DISC-J vs. SCP Staff: Libelous Satire and Faux Pas
Updated: Dec 27, 2021
News & Opinion
On September 15th, 2021, an anonymous user of the SCP Wiki published a medium-length joke SCP by the title of SCP-DISC-J, which survived about a day before reaching the deletion threshold. They followed through with a simple author comment, and deleted their account before anyone could register its associated nick-name -- not even tertiary services parsing and archiving the activity of the hundreds of accounts that interact with the website.
I think comedy and satire are a very important part of democracy, and it's important we are able to laugh at the idiosyncrasies or the follies or vanities of people in power.
This quote is not attributed in the author's post, but it belongs to Rory Bremner, a political satirist. It is a simple message for sure, but one at the heart of the discussions of freedom of speech and modern discourse that are exemplified by today’s subject. Its implied opposite is far more famous:
To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.
Often misattributed to Voltaire, this quote (presumably belonging to one Kevin Alfred Strom) succinctly describes the other side of the coin. When put together, both quotes draw a simple dichotomy -- to allow for satire is to allow a fundamental freedom of thought and speech, to disallow it is to unjustly rule.
Our anonymous author -- perhaps unwittingly, perhaps knowingly -- put SCP’s staff team through a simplistic litmus test to determine on which side of the coin they fall (although narrowly botched for reasons we’ll soon discuss) by means of SCP-DISC-J. In short, the article revolves around a fictional iteration of an 05command disciplinary thread helmed by actual O5s, who are stand-ins for SCP’s Disciplinary Team.
Although the article’s narrative closely parallels a particular incident involving Disciplinary, it is a thorough collection of SCP staff’s shortcomings over the last few years, with a particular focus on their poor attitude and tendency to abuse power with extremely thin excuses. I strongly recommend reading it in full: it would be unjust and unflattering to its particular density of detail, which cannot be reasonably put in short without leaving out the most enjoyable aspects.
Judging solely from its brief stay -- not even long enough to be registered in SCPper -- one would assume its trajectory to be nothing out of the ordinary. Most articles have their fates settled in less than a day: whether they survive or not usually depends solely on the attention of its initial few readers. However, the amount of discussion posts in its associated forum thread (featuring a full five pages of commentary) betrays internal drama as intense as it was brief.
Solely from a cursory reading of the aforementioned thread, a simple three-act structure forms itself around the community’s reaction to the article.
ACT 1: SIC SEMPER
[Enter DISC-J and the ANONYMOUS AUTHOR, received victoriously by THE COMMUNITY amidst a battlefield. Enter SCP STAFF on the other side of the battlefield: some throw stones, while others nod disapprovingly.]
ACT 1 begins with the article’s posting and quick noticing from the greater community. It initially received overwhelmingly positive commentary, as would be expected from the present context of staff-community relationships.
In the last few months, public opinion of SCP staff has suffered an unprecedented battering from within the active community that inhabits the site -- not just peripheral users, not just outraged dipshits with access to a YouTube account, not just post-Gamergate drama-seekers with a terminal fear of progressivism, but the inner community.
A series of repeated mishaps of authority from even before the June 2018 scandal sparked small flames of discontent that only picked up traction after the mid-point of 2020 (curiously enough, in parallel with a burst of activity of the Hive of Archvillainy that is KiwiFarms, who every SCP user worth their salt warns against even the act of gazing upon the conversation found therein while smugly claiming to dismiss it) and found gunpowder after November 2020’s Cerastes Incident. This incident resulted in a tide of opposition to certain parts of SCP staff, helmed by djkaktus and Rounderhouse, that in turn forced staff to adopt new policies to increase transparency and user relations by means of “Town Hall” threads, among others.
Although the drama had waned somewhat prior to DISC-J, its publishing struck the iron while it was still warm. Opinions on SCP staff have still not turned around, and a sufficiently decent article criticizing them with a clever in-universe twist stimulated the very human desire to stick it to the man in all the right ways. From the outset, DISC-J was destined to be a crowd-pleaser and so it seemed to be for the first few hours -- barring the inherently short longevity of the joke, relying on transient sentiments to achieve its humor.
The few opposers in the first hours of DISC-J were all staff, current or former, who curiously enough were the only ones to find it anything less than funny. Among them one can name DrMagnus -- designated villain of the last SCP community drama arc --, Ihp -- also known as ProcyonLotor Jr. for their permanent state of anger --, and LilyFlower -- who appears unfortunately fond of authority within the SCP community, despite their openly leftist views.
The arguments against DISC-J at this time can be simplified into a simple primary concern: bad faith. This term has somewhat lost its meaning in recent times and become a buzzword for the acts of anyone considered persona non grata, but it is typically used to refer to a form of deception in which one claims publicly to hold certain intentions while acting under other private opinions.
In short, SCP staff consider that the deletion of the author’s account implies that they were attempting to troll or defame staff, rather than simply satirizing them. The distinction here is so thin that bad faith cannot be possibly proven unless contact with the author is established -- which is not possible, as they have deleted their account. This is an extremely weak argument to vouch for the summary deletion of a positively-received article, as acknowledged by some of the less inflamed staff.
The positions have been clearly set. The community is overwhelmingly positive in their reaction to DISC-J (a claim which I cannot support with a hard number of upvotes due to its short existence preventing more thorough archival), with some staff members staunchly against. Non-staff criticisms of the article do exist, but they are eclipsed in magnitude.
A few hours pass, and the heat starts to drop. Surely discussions will continue in private, but for now, the detractors retreat with the tail between their legs.
But suddenly, a new development -- 05 and site mirror threads hit, raising a new wave of renewed conflict across the inner community.
ACT 2: THE FIRST BULLET
[Enter the DELETION THREAD. Both THE COMMUNITY and STAFF take positions in their trenches. The FIRST BULLET rings across no man’s land: a STAFF member demands that the COMMUNITY hand over the ANONYMOUS AUTHOR.]
ACT 2 begins when a critical mistake on behalf of DISC-J’s author is exposed: in their attempt to satirize SCP staff and their internal hypocrisy, our anonymous writer has made a suicide joke, or rather, implied that SCP staff privately tell people to kill themselves.
<O5-5> What’s the difference between Charlie Watz and Kurt Cobain?
<O5-5> Kurt Cobain knew when to kill himself
<Factotum-3> I also lmao :)
Off the bat, two new and stupendously baffling criticisms of DISC-J gain center stage:
That the joke in question is slanderous against staff users, as it is being written by staff stand-ins -- that is, despite a history of exactly what is being implied happening in private.
That the joke in question is inappropriate and makes fun of sensible issues that should not be made fun of.
Although the public approval of DISC-J is noticeably dented, the community is still majorly positive in their reception. Some are willing to ignore this particular joke given the otherwise great quality of the article. Staff, however, find themselves in a somewhat confusing conundrum. The crux of the new discussion around DISC-J revolves around whether the joke is rule-breaking or not.
Were it to be found to be too vile and defamatory for the very same community that prides itself in its exemplary treatment of far more horrifying matters (and already includes several examples of similar humor that saw zero discussion in terms of summary deletion), staff would thus be forced to request the author to remove the offending content, which has been rendered impossible by the deletion of their account.
Unable to remove such content (exactly one line in an article several thousand words long), staff find themselves tragically obligated to summarily delete the article. That is, instead of remaining consistent with their newly-found disregard for authorial wishes and simply expunging the offending content while leaving the rest of the article intact. Such an option is never even brought up to my knowledge -- suddenly, staff feel the imperative necessity to abide by their self-established policies that they have been shown to ignore when much more is at stake.
Some staff members aren’t immune to situational awareness, and comment that the act of summarily deleting the article for being slanderous (if it can even be considered to be so) would be a titanic PR blunder that would not only vindicate the anonymous author, but also undeniably prove him right in the eyes of the greater community. Such a move would evidently destroy their hard-fought efforts to regain user trust and build better transparency, faithfully painting them as despots unable to withstand satire.
The rebuttal at the hands of the less aware staff members is even more baffling -- they argue that PR is irrelevant in the face of… an unhealthy working environment. Indeed, it seems that allowing unrestrained criticism and satire would result in a staff-user relationship less healthy than what would follow from the censorship and decimation of inappropriate criticism -- which would of course give staff the implicit power to dismiss and punish any out-of-line criticism.
When convenient, the text of the article and the treatment of O5 as stand-ins for Disciplinary Team are treated with excruciating literality:
Like there is the fact this is painting disc staff as suicide baiters who think its okay to joke about how users they dislike should kill themselves which… is awful
It paints them as wife and dog shooters and supporting life imprisonment, which is obviously a bit extreme and not true, but considering this is a hit piece against people on staff, and not some politician is uh, not great? I guess?
… despite there being an evident degree of separation between these fictional characters and the real people they are satires of. Were one to treat the entire text with this same mindset, they’d be left to presume that the author is accusing SCP staff of using body doubles, breaking someone’s foot as a kid, visiting Brazilian “foot doctors” every weekend, calling people under their authority “underlings”, etcetera. Of course, this makes for a narrative that is far less victimizing of staff, so the literal approach is only selectively applied. The goal is, obviously, to find a better reason to delete DISC-J.
A curious aspect of the reaction to this new development is the near-unanimous washing-of-hands by everyone in favor of DISC-J. Turns out prior to this point nobody knew of the joke’s existence, as they had skimmed past it when reading the article -- despite it being a primary plot point. This is difficult to believe given that more than fifty people had upvoted the article by this point, and it had been up for around three hours.
What is less difficult to believe is that its existence had either been willingly ignored by the pro-DISC-J crowd, or its negative political implications unacknowledged. Then, once it was unveiled, the safest option was to pledge ignorance rather than admit to enjoying an offensive joke. Granted, this was not all of them -- as mentioned before, some would find the joke excusable in an otherwise good article.
Others would find the condemnation of the joke to have questionable foundations: as the O5s are painted in an unanimously negative light throughout the article, it is reasonable to conclude that their suicide-baiting is similarly supposed to be portrayed as negative. This naturally follows from the assumption that DISC-J is a satire and/or condemnation of SCP staff rather than an endorsement -- in circumstances as divisive as this one, one does not normally laugh with the object of one’s own mockery.
Regardless, DISC-J seems to stand. Although there are surely days of discussion to follow in the associated O5 thread, the arguments for its deletion are so flimsy only the most inflamed staff are seriously considering them. Seems like, for now, our anonymous author has narrowly missed the bullet.
… But it turns out, they have made another mistake, and a second bullet zooms across the website, throwing the pro-DISC-J users in disarray.
ACT 3: THE SECOND BULLET
[A second bullet hits the ANONYMOUS AUTHOR, who is peeking above the trench. The STAFF member demands that the ANONYMOUS AUTHOR be handed over again: they discover that THE COMMUNITY have executed the ANONYMOUS AUTHOR and DISC-J themselves.]
ACT 3 begins the moment another inappropriate joke is discovered in the text of DISC-J. This time, it’s far worse: it’s transphobic.
<mjones> One, I monitor all of your browsing history. I know you better than your mother. I know you broke Jimmy McGavan’s foot as a child and then lied he did a backflip off a tree. I know you found your mother’s lipstick as a teenager and that it awoke something in you you pretend to hide to this day. I know about the Brazilian "foot doctors" you visit every September.
The beginning of ACT 2 has repeated, but all the doubts about authorial intent and willingness to let the unsavory joke pass have vanished. With this new development, staff have more than enough momentum to argue for deletion without taking a significant PR hit. With the transphobic joke in mind, it is possible to cover the blatant power-reaching to protect staff’s ego with a heroic and righteous defense of a vulnerable minority.
About half of staff posts on the O5 thread support this notion: the article suicide-baits, is transphobic, and it is a personal attack. Its existence poisons staff-user relationships and threatens to push the community down a slippery slope where any sort of mean-spirited critique is okay so long as it targets staff. It misrepresents members of Disciplinary Team and paints them as abusive villains, going as far as to apparently target specific members.
The other half is far more reasonable: even if the article does suicide-bait, there are no rules against it. Neither are there rules against the transphobic joke. Any attempt to correct the perceived attack is a political blunder that will rightfully invoke redoubled user frustration. There is an implicit fear of establishing a precedent (or even rule) that allows staff to choose when an article stays up and when it doesn't.
In my opinion, the "discovery" of this new transphobic joke (I say discovery in quotations because I doubt it really went unnoticed beforehand, but it's far more reasonable to claim so in this instance than with the suicide joke) doesn't strengthen staff's arguments for deleting the article one bit.
In particular the conception that somehow staff are being treated with a lower standard than regular users is a little strange to me. In the past, similarly scathing critiques have been written in the form of -J articles (with a particularly recent one directed toward author DJ Kaktus) that targeted specific users with far more precision than DISC-J targets specific members of Disciplinary Team. In none of these instances has staff intervention been seriously proposed. Why is it that only in this specific instance has provoked such internal outrage and concerns for the targets?
We will discuss this in greater depth later on, but -- spoiler alert -- it is neither because of suicide baiting or transphobia.
I am a little iffy on the perception of this particular joke as transphobic, as a trans person myself: why could it not, for instance, be a riff on the fetish of crossdressing instead? No specifics are given as to what exactly is "awakened" by the lipstick, so I find it unreasonable to assume that it specifically targets trans people.
Granted, I may be in ignorance of some damning historical or sociocultural context of the joke, but I think the anonymous author deserves the benefit of the doubt in this instance. Perhaps they were unaware too! One can't know for sure without speaking to them personally, and it is unfair to assume ill will where there isn't sufficient proof to confirm its presence.
Even still -- what prevents staff from using their self-appointed authority over authorial intent to remove the offending content? It would be even less damaging to the article in this particular instance. At least one staff member (JackalRelated) appears to believe similarly, judging from their O5 post, but the absence of any apparent support is noteworthy.
Regardless of the staff discussions raging on, DISC-J’s fate has more or less been sealed. Uraniumempire’s post on the subject has swayed opinions irreversibly, and the article is slowly but surely getting downvoted into oblivion. New angry posts of a different kind spread across the discussion thread -- those accusing the article of hateful transmisogyny. Uranium’s swift and sharp rhetoric has left in-staff discussions irreparably redundant, and in a few more hours DISC-J is below the deletion line. Djkaktus requests the right to rewrite the article, and it is granted.
Before we proceed to the next section, I’d like to briefly talk about Uranium’s post. It has occasionally been represented as a cunning staff action to indirectly change the course of discourse about DISC-J, a notion that I believe to be misleading.
Uraniumempire’s own post gives some insights into this subject: they are not a member of Disciplinary, and have stood in favor of criticisms against Staff for about as long as collective unhappiness with their methods and actions has been the reigning attitude.
They have, however, been a member of other staff teams: Anti-Harassment, most prominently, which is briefly mocked for their black-box/near-zero transparency approach in DISC-J (although the joke could also be directed to staff overall rather than that specific team). The article implies that this approach to transparency lends AHT to be very vulnerable to internal abuse for personal gain -- an implication that, what do you know, is somewhat grounded in fact.
Uranium displays an open posture of frustration over this attitude toward AHT, correctly arguing that there are good reasons to hide crucial pieces of information from the public eye, among them the safety of victims of harassment and other inappropriate behaviors.
That posture is more than justified, given that the article immediately follows with a comical retaliation from the O5 Council to a person that breached disciplinary secrecy by accusing them of a completely unrelated breach of security that parallels the disciplinary incident referred to at the beginning of this article. DISC-J here makes the mistake of conflating two different issues that are to be approached differently into a single subject that has little overlap with reality.
EPILOGUE: PAY NO MIND TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN
[Enter the RECAP THREAD. Flashback to ACT 1, this time from SCP STAFF’s side.]
My explanation of the situation has deliberately excluded a particular dimension of the conflict that is less accessible: the private, that which is behind the façade of a public forum.
One of the distinctive aspects of discourse in the SCP community is that public opinions and acts are decided beforehand via less accessible channels. Be they IRC or Discord, open or private, these discussions are the real meat of the drama at hand. For the purposes of this article, we will divide this back-stage into two distinct spheres of discourse. The first includes both the inner community and certain staff members (best exemplified by SCPD), while the second is exclusive to staff and some privileged community members allowed to gaze into their chats.
Supplementing the existence of the first sphere with the public narrative that I described before, it’s not hard to imagine the events to play out in Act 1: users largely in praise of DISC-J, with its supporters rallying against the few staff or pro-staff users that condemn its existence.
While the second sphere is normally inaccessible and not particularly necessary to appreciate the general position of staff about this situation, the recent formation of Recap Team allows us to peer into the formative process of publicly expressed staff opinions. Furthermore, it is a window of transparency that SCP staff are still not used to: this means that their more unsavory takes, normally private, are now free to dissect and appreciate individual characters with associated thought processes.
September 2021’s Recap Thread (archive) gives us one such opportunity: beyond exposing the nauseatingly long and redundant process of internal discussion among staff, it gives significant ground to the assumption that any and all staff motions toward deleting DISC-J were grounded in personal resentment toward its satire.
MomBun considers the article to be extremely suspect and written in bad faith, raising the possibility of a banned user having posted it. She advocates for summary deletion. gee0765 disagrees, noting that the article is positively rated and there is no proof a banned user wrote it. stormfallen asks if the article can be considered defamatory; negative responses ensue.
MomBun and stormfallen’s responses illustrate my point: the concern is purely emotional, perhaps about reputation. Ancillary concerns of bad faith, defamation, and writing by a banned user are no less than obvious excuses to proceed with a better front than being personally hurt by the content in question. This is further supported by the introductory statement on the 05 thread:
I excused myself from speaking officially, as I perceive the characters who made the suicide jokes as representing me (as Disc Captain), or specific people on the Disciplinary team, and I do not like that and am hurt that it exists on the site to perpetuate that sort of ignorant joke. I made that perception clear, and several other staffers agreed.
I believe the emotional response to DISC-J from certain SCP staff is more than fair and natural. It is human to feel hurt when one is the target of mockery of any kind, especially when it is targeted toward moments of high personal importance or regret. What is being criticized here is the subsequent response to this mockery: it is immature, untoward of an administrative body that is expected to behave fairly and resolve similar issues among non-administrative users.
MomBun feels the PR angle does not matter. Dexanote halts the conversation to note that it is within his power to delete the article unilaterally and ignore complaints, and also that doing so would raise the ire of staff and users alike. He suggests that staff continue to discuss the potential deletion and cautions against acting purely in the interest of public relations. He however personally opines that the article is nearly indistinguishable from trolling, and the user has fled to avoid possible repercussions. He then notes that the article attacks the Disciplinary Team specifically and was not written in good faith, which may trump worries about PR.
I would especially like to condemn Dexanote’s bafflingly childish response, which is not hard to picture despite the absence of chatlogs: halting the conversation for no apparent reason but to demonstrate his power and redirect the conversation from an undesirable angle, Dexanote says I can delete this article if I feel like and ignore you all, but you’d get angry so I’ll listen to you instead. If this isn’t what was expressed at the time, this is a horrendous failure of Recap Team’s ability to represent the events in question as they happened.
Dexanote re-asserts that public relations concerns prevented him from summarily deleting the article before this point. From this point onward he begins to note his own emotional investment in the conversation, particularly as he is not feeling personally supported, and periodically withdraws when he does not feel capable of objectivity.
Historically, Dexanote’s attitude towards power has been poor, as exemplified by his gigantic overreaction to the near-irrelevant “security breach” that resulted in Cerastes suffering a close-call to demotion or censure from their position. Given the IRL circumstances (ongoing invasive medical intervention) and his admission of poor management of that situation, this is more than forgivable -- but I would still not trust them in a position of such caliber. In both situations being discussed, Dexanote came dangerously close to ignoring concerns by other staff members and simply acting out of his own power.
MomBun’s response, while more excusable, is still egregious. Just as in her post in the 05 thread, she expresses that PR “does not matter” in the face of a toxic environment for staff. What she fails to acknowledge is that a PR hit is not just on “PR” -- it has an impact on an avenue of trust that is pivotal to the functioning of the community.
MomBun calls on her community management experience to advocate a zero tolerance stance for trolling and bad faith, and a zero interest stance on the topic of public relations. She restates her desire to delete the article regardless of blowback, citing the best interests of the community. Dexanote and ChaoSera agree, and MomBun adds that the fear of looking bad should not outweigh the responsibility to act.
How could staff be trusted to manage the often extreme content that characterizes a good portion of SCP, not to mention healthy relationships with their community, when they are known to abuse power to remove satire they find offensive from the site? How could healthy relationships exist between user and admin when the latter is characterized by the former as an abuser of power?
MomBun is later caught right in the middle of a faux pas, practically backtracking on her opinion on the matter:
MomBun amends her position to state that satire is acceptable, but creating and deleting a new account to post it is not.
stormfallen notes that this increasingly-heated staff discussion was likely one of the goals of the unknown author; MomBun and Dexanote point out that the effects of the post matter, while the author's motives do not.
If the author’s intent does not matter and satire is acceptable, then the proposition that the author is trolling is irrelevant to the situation and should not be acted upon. For all intents and purposes, DISC-J cannot be classified as anything other than satire: to change that label to trolling would require including the author’s intent as an object of analysis, but the author’s intent is self-admittedly irrelevant.
This series of questionable claims and dubious steps is followed by an even more baffling line that seems to belong not as a serious, boots-to-the-ground recap of staff discussion on DISC-J, but as a one-off joke in that very article:
MomBun argues that the user's deletion of their account muddies the waters, and represents a pattern of behaviour which should not be allowed. She also questions whether statements made about the article's content are correct, prompting Dune to ask her if she has read it; she has not.
This paragraph is self-explanatory. While I would like to dwell farther on the ridiculousness of vouching for hours for the removal of a supposedly inflammatory, slanderous, unhealthy and troll-written piece without ever taking the time to verify any of these assumptions taken from second-hand account, I trust the reader to know why this kind of behavior is preposterous and absolutely unbelonging of an administrative body with pretensions of professionalism.
If Dexanote and MomBun’s many faux pas in the discussion and apparent determination to see the article deleted (regardless of the cost it may have on staff’s current main project of rebuilding user trust) are to be treated as exemplary of other staff discussions on similarly important issues, then little to no progress has been done to resolve the internal issues with SCP staff, ranging from miscommunication to abuse of power, that have plagued the site as far back as June 2018.
CONCLUSION: CURTAIN CALL
[Exit SCP STAFF and THE COMMUNITY, bowing to the audience. Exit DISC-J’S BODY, dragged behind the curtain by DJKAKTUS.]
The large scale litmus test presented by DISC-J was about to reveal if any important lessons have been learned from the many, many community scandals seen in recent times -- were it not for the single fatal flaw of the lipstick joke.
Perhaps DISC-J’s rewrite by djkaktus may have greater success -- which we shall visit and discuss once it is released.
Despite its failure in checking SCP staff, DISC-J (together with Recap Team) has been invaluable in revealing their internal attitude toward power and continuous mismanagement thereof. It has been made more than clear throughout the entire incident that certain staff were willing to move Heaven and Earth with administrative carte blanche to see innocuous yet personally offending material wiped from the site as soon as possible, under the pretense of preserving community health, and preventing bad faith and slander -- despite the obvious and even greater impact to community health such a move would have had, and the implicit bad faith in upholding such a posture in the first place.
Along the way no shortage of misbehaviors have been exposed, irreversibly cracking the façade of professionalism and responsibility that was SCP staff’s only bulwark against criticism. If absolutely nothing else, what we have covered today should be perfect proof that SCP staff are no exceptional group of people in managing the power granted by responsibilities with its accompanying agency, despite what they would like you to believe.
However dedicated, however passionate towards the health of the site, these events prove that staff are woefully unprepared to handle it and its community, even less so than they were a few years back.
To wrap this up -- I’ll leave you with another quote about the rhetoric of power and the importance of criticism, this time anonymous. Keep criticizing, keep satirizing -- you’re the piece keeping this very expensive machine of power and discourse in check. I hope you’ll learn from the anonymous author’s mistakes discussed here to make your voice heard, perhaps to better success. No one should be immune to criticism, and no one should be able to shout “slander!” and call to their own importance to defend themselves from it.
“If you put garbage in a computer nothing comes out but garbage. But this garbage, having passed through a very expensive machine, is somehow ennobled and none dare criticize it.”