Adrien Chen's unmasking of prolific Reddit troll Violentacrez is a horrifying read:
Violentacrez was a troll, but he was a well-connected troll. He told me he was close with a number of early Reddit employees—many of whom have now moved on—chatting with them on IRC or sometimes even on the phone. A few years ago, while Jailbait was still going strong, Reddit's administrators gave him a special one-of-a-kind "pimp hat" badge to honor his contributions to the site, which he proudly displayed on his profile. Brutsch said he was even in the final running for a job as a customer support representative at Reddit last year...
Violentacrez's close relationship to administrators made him an elite member of Reddit's army of moderators, known as "mods" on the site. Though much is made of the millions of users who submit content to Reddit, it's Reddit's over 20,000 volunteer mods who are the real secret behind its success. They act as janitors and editors, keeping their subreddits clean and well-stocked with content. Reddit's main innovation has been to move these users up the food chain, from simple content-generators to management positions. This allows Reddit's mind-boggling breadth of content and users to be overseen by just a few paid employees. The downside is that it requires Reddit's official management to enter into uneasy symbiotic relationships with sketchy but effective moderators like Violentacrez.
And sometimes those relationships become more trouble than they're worth. After the Jailbait controversy, Violentacrez claimed repeatedly on Reddit, he was cut off from administrators who had been burned by the controversy. In fact, when I spoke to him, Brutsch said Reddit admins had been keeping their distance for a while. He suggested that the site wasn't what it used to be. In recent days, he has been posting less, stirring up less drama.
When it comes to mods, the political model of Reddit is not so much a vast digital democracy, as it's often framed by fans and users, as online feudalism... This is how Violentacrez, Reddit's creepiest user, also became its most powerful. Sure, he was responsible for the absolute worst stuff on Reddit, and by extension, some of the worst stuff on the internet. But Violentacrez was also seen to be, as Chris Slowe put it to me, "a trustworthy and a positive member of the community."
The takeaway? Platforms are never neutral, especially when they run on informal labor.