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Mass reporting: when someone tries to get others to report another for crimes as large as intellectual property infringement to as little as a single comment calling someone a name. Does it really ...
Mass reporting is when one person tries to get their followers or a group of people to report another person all at once in the hopes that the website administrators and moderators take notice sooner than usual—as in right that second. Oftentimes, the goal is to have the moderators ban the person instead of just punishing them based on whatever the event was, whether it was a small offense such as calling someone a name, or a huge offense, such as infringing someone's intellectual copyright. Sometimes someone offended this person directly, sometimes this person is trying to help someone else, and, rarely, these people just want someone banned, so make up events to make this other person seem like a criminal. Then, altruistic people—trying to be their kind and helpful, but gullible, selves—report the person the instigator posts about almost without a second thought. They get one link or screenshot as "proof" and think it's enough without realizing there might be more to this story. A few may point out these flaws in logic but are often ignored or yelled at because the pack mentality has set in.
Here's an example of what I observed. First, let me tell you a little about the website where this event took place.
QuoteV is one of the few websites that allows users to create stories, quizzes, and polls, but also embraces collaborative works within the website's function itself. That means that people can co-author stories, and have all party's usernames attached to one copy of this story on the whole website, instead of the website having numerous copies of the same story so each author can have it in their published section. In fact, QuoteV also allows writers to employ editors, similarly to co-authors, but not like co-authors. The differences between editors and co-authors as a website function is that the original writers of the story can remove editors whenever they wish and editors can't publish any changes they make to the story, whereas if that writer lets in a co-author, once the co-author made and published any changes, the initial writer couldn't remove them. That co-author would have to remove themselves after that point.
What most members of this site don't realize is that co-authors aren't editors. Editors help the writers improve their story, thus they wouldn't have any rights to the story itself, and that's why the author can remove them at any time. Co-authors write with the other writer, contributing their own ideas and writing style, so should be able to keep their rights to the contributions they make just as much as the other writer.
People are afraid of co-authors hijacking their story, where this new co-author goes off-script and writes whatever they want despite it going against the outline they agreed to if there was an outline at all, or trying to get rid of the original author to keep the rights and credit of the entire story; however, it can go the other way too. The original writer allows in co-authors, and then somehow convinces the masses that this co-author isn't contributing anything, or is ruining the story, and then somehow gets the co-author booted off the story through peer pressure or, you guessed it, mass reporting, and the original author gets to keep the co-author's contributions to the story. You're probably thinking this is a crazy assumption, and no one would actually do this, but this is why the original author couldn't just remove their co-authors, but lots of members don't understand this, and often end up in disputes, and because they can't seem to solve it by themselves, they get their friends involved, and it becomes a bigger mess.
I've seen collaborations that work well, so this is not an impossible task, but it's because the partners understand what co-authorship means and take the time to work together from step one, agreeing on an outline, what roles each of them write in, and finishing their project. Together. Those that don't understand, fail, mostly because one of the authors, often the original, lets their ego get involved and wants more credit.
QuoteV's co-author policy has changed recently so writers with seniority on a story can remove newer co-authors now at any time. I don't fully agree with this policy, for the fact that writers can boot each other off to get sole credit for another's work, but I understand why. People don't know how to solve their own problems or act like honest adults. However, I think this would cause problems in the future, perhaps to the point of getting rid of the co-authoring feature entirely.
Let me finally tell you a story of a mass-reporting fiasco. Trigger warning: trying to tell you what happened with two groups of people while trying to use singular and plural "they" ended up being a confusing mess, so I'm using "he" as a gender-neutral term, so if any SJWs read this, know I had the best of intentions and truly wanted to make the singular "they" pronoun work. Usernames will also be changed to protect the people involved.
Purdie felt like he needed others' help to fix his problem, so he posted a topic in one of the QuoteV groups griping about his co-authors ruining his story with "crack fics." Crack fics are short stories about random and wild events that often don't make sense or are wildly out of character if it's fan fiction. To my recollection, Purdie didn't name names and only linked to the story in question. Joss replied saying he would help and went to his own Activity to post to his followers to report all of the co-authors, but villainized one, in particular, linking to the story with the reasoning being that these three co-authors—we'll call them Logan, Shiori, and Happy—hijacked the story. Joss is now the instigator of the mass report.
Of course, at the first drop of blood in the water, the masses took off. The thing is QuoteV doesn't have any documented rules against hijacking. Yes, it's mean-spirited behavior, and I understand how frustrating it would be to be unable to just delete their contributions and kick them out of the story, but, as I said before, the reason authors couldn't just boot their co-authors is so everyone could keep their rights to their contributions to what they wrote. As the conversation went on, some wanted more details as to what happened. Some just wanted to ingest more exciting drama, and others wanted a viable reason before reporting.
Joss let in more details. Someone else gave Purdie the story, so Purdie became the sole author, and found that he needed help and was "desperate" for a co-author. Logan became the first co-author after volunteering, and then let in their other buddies. After that, someone posted numerous chapters of crackfic, and when Purdie had told Logan to stop and to keep the story from straying, Logan called Purdie a "slave" and a "villain." I can confirm that comment myself, as I saw them in the story's comments section, but, to me, it looked like this person could have been joking around and Purdie took it seriously. However, my feelings aren't Purdie's, so Purdie could have reported this as bullying behavior if he wanted to.
I watched the drama unfold for a while without saying anything and just observed. To be honest, mass reporting always bothered me, and I'd been wanting to write about it for a long while, so I considered this as research, and had no plans to get personally involved. I noticed right away that people were eager to report all three co-authors despite that there weren't any rules against hijacking, and that aside from the "villain" comment from Logan, no one had any evidence against the other two co-authors. Even if hijacking was against the rules, no one had proof that Shiori or Happy posted any crack fics. Or Logan. Purdie could have posted it for all we knew.
Almost like magic, just as I had come to this realization, Shiori appeared to try and defend himself, saying that he never actually wrote any of the chapters. Of course, the masses dismissed him and tried to demand proof or poked holes in Shiori's logic, despite his logic making perfect sense. Shiori stated that Logan, his internet friend, invited him to be a co-author, and accepted the invitation. He thought it was a role-play story and that he could post crack fics, and thought nothing of it. Sometime after that, still have not written or posted anything, but may have made a small change accidentally (something as small as deleting an already published chapter's period and saving it), Logan sent a message telling him to post something to the story. Shiori was working on an English assignment, so couldn't. Then the mass reporting started before Shiori had a chance to publish anything.
People kept demanding proof from Shiori despite these same people not wanting proof behind Joss's or Purdie's claims. They also kept asking why he was on QuoteV despite the fact he was supposed to be working on the English assignment. When Shiori said that he had been taking a break, these people couldn't seem to comprehend that he could go to QuoteV on his break, or that he could multitask and be on QuoteV and work on his assignment at the same time, but still not write and post the crackfic.
People got hooked on the fact that Shiori just accepted the invitation to be a co-author of a story without looking at the story first. Well, if my internet friend invited me to something, and told me it was something I was interested in contributing to, I would join without a second thought too. It wouldn't be that big of a stretch that Shiori, who claimed to be in sixth grade, would just agree to be a co-author just because. They could have planned to look into the story later, or just trusted Logan's word and posted whatever whenever he got a chance. A couple of people pointed this reasoning out, and some from the opposition hesitantly agreed that Shiori may have just made a mistake and got roped into this mess, but then, when Shiori kept defending himself, and repeating the same thing over and over, posting links to screenshots of his and Logan's chat conversation with Logan telling Shiori it was his turn to post, people started criticizing Shiori for throwing his friend under the bus.
Throwing someone under the bus means that while both parties did something wrong, one puts all of the blame on the other. If my friend did something wrong, and I was blamed for it alongside them, I'd tell my side of the story and say that I didn't do anything either. If they murdered someone and tried to get my help hiding the body, I'd just go straight to the police and tell them what I witnessed. I know all of those "true friends" memes and funny quotes, but they're just memes and funny quotes. You can still be a true friend by talking to them and going to the police station with them. If Shiori was innocent in all of this, then he has the absolute right to tell his side of the story, even if it means implicating Logan, his friend, but people just refused to believe him.
Joss decided that Shiori was maybe innocent, so he edited his original post to delete Shiori's name from the list, but some people still weren't convinced despite what Joss said and did. Sometimes, even the leader of a cult can't control the mass he reads his sermons.
When someone addressed Shiori directly and said that he was guilty until proven innocent, I just couldn't take it anymore. This had officially become a witch-hunt. I had to say something.
I stated the all-too-condensed version of the spiel of why authors couldn't just remove co-authors from the story. As I was typing my next post, people were responding to me before I could finish. People were saying "Yeah, but (insert argument here)". There shouldn't have been a "but." People go on a rampage over plagiarism and intellectual property infringement, but they couldn't understand why that rule was in place? But, as I said, I couldn't fit all I wanted to say in two tweets worth of characters.
In my next entry, I stated that Purdie should have had the outline done and let the others know, so of course, his co-authors decided they wanted to do their own thing. He should have stepped up and brought the focus back on the story. When he did try and get Logan to stop, that's when Logan made that "villain" remark, and I did point out that Purdie could have reported Logan for that, it was up to Purdie, and Purdie alone, since he was the one that the remark was directed at. I also said that mass reporting was just a hindrance and useless.
People then argued against me, saying that I was just letting the bullies bully Purdie and that I was a classic case of the bystander effect. The irony of this was that these people were essentially bullying Shiori despite no proof he even did anything, and even after apologizing and deleting himself from the story, people were still telling him to shut up at this point. Also, none of these people went to the story and responded to Logan's "villain" comment to tell him he was being spiteful, and to tell him that the fans of the story—the original story—weren't going to tolerate him. Instead, these people decided to secretly conspire to get rid of him for, what they can tell, two spiteful comments (despite it looking like could have been joking from where I was sitting).
In my next post, I made it known that I thought third-party reports were essentially useless when it comes to harassment, and that's why mass reports are just a huge hindrance to the website administration. I also stated that Purdie's situation is no more important than someone else who might be in the same boat, so mass reporting may just make others' issues take a back seat, which isn't fair.
The reason I thought third-party reports were essentially useless is due to DeviantArt's own rules, and that they allow only first-party responses, which I totally understand despite it being frustrating being a third-party observing this behavior. If two friends regularly greet each other with "bitch" and "jerk", or "bitch" and "slut", other people may not understand that they say this in jest to each other, so a third-party report may just end up being a misunderstanding. Only these two people know the full context. In addition, if someone wanted to report someone for harassment, only they know the full story and can provide all the proof moderators need to take appropriate action. Third-party people can't do that.
Of course, I didn't have room to post all of that.
People were continuously calling me a bystander, so to combat this, I tried to give them options that could still be effective while at the same time not put a strain on QuoteV's moderators with needless reports and at the same time let others know to be careful about whom they let be co-authors. I suggested that Purdie write a PSA in a journal entry detailing his side of the story in full detail. Name names for all I cared. If he wasn't lying, it wouldn't be libel.
Someone then replied something along the lines of, "You seriously think that people still wouldn't mass report him if they read that?" Uh, yeah. Because if Purdie was responsible, he would explicitly state not to go after this person, and that this was just to warn people to better protect their ideas and stories. That he would handle it himself. If people still end up reporting him, that would be their decision, of course, but it wouldn't be at Purdie's command. I'm sure more people would have respected Purdie's original wishes and took the PSA for what it was: a warning. But I didn't say that.
More people posted, ignoring what I had said and insisting that mass reporting gets the moderators' attention and that it does work, so I gave up trying to argue. No one would listen to any opposing opinions or suggestions, and were absolutely convinced that mass reporting was the answer. All the while, Shiori was still convinced that people were after him and continued to appeal to the public with people telling him that it was over. He was irrelevant. They weren't after him anymore so could leave the conversation. Despite the conversation still being about a situation, he was almost chased to hell over.
Cue me trying to convince myself that there really is no point in trying to argue anymore. That I would just be wasting my precious and limited energy trying to argue with them, and only make it all worse for myself in the end.
I pulled up tabs of all of the three co-authors' profiles to whom the mass reporting was directed and didn't see anything that rose a red flag. When I pulled up Shiori's profile, I noticed in his activity that he said he was probably going to delete his account because people were attacking him. Even when people finally crossed him off the list to report—which at that point, I'm sure plenty of people had already reported him and couldn't undo it, if they even wanted to—they treated him like a piece of dirt. Sure, a few people did apologize, but they still treated Shiori like trash and didn't stand up for him when people were telling him to go, so he wasn't wrong. I thought about sending Shiori a private message telling him to not let this get him down, but then my notifications kept going off. I just had to read what was being posted, and I ended up forgetting about sending a message that night.
Joss had been trying to get a hold of Purdie so he could tell his side of the story since some people were finally trying to get more details than just a couple of comments and a hijacking no one could definitively prove. Someone else also wanted to hear more from Shiori because the timeline didn't seem to be adding up.
Finally, after an hour from the original post, and over three-hundred-fifty comments (or it may have reached over five hundred because the number said "500+", but when I refreshed the page, the number became lower, or maybe people started deleting their own comments), Purdie finally came onto the scene. Now we got the whole story.
Someone gave Purdie the story, but Purdie was busy so he wanted a co-author to help him finish it; although I'm unsure if he actually had an outline ready to share with his co-author. That was never clear. According to Purdie, Logan was the only one who volunteered, so hired Logan as a co-author. Purdie left the story alone and was busy with other things, so he didn't think much about it until he received a notification. Logan had written a crackfic chapter. Purdie told Logan that this wasn't part of the story, but Logan replied that he was trying to "get a feel for the story", so Purdie didn't argue and let the chapter stay up.
That's when Logan hired Happy and Shiori to also be co-authors, for which no notifications are sent on QuoteV. Someone posted more crackfic chapters, and Purdie confronted Logan again about them. Logan said that he was letting Happy and Shiori get a feel for the story too, so Purdie let it go. Again.
It wasn't until the previous store owner posted a comment on the story saying that he didn't like these recent updates and wanted them to continue the old story. That's when Purdie had had enough and tried to get Logan, Happy, and Shiori to stop, but mainly Logan. As far as I'm aware, Purdie made no effort to send a private message to Shiori or Happy or let them know that the story wasn't intended for crackfic. It's here that Purdie mentions that Logan and he exchanged private messages that also consisted of bullying behavior, but he deleted them without reporting them. It wasn't long before Purdie decided to go to the groups and create a thread asking for help, where Joss responded and started the mass report signal in the QuoteV skies.
As Purdie had been regaling to people about the events, Shiori posted more about his side. One notable comment (without a screenshot as proof) was that Logan had told him that Purdie would remove him as a co-author if he didn't post something, but still denied ever posting any chapters. And, again, despite someone wanting to hear more from Shiori, people continued to tell him to go away.
After reading Purdie's perception of events, I became flabbergasted. The only amusement I received from this entire situation was when one person had been making little joking comments that maybe Purdie had been behind this all along, and was asking Purdie for proof. He even pointed out how suspicious it was that Purdie couldn't provide screenshots of the private messages or why he didn't report it, but I'm almost sure he didn't actually care about any of this and was just enjoying the ride. I doubt he was actually trying to make a point to people (even though he did have good points). Maybe his point was that no one had sufficient evidence and that this entire debacle was a gigantic waste of time.
Hence why third-party reports don't matter.
In my opinion, this was all preventable and was Purdie's sole responsibility. No one else should have been involved. If he didn't have time to write it, he shouldn't have accepted the story. He should have looked into what co-authors were and what role they play in the co-writing relationship. He shouldn't have just hired the first person who volunteered and should have gotten to know Logan before just letting him be a co-author. "Getting a feel for the story" is the lamest excuse ever. Purdie should have cracked down on the crackfic and made it clear to stick with the outline from the very beginning. If Purdie didn't have an outline, they should have taken the time to discuss this and come up with the outline together as a united team. Purdie should have confronted Logan about hiring co-authors without telling him, and also stomped his boot so hard that it smashed through the floor to make it absolutely clear that crackfic wasn't allowed and to stick to the original story. If Logan sent abusive messages and comments, Purdie should have reported them—all of them—and let the QuoteV moderators do their work, waiting patiently.
In the meantime, he could have posted a chapter to the story detailing what had been happening, and kept reposting it if Logan or the other co-authors delete it. If he really wanted to shove it to them, he could have deleted and changed everything, the title, summary, tags, and his and their contributions, saved it, removed himself as an author, and reposted the story in another book, leaving behind said chapter, and to let the readers know the link to the story. He could have also posted that PSA recalling his side of the story in full detail as a warning to be careful whom people hire as a co-author. Of course, he didn't do this, and that's why we were there.
Shortly after Purdie finished his story, people noticed that Logan removed himself as an author.
People were surprised.
What did this mean?
Did the QuoteV moderators take notice and ban Logan?
The link to Logan's profile wasn't working, so that had to be it, right?
QuoteV has this unique feature where if someone decides to delete their account, but then changes their mind and wants their account back, all the person has to do is log back in within thirty days of deletion, and their account is back from purgatory. Logan had reactivated his account after a couple of days and didn't seem to be going anywhere.
But this story isn't quite finished yet, oh no, no, no!
Remember when I made that crazy reason about how the original authors of a story might hijack their co-authors' contributions? Well Purdie had decided, instead of being the responsible one and deleting these heinous chapters that made his life hell for a few days, gave him panic attacks, and had confused the fans of this story, he decided to keep them up despite it not being his content! Sure, he made another chapter stating that he didn't write these chapters, that "they" wrote them, but he most certainly didn't have permission to keep these chapters up, credit or no credit. He didn't even provide adequate credit by linking to the former co-author's profile pages or even the attempt at credit by posting the usernames they were known by.
And y'all were probably thinking I was crazy for suggesting that someone would do such a thing. That I was over-exaggerating and grasping for straws.
Yes, by leaving the story without deleting their chapters, the former co-authors had forfeited their rights to the content they created, but with all of that crud that went down, they could have just as easily decided to remove themselves immediately and forgot to take their content with them. Unfortunately, I doubt there was anything they could do to reclaim what was theirs, and even if they asked Purdie to delete their content, I doubt Purdie would have complied, as furious as he was about this.
Lately, I've been seeing people incite mass reporting for something like identifying pedophilic people on the internet. The same rules apply: only the recipient of the sexual harassment should report the user as they will have the full context and can say for themselves if the comments make them uncomfortable. There have been occasions where I've seen "proof" and I end up thinking "This looks like a normal conversation. Perhaps they're being a little too forward in my opinion, but if the other person doesn't say 'stop, you're making me uncomfortable' how am I supposed to know? Why should I assume their feelings?" If this person has stated that they're uncomfortable, the block option is available, and if they are insistent on their sexual harassment, or inciting some sort of online sexual fantasy, encourage the recipient of the harassment to screenshot everything, print it out, and go to the police! That's something other people over the internet can't do for them.
I could go on and on about what I think goes behind the scenes in the moderators' chair, and how much of a pain it would be to sift through all of the mass reporting tickets, but I get the feeling that no one would care about what I think, so I asked some site administrators their thoughts about this.
I sent this message to various websites that host creative content, such as stories or art:
I have been an online creator of various writing sites for over a decade, including [website], and I have occasionally noticed some problematic behavior that I would like to have a discussion about with you. To be more precise, I'd like to know how it affects you and how it affects your work on [website].
There have been some members of various websites that are convinced that mass reporting is an effective means to reach moderators such as yourself in order to have their issues resolved more promptly, but I'm not convinced. I've always thought mass reporting just puts a strain on the reporting system and on the moderators, even after the initial ticket had been resolved. Unfortunately, no matter how detailed a PSA I write could be, I don't think I could ever convince anyone with just my perspective. And, who knows? Maybe I am wrong about mass reporting. That's why I want to invite you to an interview about mass reporting: if it's an effective means or just a hindrance to deal with.
Of course, different websites have different rules, so I have plans to interview moderators from more sites, but I would love to have as many different sources of contributions as possible.
I understand if you're too busy, or you may not want to be involved in this project of mine, so if you decide to decline, could you please direct me to someone who would like to have this discussion with me?
Thank you for all of your hard work and your time!
I had plans to do a full interview with each person for each of these sites, but I found their initial response to the message sufficient, as it gets right to the point. Plus, I got the hint they may have been too busy for a lengthy interview. Take a look at the few who decided to respond!
CJ, the Archive Support co-chair of Archive of Our Own:
The following comment is the Archive's general position . . . and has been verified by the PAC [Policy & Abuse Committee] team.
The PAC volunteers investigate every issue report they receive, and respond to every ticket they receive that has a valid reporting email. More reports from users do not generally cause an issue to be reviewed faster, nor do more reports "convince" our PAC teams to one particular side of the issue or another. If anything, more reports may slow processing down, as all of our teams are volunteers with limited hours. In that vein, we have some code filtering in place to restrict the number of reports that can be generated for identical issues.
Emily, from Wattpad Help of Wattpad:
I can say that mass reporting is more of a hindrance and time consuming.
At Wattpad, we thoroughly investigate every report. Which means, we don't require or need 50 users, for example, to report one issue for us to take it seriously or investigate.
Kietz, from the Help Desk of DeviantArt:
Any deviations reported by DeviantArt users are then reviewed by our moderation team. We do understand that there may be some users that report images for unnecessary reasons or that some may not fully understand our review process and that some invalid reports may be submitted by users. Just because a deviation has been reported does not mean that our moderation team will take action, we may review the content and decide to leave the deviation as is.
This depends on the context, placement and how visible the content is.
Our reviews are done on a case by case basis, the moderation team will make decisions based on the information found here,
[Link to the Submission Policies]
We do also have tools that allow us to track accounts that have submitted multiple invalid reports. Depending on the severity of the reporting we may take action on those accounts.
I'll add more responses as they come in, but, what have we learned?
Each individual ticket is looked at and investigated even if it doesn't look like anything changed. They may have decided not to take any action. Don't agree? Oh well.
The number of reports doesn't sway their decision. If it breaks the rules, they'll do something. If it doesn't, they won't. Just because a majority of people didn't like something, it doesn't mean it broke the site's rules.
On some sites, there are filters that limit the number of reports on one specific location on the site. That means it wouldn't matter if five people or five hundred people reported a story, picture, comment, or profile. That being said, it's still not a good idea to incite a mass reporting mob.
Mass reporting is useless! If anything, it's a major hindrance. Multiple reports go to multiple people, which means more than one person is handling one issue as opposed to multiple people handling multiple issues. The people complain that people that handle reports are going so slow, but mass reporting clogs it up and makes other people's issues take a back seat. That's not fair to other people who are having issues of the same level of importance, or for a more urgent matter.
Finally, you may risk your account if you submit multiple invalid reports.