This weekend was supposed to be a fairly uneventful weekend for Tesla, as weekends for Tesla go. They weren't being banned from sale, and nothing caught fire. But the ever-present specter of Subreddit Drama lurked, as always. And since it's Reddit, pretty much everything else got dragged through the mud, too.
(Full disclosure: Subreddit Drama is a hallmark of the website known as "Reddit," and without its Lord of the Flies mentality, the whole thing might cease to exist. Also, illustrious Jalopnik parent company Gawker Media has a bit of history with Reddit. So, you know, "trigger warning," for people who say that sort of thing. Which is not me. I am not a person who would say that sort of thing. Just saying. Okay, carry on.)
In case you're unfamiliar with Reddit, which is both a) surprising because it's like, so totally huge right now and b) unsurprising, because the horde-like mentality that its very business model engenders can definitely be a turnoff to some, it works on the basic premise that "popular information is good information." Each post can be voted up or down, and the information that the masses deem most pertinent makes its way to the top.
That's actually a brilliant idea, because it circumvents the norms of traditional media, made up of journalists and editors who act as gatekeepers for information, and who historically haven't been proven to be very good as gatekeepers. On the other hand, it's an absolutely terrible idea, because popular information isn't always important, accurate, or relevant to anything, really.
So as of this writing, on Reddit's front page, are stories about Toronto's election signs (important and relevant, to some people), North and South Korea exchanging fire across their sea border (important and relevant, to some people), and also a dog that is old and a Canadian marveling over snow (important and relevant, to some people).
It's genius, to some people.
Contrast that to the New York Times, which has articles about climate change, Hispanic Americans at the ballot box, and also North and South Korea exchanging fire across their sea border.
It's genius, to some people.
Reddit's overall makeup is composed of numerous different "subreddits," or individual pages for different interests. They range from conspiracists to people making fun of conspiracists, from the world news subreddit to people who hate the world news subreddit, and, conveniently for our purposes today, one for fans of Tesla Motors, and one for fans of technology.
And these two realms are where our story takes place.
On Saturday, a broadside was fired across the beam of r/TeslaMotors, with a post by user canausernamebetoolon. "Tesla is banned from r/technology, and so am I for finding out," the post's headline proclaimed.
"Stories about Tesla have been banned from /r/technology. And now that I've found out about it, I've been banned from r/technology, too," the post began. Canausernamebetoolon "discovered" this when they posted a story about Tesla to r/technology, but the post was deleted. Upon inquiring why, a moderator for r/technology, agentlame, replied with "that's better suited for r/teslamotors."
A civil reply, even if you don't agree with it. But canausernamebetoolon didn't agree with it, noting that stories about Google and Apple abounded, despite those companies also having their own subreddit. It begged a question.
But I replied by pointing out that Tesla stories are very popular on /r/technology, getting thousands of upvotes and being among the subreddit's top-rated stories of all time.
Agentlame, sensing an affront to all that was good and proper on r/technology, stepped up to defend its honor:
Battery cars aren't 'technolgy' [sic] any more than normal cars are. Brand favoritism isn't a good reason to allow something that doesn't belong.
Clearly, a conspiracy was afoot, and canausernamebetoolon spotted it. He immediately ran through the posts on r/technology, and discovered that there were no posts on Tesla for the past three months. Dun dun dun.
He ran back to agentlame, and confronted the moderator with this treachery. A great crime had been committed, and this Would Not Stand. Agentlame responded with a flippant comment, and the moment agentlame made it, agentlame would grow to rue. To RUE:
Car stories should be submitted to car-related subreddits.
Please inform your supervisors in the Tesla Motors Marketing department.
I don't even, I just can't, I might just literally. The Tesla Motors Marketing department? Is agentlame serious? Because agentlame sounds serious. (Agentlame probably wasn't serious.) But then, it got worse for canausernamebetoolon:
you've been banned
you have been banned from posting to /r/technology: Technology .
Or rather, because Reddit:
Alright, so maybe I'm treating this with too much levity. Canausernamebetoolon confronted the main, salient point:
For better or worse, all subreddits, even the main subreddits visible to everyone by default, are the private playgrounds of whoever started them first. So it's up to them what to allow and not allow. But subreddits tend to be very clear about their rules. Not only was this ban not transparent, but the anti-transparency theme extended so far as to actually ban someone for noticing what happened. That just seems impulsively vindictive. I hope that Agentlame or someone else at r/technology will reconsider. The largest share of my karma, over 25,000 of these made-up Reddit points we play with, has come from contributions I've made to r/technology. I'd like to continue the conversation.
And in case anyone thinks there must be more to this story, that I must privately be some insufferable internet troll and that I surely couldn't have been banned just for asking if Tesla was banned, here's a screenshot of my full conversation with Agentlame.
Canausernamebetoolon brings up a good point about the nature of moderated conversations on the Internet. Conversation moderation should exercise discretion, should exercise restraint, and, if nothing else, should foster substantive discussion. And substantive discussion was all canausernamebetoolon wanted to contribute.
Ultimately, canausernamebetoolon's post about the r/technology ban on r/teslamotors accumulated an upvote to downvote ratio of more than 4,000. And for those who haven't been following Reddit along at home, that's a lot.
And, like all salient posts full of good intentions on the Internet, the comments immediately filled with anger and vitriol. The top comment:
I don't trust the mods there at all. Here's a perfectly valid post that was tagged as the wrong subreddit without any explanation: http://www.reddit.com/r/technology/c…
I seriously believe those mods are getting paid to filter content.
A strong charge of corruption, and a nefarious one, if true. Not only would a moderator be removing constructive and thoughtful posts at a whim (which does happen, quite frequently, on the Internet), but they'd be getting paid to do it.
And, like all good conspiracy theories, it was entirely unsubstantiated and made no sense, if you thought about it for more than, oh, let's say, three seconds. Would it be those devils at Virgin Galactic be paying off the shills at r/technology to feature out anything to do with Elon Musk? Doesn't matter. The charge has been leveled, and that's the whole point, really.
The next highest comment continued the insults:
"Inform your supervisors in the Tesla marketing department?"
WTF? Maybe agentlame skipped his meds today.
There is NO WAY agentlame was joking here, just NO WAY. Agentlame is clearly having a psychotic episode.
Another comment, garnering over 200 points:
I am sending this message to every admin in the /r/Technology subreddit. I suggest you all do the same with a similar message. This is politics, plain and simple. IF there is something fishy going on, such as a moderator having been bought by a car company (and that's a big IF, it's only speculation that I've seen posted about in this thread), then this needs some goddamned grassroots organizing up in this 'ish. Threaten to unsubscribe at the end of your message. Then actually unsubscribe. The only thing that's going to rattle their cages are statistical proof that this issue is affecting their subreddit.
The subreddit was off and running with the "the moderator is a shill" theory, and not only was agentlame bought off, agentlame was bought off by a car company. Sure, it was qualified with "a big IF," but that might as well be the same mentality of Fox News' "we're only asking questions."
(My guess is it was those no-goodniks at Geo, with their gas-savers they made back in the 1990s. Geo knows what they did.)
The comments went on and on, in this manner. Agentlame was horrible, abusing his power, a "fucking moron."
Agentlame, desperate to clear their Reddit handle, waded into the thick of battle:
You were banned for spamming after being told not to.
But it didn't matter. The subreddit was on the warpath. Agentlame's defense garnered -609 votes, as of this writing. It remains hidden near the bottom, where most who read the initial post will never see it.
Canausernamebetoolon did see it, however, and decided to continue the fight in public, asking if it was related to their multiple posts with the word "Tesla" in it, designed to test the system. And for some odd, dumb reason, Agentlame decided to respond, and double-down on the "Tesla marketing department theory:"
It was a clear indicator that you work for Tesla, so is this post.
We will not allow /r/technology to be used to further your spamming efforts.
The war trumpets were out, and they could not be called back in. Accusations of shilldom flew back and forth, and because this was all getting so incredibly stupid, I decided to reach out to both parties directly for their side of the story.
Only Agentlame responded.
I asked if he really removed the post, and if so, why they removed the post. I asked if it was part of an official r/technology moderator policy. I asked if posts about Tesla were banned.
Agentlame claimed not to have removed the post, merely to have responded to an inquiry. They said that the post was removed by a bot that was set to look for certain keywords. The bot was over-zealous in its stringency, and furthermore, the moderators of r/technology were already aware of the issue, Agentlame wrote:
First, context is important here. If you only ask "was x word blocked" it lacks the context of what the bot config is, how it works, and how mods use it. It also lacks the context of why something might be added.
Our bot config has tons of spam domains, domains we don't allow because of our rules (image hosting sites are a good example), etc. It also has key phrases we might not allow ("op is a faggot" is a good example of that). It's not some file that we just plug in stuff we want to 'censor'. It's also a list of rules and responses/actions with different triggers. It also has stuff that we might want to be alerted to (a post with too many reports is a good example of that.)
The reason all of this is important is because it's not the type of thing where some angry mod would just type "kill tesla". It's a word that would be added to a rule that responds to many, many trigger words.
As for why it might be added is the fact that we are extremely short in mods. Just a few weeks ago we posted a thread for community members to apply to be added as mods.
As for Tesla stories in /r/technology, keep in mind that we only allow stories about technology. So a story about Tesla's stock price wouldn't belong. As it stands, only about 10% of Tesla stories are about their technology. But any Tesla story gets voted to the front page within about two hours. When you remove a post that never belonged from the front page, it makes people extremely angry.
When you add all of these factors together, you end up with a situation where blocking a type of submission by a keyword can seem like a reasonable, or even good, idea. Even it it doesn't from an outside perspective.
Now, with all that said, I think I've already "answered" the direct question. But, I can only offer the political answer of "I'm not at liberty to say what is in our bot config."
Sorry for the stupidity long answer. It's up to you what you will quote, but I hope you will at least include some context to how reddit works and how bots work.
Also, I'm on my phone, so I'm sure there are typos.
Another r/technology moderator, Skulld, later followed up on the r/technology subreddit, largely corroborating agentlame's story. Tesla was not a banned topic, Skulld said, and furthermore, agentlame was definitely joking around with the whole "Tesla marketing department" stuff. So everyone just calm down.
As an attempt at fixing the issue, the under-moderation of r/technology would no longer suffer attempts at rectification by a bot. Moderation would all be done by real, thinking, breathing people.
Yesterday, r/technology was practically flooded with Tesla news, old and new. A post about Tesla's plans for a new car to debut in 2015, linking to an article from December, received over 3000 points. Another post about the Tesla Model S's new titanium underbody received over 2,900.
All was back to normal, then, over at r/technology.
And still, Elon Musk can't avoid drama.