Before he became an admin of the subreddit r/MarvelStudios, Kostis Paterakis was a “really, really big” fan of the Marvel movies. “And I mean really big,” he tells MEL. After getting hooked back in 2014, he’s “watched all the movies, TV shows, one-shots, webseries, deleted scenes, extras, a lot of interviews, and I’m all caught up with rumors. And not because I feel like I have to or because I’m ‘addicted,’ as some could say,” he clarifies. “I just love this universe and am truly embedded in it.”
It’s this love of the MCU — the Marvel Cinematic Universe — that helps him make the ultimate sacrifice: having every movie spoiled for him on a yearly basis.
Paterakis took the pledge to voluntarily moderate the r/MarvelStudios subreddit, where he serves as a proverbial lifeguard to the public pool that is his subreddit’s community. Some kids run around the pool, some kids dunk other kids’ heads below the water, and some little pricks post spoilers to the most anticipated movie release of this century: Avengers: Endgame. Paterakis sees them and blocks them before they’re visible to the subreddit’s more than 700,000 followers.
So what’s it like to sacrifice yourself to the trolls and commit yourself to having your favorite movies ruined for you just so fellow fans won’t have to suffer the same fate? I talked to several moderators of several Marvel subreddits to find out. To me, they’re the true Avengers. To mix up my fandoms, they’re the shield in the darkness that guards of realms of men.
Fighting Trolls Is a Hero’s Job
For some moderators, blocking spoilers is easier if they’re less invested in the film. If anything, says u/AwkwardTheTurtle, moderator of r/Avengers, it’s not even a sacrifice. “Spoilers don’t bother me,” he tells MEL, pointing to a study from University of California that found spoilers don’t reduce one’s enjoyment of a film:
This study is the reason u/Flamma_Man, moderator of r/MarvelStudios, gleefully submits himself to spoilers. “[The authors of the study], Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt, suggest that knowing the plots of stories ahead of time allow viewers and readers to focus on other aspects of the work, like the characters, themes and such,” he says.
Despite being a huge Marvel fan and regular contributor to a Marvel Cinematic Universe blog, Flamma_Man says accepting the inevitability of being spoiled, and knowing he could still enjoy the film, lead him to “believe [he] would be a productive and helpful moderator.”
“Basically most of the movie [has been spoiled for me], including [POTENTIAL SPOILER REDACTED] and the biggest moments, but I don’t mind,” Flamma_Man tells MEL. “It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.”
Once they’ve removed themselves from the emotional pain of being spoiled, they’re able to freely slay trolls. “I accept that by modding r/Avengers, every Avengers movie will get spoiled for me before I watch it. We all do. It’s unavoidable in this sub,” he says.
“By nature, it attracts trolls like moths to a flame,” the moderator adds. “Posting spoilers is a near universally hated thing, so I enjoy banning the trolls who come here to spoil movies for other users.”
“I’d already been spoiled by a text description of the five-minute leaked footage,” says u/Syn-Hawk, moderator of r/MarvelMemes. “I decided that other users in the community deserved to have the pleasure of going into the cinema ‘spoiler-free’ because everyone has their own preferences on what they want to know going in.”
However, not all mods are able to separate their emotional investment in the films, yet they feel beholden to their duties.
JonLuca, moderator of r/MarvelStudios, says he would “absolutely prefer not to be spoiled,” but it’s virtually impossible to avoid.
“I joined r/MarvelStudios back in 2014. Back then the chance of getting spoiled was actually quite low. Since the community was smaller, we’d rarely make r/all, and since the mod team was full of superfans we’d all go watch everything on day one,” he explains. “It’s only now that leaks have become prevalent … the community has members who are actively antagonistic.”
JonLuca describes himself has a pretty big fan, but not as big as others in the community. “I watch all the movies on release day, but … I’m only halfway into production details,” he says. “I also go to USC, in Los Angeles, which allows me to meet a surprising number of Marvel insiders, which in turn makes me a bigger fan!”
As for Paterakis, he says the pain of the spoil depends on the type of spoiler. Seeing a pirated clip is far worse than just reading something, he says: “You don’t experience the same feelings.” He explains that while most people spoil plot points or character deaths, he remains optimistic, since spoilers can’t ruin what he truly enjoys in the films: “the actors’ performances, the cinematography, the editing, the directing, the music and all the emotions that come with it.” It’s these little details that “make you truly enjoy the particular moment, and those can’t be spoiled.”
Since joining the moderating team of r/MarvelStudios in December 2018, he’s had every Marvel movie spoiled for him, but he still enjoyed them. “And despite knowing a lot that’s going to happen in it, I feel I’m gonna have an absolute blast watching Endgame,” he says.
Next-Level Tactics to Defend the People
Over in r/MarvelStudios, the moderators have activated what they call “Project Insight.” While Project Insight is activated, each and every single post in the subreddit must be manually approved by a moderator before it’s visible to the public.
“It means that we all get spoiled, but it protects the community,” says JonLuca. “So it’s definitely all-hands-on-deck, but our shifts are mostly when our mods are online. I know we have quite a few mods in the U.K., and a couple in India/Asia area, so we have most time zones covered.”
Flamma_Man adds that basically all the mods stepped up for Endgame. “Whoever’s on deck and available has to handle the queue of posts and comments that have either been reported or flagged for potential spoilers,” he says.
They’ve also set up a filter to find specific spoiler-y wording, but some users try to find their way around it. “These users will post, in all capital letters, ‘XYZ CHARACTER DIES BECAUSE CHARACTER ABC STABS THEM.’ It’s hard to catch these posts because our filters have to do exact matches. So if the post is, for example, ‘[FIRST NAME] [LAST NAME] DIES,’ and our filter is ‘[first name] + [last name] + dies,’ it’ll catch it. But if the post is ‘[ABBREVIATED FIRST NAME] [LAST NAME] DIES,’ it would be let through.”
Redditor DreamTown3, a moderator of r/thanosdidnothingwrong, says his subreddit is seeing an increase in bans as well. “This is the second day in a row that I have been pinged multiple times to ban many users for spoilers. I find around three [spoilers] on average a day. For a while we decided it [merited] a one-year ban. Then we most recently decided on [permanent bans].”
DreamTown3 says some users have gone so far as to “post actual footage of the movie … which results in a contact to the admins, as it’s unauthorized distribution of copyrighted content. We have had users create multiple accounts just to post spoilers,” he adds, so they can “claim we never warned them or such.”
JonLuca says in these days leading up to the movies, they end up removing hundreds of posts and comments a day — but it’s nothing new. In fact, Infinity War prepared them for the Endgame spoiler battle.
“I’d say that we have a better handle on Endgame than we did Infinity War,” Flamma_Man explains. “We’ve learned from it.”
Understanding the Enemy
Casual fans may hate the trolls who spoil highly anticipated films, but the moderators are more forgiving. Who are the trolls? “They range from the fairly innocuous — excited users who just saw the movie and forget to flair their post and include a spoiler in the title — to the downright dickish,” says JonLuca. He adds that the “most dickish” will send spoilers directly to the moderators in a private message. “We have to actively accept that it’s a part of the [moderator] role,” he says.
“They’re usually trolls who like to tease other people to get their attention,” Paterakis explains. “In my experience, a lot of the times, they’re not even Marvel fans and they haven’t even seen the movies. They just find spoilers online, which might also be fake, and spam them on comments and PMs.”
Paterakis adds that he finds most of the time the trolls “are kids [trying] to get some attention and be the ‘cool kids,’ but they definitely have a wrong notion of what that means and turn out to be the ‘dick kids.’”
JonLuca agrees. “They clearly get some form of enjoyment from ruining things for others, which is a generally negative trait to have. A lot of the time they’re just young kids or middle schoolers that are trying out the ‘Be a Dick’ hat. It sucks, it’s definitely not a great behavior and obviously we wish they didn’t do it.”
“I honestly just kinda pity them,” says Flamma_Man. “To find enjoyment from something like spoiling a movie for people? It seems like they just want a sense of power over someone that they don’t typically have and that just makes me sad for them.”
“Every post I’ve removed [on r/MarvelMemes] has been maliciously posted,” Syn-Hawk adds. “I’d understand if they made memes about it, but posting things like ‘XXX happens in this movie… Oops, my bad’ isn’t being kind to others.”
“The internet will always be full of trolls,” AwkwardTheTurtle concludes. “I consider them more to be petulant children than scum, really. They’re not even the worst trolls we see daily. The racists are worse.”
“Interestingly, and anecdotally,” he adds, “it seems like there is often overlap between the racist accounts and the spoiler troll accounts. ???”
The moderating teams of each sub I talked to said they will continue to manually filter posts for spoilers until the DVDs come out. It’s their rule of thumb, “since not everyone is able to see the movie in theaters,” Flamma_man tells MEL.
Having the entire movie basically spoiled hasn’t deterred Paterakis, Flamma_man and JonLuca from seeing Endgame as soon as possible.
“I can’t wait — it’s definitely going to be the biggest movie of the year,” says JonLuca.
But AwkwardTurtle is going to wait. “I typically wait to see the movies until they come out on Netflix or whatever. By that time, I’ve forgotten any spoilers I’d been exposed to. Also saves spending $15 on stale theater popcorn.”