While 2016 saw the country embroiled in mass political divisiveness, a much smaller conflict was being waged in the internet tubes of Reddit, where two pages with a combined following of 108,000 users competed to become the definitive clearinghouse for Seattle-related news, topic threads, and random iPhone photos. The story is one of revolution, and it involves hero moderators and rebellions and icebergs. It’s the story of an old guard, r/Seattle (as in, “reddit.com/r/Seattle”), against the splinter group r/SeattleWA.
The way it was told to me, the fight was similar to that old “1984” Apple commercial where tank-topped Anya Major hurls a hammer at the Big Brother-like face on screen, but I could be off.
Part of the reason I could be off is that getting an interview with the involved moderators—those who run the competing pages—was a bit of a difficult task, which immediately pointed to the tension between the two subreddits, as the topic-specific sites are known. The only response from r/Seattle came from the head moderator “Careless,” who declined to be interviewed, and who actually questioned if I was who I said I was.
“Who would make up a name like Chason?” I responded.
There were various responses from moderators at r/SeattleWA, but none would give their names or talk on the phone (just like Watergate!), not even if we did one of those cool, darkly lit fake-voice things like on 60 Minutes. Granted, it was far easier to take notes from an online chat. I just had to copy and paste!
In case you’re unaware of how Reddit works or still haven’t moved on from Digg: It’s simply a message board where users submit content, all of it flowing in various channels of focus.
r/SeattleWA has actually existed for years, but 2016 is when it took off in popularity and challenged r/Seattle’s hegemony. “It was originally one of probably dozens of alternative subreddits, as many people began to try to fork from r/Seattle,” says American Derp, one of the moderators of r/SeattleWA. “The main Seattle mod would immediately ban anyone doing a competing subreddit. On top of that … he put in code, that was later leaked, that was automatically purging any verbiage from r/Seattle that directly referred to or even alluded to ‘the competition.’ ”
So why was there competition in the first place? Long ago, the foundations of r/Seattle were created by a god whose name is no longer remembered, and he saw that it was good. “That guy gave up the subreddit to someone named AstroMike, who himself is long gone, and was a good leader,” says American Derp.
“HE gave it up to Careless,” who, according to American Derp, “was always very, very restrictive in his rules.”
One of the core issues was a so-called anti-commercialization position. “Say someone like Macklemore put out a music video on YouTube set in Seattle. That would be inappropriate to post in r/Seattle, if there was an iTunes store link or link to his social media on the YouTube page,” says American Derp, “because it meant someone was trying to commercialize r/Seattle.”
Additional r/Seattle rules involve restrictions on classified ads, limitations on posts seemingly unrelated to Seattle, and questions posed without “due diligence.” For instance, if you asked where to find the best tacos in town (Answer: Tacos Chukis), it would likely be removed, since the topic had already been explored to death in previous threads (Señor Moose is good too).
There have been many accusations back and forth between the two Seattle subreddits (including r/Seattle’s head moderator alleging that r/SeattleWA users were doxing him). Since this is Reddit, and since I only heard back from one side, it’s a little hard to get to the truth.
“I suppose my greatest grievance with r/Seattle was that it wasn’t a true Seattle subreddit but rather a singular person’s vision of what it should be,” says YopparaiNeko, one of the newer moderators at r/SeattleWA. “So while the rules in r/Seattle do streamline the sub experience to be a bit more curated, it does sterilize the subreddit and dulls the sense of community.”
“If the community honestly feels it’s simply being advertised to,” adds YopparaiNeko, “we want [to give] them the opportunity to downvote it into seclusion, rather than acting for them preemptively.”
The rule about competing subreddits, previously termed Rule 7, seemed to inspire a game of Whac-A-Mole. Some r/SeattleWA users would post references to r/SeattleWA in r/Seattle in an attempt to troll the moderators and recruit followers, otherwise known as brigading. Occasionally you’d see quickly deleted posts like “It’s better with WA at the end” and “r/SeattleWA is where all the attractive ladies go.” Sometimes, there was a modicum of subtlety, as in “Seattle has a lot of WAter near it.”
While American Derp says brigading is not encouraged, “the funniest one I saw was someone posting a picture of a sunset—r/Seattle is notorious for sunset photos getting posted ad nauseum—with ‘r/SeattleWA’ Photoshopped on top. Mostly, it’s people wildly abusing the English language with awful jokes to get the word out past automated tools.”
As tensions continued to rise, American Derp was brought on as a moderator at r/Seattle in some sort of attempted perestroika. But while there, he claims to have discovered financial shenanigans by the paterfamilias in direct violation of the otherwise aggressively enforced anti-commercialization position. He shared these and other findings with the other moderators at r/Seattle.
“The next week, one of the r/Seattle mods promptly leaked ALL this information all over Reddit, anonymously,” says American Derp. “All hell broke loose, many mods were banned, and suddenly everyone began finding out about r/SeattleWA. That was the iceberg moment.”
The breach happened during Labor Day weekend, and since then, traffic appears to have risen on r/SeattleWA and fallen on r/Seattle, at least according to the handy graphs I was supplied with. While r/Seattle has many more users (85,000 to r/SeattleWA’s 23,000), that number took years to accumulate, whereas after the leak, r/SeattleWA reached 27 percent of that in about four months.
And though their average active users and page views are somewhat similar—in February there were 556,986 page views at r/Seattle and 768,075 over at r/SeattleWA—there appears to be far more activity at r/SeattleWA with regard to discussions and comments. I asked American Derp if he ever expects the two subreddits to merge in some sort of magical peace accord, like the ending of the third Matrix.
“Hell, no,” he said. “All this silly conflict aside, the main reason I think r/SeattleWA matters to the city is it’s a public venue—a speakers’ corner for anyone, which we need today, without arbitrary censorship.
“It’s ‘our’ place—for you, me, all of us.”