Why Investigations Are Like Fight Club

[Note from your usual host: Eric “Raging” Levine is one of the foremost investigators and DQ’ers in the Judge Program, so I asked share his thoughts on how best to approach the problems associated with public discussions about investigations. This isn’t just about Alex Bertoncini and Trevor Humphries, it’s about the values we hold ourselves to as an organization of trustworthy and fair-minded professionals. Please take this message to heart.

For the uninitiated, the reference in this post’s title is from the Chuck Palahniuk book, Fight Club: “The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club. […] The second rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club.”

And now, we return you to your friendly, raging, and preeminently expert guest author.]

Hey folks! There’s been a lot of hubbub recently about investigations. Vigilant players on the internet, especially on Reddit, have been avidly discussing videos and scenarios of players engaging in what they believe is cheating. Some of these have been sent up the chain to the Investigations Committee, which is great – I’m heavily in favor of getting information to the right people.

What I’m not so much in favor of – and I’m sure you’re not either – is vigilante justice. Reddit mods have already cracked down on posting real-life details of players, which is great, but we need to make sure we don’t get caught up in the mob mentality ourselves, as that’s definitely not something Magic Judges should be perpetuating. Of course, you know this already. You know why we shouldn’t talk about ongoing investigations in public – that’s the fastest way to contribute to that mentality, and unfortunately, it makes it look like a thing we officially support!

With all that in mind, you’re probably asking the following question:

How can I avoid discussing investigations in public? (or, at least, some variation of this question)

Thankfully, I’ve already talked with a variety of leaders in the Judge Program about this, and they provided me with some examples of what not to do. Allow me to illustrate:

Don’t post in Facebook (or other social media) threads about ongoing investigations. Especially long ones. Especially in groups.

Social media are really great for getting a message out to a large group, which is a great thing… except when it’s not. These threads become toxic very quickly – you don’t have to look hard to find one right now – and participating in them will generally just feed into toxicity regardless of how positive and helpful your reply might seem. Just stay away!

Don’t speculate about suspensions: whether they’ll occur, how long they’ll be, etc.

Investigations Committee processes are a bit hush-hush, partially because the IC doesn’t want players to game the system. If players want to appeal their suspensions, they are provided information about this in the investigation process, through contact with the IC. Discussion of whether or not a player might be suspended for a certain amount of time only leads to confusion when, inevitably, your prediction is inaccurate. Members of the IC already know what their guidelines are and they’re looking at everything submitted in the Judge Center (and often beyond). How do you know whether a speculative statement on a ban or suspension is authoritative? Well, members of the IC don’t engage in that, so any statement like that is only correct by coincidence.

Avoid “analysis” of problematic behaviors which could lead to a suspension.

A popular behavior on Reddit recently has been to post videos and break down “cheats” by time code on the video. For example, “At 2:25 in, the player in question punches his opponent in the face and throws all of his cards into a shredder.”

This is something that the Investigations Committee probably spends a lot of time doing in private, but public analysis of what you do and don’t see as regards cheating in these scenarios just isn’t your job. If you end up saying a player is cheating but the ultimate verdict is that they’re not – or vice versa – this will lead to a lot of players questioning your judgment, the IC’s judgment, or both.

Refrain from answering the following questions or ones that are similar: “Did the player do it?” “Did the player get away with something or not?” “Does this player deserve a punishment?”

Just like before, if you answer these questions you’ll be wrong – a lot – and being wrong has problematic consequences. Even if you’re right, now players think that the best way to get someone suspended is just to convince you it needs to happen, and I’m sure you can see the problem. If players have evidence of cheating, please help them direct it to the appropriate channels. Which appropriate channels? Your friendly neighborhood RC is one. The Head Judge of the event in question is another. Even if the event is over with, the Head Judge can still enter a DQ report and initiate an investigation from there.

Restrain yourself when it comes to storytelling about ongoing investigations or recent DQ-related circumstances, except in reports to the Investigations Committee.

I have lots of “war stories” about investigations I’ve done. [More than two dozen entered in the Judge Center. – Sean] When I tell these stories, I do so knowing that the investigations have concluded and that I’m telling the stories without providing names in order to provide education and, sometimes, a bit of entertainment. That being said, I would never tell such a story about an ongoing investigation or while using a particular name for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it would open me to legal risks regarding defamation laws! Players we investigate – even ones we disqualify – are sometimes innocent, and raking them over the coals is unfair, unjust, and potentially in violation of tort statutes!

Stay away from “troll threads” – for example, a thread titled “[Name of Player Being Investigated] – LOL!”

Pretty much any response to this just feeds into the toxicity, as described earlier in this article. Leave it alone!

So is this list an exhaustive list of behaviors to avoid? Of course not. Similar behaviors ought to be avoided – use your judgment!

Questions you probably have:

How do I know when an investigation is concluded? I want to discuss a situation for educational purposes.

There are a couple ways to know:

A player’s name might show up on the suspended players list. Those investigations are done. (But that still doesn’t mean they’re fair game for ridicule or harassment – that’s not OK in any context, and certainly not from anyone who wants to be called a Judge!)

The investigation in the Judge Center will show as resolved. Only some Judges can see this information, though (mostly L4+, RCs, members of the IC, and the Head Judge who entered it). If you aren’t sure, ask your RC or the Head Judge of the event in question.

In all of these cases, an investigation being used for educational purposes should still avoid using names or obvious personal references. Examine your motive – if it’s truly education, the name of the person involved shouldn’t matter in the slightest.

Is it okay to discuss an ongoing investigation in private, say, to inform a head judge about a player who has been disqualified or is acting suspiciously?

Absolutely. Discussing something privately, especially with the intention of fixing a problem, is certainly not “publicly discussing an ongoing investigation”.

Is it okay to discuss an ongoing investigation in private just because it’s interesting? What counts as “private”?

Use common sense. If the discussion is on the floor of an event, assume it’s not private unless you’re purposely away from everyone else as in a 1:1 debrief or an end-of-day individual review session. Off the event floor, use common sense. Assume that a discussion on social media – aside from private messages – isn’t private (isn’t that the point of social media?).

Even if you think a conversation is private, don’t say things you wouldn’t want to see someone to copy and paste, quote, or attribute to you somehow, especially in the context of “I asked a judge about this and he said…”

Sometimes a Head Judge will include brief notes about DQs in his or her end-of-day wrap-up briefing. These are different. You’ll notice that these don’t include names and are focused on education and things to look for, not personal judgements of the people being DQ’d.

That’s the essence, right there. If it’s personal and public, stay above the fray. If you dive into that mess, chances are you’ll drag some of us down with you. If it’s truly educational and truly private, make the most of that opportunity, but keep names out of it. If it’s your event and your investigation, or if you have something to add to someone else’s, be direct in your communication and discrete in your audience.

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