A tale of moderation

Moderation comes with a cost.

Anyone who has moderated high-end platforms has their own tales of moderation. I have more than I can count, particularly from the early days of BBS.

One that is still with me is a disquiet that has followed my soul for more than 15 years.

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It started back in 1999 on a website I created that gained a growing dedicated community. While we had our average troll users crawling and being banned, one particular user never ever disappeared.

This user, which we can call User-X, was a serious player in this field. User-X used numerous of methods and updated tactics with every advance in technology.

A new account was created weekly on the forums, and the general activities of this user was to:

  • Impersonate other users. Encourage conflicts. Manipulate weaknesses of specific users.
  • Post highly offensive pictures and visual content.
  • Threaten users and execute these threats in various forms.

This behavior became particularly toxic when User-X took identities of our regular users, specifically mine, and registered on tons of other platforms with the intention to poison our (private) online presence.

User-X was a forger. An absolutely amazing forger and this was to be evident with time.

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All possible attempts were made to stop this, including:

  • Block IP (User-X used a unique one every time). The proxies used by this user were top anon ones (level 1).
  • Administrative approval of registrations (User-X emailed admin, adjusting language and content every time to convince admin of being a new normal user).
  • Completely shut down registrations. User-X had tons of inactive accounts waiting to be used, all totally different from each other with zero tracks of connections.

The activity evolved into personal attacks, reaching to genuine stalker scenarios.

This went on for around 10 years until I chose a controversial route to obtain the identity of this user. The idea I had was to:

  1. Create a Facebook fan page.
  2. Track the time of when this user creates a new account (there was a more apparent pattern at one point).
  3. Hide a Like button of my dummy Facebook page by using jQuery and trick the user to click the like button. It’s only activated if a user registers a specific time of the day, and appears at a specific part of the registration process.
  4. The like button follows the cursor and is hidden. Essentially, clicking anywhere on the screen would result with the user liking my page, meaning that I would get the Facebook ID of the user and thus the identity.
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This approach, which broke any and every term possible, and would only work if the user was online on their personal Facebook account when clicking, just happened to work.

User-X created the account, unintentionally liked the Facebook page, and then proceeded with the harassment.

After a decade of insanity, I finally captured the predator.

User-X was not X anymore. Just User.

I spent a few months tracking the personal life of User. I become the very anonymity of what X had been exposing me to for all these years.

I became X in some respects.

The account registration interval gradually decreased by User and it has been silence for a few years. Only a very few years…

I look at this experience as rather enlightening and I learned more from it than I can possibly express. Don’t get me wrong, there were many times when I thought about dropping User’s identity and crashing their world, but in some sense, that would drop me to their level, and this was a world I refused to enter.

Me, and User, and its alter-ego, User-X, will continue to evolve together in some bizarre sense. Singing the blues and all that.

What is the moral of the story? That I am using Medium to nominate myself for the WordPress Stack Exchange Moderator Elections? You tell me.

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