N4G has been in the crosshairs of discussion a lot lately. This has all spilled over from discussion that took place earlier this year regarding claims of censorship and moderator impropriety. The big discussion back then was centered around clarifying the site’s rules and trying to understand how the site could better police both its moderating staff and users. Well, things haven’t gone over too well since then.
Recently more users came forward to provide examples and quotes about perceived misappropriation of moderator capabilities and inconsistent rules for users to follow, this included an N4G administrator being involved in a potential conflict of interest by promoting his own site while seemingly breaking some unpublished rules regarding content submissions.
I originally reached out to N4G’s moderators last year and earlier this year, and I was eventually moved up to N4G’s administrator, Christopher, who explained that N4G’s staff have no control over the front page guidelines and policies.
During discussions of N4G’s policies and guidelines, I was referred to HAVA Media’s CEO, Vegard Aure. In discussing the topic of moderators abusing their power and guidelines being ill-defined to address certain topics and rules, CEO Aure handed the onus back to N4G’s staff, claiming that those policies are left in their hands. I attempted to contact another administrator, Cathlin Sentz, following discussions with Aure, about the policies and guidelines for N4G and tried to find out who exactly writes the guidelines, who updates them, who controls what rules users follow and what codes of conduct moderators adhere to. Former administrator Sentz simply linked me to N4G’s front page guidelines.
After publishing more articles about the issues at N4G, I was permanently banned from the site after previously having been blocked from asking questions via Twitter.
I attempted to open a new account to ask about the N4G administrator’s conflict of interest, mods deleting articles and removing them from the failed folder to prevent people from seeing them, why certain rules (like the ones regarding spoilers) aren’t in the front page guidelines, and addressing articles being failed for ill-defined reasons. I was permanently banned, again, from N4G and from communicating with the administration staff any further. None of the above issues were addressed.
Recently I reached out to Jamie Davey, the N4G network administrator caught in the perceived conflict of interest, and asked about N4G’s policies about off-site banning, and he stated that he would look into it. He hasn’t responded as of the time of the publishing of this article.
@WilliamUsherGB Let me review the situation and get back to you within a few days.
— Jamie Davey (@JamieDavey123) October 30, 2015
Another moderator, however, who goes by the handle of “coolbeans” on N4G, did reach out to answer some questions. He was willing to address some of the community concerns of his own accord via Twitter, and he give answers representing only his point of view and not that of N4G’s staff or HAVA Media. We discussed the news aggregators policies and some of the issues surrounding alleged corruption.
For the purpose of clarity, the interview was modified to fit the format of this website with syntax and grammar edits were applied. The conversation starts over the issue of spoilers, following two Halo 5 articles that were failed and their link to the N4G administrator having previously posted an article from his own website also containing spoilers after he approved it himself.
Coolbeans: Wouldn’t the ‘Responsibility’ part of [N4G’s] guidelines be considered a concomitant link of not showing brand new spoilers?
William Usher: Depends on what’s considered a spoiler. Reddit has spoiler tags [for user submission] just in case.
Coolbeans: The typical use of [a spoiler] across entertainment media has been quite clear of what’s considered a spoiler. Reddit’s not N4G.
William Usher: So why then was an N4G [administrator] allowed to post an article with a spoiler in the title and in the description?
Coolbeans: You’re asking someone about a relatively ancient article who wasn’t even around back then. What I can recall is users back in the day frustrated with the big [Heavy Rain] spoiler back then. Naturally, mods would consider the feedback. [We’re] trying [to do] our best to put a clampdown on spoilers (or at least keep [them] out of plain sight).
William Usher: That’s completely understandable. I wasn’t aware of the Heavy Rain issue so I wasn’t aware of N4G’s rules on spoilers.
Coolbeans: No problem. And I don’t want to say singularly [that it was] only [Heavy Rain], but rather the “trajectory” [of spoilers] with story-driven games in general. BioShock: Infinite, The Last of Us, ect., various members would say things like “avoiding spoilers as much as possible”. So naturally with our power we’d want to make this site of aggregate gaming news at least have some kind of grace period on spoilers… or give [users] some kind of warning of one. Read at your [own] risk and all that.
William Usher: That’s a totally fair policy. I think most users would be okay with that if it were part of the guidelines. The biggest issue most users complained about was inconsistent moderation and a lack of clear guidelines that everyone can access.
Coolbeans: That’s why I suggested the ‘Responsibility’ clause can be inherently connected with spoilers. For example… I’m a film writer (hypothetically speaking) and I submitted a work through [movie news aggregator] Filmwatch detailing a [third] Act twist [involving] Luke Skywalker doing X in both the title [and the] description of [the] submission, within days of Star Wars Episode VII’s release. [Is that] responsible or irresponsible?
William Usher: Well that would obviously be a spoiler. But what about something more nuanced — like [showing] Captain Phasma without a helmet?
Coolbeans: If the audience’s prior knowledge before the movie landed was that Phasma was dead, the helmet wouldn’t really matter.
William Usher: Spoiler rules are fine I just think they need to be clarified on the site. Same with VGChartz articles being auto-failed.
Coolbeans: Okay, but the next best thing we can provide [is] clarification through other means of communication, which we try to do. And as I brought up before, the irresponsibility of posting spoilers in the big blue letters would fall under the [guidelines’ news rules].
William Usher: Right, but “irresponsibility” and “misuse” are interpretative [rules]. Defamation is irresponsible as is misinformation. Some people thought articles about Bill being gay in The Last of Us was a spoiler. I thought those articles were fine. Different strokes [for different folks]. But users not in the in-crowd have no idea about some of those rules due to a lack of clarity [in the guidelines]. It’s nice you explained it, though.
Coolbeans: It seems like other N4G users would interpret the handling of your Halo 5 article as that as well, right? And do you mean the GLAAD award articles on Bill [from] The Last of Us? As far as I’m aware, those were released months after the game released and…those users talked about not noticing the subtle storytelling hints, yet they did get through that part [of the game and] finish the game. And let’s not pretend the “in crowd” for this general rule is a small collective in on a dirty secret. Taking this to its logical conclusion bring us down a ridiculous rabbit hole [that would end up being a waste] of time, really.
William Usher: I agree. I don’t mind the Halo 5 article being failed. Plenty of my articles fail. The issue is the inconsistency in moderation. For instance, why are VGChartz [articles sometimes] auto-failed? Or why is it determined that this isn’t gaming related? https://n4g.com/news/pen/1811091 [news about potential VR tech for gaming] …or why was this article failed for not being gaming related? https://i.imgur.com/EWx3zjt.png [an article about YouTube Gaming and Twitch.tv’s Content ID policies for live-streams, Let’s Plays and gaming reviews]. YouTube Gaming is bigger than N4G.
Coolbeans: VR news in general could be more fitting on a sister site like Filmwatch, TechSpy, etc. [And] VGChartz auto-failed? They’re consistently submitting their original material: https://n4g.com/user/news/spectator1.
Coolbeans: Duplicate posts can at times be tough. Keep in mind: that even another user AGREED with that mod [to fail the article]. These are issues of the grey area certain submissions will–naturally–fall in; nuanced categories that are tough to decide. And they’ve also been rectified as stated by [Spectactor1], it’s dishonest to leave that out. Like story within a story or what’s…
William Usher: I understand how tough that can be. It’s why detailed guidelines and community feedback are sometimes imperative. Right now all the site owners I talked to — some who weren’t quoted in the article — feel as if their voices aren’t heard. They all say the same thing about inconsistent moderation, lack of clear guidelines, and policies that aren’t properly defined.
Coolbeans: If so, that would be a good opportunity to encourage said owners into a better dialogue with us, not tearing others down with shaky assumptions of their true intentions.
William Usher: I agree. In fact I only came to you and the other mods after some of them felt as if their issues weren’t being addressed…I admit some of them had BS claims and the articles deserved to fail. But some had legitimate issues that were being ignored [by the staff]. And for the record none of them had any issues with you or the other mod who recently stopped being a mod earlier this year.
Coolbeans: Well, the specific users you quoted (Pozzle and Spectator1) aren’t ignored [by the staff]. I’ve seen tickets brought up by them recently. I’m curious how many of the legit issues raised come back to wanting N4G guideline to fit THEIR criteria vs. what site policies are? As for the other mod who stopped being a mod, the way your most recent article handled that part was rather tendentious. Consider what I said in the [second private message about moderators taking responsibility for their position] with this: https://n4g.com/user/home/zerocrossing
Similar cycle to when he was de-modded without much communication as to WHY he became a ghost over time. Real life can get in the way but this lax behavior was ongoing. I should say “any” rather than “much.” But anyways, these are just a few issues I have with the handling of these articles. An opportunity for better communication becomes a GG-police board desperately trying to connect dots of presumed corruption. And, honestly, it causes me to question the “just ethics in games journo” part when site politics get folded into that.
William Usher: To be honest, you’ve been the only one willing to communicate thoroughly about this. It’s hard to address issues when someone says they won’t answer questions or doesn’t want other staff to answer questions or doesn’t want to involve the community.
I picked articles and submitters randomly and asked if they had any issues and included the relevant ones in the article. Here’s one that wasn’t included: https://i.imgur.com/YLCwWmI.png
Without talking with one another, most bring up the same issues [regarding moderation and policies].
Coolbeans: I have a feeling we’re just going to be spinning our wheels in regards to some (not all) of these submission examples because it again comes back to what’s satisfactory for those submitters versus what we try to clarify again and again. Just like with some of these easily-explainable examples. Heck, some users are stubborn enough to “stand on principle” and keep their submission unchanged when reported just because they think they’re in the right.
William Usher: I understand you’re protecting the admin staff, but don’t rely on my word. Talk to the community about it. That’s all I did. The articles [on One Angry Gamer] only reflect what [N4G users have] said and instances of moderation inconsistencies. Various users provided the examples [for the articles].
And [in regards to] the N4G administrator’s conflict of interest not being addressed at all, can you see how from the outside looking in it might look like corruption? There could be a perfectly reasonable explanation behind it but if no one is willing to explain things as you have [here], people are left to guess and come to their own conclusions. Can you see how people might assume something shady is going on?
Coolbeans: Second, as far as the admin situation goes I wouldn’t mind the curiosity of it if so much of the connected dots weren’t just about feeding ‘dat corruption’ hypothesis beforehand. And having seen [Christopher’s] continued responses during the [#GamerGate] N4G fallout earlier this year I’m inclined to understand why the “no comment” treatment was given to you so often.
William Usher: Well, [administrator Christopher] was caught in a few fibs, which weren’t addressed. One included [the moderation staff] deleting failed articles [before anyone else could see them]: https://www.reddit.com/r/KotakuInAction/comments/2t07rb/n4g_admin_suggests_contacting_havamedia_ceocpo/cnvi1t5
He also stated [administration staff] have no control over guidelines [and site] policies. I contacted HAVA’s CEO Vegard Aure who states that’s not true. The N4G team has control over [site policies]: https://i.imgur.com/b5RBpao.png
So who is telling the truth? [Christopher] or HAVA’s CEO?
Coolbeans: For the second link, that’s a critical misreading that never contradicts “no control over guidelines/policies” line given. If we indeed had control over writing/updating guidelines we’d do that instead of this: https://n4g.com/user/blogpost/cat/523552
William Usher: Except that’s not entirely true. Back in 2010 the guidelines didn’t have a “Tag” section: https://web.archive.org/web/20100509045719/https://n4g.com/site/newsguidelines
So then…if HAVA’s CEO is “hands off” who is the mystery person with control over the guidelines [on N4G]?
Coolbeans: This is coming off as another misinterpretation of that quote. Jumping through hoops to suggest that means “hands off”…is shaky at best. While this is just speculative, that could’ve coincided with a site update for all I know. Keep in mind: the examples I’ve laid out are more current and show the previous Network Manager having to expand guidelines by alternative means than taking control to update them [manually]. This ties back as to why I emphasized communication earlier.
William Usher: That’s fine but it doesn’t quite address users who don’t individually speak with mods. And what about deleting failed articles? Also, no one has yet to answer why can’t there be more clearly defined, detailed and improved rules [that are] publicly accessible?
Coolbeans: *sigh* I feel like this is coming to a point where no matter the circumstances a finger of condemnation will be pointing at us, regardless. In regards to [articles that are deleted after being failed] that’s a strange circumstance I couldn’t anticipate considering my very own experience with created/submitted reviews of mine that I later deleted are still archived and seen under my account.
As for the second question, I thought the loss of control on our end was a clear reason and how we’ve gotten around that disproves that it’s not something publicly inaccessible. Take the User Review [and] Blog Criteria: that’s been my go-to link whenever specific issues arise. Continually putting that within reports [with] links is continuous communication on clarified rules I’ve done time and again.
William Usher: Right, but with the deleted article the user did not delete it. He submitted it and it was deleted by [an N4G] staff member… [Christopher] said [that staff] didn’t [delete failed articles] but when I asked him about it [after showing him the evidence] he had no answer. As for the guidelines [and the] policies… I explicitly asked [Christopher] and HAVA’s CEO about the policies and guidelines. [Christopher] claimed it was upper management [in control of the policies]. [The] CEO claimed it was [N4G’s administration staff in charge]. So I’m plainly asking: who controls N4G’s policies and guidelines?
Coolbeans: “CEO claimed it was admin.” Again, with that CEO quote you provided yesterday that’s a very poor interpretation of what was stated. And as displayed with the earlier Community Manager/Network Admin review/blog example, I’m giving as plain an answer as I possibly can on who that suggests doesn’t have power to change the ink specifically in N4G guidelines.
William Usher: So then who is the team over at N4G that Aure is referencing that does have the power to alter [the] guidelines [and] policies [at N4G]?
Coolbeans: [This will] be thrice now I’ve had to reiterate how that comes off as misinterpreting that Aure quote. May be the closing call for me to say I’m just about spent in discussing these particulars. While a part of me is glad to have approached you on parts of this issue, I can’t help but wonder if my personal statements here will be used towards a better understanding of the other side or how I feel they’ve been used previously: ammunition that’s tied with some sensationalistic suggestions which may inevitably result in more disrespectful attitudes towards otherwise decent people. “Otherwise” was improper there. So that deflates my send-off. :/
William Usher: This isn’t for sensationalism it’s for clarity. You mentioned three times I’m misinterpreting Aure, but I’m plainly asking… who are the administrators that Aure is referencing? That’s all I’m asking. If you don’t know [who they are] you can just say so.
But finally, regarding the articles that are deleted from the failed section without the user doing so — I’m only asking because people feel the [N4G] admins are doing so out of corruption. I’m just trying to get an understanding to clear this all up. And just so we’re clear, when you say I’m misinterpreting Aure, who then is it do you believe that he’s referring to?
Coolbeans: It’s not the “who” I’ve been contesting but the suggestion that “operating N4G” means US, the day-to-day people referenced, can translate to total control over the entire apparatus of the site (i.e., such as guidelines or whatever else). Which is why I previously stated Aure’s quote isn’t totally contradictory to what [Christopher] stated before. And I gave an example why.
William Usher: Understood. But my question to Aure was explicitly about guidelines [and site] policies not anything else: https://i.imgur.com/b8vmpNV.png
His answer was reflecting the state of N4G’s staff handling guidelines and policies. I was curious who handles that if not Aure?
Coolbeans: Right, open-ended enough to ask if they had ANY plans to address these concerns. So, with both that question and response it seems to reinforce what I’ve been talking about since Cat’s Review/User Blog Criteria blog was brought up [earlier].
William Usher: Fair enough; but that’s equivocal in regards to who at HAVA does modify/control N4G’s front page guidelines?
Coolbeans: I honestly don’t know. I don’t have much knowledge about HAVA team personally. What I was only trying to do was not have guideline issues seem like something [N4G administrators] could’ve just bolstered [and modified] in a 1-2-3 fashion, so to speak. Consider this: IF…it was a quick fix on our side, wouldn’t you think I’d have pushed for, well, any rules to be listed [under the] review section?
William Usher: Anyway, thanks for your time. If it’s okay with you would be all right to format this conversation in an interview for readers?
Coolbeans: No problem. Thanks for your patience. I wouldn’t mind that if you re-emphasize I’m only speaking for myself here. I know I didn’t cover all aspects of your recent articles, but I tried to get at the ones I could to the best of my ability.
You can read the entire raw transcript with archives of the tweets here on Pastebin.