Friday, June 3, 2011

Factions: The Moderators

In my previous post, I made mention of "restricted access" forum threads. While that phrasing makes the matter sound immaterial, I had had no idea that these existed until I started searching for the source of the complaints that led to my edit-ban. Generally speaking I'm quite sure regular wiki-goers aren't supposed to know these threads exist- I was only able to verify their existence by running searches on individual user posting history and whenever I tried to ask a moderator what exactly these things were and when they appeared they simply refused to answer.

The existence of these restricted access threads was troublesome to me. Much of the forum's authority, indeed, even the foundation of the wiki's notification system, was based on transparency. And yet in my specific case, moderators found it necessary to engage in an extended discussion about my miscreant behavior without bothering to tell me what my miscreant behavior was. It still baffles me as to how they could possibly believe that they could resolve the "Some Guy" problem better by speaking to each other rather than engaging me directly. Whatever it was they discussed in that thread became lock-step from there on out- multiple moderators in completely different contexts used the phrase "stomping on Trope Repair Shop" to mean "whatever Some Guy is doing at this moment that I don't like". I rather doubt they came up with this phrase independently.

This wasn't something that only affected me. By cross-referencing threads in Wiki Talk that appear in user posting history versus the ones that appear on the public Wiki Talk forum trawl I found that many significant changes in the wiki were clearly discussed in restricted access threads but not the wiki proper. At one point out of nowhere an announcement was made that major TV Tropes changes would be announced at Twitter, of all things, in an account only the moderators would have access to. This idea may have been so ridiculous it was eventually abandoned, since I can only ever remember being told to check the Twitter once when I had an explicit question.

All in all, the time between when I left the forums and when I was edit-banned was only about four months, the ban being lifted in late August of 2010. I don't know how long these threads have existed, or more importantly, whether their scope has changed significantly over time. All I'm sure of is that before I left the forums, there was almost always an easy trail leading to actions taken by moderators. As time went by all changes, be they by user or wiki-wide, became more and more difficult to pinpoint to an original source.

With these restricted access forum threads, the moderators had become something I had never anticipated seeing in TV Tropes- their own faction. Unfortunately, a faction of moderators has far more potential to be dangerous than, say, a faction of Twilight fans. In the latter case, at worst, you get some poorly written wiki entries that can be easily fixed by any competent editor. In the former, you have a group of editors operating with the implicit and possibly explicit blessing of Fast Eddie, the sole remaining administrator. With these restricted access forum threads, the moderators have an exclusive audience with him- even ignoring moderator powers, this gives them disproportionate ability to influence wiki direction.

There were some caveats to this. I found that one moderator was not involved in discussing the "Some Guy" problem- this turned out to be the same cut master that caused me to leave the forums. Later on, Fast Eddie had removed this person's powers because of a rude response made to Fast Eddie in a forum thread. Once it was clear that this person was the reason why the cut list remained under control, the cut master powers were restored, but an unmistakable message was sent that day- Fast Eddie gave the moderators their powers, and he could take them away. While they have Fast Eddie's ear, Fast Eddie has their necks.

The other notable thing about this cut master was that, while this person did not particularly like me, at the same time, the cut master did address me on occasion in the discussion pages when our paths coincided. The rest of the moderators were not so bold, instead bringing grievances to Fast Eddie directly. At heart, they may have just been insecure tropers all along. Even though almost all of the moderators participated in the thread regarding the "Some Guy" problem, none of the ones with the ability to apply edit bans did so to me, eventually getting Fast Eddie to do it himself. Going straight to Fast Eddie for an opinion is the fast track to validation- his word, his fiat, is essentially wiki law. With that, they would not have to worry about the consequences of acting rashly and banning one of the founding developers of the wiki's quality control protocol.

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