For the past few years, I've been conducting an experiment. It began unconsciously, simply because my obstinate character has sparked conflict. (I'm trying to defuse this tendency.) However, I've continued because I realized what was happening to me was unfair, and the problem was bigger than me. In the absence of external limitations, I wanted to see how much of a reason people need to indulge their power in unfair ways.

I'm talking about Reddit moderators. Though their power is a despot in a teapot, these are as close to "divine beings" with absolute power as we have. Even police officers – who in the US can kill people at random, or throw flash grenades into children's cribs – even they face inconvenience. They might hear a reprimand from their boss, their department might face a lawsuit, there may be media attention. There might even be a grand jury, though almost never an indictment.

In a virtual community though, there are no consequences for a mod, and a permanent ban is as close as it gets to death. Moderators give them out liberally. The bans can be bypassed: you can create a new account, but doing this with a purpose to bypass a ban violates terms of service, and can lead to a site-wide ban. While violating terms is not a crime, bypassing technical barriers might be.

In addition to that, I like my existing account. Therefore, I don't bypass bans.

... but I do not avoid them either.

My experiment, such as it is, consists of how many bans I can collect by simply going about my ways, communicating like a reasonable – but sometimes passionate – person. One goal is to see just how much of the site I can continue to use if I keep this up for, say, 10 years.

The unwise things I do are a bit Rorschach-like:
  • I respond to moderators when I disagree with their actions or opinions.
  • I do not go out of my way to supplicate in responses to moderators.
  • I try to treat moderators as equals, hoping they will treat me the same.
I annoyingly stand up for something when I'm powerless, and leave myself at their mercy. For the mod, this is a test whether they will follow objective reasons (did I do something ban-worthy?) or subjective (I'm being annoying).

They virtually always follow subjective logic. The outcome is a ban, and an excuse that makes it sound objective.

So far I've been banned by the following subreddits:



Disagreement with another poster in comments led to harsh words. Mod gave out a warning expecting submission. I defended myself. Permanently banned.


I stated a non-aggressive opinion about an aspect of World of Warcraft. Another person attacked me for it. I responded in kind. Permanently banned by an abusive mod with no warning.

When I complained about the ban, I was taunted by the mod in private messages of the form: "Aww, show me on this doll where the bad mod hurt you."

At some point, this mod had been removed from /r/wow. In an exchange about a year after the ban, the mod freely admitted sadistic motivations are normal for her.

Also about that time, a main mod offered to unban me. The offer was conditional on a statement of submission, i.e. unequal groveling. I respectfully declined. I remain banned therefore.


I expressed a negative opinion of the GCC C++ compiler. Another commenter somewhat savagely attacked me for it. I responded in similar measure. Permanently banned with no mod warning.


A small subreddit inhabited by funky "spiritual" types. One of the moderators expressed an opinion which was particularly unreasonable. I engaged in disagreement. After some back and forth, she flashed her moderator credentials. I did not withdraw disagreement. Permanently banned.

Raised issue with other mods. They did not try to be impartial and responded like a clique. I had to block them individually because they kept harassing me in private messages.


I posted a topic to ask what prevents US phone companies from blocking scam calls from faked numbers which are common in the US. Unlike in other countries I've lived, in the US, multiple scam calls per day are usual. Mod #1 removed my topic claiming "it's not the phone company's job" and claiming my question is loaded. I was confused by this and wrote to mods about the removal. Received a private response from Mod #2 who suggested I post a reworded topic. I made my best effort to reword. Both topics were upvoted by subreddit participants. I disagreed with Mod #1.

Permanently banned by Mod #1 for bypassing removal (even though my second post was on suggestion of Mod #2). I wrote to mod team pointing out unfair ban. Was offered opportunities to show unconditional submission. I gave deference to their views (it's their subreddit, I respect their interpretation of their rules), but I argued reasonably without groveling. Ban upheld.


I posted a real report about my wife's experience which I tried to make as honest and accurate as possible. The post was well-received by the community. However, against the spirit of Reddit - which normally permits and encourages cross-posting - this sub does not permit posting the same thing on multiple subreddits. I happened to make the same post on /r/Thetruthishere. This landed me a permanent ban which was upheld on appeal.


Someone made a popular, low-effort, outrage/hate post related to Covid-19. The post was a Twitter screenshot spewing hatred on those who would reopen the US economy. I replied with an elaborated opinion on how I think they are misinterpreting the pandemic, and how Australia and New Zealand are going to have to do the same thing as the US. I supported this with numerous links to recent developments. Received a permaban with justification: "Troll elsewhere."


After the ban from /r/inthenews, I replied briefly to the moderators. I linked to this blog post and criticized their actions, but did not send insults. In response, I was muted (prevented from further responses or complaints) and two minutes after, permanently banned from /r/news.

I had not posted in /r/news, but at least some of the moderators are the same. They sent this ban message: "Troll elsewhere, and don't bother sending us a link to your silly blog. We don't care."

After protesting the nature of this arbitrary ban, I was muted and told: "Continuing to troll in modmail isn't going to do anything. Do not contact us again, troll."

I've had other exchanges with moderators in other subreddits which did not result in such bans. I post many comments; I can't imagine the number of times a moderator might have read and disagreed, but did not ban me because they wield their powers appropriately. I disagreed with moderators directly in /r/AskHistorians, or in /r/slatestarcodex, and this did not result in a ban.

So it's not that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Instead, absolute power offers a choice:
  • One can be aware of one's power to harm other people while being numb to their pain. One therefore serves the community and restrains use of power to what is necessary. Do not punish disagreement. Judge dispassionately. Do not mix mod credentials and personal opinions. Follow procedure. Offer a warning before a ban.

  • One can exploit being numb to other people's pain and simply use power to serve oneself.

More often than not, if you see a moderator expressing a personal opinion while wearing a mod hat; if you see someone flashing their mod credentials in a disagreement; they are the second type of person. They're going to use their power to serve themselves. At this point, there are three things you can do:
  1. Supplicate and submit. The person may use language such as "rules" and "community", but what they're really after is for you to make them feel right. You can do that and be on their good side. However, it enables them.

  2. Disengage. I do not mean reply in a way that shows you're disengaging. Any little peep from you that is not groveling and submission will result in a ban. If you do not reply at all, you can postpone this until the next time the mod disagrees with you on something. This is a lesser form of enabling.

  3. Respond in a way where you do not grovel and submit. This results in a ban. However, it does not enable.

When this is done by police officers, the only good option, ever, is to grovel and submit. But when it comes to virtual monarchs, the cost of not enabling them is comparatively lesser. I will therefore likely continue to incur this cost and, perhaps, report on the results. :)