On Saturday, the 24th of March, 2018, a Reddit user called afooltobesure posted the following question on Reddit’s /r/conspiracy subreddit:
Essentially, afooltobesure was questioning why a /r/conspiracy moderator called Flytape had officially welcomed in “refugees” from the Trump community after their subreddit had been temporarily set to private.
Not long after, afooltobesure’s post was removed for violating Rule 10.
/r/conspiracy and Rule 10.
Rule 10 is one of those flaky rules that is purposely left open to interpretation. It states the following:
Posts that attack this sub, users or mods thereof, will be removed. Accusing another user of being a troll or shill can be viewed as an attack, depending on context. First violations will usually result in a warning but bans are at the mods’ discretion.
The rule sounds OK in theory, but is it fairly enforced?
Take a look at the following post by Reddit user yellowsnow2, in which he decried how bad /r/conspiracy had become:
The post above could have been easily interpreted as a violation of Rule 10. However, because it pushed the narrative that CNN’s optional syndicate content was just as bad as Sinclair Broadcast Group’s mandatory content, it was allowed to stand.
His argument fell in line with the political views of the /r/conspiracy moderators as it attempted to lessen the impact of claims that a large telecommunications company with a known conservative slant was forcing local stations to repeat opinion pieces.
However, what if you were to make a similar post, but from a more left-wing / anti-Sinclair perspective?
The post above was removed by moderator Sabremesh and the user who created the post was banned from the subreddit.
This blatant double-standard was highlighted by a number of users, who asked why yellowsnow2’s attack on the subreddit was allowed to stand if a similar post expressing the opposite viewpoint had been removed a day earlier:
Note that this double-standard was also pointed out to the /r/conspiracy moderation team directly via mod mail. In response, they muted the person who brought it up and refused to take any action.
PS: It is worth noting that in the past, Sabremesh has had no problem approving posts that could be interpreted as breaking Rule 10.
Sabremesh is the moderator that decided to invoke Rule 10 and remove the post in question. Coincidentally, this user made the following post in a private subreddit called conspiracy_conclave:
The user went on to write the following:
Despite stating otherwise, Sabremesh basically argued that users with anti-Trump sentiments should be labelled as “persona non grata” – A Latin term that translates into “an unacceptable or unwelcome person.” He also recommended that members of the conclave should compile a list of the users that should be considered as personae non gratae:
It is worth noting that this moderator recently used Rule 10 to ban somebody for calling a Holocaust denier a racist.
In August of 2018, Sabremesh approved a post by somebody who used the phrase “Jew savages”. This is despite the fact that the submission clearly broke Rule 1, which states: “Bigoted slurs are not tolerated.” When a user replied to the post with “Go f yourself, Nazi” – Sabremesh removed the reply and immediately banned them. Eventually, another moderator had to step in and remove the post.
/r/conspiracy_conclave is a private subreddit that was supposedly set up for “the betterment of /r/conspiracy”. On this subreddit, moderators, former moderators and their “allies” discuss how /r/conspiracy should be moderated. If you have never heard of this secret club before, it is probably because threads about it are removed:Recently, this secret club was used to nominate and vet new moderators:
Unsurprisingly, all of the user’s that were chosen to become new moderators held political views that were similar to that of axolotl_peyotl and the rest of the conclave:
In this secret clubhouse of theirs, they have actually discussed using Reddit’s “Contest Mode” on any post that pushes the ‘mainstream narrative’. Note that on /r/conspiracy, the mainstream narrative is a phrase that is often used to describe any conspiracy theory that portrays Donald Trump, conservatives or Russia in a less-than-positive light:
axolotl_peyotl is the top active moderator on /r/conspiracy. A quick summary of him and his post history:
- axolotl_peyotl believes that the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory is propaganda and that the CIA and the mainstream media have successfully weaponized an ‘irrational fear and hatred’ of Donald Trump in the hopes of galvanizing support for a coup and subsequent police state.
- He believes in QAnon, which is a right-wing fantasy character that continuously makes vague predictions about how Hillary Clinton and other leading members of the DNC are going to be arrested. On the 14th of May, axolotl_peyotl submitted a post about QAnon. Because his submission was downvoted, he decided to create another post a couple of hours later. This time, however, he used his moderator powers to sticky the post so that it would remain at the top of the subreddit. He also made sure to use a [No Meta] tag so that he could remove any comments that pointed this out.
- In the past, he has gone on banning sprees whenever his partisanship has been questioned.
- He is known to return to his posts days later and silently ban those who disagreed with him. In one case, he banned a person who disagreed with his pro-Trump post two days later, labeling them as an “anti conspiracy troll”. This ban occurred less than an hour after he approved a comment from somebody calling people “Libtards”.
- After the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, he used his moderator powers to sticky multiple posts that “proved” Russia’s innocence.
- He attempted to pour doubt on a news that Flight MH17 was downed by a Russian missile. He referred to this news story as a conspiracy to fuel “anti-Russian hysteria.”
- In regards to the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2003, axolotl_peyotl doesn’t believe that the case is closed. i.e. He doesn’t believe that the Russians were behind it.
- After news broke that Ukraine had stopped a Russian plot to assassinate journalist Arkady Babchenko, axolotl_peyotl claimed that it was “fake news” and that it was designed to scapegoat Russia.
- To create an “Us vs Them” siege mentality, he routinely accuses “outsiders” of “brigading” submissions and downvoting comments. This behavior stretches back years.
- When Democrat candidate Doug Moore defeated Roy Moore, axolotl_peyotl removed the submission about it because the title was editorialized. That would be OK if it weren’t for the fact that dozens of editorialized titles are submitted to /r/conspiracy on a daily basis.
- He has submitted anti-semitic posts in the past.
- He routinely stickies any post that is made in Russia’s defense.
The Selective Skepticism of /r/conspiracy.
When conspiracy theories about the Trump-Russia connection are posted to /r/conspiracy, they are often met a heavy amount of “skepticism”. That would be perfectly OK if this “skepticism” didn’t come from the same conspiracy theorists who believe that QAnon is real and that a powerful pedophile ring operated in the basement of a pizza place that didn’t actually have a basement.
If a theory casts right-wing conservatives in a negative light, then the news agency that reported the story will be attacked and their motives will be heavily questioned. If the article in question uses anonymous sources, commentators will be extremely quick to point it out. However, if a conspiracy theory casts the DNC in a negative light, then anonymous posts on 4chan and articles from the likes of Zero Hedge will do just fine.
Here, TheMysteriousFizzJ pours doubt on a news article about the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory. Why? Because it uses anonymous sources:
However, this user was completely fine with anonymous sources a couple of days before that:
In one example, a user claimed that one of Roseanne Barr’s tweets about the censorship of right wingers had been deleted by Twitter:
In just under two hours, this piece of fake news had received 500 upvotes from the “critical thinkers” of /r/conspiracy. This is despite the fact that Barr had already stated it was her son that deleted the tweets:
So, how did such a post with such a blatantly false title gain so many upvotes in such a short period of time? I don’t know, but I do know one thing: If this post had been Trump-Russia related, the moderators of /r/conspiracy would have quickly arrived at the conclusion that the popularity of the post was due to a brigade by another subreddit.
In another example, a post titled “Malcolm X exposing liberals” receives 43 upvotes:
The moderators allowed this link to stay up. Conclave members such as RMFN and putin_loves_cats also threw their support behind it:
How did a person who calls people “liberal normies” get added to a private subreddit that was created for discussing the “betterment of /r/conspiracy”?
When a news story broke about the Trump’s ties to Russia, the /r/conspiracy moderators reacted by tagging the submission with the phrase unverified allegations. This raised a lot of eyebrows, as conspiracy theories about Pizzagate, 9/11, vaccines causing autism and the Flat Earth theory had never received such a tag. Let it be known that up until that point no other submission in the entire history of /r/conspiracy had ever been tagged with the phrase “unverified allegations”.
Former /r/conspiracy moderator Flytape.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned how a former moderator called Flytape had swung open the doors and publicly welcomed members of Reddit’s Trump community to /r/conspiracy.
A few months later, Flytape was forced to step down from his position after the Reddit administrators intervened and prevented him from staging a coup against some of the other moderators.
In the immediate aftermath of his “retirement”, he bemoaned how the subreddit was being run by “a bunch of liberals”. He even complained to Reddit’s Trump community about it.
Flytape is also a member of the super secret “conspiracy conclave” that was mentioned above. There, he and the alt-right moderators of /r/conspiracy privately discuss how to “improve” the subreddit.
Here is a leaked screenshot of Flytape complaining about the fact that Trump-Russia theories can be discussed on /r/conspiracy. In his opinion, the subreddit should just ban them:
After Flytape announced his retirement, one of the people that passionately defended him was a user called RecoveringGrace:
Seven months after springing to Flytap’s defense, RecoveringGrace was promoted to moderator:
But that shouldn’t really surprise you, seeing as RecoveringGrace is also a member of the secret “conspiracy conclave” club. According to the public mod logs, RecoveringGrace is also known to remove comments that are critical of Trump:
And another one that didn’t break any /r/conspiracy rules:
This isn’t the first time this particular moderator has been accused of bias:
Top Mod of r/conspiracy /u/RecoveringGrace engages in mod abuse by attacking, censoring and banning popular Trump/Russia conspiracy theorist /u/JoeyBulgaria. No rules broken. No ban reason given. Partisan politics is a helluva drug! He mad.
Note that at the time of writing, RecoveringGrace’s account was suspended by the Reddit administrators for threatening to “dox” somebody.
Two months ago, a user called aleister was also promoted to a moderator position on /r/conspiracy. Here are a few basic facts about this user:
- He also moderates a subreddit called “The Great Awakening”, which is a community for QAnon supporters. As mentioned above, QAnon is a popular alt-right conspiracy theory.
- He has locked threads and banned users for posting conspiracy theories that paint Trump in a negative light.
- aleister is critical of Robert Mueller and his investigation.
- This moderator believes that Seth Rich was the source of the DNC email hacks. He also believes that the DNC had him murdered as a result.
- aleister consistently removes anything that is could be seen as anti-Trump.
- He has submitted QAnon-related material to /r/conspiracy.
- There is a huge gap in this user’s submission history. Between May 2011 and August 2016, this user did not submit anything. The account “came back alive” two months before the US Presidential Election with submissions that were critical of Hillary Clinton.
- It is highly likely that aleister also owns another moderator account called JamesColesPardon. In a private mod conversation, it seems as though aleister forgot to sign out of his main account before replying. When aleister was removed as a mod in August of 2018, it was JamesColesPardon that added him back to the position.
This is another user that the Conspiracy Conclave chose to become a moderator on /r/conspiracy. A quick overview of their political leanings:
- kit8642 does not believe that the Russians had anything to do with the DNC email hack.
- This user believes that the DNC rigged their primary elections.
- He has questioned whether “Russia Gate” is a ploy to start a war with Russia.
- kit8642 felt that the MSM was smearing the Green Party’s presidential nominee Jill Stein for having dinner with Vladimar Putin.
- He once wrote: “the MSM would love to feed you hours for BS russia-trump story.”
- This user believes that the Clintons should be investigated, despite the fact that they already have been – multiple times.
- He is extremely quick to post anything that could be seen as damaging to the Democratic Party.
- kit8642 doesn’t believe in the “Russia narrative”.
- Previously, he has floated the idea that Russian bots are actually being controlled by the CIA.
- He believes in the Clinton Uranium One theory, which is a popular right-wing conspiracy theory that has been tirelessly debunked.
- In the lead up to the 2016 presidential election, he posted a number of anti-Clinton submissions.
MissType is a one-year-old account that was recently promoted by top moderator axolotl_peyotl.
- According to their post history, they are a Trump supporter that has repeatedly posted to /r/the_donald in the past.
- Their user account history is filled with conspiracy theories about the DNC, Imran Awan, Hillary Clinton and Seth Rich.
- This account rarely submitted anything to /r/conspiracy until August, 2017. Before that, the account posted almost exclusively to /r/the_donald.
- Like most alt-right users, they are highly critical of “the left”, SJWs, CNN and liberals.
Wiki notes on users.
According to the public mod log, /r/conspiracy moderators are also keeping notes on certain users. Although we cannot see what has been written in these notes, we can make an educated guess based on Sabremesh’s “persona non grata” post in Conspiracy Conclave.
After reviewing the accounts that had notes added to them, I noticed that most of them had posted anti-Trump content.
Former “Great Awakening” mod aleister created a Wiki note about user mjshoe on the 2nd of May, 2018. Strangely enough, when I looked at mjshoe’s account history, I could see that he hadn’t posted anything to /r/conspiracy in over 2 months. So why did aleister create a Wiki note about him? Well, it turns out that mjshoe is highly critical of Trump and he has also complained about how “pro government” /r/conspiracy has become.
aleister also created a note on Reddit user schoolydee after he posted the following comment:
clinton did not disappear for four months while running for president. but the rubles disappeared from the vodka fueled roulette tables in your black sea troll farm dacha.
He created a note on user BirbWorld after he used the phrase “Stupid F*cking Trump C*ck Holsters.”
He created a note on user ATXNYCESQ after he made comments such as:
PS, are you just going to ignore the examples of disastrous decisions made by Trump with respect to our economy—examples I provided at your request?
Moderator User_Name13 created a note about hurtsdonut_ after he questioned Melania Trump’s whereabouts.
I reviewed six accounts that had Wiki notes added against them in a 12 hour period. Out of those six accounts, five had posted anti-Trump content.
Coincidental, no doubt.
Obama’s Satanic outfit.
In June of 2018, right-wingers claimed to have found a photograph of Obama wearing some sort of satanic head dress. This grainy unconfirmed photograph was submitted to /r/conspiracy twice in less than 24 hours.
The moderators of /r/conspiracy were perfectly OK with the reposts.
Misleading, fabricated or sensationalist headlines are subject to removal.
Afterwards, the person who created the post was banned for “trolling” by /r/conspiracy moderator mastigia. Note that when the mod team were asked to point out which comments were considered to be “trolling”, they “muted” the conversation.
In the lead up to the post being removed, Conclave members were posting accusatory comments such as this:
Something smelled alright, but it wasn’t the post.
The moderators of /r/conspiracy have a habit of muting anyone who points out inconsistencies in how they apply the rules.
Take the following example, which was basically an attack on Trump-critic John McCain.
Note that the submission:
- Lacked context and provided zero answers to any of the questions that were being asked.
- It was not accompanied by a submission statement, which breaks Rule 13 (a rule that is usually heavily-enforced).
When a user called SouthernJeb pointed this out to the /r/conspiracy moderator team, he was immediately muted.
Who muted SouthernJeb? Well, it was none other than axolotl_peyotl of course!
In July of 2018, a Reddit user discovered that Trump supporters were brigading other subreddits. Their goal was to push manufactured outrage about Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon. Essentially, Harmon had been criticizing Trump on Twitter, which made him a target for the alt-right.
A post was created explaining how Trump supporters were intentionally swarming other subreddits to push this “outrage” and control discourse on the subject.
Unfortunately, moderator aleister of “Great Awakening” fame removed the post and locked it because he felt that it was “targeted harrassment”. He didn’t state what specific rule it broke or why he thought that it was “targeted harrasment”. He just removed it.
A week or two later, aleister approved a “call to arms” post that encouraged /r/conspiracy users to brigade another anti-conspiracy subreddit. Eventually, another mod had to step in and remove the thread.
aleister strikes again.
In July of 2018, Reddit user alleganysmallmouth submitted a news story about how the White House had removed Putin’s support for Trump from a transcript. An hour or so later, aleister removed the post and banned him.
A few hours later, another mod was forced to step in and reverse the decision.
aleister is also JamesColesPardon.
A leaked modmail screenshot showed aleister replying to his own message. If you look at the discussion, it is pretty obvious that aleister was having a fake conversation with himself and that he forgot to switch back to his JamesColesPardon account before replying.
/r/conspiracy moderator IntellisaurDinoAlien noticed this and removed aleister from his position.
Shortly afterwards, aleister was added back to his position by JamesColesPardon. i.e. He invited himself back.
All of this led to a large internal discussion between the /r/conspiracy moderators. To sum this discussion up:
- The other moderators accepted aleister’s explanation that he was just drunk. i.e. A team of people who are naturally suspicious of everything decided to take his word for it, despite it being blatantly obvious to everyone that aleister had forgotten to switch back to his JamesColesPardon account before replying.
- A number of moderators said that they were more concerned about who took a screenshot of the conversation than the allegation that aleister was operating multiple mod accounts.
- IntellisaurDinoAlien admitted that he leaked the screenshot. He was naturally bemused that his fellow moderators were more concerned about the screenshot than alesiter’s obvious sockpuppetry.
- IntellisaurDinoAlien expressed his belief that alesiter and JamesColesPardon belonged to flytape – the pro-Trump moderator that was removed in the past. “All of the signs point to a flytape op, IMO.”
- After telling everyone that they needed to pick a less “biased” and “corrupt” mod, IntellisaurDinoAlien said his goodbyes and deleted his account.
After the discussion had ended, /r/conspiracy moderator AssuredlyAThrowAway made an announcement and pushed the line that aleister was simply drunk and that there was no foul play. Unsurprisingly, most people were skeptical of this explanation.
axolotl_peyotl takes control.
In September of 2018, axolotl_peyotl successfully lobbied the Reddit administrators to remove illuminatedwax as the top moderator of /r/conspiracy.
In his words, “having an inactive mod at the top of a 700k-strong sub just isn’t necessary”.
Most people saw through this facade, however, as it was pretty clear to everyone involved that his main motive was to assume complete control of the subreddit.
The takeover had been complete.
The Mod Log disappears.
The public moderation log, which had allowed normal users to view moderator actions, stopped working in November of 2018. Four months later, no alternative solution had been put in place.