Moderation

Could Twitter take a page from Something Awful?

We talked to the founder of Something Awful about how it puts banned users on display.

Moderation

Moderation

Could Twitter take a page from Something Awful?

We talked to the founder of Something Awful about how it puts banned users on display.

On Saturday, Twitter permanently banned Roger Stone, Jr., a longtime confidante of President Donald Trump, over a string of harassing tweets directed at journalists.

Among other things, Stone called CNN's Don Lemon a “dull witted arrogant partyboi,” referred to Charles Blow of The New York Times as a “fast talking arrogant fake news piece of shit !” and labeled the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol a “#porky #Warmonger.”

While that sort of talk isn't unusual on Twitter, it is unusual that Twitter took steps to discipline Stone. While it's unclear exactly how many bans Twitter has issued, they are rare. In July, 2016, Twitter banned Milo Yiannopoulos after he led a harassment campaign against actress Leslie Jones, for example, and, in 2015, Twitter banned Charles “Chuck” Johnson for raising money to “take out” activist DeRay McKesson.

Macallan Rare Cask

Stone’s supporters argue that his tweets are no worse than those of other, more liberal, personalities, including Keith Olbermann, who has called President Trump a “stupid, pea-brained, motherfucking traitor” on Twitter.

Twitter has declined to say which tweets crossed the line or why. In the absence of any insight from Twitter, I asked Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka, the founder of the infamous SomethingAwful.com, about what kind of behavior merits a lifetime ban on its forums.

Something Awful has a public-facing dashboard that shows who has been disciplined and why. (A sample ban: On September 20, 2017, forum user “whip” was permabanned. The given reason: “It is well documented on his rap sheet that he is a racist paramedic who has bragged about withholding life saving drugs from minorities. He also jacked off on a picture of Barnacle Jim and uploaded it to the forums.”) It has issued 22,549 bans — 2,903 of them permanent — since it was founded in 1999.

The Outline: So Roger Stone was permabanned for calling Don Lemon, the CNN anchor, a "cocksucker," and making vaguely threatening tweets towards a few journalists.

Rich Kyanka: Violent threats?

No, not explicitly violent. He said they should be “punished.”

With “punished,” you think of the CEO of wherever they work for firing them or demoting them or whatever the hell. Compared to the stuff on Twitter, that's very tame. Twitter is the home of raping and spitting on women.

So are you saying you think Roger Stone’s ban was politically-motivated?

No, I think Twitter is just a disorganized hellish black box that nobody can figure out. They've been around since 2006 and Jack is just now bragging about having rules so Nazis can't say they're going to kill and rape you, acting like that's progress. They've been around since 2006, that's 11 years, and it took them 11 years to make rules to tell their users not to threaten to kill and rape other users?

The first thing I did when starting the Something Awful forums was to lay out the rules specifically. Because, as you know, people on the internet are all as pedantic as possible. And you can write 50 pages of rules and they'll still say, "But what if?!" They're like children.

By failing to establish any rules or regulations for the first 11 years, it seems like most people who get banned or suspended have no idea what they did. Like me. I thought I was just making a joke.

You were suspended from Twitter?

I made a tweet saying someone should put Baked Alaska and the Prison Planet guy in a room and fill it full of concrete. Baked Alaska is, to use his own terms, a fragile snowflake and reported me for a death threat and I was permanently suspended from that account.

OK.

That's all I said. I said somebody should put him and the Prison Planet guy in a room and fill it with concrete. I didn't say I was going to. And I didn't really get into the logistics of how we would lure them into the room, how the concrete would be poured and how we could get them to sit motionless for six hours while it set.

So, how did you solve this problem at Something Awful? You said you wrote a bunch of rules but internet pedants will always find ways to get around them.

The last rule says we can ban you for any reason. It's like the catch-all. We can ban you if it's too hot in the room, we can ban you if we had a bad day, we can ban you if our finger slips and hits the ban button. And that way people know that if they're doing something and it's not technically breaking any rules but they're obviously trying to push shit as far as they can, we can still ban them. But, unlike Twitter, we actually have what's called the Leper's Colony, which says what they did and has their track record. Twitter just says, “You're gone.”

It seems, though, that Twitter has become an important place for political discussion and things of that nature. A public space, almost. Do you think rules like those Something Awful has, where you can be banned for pretty much anything, would work in that kind of environment?

Twitter has to at least be transparent, and that's something Twitter has notoriously refused to be. Words go into the black box and consequences come out and you have no idea what caused them or how to prevent it in the future. For instance, there was this guy on Twitter. Of course he had a Pepe avatar, and he was responding to some woman and he called her "a dumb cunt" and told her shut up and posted an image that said, “Rape Sloth is my spirit animal.” We all reported him — I, personally, and I know other people who had — and it took them three weeks to actually suspend his account. Whereas my account was suspended after four hours. Nobody really knows how things work there because there's an utter lack of transparency and they, for whatever reason, don’t have any inclination to be transparent or say what the rules are or make it cut and dry.

We don't even know whether it's an algorithm or a person. Is it a basic keyword search that flags “Nazi” or “rape” or “cunt”? That would make sense, but why would it take three weeks to suspend the account of someone tweeting rape threats? Why is Richard Spencer verified, when wherever he goes people get killed because of him? Nobody really knows. From what I've heard, and I don't know if this is true or not, it’s just low-level interns making arbitrary decisions and they give no fucks. But I can't confirm or deny that because there's no way for anyone to figure out how Twitter works or why they work the way they do.

When you get permabanned on Something Awful, are you still able to see the forums at all?

No. You seen an image of a gigantic tarantula on a man's penis. It's spidercock.jpg.

I probably won't look that up, but it's good to know. I'm assuming people try to get around being permabanned. How do you make sure they can't?

There's no surefire way. We can match it by credit card or by e-mail address.

Can you also match by IP?

No, because of proxies and dynamic IP addresses. You can just load up a VPN and get through.

So if I were to use a different credit card, would it be possible to circumvent a permaban?

Yeah, if you're trying, there's a way to get around it. If you get a credit card with somebody else's name on it and a different email address, there's nothing we can do. But the people who are permabanned are usually permabanned for a good reason: they're highly insane. There's certain traits that give them away unconsciously. Certain quirks we're familiar with.

So there's a psychology to it.

Oh, yeah. Psychotic people have easy tells, basically. But, again, that can't be applied to Twitter. With 330 million people, how are you going to get all the mods on the same page?

Other than posting child porn, what can you be permabanned from SA for?

Scamming people, threatening the president, stalking, anything illegal.

Besides the permaban, what other options do you have for dealing with problem users?

We can probate them for a certain period of time. We just can regular ban them, but they can buy a new account. And we can give them what's called “Forum's Cancer,” where they post and they think that their post shows up, but nobody else sees it.

The so-called “shadow ban.”

Yeah. These are all things that we coded back in 2002. And we had to do it all in-house because none of these things existed on other forums, because they didn't have a community that was like ours, so we had to do it all in-house, which is why I'm still stuck with a copy of [vBulletin] from 2001.

Do you think Twitter is obligated to tell its users why they've been banned?

As a private company, they can do whatever they want to do. In my personal opinion, if I was running the place, I would at least tell people what they did so other people would know what not to do. It's like hanging a severed head outside your castle. It's showing people what they have to do to get banned.

One thing you mentioned to me previously was that Something Awful had a problem with moderators and admins reading and interpreting the rules differently. So, one person would get banned for something and somebody else would do the same thing and not get banned. People are making the same criticism of Twitter right now. How did you solve this problem, or did you?

We would just replace the mods.

If you had to moderate a forum with 330 million people, what would you do?

Hell if I know. I personally think the genie’s out of the bottle. If they would have nipped it in the bud 11 years ago, it wouldn't be in the state it’s currently in. But now you've got 330 million people and now you're going to try explaining the rules to all of them? They've dug themselves into too deep of a ditch.

Would you ban Roger Stone from Something Awful for saying what he said on Twitter?

Yeah, we'd probably ban him. He went off the deep end and we want to get rid of the crazy people. The punishment line doesn't bother me, but going off on people does. So if you could actually reach Roger Stone and tell him not to register a Something Awful account, that'd be nice.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Being social

Twitter’s Nazi problem is still out of control

The social media site added cosmetic changes but remains a haven for hate groups.
Read More