 'downvote," "upvote," "Anita" Sarkeesian, "rape," "fedora," "entitled," "Google," I don't know why -- oh, right, telling people to Google it. "Shill," "shilling," "Micro$soft" with a dollar sign, "Microshit," "Microshaft," "XBone," "Hail Corporate," it removes links to Hail Corporate, "check your privilege" ... I wrote all of this because the others don't really know how to maintain this .

"Vote manipulation" as an excuse to ban for no reason Edit

(45:25)

Red: If you are ending the call then one thingI am going to leave you with, if I can sum everything up, is don't trust Reddit at all to do anything. There's a subreddit called ZQConspiracy I think it is, that's supposed to be the source for all this. The people behind that have played correctly into their hands. It's using the exact same theory that I brought up is that if you give people something, a place to talk about whatever they want on Reddit, uou remove everything else they say everywhere else on the website, but you give them their own community to talk about it, you say "see? We're not censoring you." They're only going to talk about it in that one little place. They're just very easily censored.

I'm there, all of the people that come there, they now have all of the account names of everyone who is interested in this. So they can look at those accounts and say "Hey, we don't like him." He's shadowbanned. "Oh, he sent us a message asking why." You were voting today? You were brigading from 4chan.

There was a huge talk about all of the different people banned exactly for this and it's all within different theories and tactics that I know. I've used these same tactics myself. We;ve done it in /r/games.

(47:20)

Red: If people knew how many people we've banned from /r/games for really no good reason by just "hey, you were brigading," then it would be incredible. People would go crazy. If we need a reason to ban someone we say "vote manipulation" because they can't prove it. They can't say anything against it. Even if we're moderators, we can't look at the votes. We don't know anything more than regular users do. Because we're moderators, because they're admins, people always look at the people above them and say "he must know more about me than I do, he must know what he's talking about" because he has that confidence. He has that charisma of somebody who knows what he's talking about and that's really all there is to it.

Reddit's public relations personnel Edit

(48:00)

Cupcake is a PR person. She's the PR person, I think, her and Krispy are the PR persons of Reddit. If she wants something banned, all she has to do is say "they're brigading," "they're vote manipulating," and if you ask "can we see proof?," they do exactly what Deimorz did. "Sorry, we don't give proof to people because it contains private information."

But if the person invovled says "hey, could you at least show the information to me, there should be nothing against showing it to me," they say, we wouldn't want to do that and we wouldn't want to egg you on. They count on people giving in to that charisma and that knowledge and that superiority. The only advice I give people is don't use Reddit. Don't give in to that superiority. The minute you go on. they already own you. It doesn't matter what community you're in.

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