Roll20 PR issues.

Not sure if this belongs here, but it has to do with RPG Tabletop gaming, so I figured this was the place for it. I’ll link to the full threads and responses, but long story short, a paid Roll20 user recently had his Reddit account banned from the r/Roll20 subreddit. This was following a long post detailing criticisms and and other bugs that said user found while using Roll20 as a service. He spoke with the moderator who issued the ban, and after receiving little in the way of communication, became angry and posted several replies (that likely didn’t help the situation). After these messages and a couple days of no response, the moderator responded that while the ban shouldn’t have been enacted, they decided to keep it anyway due to the response from said user.

Here is the User’s post about the topic:

And here is the Moderator’s (who also happens to be the cofounder of Roll20) response on a shared thread in r/Roll20:

It’s a long read, but I think it poses a few interesting questions.

  • Who do you think was in the right from this? The user was upset and overreacted, but it also seems that there was a level of moderator abuse in this instance, which has now created a mess for the Roll20 company.

  • Also, will this have any negative effect on Roll20 long term, or will it just blow over?

  • Lastly there is the topic of having high ranking employees and members of a company moderating and governing free communities around their product. Is it a bad thing? good thing?

I’m interested to know everyone’s opinions.

UPDATE:
Some new stuff has happened. This Kotaku post sums things up pretty well:

and here is a post from yesterday from the now former moderators of the Roll20 subreddit:

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I’ve only skimmed through but I find this ridiculous. They issued a ban on a hunch that he was someone else “with a similar name” not bothering actually reading the post they were about to ban him for which would still have been wrongful if it WAS that person. The user then tries to resolve the issue through the proper channels and means at his disposal and they don’t listen. So he does the only thing any wrongfully treated customer can do; tell everyone about his experience and why he’s upset with the actions of a company.

They then use him being upset to retroactively justify their ban.

That’s real shitty abusive behaviour, putting the ego of your moderation staff over your customers.

Will this just blow over, probably. Unless a lot of people come forward with similar stories in the wake of this. Unfortunately Roll20 appears to double down on this and are not looking like they’re intending to do better in the future. It also looks like that other guy they confused him for wasn’t really banned for any good reason to begin with either.

Lastly, yes. Having high ranking (any) employees and members of a company moderating communities around their product has and always will be a terrible idea. You see it abused all the time on reddit, steam forums and other places, not by everyone of course but it’s way too common for criticism and problems to be removed and unhappy customers to be silenced.

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@Fraggles edit: misunderstood what you meant. Yeah I agree. Even if the co-founder doubled down others in the company in similar postitions should have apologized in his place. Some of the comments in the thread make it seem like this isn’t really the first time this has happened.

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Yeah and his, the co-founder, post on the subject is abysmal. At no point should someone with such a personal, clearly emotional and obviously financial attachment to a product/service be in charge of moderating the discussions around it. Even the best of people would have a hard time remaining objective in such a situation and this NolanT guy is clearly not one of those.

I hope they take all the criticism they’ve reaped with this to heart, change their moderation staff, issue a full apology to both of these banned people and offer them a years free service. Then get to work on fixing their product since there’s clearly a lot of things they could do better and try to make it so both of them wish to return to being paying users at the end.

…like that’ll happen.

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Yeah the OP did overreact (which he admitted) and was perhaps a bit impatient (at least give them a couple of days) but the subreddit mods and company reps did not do the best job either. I could see where they were coming from but banning because someone had some not so flattering opinions in the past and then just banning them on suspicion of ban dodging is not the best way to go. When the OP asked the mod about doing the IP trace he could have at least replied saying that he was doing it (which he supposedly was according to his reply) which would have then alleviated the situation and they could have waited for the response from reddit (though I have a sneaking suspicion that they did this after the fact to save face and didn’t bother with it initially).
If I delete/close topics or things around here I generally give a reason behind it so as the person is not in the dark and am willing to discuss it with further with them (i have my limits though I don’t remember anyone getting too angry about it so far) so at least they can get to a point where they understand what is going on. If someone is ban dodging they will likely exhibit the same behaviour that got them banned in the first place or they will abide by the rules, so if they do the wrong thing just ban them again, pre banning just never seems like a good idea. All round mistakes were made and I don’t think anyone handled it overly well.

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I think the question I immediately want to ask is why was a cofounder of a product a moderator on a third party site discussing the product? That seems to be something that would manifest as an issue long before this…

I am not saying that the cofounder can’t join a site discussing their products, but giving them moderator authority seems to be an invitation for abuse… Does/should conflict of interest apply to forum moderation?

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It does clearly and as was mentioned by a lot of people in those threads Reddit used to have a policy against that, probably for this very reason. As I also mentioned this problem is rife on the steam community pages for many games where the devs have moderation powers by default.

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I’m not too terribly surprised, unfortunately. I’ve played one campaign as a free user on Roll20 and noticed a math interpretation error for a DnD 5e spell in my first game. So I posted (in their own forum, under Bug Reports) an explanation of the error and how to fix it. Their response was a PM telling me they know their method is wrong, they don’t care, they were deleting my post, and that I was not to bring it up again. It didn’t affect the game I was in because you can enter custom spells, so I just entered it the correct way for my character sheet and moved on. But it’s an awfully bizarre response to a user trying to be helpful.

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I agree @BlivetWidget, that is a bizarre response to an issue that can be fixed. So if this was an endemic problem (with “scrubbing” of criticism likely occurring across the platforms for discourse around the product), I think the discussion that the company has with both the public and itself is going to become all the more important. Unfortunately, I am skeptical that this will result in really any change, since Roll20 enjoys a quasi-monopoly based on the userbase, people use products they are comfortable with in all sorts of RPG senses… You play the games you have experience with, you use the format you are used to and you stick to software you can get to work to your satisfaction. Because of this, I don’t see Roll20 users walking away from the software… Maybe it will make new users less likely to start using it, but honestly the only reason most people will start using these sorts of software is because they are encountering others who use it, and to conform/join they need to also use the software.

Obviously if you are directly associated with a product (a la steam community pages) you probably shouldn’t have the power to censor criticism.

However, I suppose I was asking in a broader sense, conflict of interest is a difficult topic when it comes to internet moderation, because typically the people most qualified to act as a moderator with expertise in a topic are going to be closely linked to that topic. To what extent should a mod be vetted? Are there any real no-no’s in selecting a moderator? But most importantly SHOULD there be?

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The problem primarily stems from so many companies using centralized hubs as their own primary community contact points. Of course I can see a company wanting to have a space where they can communicate on their terms with their costumers, this used to be their own hosted forums. Of course if you’re going to a company’s forums you’re not really going to expect to find criticism of their product there, you know they’ll try to keep that place as positive and fresh as they can so you don’t really take these places as a serious source of reliable info.

But if you go to a subreddit or steam forum that grows so large it dwarves all other avenue of discussion around something you’d expect the opinions to average out to what one might assume is the truth of a thing. If a product is faulty or a service is a scam then in an open forum you’d have by far more unhappy people telling their stories than you’d have ‘shills’ or lucky people who didn’t have troubles telling theirs.

So this then collides and you get public forum that should be the coalescent of public opinion being moderated as a company’s own backyard and yeah shit like this happens. Solution? Companies should just get off ‘social media’ entirely and if they want online community spaces under their own control then they’ll have to set them up themselves.

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But isn’t a primary revenue source for free ‘social media’ the prospect of companies providing money for opportunities to use the media as advertising (either directly or indirectly). Once a forum grows to such a size, isn’t advertisement, native or otherwise immediately attractive for a company? I don’t necessarily think that online communities want companies to stay out, and certainly don’t want to limit their involvement since their investment is critical to the success of the community platform. After all, what would better legitimize a forum on NASA than if a current NASA employee is actively participating?

I should probably clarify that I think that the moderation position in this case may have been a case of a company outright wanting to have direct control of a forum I think it was more likely a case of a website taking advantage of a person who offered their services and expertise in a field, perhaps without asking questions about if the moderator might be a liability to the integrity of the discussion.

The question of vetting moderators is one that I personally don’t have any answers to because both sides have drawbacks, no clear precedent and very few (if any) indirect benefits. However, if the goal is to remove companies from online spaces is the burden then on companies then to prevent their members/representatives from participating as such online (or is the companies ignorance of the actions of a member online enough?) or is the burden on social media to vet out the moderators?

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I don’t quite see what you mean with the company providing any money to the social media sites. A company doesn’t pay to run a forum on reddit as far as I know. Reddit sells adspace, sure, and a company with a large active fanbase on reddit would likely think adspace on reddit a valuable prospect. That’s where the money is made. This would be the same whether the subreddit is under company control or not though.

NASA is a rather poor example as they are not a for profit company trying to sell a product or service, of course a space exploration forum would benefit greatly from having actual NASA people participating either in their roles as NASA employees or on their own time as private persons.

I’m not certain that the league of legends subreddit much benefits from having Riot personnel lurking about the place though and especially not in a position of power. In most cases where companies are concerned a community liaison are almost always highly limited on what they can divulge and what actions they can take as a representative of the company. Anyone asking questions or looking for information is generally better off turning towards the community itself over any employees of the company.

As for this Roll20 forum I would rather assume that the subreddit was originally set up by the founders of Roll20, they had control over that from the start. Other larger places have been infiltrated or overtaken by simply hiring the current board owner and or moderators.

I’m not sure a direct vetting process is necessary, just reinstate the rule saying that company representatives are not allowed to moderate subreddits dedicated to things related to their employer. Then you just leave it to the userbase to be vigilant and if suspicions rise that a moderator is breaching that rule then investigations are carried out.

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hivefleetbothan’s NASA example works fine. It is an organization with customers (in this case, US taxpayers), some of whom are dissatisfied and vocal. In fact I think NASA likely has to deal with a lot more nonsense, given that some non-trivial number of those dissatisfied customers are conspiracy nuts who cannot be reasoned with.

The takeaway I got from this is that an organization being involved in a relevant forum is good, an organization moderating a relevant forum is open to abuse.

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I have no experience with reddit, but it seems the general business model for “social media” involves revenue streams from companies paying money to either promote content (native advertising or in-site “suggestions”, like the suggested links that are present in gmail) or advertise in a more traditional sense. I would imagine that reddit is, given its size and prospective audience, likely to engage in both. Although it may not cost anything to create a subreddit, there certainly isn’t anything stopping a company from creating a subreddit (or paying someone else to do it).

I do however, think that @BlivetWidget better summarized my argument than I did.

Also, I don’t think online communities have a very good track record of ‘self-policing’, in fact I don’t think the concept of ‘self-policing’ has a good track record.

Looks as if this may be just the tip of the iceberg, as it were (completely unrelated reasons, but same company and same result):

Probably more to come, these are just the easy finds.

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It’s still gaining traction on the prominent RPG subreddits as well. I’m still surprised I haven’t seen any other statements from Roll20 itself beyond the initial one from NolanT, but it might be in lockdown/panic mode for the time being.

Seems like the situation has settled down now, I’ve updated the initial post with what’s happened.

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So they’ve replaced their reddit moderation team, importing new people and removing all company personnel though still not a peep of an apology. Well that potentially solves the problem with the subreddit but not with the company itself. Nolan is still in charge of the company though and it seems unlikely they’ll take any of the raised issues to heart, turns out that he’s also a racist and sexist as described in one of the videos above.

Can say for certain were I ever to need an online platform for roleplaying, roll20 would never be a choice.

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Yeah the issues with Nolan seem to run much deeper than this, ApostleO seemed to just be the straw the broke the Camel’s back. I would say that with the history of Nolan’s actions and his position and authority within the company the only way to really make a statement is with money, as many have already done.

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