I was at the grocery store when my phone started blowing up. I already knew what it was. Anytime I got more than a couple notifications in a row, I could almost guarantee it was a group chat of moderators overseeing a small, private Facebook group for sharing memes.
As I stood in the cereal aisle, scrolling through the discussion, I tried to skim the rehash of something big that had just happened in the group. Our friend and fellow moderator, whom I will call Gabby*, left the group after being antagonized by a man I’ll call Drew, one of the members. I tapped away from the moderators’ private group chat and checked out the offending post. Working my way backwards, I pieced together what had happened.
As is so often the case on the internet, the descent into mudslinging and drama had been quick. Someone had posted a pretty innocuous meme of various terrible musicians (Justin Bieber, Nickelback et al.) on an alignment chart. Someone else responded with a reaction GIF. Drew (who is black) called out the use of the Issa Joke GIF as an example of “digital blackface.” Gabby (who is also black) thought that was a little extreme and said as much. That’s when Drew called Gabby a particular C-word that’s sometimes lobbed at people of color who are accused of perpetuating negative stereotypes. Gabby was so upset that she left the group. And the moderators agreed to ban Drew for bad behavior.
By the time I got home from the grocery store, I was already emotionally drained. I felt sick. How long until this blew over? How long until the next dramatic incident? Were we awful moderators for banning someone without allowing him the opportunity to explain himself? I didn’t exactly feel qualified to be judge, jury, and banisher. I wasn’t even quite sure how I’d found myself with this kind of responsibility in the first place. It certainly hadn’t started out that way back in the summer of 2016, when I’d first joined the group. I was just there for the memes.