Moral Chameleons: The SCP Age Raise

ANALYSIS

I am now doing recaps (and other topics) as a podcast. That podcast is live, has a call-in number that I also record live, and also incorporates a voice channel in The Society for Containment Fiction Discord. I encourage you to join, and dare the trolls to bring it on.

There are still some topics that I can’t flesh out entirely on the podcast, topics that I have already written an essay on and that I simply don’t want to read into a microphone. The vibe of the podcast is to be more extemporaneous, and I’ve quickly found that there is a fine balance between show notes and a rehearsed script.

So, with that in mind, I’m going to post an essay written on a topic that is long-familiar to SCP, but that is touched upon again in the most recent Recaps that I’m going over (the December 2021 Recaps). That is the topic of the Age Raise Policy, which occurred in… call it… mid 2020 at the height of the AdminBright, GabrielJade, and Eskobar sex scandals involving minors on the site.

Raising the minimum age limit to 18 was a big deal for the SCP Wiki, but what lit the fire to do so was a bigger one. As a result of the sexual scandals:

  • DrEverettMann makes a statement addressing the scandal (which he disingenuously refers to as “rumors going around” here).
  • DrEveretMann revamps the Anti-Harassment apparatus, finding that “it is not sufficient to protect our users”.
  • Dexanote drafts new language for the site Charter, explicitly prohibiting the advertising of SCP Wiki Staff position and standing on adult platforms. The language is also meant to criminalize Staff “using their position as leverage in regards to NSFW behaviour or favours.” (As noted as far back as the first post on this blog, this suggestion was unanimously supported, even officially voted on, yet never implemented… the Charter lacks this language to this day.)
  • DrMagnus announces an age raise to the minimum required for the SCP Wiki. The discussion sees overwhelming positivity, and emphasis on how necessary this is. (There are an inordinate number of bolded replies.) This was soon voted on, further championed, and quickly implemented.
  • Emergency protection maneuvers, Town Halls, are created. (First suggested and theorized at this time, this would dissolve into non-action, only to be re-adopted around that time in 2021, amid other scandals.)

One might rightly wonder how and why such rules would have to be implemented on a creative writing site.

By September 2021, cultural opinion had changed tone completely. A new O5 Command thread appears gauging reception and rationale concerning a return of the minimum age, back to 15 or something there-around. The overwhelming sentiment is now that the age raise was a well-intended but misguided attempt to help, but that in practice, it further hinders the at-risk population. This discussion thread features a rapidity of flurried echoes. An individual who previously cheered the initial age raise limit goes so far as to necromance a past support, modifying their avid assent:

(source)

The new logic was insurmountable; by raising the age to 18, the rights and avenues of redress previously available to underage members — inevitably present — were taken away. The abused were now with less means to communicate offenses that surely are more important than the observance of an arbitrary age threshold.

However, the hasty and hysteria-informed change was not as easily undone; a subtle testament to the entropy present. The idea did not pass, largely due to logistical impediments and misplaced liability concerns; also informed by a sort of paranoia, except this time, a legal one that takes the shadowed shape of Andrei Duksin. The motion did not pass to a vote, and it has not been re-approached since. The minimum age limit seems to be firmly stuck at 18.

What was the reasoning of this collective convulsion? Why does the Staff as a whole occupy the polar positions in the span of just over a year? Where is the philosophical stability?

The newer O5 Command post addresses why, in part.

Point 4 — Washing our hands of guilt.

This proposal puts up a sign that says “we do not allow minors.” It doesn’t actually stop the minors from coming in, we don’t have ID verification, and any minor with half a brain can bypass it, but it stands tall claiming that this is a minor free zone. It’s not, but the sign was put there to claim it is. Now, instead of it being the owner’s fault that they can’t deal with the abusers in their community, it’s the abused’s fault for coming in. The owner can now sit content knowing it’s not their fault anymore.

I understand why this change came to be when it came to be — a major case involving multiple well-known and previously trusted members came to light, so people were confused and afraid for the members of their community. Any solution that promised to protect minors on the site was welcomed with open arms with nary a dissenting voice in sight, but this solution only worked in the most literal form — it stopped harassment of minors on the site by not having any minors on the site. Minors on the offsite were still vulnerable, minors in the larger community were still vulnerable, and the issues that could recreate such an event were never properly treated.

It’s understandable to have made the initial decision at the time that it was made. However, it’s been long enough since that initial call that we should reevaluate whether or not this actually helped solve the issue it set out to solve, and what were the repercussions it caused in its wake.

This honesty is impressive, and unusual for SCP’s Staff. Indeed, it was direct enough to rouse the displeasure and ire of the upper staff; such as several administrators. The moral purity and introspective concentration offered so spontaneously in this new thread was, to the loftiest of mentalities present, not a sufficient justification for the social pyrotechnics that lighting up such an old and sensitive subject required.

What this impressive honesty does not do is address the underlying ailment that causes such ethical seizing. That is the intent of this blog post. The reason it is not addressed honestly enough in this new O5 post is the same problem that caused the procedural whiplash; not being honest enough. It only approached… gingerly… the reversal of an incorrect approach; it did not address the proper one. The actual etiology — just like the policies it budded — is a matter of admitting just enough to get by, and not wanting to delve into the discomfort any further, even when philosophically necessary.

The main impetus for the age change was deflection. “Hey our hands are washed of the situation. We don’t allow minors on our site, you have to be 18 or older, so you can’t criticize us.” To save face. The minors were the locus of attention and policy movements, not the abusers. The minors as a generic group were less politically radioactive than actual individuals close to Staff.

In the new O5 Command take, the case is made that the initial increase in the age requirement was intended above all to suppress debauchery, or at least the perception of it. This is why you see overextended attempts to gather any and all argumentative resources and paste them onto this premise. It is suggested, for example, that the increase of the age requirement has decreased the incidence of unbidden and suggested advances to members of the wiki, particularly females, when in reality (and as is called out) there is absolutely no way to know this, and anecdotally, it hasn’t mitigated the frequency. Instead of justifications, there is only the slow-punch realization that their hasty and reflexive, un-careful, un-thinking acquiescence to exogenous political pressure and home-brewed social scandal made the issue of a festering deviancy in their culture potentially worse. In effect, in their attempt to rid themselves of sexual deviants, they handicapped and mangled the victims, robbing them of their tongue by making their presence prohibited; a sort of removal of the means whereby deviants might be made obvious.

The intent is still scandal evasion, only now by more advanced of a concern, and also perhaps a more legally oriented one too. While most on the Staff are opining about how more can be done to advertise their preferred political partisanship, the potential aids touched on here have been shelved. The entire disciplinary process is being reworked, the Charter remade from the ground up, but not because of this issue.

This is a prioritization that would be inverted if this new thread and the Staff in general were about making SCP a safer space for others. Instead, it is meant to be a safe space for Staff. The understandable move to an age 18 minimum wasn’t “people… confused and afraid for members of their community”, but people very much not confused, and afraid for themselves. It’s not that the solution “only worked in the most literal form”; it worked exactly insofar as was intended, which is to say not really at all, and only now can be recognized as such, far enough removed from the irrationality of a frenzy. “The issues that could recreate such an event were never properly treated,” yes, but they were never actually pronounced, not even now.

Why was the panic so moving? Why were even the most fastened of heads dizzied by the heights?

Because it struck them at their core. It was too accurate. Imagine a direct hit on an ant hill, and they come pouring forth, ready to bite anything and everything. It was too much of a shock to the collective system, which had (and still has) a fair amount of willful ignorance and defensive dishonesty padding the walls.

The initial reaction was a mass retreat, and was in no way a directed movement; a composite motion that had no leadership, only one raw instinct — fear. Not one individual voted against the age limit increase. It was utterly unanimous and celebrated with faux circumstance as such. The Staff’s unity in their voice was only as unified, only as coordinated as the shared direction of pedestrians away from gunfire.

The only consideration in mind — the only one that mattered — was self preservation; that these individuals, their operation, and their reputations were sheltered from the looming and long-ignored ramifications of inactivity in the setting of knowing better — knowing more than they care to let on — and years upon years of fattening leadership.

The Staff is now pinned; on one side by the honesty that the age restriction doesn’t solve the problem, and on the other by a post-traumatic legal paranoia that would cast any minor as a liability. They climbed up the ladder in a panicked fear, and kicked it away so that the pursuer couldn’t chase them there. Now, they are stuck; they can’t get down.

Somewhere in here was the opportunity to be honest enough with oneself and the state of the community by its leaders. If it was recognized that the problem was that influential figures were able to subsist in staff places while doing these horrid things for so long, the solution may have been more focused, pointed, and lasting. The outcome may have been a location that clear heads reconnoitered and deliberately led everyone to. Instead, the issue was only admitted to the point of policy, and the policy created was meant to address the effects and incorrect causes of the issue, rather than the correct cause.

And so, we see the only meaningful portion of the reaction — the Charter language from Dexanote — stalled in enactment despite an equally invariant approval. We see the exhaust vents of the Town Halls slowly re-lowered, believing that their nominal and situational rehearsal was sufficient.

How do we most know that staff didn’t address the issue honestly? AdminBright wasn’t banned. The deviancy of AdminBright… admitted to in less vertical ways — was common knowledge. Staffchat logs currently in my possession ensure that participants would need to have had a series of targeted lobotomies in order to not understand his culpability and involvement in the sort of culture that fostered the ethical softness that made the egregious actions possible. An honest assessment would have understood that people like that need to go and were a threat to the youth there. Instead, we saw staff give AdminBright the opportunity to step down, as if it was of his own accord. Even after the flagrancy of Eskobar and GabrielJade, they couldn’t muster the honesty and leadership to tell Bright that he had gallivanted off of a cliff and left with nothing but the brief gravity of his actions’ consequences.

Still, Staff have no vocal issues with the now banned AdminBright (banned for unrelated things, meant to be a PR lightning rod) remaining in contact with the vulnerable of the community between the months of May 2020 and August 2021. His self-insert is celebrated via SCP Wiki Twitter posts. They will make public statements of guilt about “harassers” like myself, Furret, and Harmony, for far less evil actions — accusations made at the height of our coordination to expose such truths; accusations that would be actionable in the court of law, now that we have a business about us and can prove monetary damages to the ongoing inaccuracies — but they will not condemn the actions of an original sex pest who continues his shenanigans to this day via an unaware and unassuming TikTok audience. They cannot bring themselves to. Their weakness will be passed forward to the vulnerable youth of their community, as they fail miserably to protect anyone, until they decide that moral principles and ethical standing is more important than the optics of their reputations.

Staff have not suppressed debauchery; they have suppressed their ability to address it.

An entirely political response. It wasn’t done to protect minors. No read this carefully; I’m not saying that those who authored the policy didn’t want minors to be protected. I believe that they hoped that it would help protect minors. However, this was not the unifying inspiration for it. The inspiration was PR. The unity was in panic. It was a way for staff to pad the potentially incoming coverage of their scandal by a greater Internet audience; a sluice-way whereby to prophylactically re-route the runaway train of their own design and momentum from colliding back into the karma something with the certainty of physics guarantees.

The save the children aspect was the façade, the deflection shield set up to absorb and sustain the barrage; both from without and from within. By it, they could wash their hands of the mess in the quickest and cleanest separation. It shows in the ineptitude of the changes made. With the policy change, they celebrated and sacrificed the solution to the sort of activity that got them in trouble. But, although this was brought up at the time by both dissenting staff to the decision, and outside observers, those who resorted to KiwiFarms (because the conveyance of true information is more important than reputational association), it was beaten by the drum of establishing a sort of liability insurance.

If the bad PR came, the staff could ostensibly point to their quickly and unanimously-implemented policy changes and say that they have addressed it internally and independently, but most importantly prior to, that bad PR. It is not a coincidence that we see the most decorated of Staff react the strongest to this and with the most disapproval. These were also the most desperate ones at the time, as they had the most culpability and therefore the most to lose; that’s what responsibility is. The buck stops with them.

Another way you can tell that the problem wasn’t addressed honestly enough, and the real issue intentionally skirted to avoid looking bad, is a similar audit of the remaining policy changes. The modifications to the Anti-Harassment Team can be boiled down to simply treating Staff members the same as non-Staff members in matters of abuse claims; an equal-treatment sentiment that would again be seen in the Town Halls regarding casual Staff behavior in their protected chat spaces. Arguably, the Anti-Harassment changes resulted in more details, however this again was given its primary nudge a year after, as a result of the Town Halls.

Even so, the addition of more detail was not applied retroactively to the offenders of this scandal, their transgressions never referred to in more than a hushed and generic whisper. Even more so, it is not clear how it if such changes have produced any more accountability from Staff in potential harassment/abuse cases, as the Anti-Harassment Team remains the deepest black box in the structure.

There is also the previously-mentioned non-addition to the site Charter. I would bet money that they do not include it still, even though that Charter is being rewritten from scratch again due to its convolution and meaninglessness. This addition would have explicitly criminalized high-ranking members’ leveraging of their positions of authority to solicit sexual attention and favors — as direct as Staff could be in implicating AdminBright’s role in the problematic culture — was never implemented. It was proposed, outlined, detailed, voted upon favorably (again with unanimity), but never implemented.

Who is paying attention to that? Just me? Who would care or notice? An outsider banned for supposed harassment? No one is willing to mention it on the site besides those who have an attention to detail and un-social-media addled memory capable of recalling it are the same expecting themselves to not go through with it. It too was political theater, staged — whether intentionally or situationally — to placate an outraged audience.

It is this same lack of depth in any forced honesty — the minimum possible admission of wrongdoing, the minimum possible audit of their social and moral impoverishment — that prevented anything from truly changing for the better.

SCP does not have the spiritual nutrition left, not even only in their ocular muscles, to raise their sight to make eye-contact with what they are: a political body parasitizing the corpse of a writing site.

I would encourage you to see more moral chameleon-ism, explained regarding the recent “-ES Incident” in a podcast episode dedicated to the subject: https://rss.com/podcasts/conficallin/357899/

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Separation of confic and state. The SCP Foundation Wiki’s most dedicated and hated critic. Co-founder @ Confic Magazine LLC.

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