Sunday, November 17, 2013

Banned on Beer Advocate: Two Years Later


nobeeradvocate
I’ve always tried to keep this blog as positive as possible. Sure, I criticize from time to time, but for the most part I avoid flat-out bashing because it doesn’t support the craft beer community as a whole. However, I’m going to make an exception for this week’s blog as I’ve just passed my two-year anniversary of being banned on BeerAdvocate.com
I don’t think it’s exactly breaking news or shattering myths to point out the snobbery and abrasiveness that is prevalent on that site by both its owners and its users. Unless you just became a craft beer enthusiast last week, chances are pretty good that you know this site is a wealth of information and a great venue to meet like-minded people, have discussions and set up beer trades. But at the same time it’s clearly a juvenile rumor mill with the strictest unwritten rules imaginable. Break one of these rules and you’ll find yourself banned without so much as a warning.

That’s what happened to me two years ago. I had been a regular contributor to both Rate Beer and Beer Advocate since 2009 or so. My participation was limited to simply posting my reviews of beers. I would occasionally lurk the forums, though more often than not I’d find they would fall into the classic rule of Internet free-fall where a thread starts off seemingly positive and innocent, but people would vehemently disagree over trivial matters until vulgarities were hurled and the thread was eventually deleted. Any post offering input for improvements to the site were quickly deleted, too. Anything criticizing “The Bros” (aka Jason and Todd Alstrom – the founders and managers of Beer Advocate) were always highly-trafficked for the short amount of time they were allowed to exist.

I found it oddly funny to constantly see so many people who were supposedly loyal the site criticize it so harshly (the exact same thing is happening right now on YouTube). In early November of 2011 I discovered blogs and Twitter feeds devoted solely to criticizing, bashing, and mocking Beer Advocate. They were interesting and sometimes hilarious, so I started following them. Less than a week later I signed into my account only to find out that I had been banned from the site. No warning was given beforehand and no detailed explanation was offered. I did see a message that was something like: “Reason #2179c: Known troll or associated with site trolls.”

Huh.

So apparently Beer Advocate had been taking the NSA approach: they were (and likely still are) engaged in some form of spying on their members. I could see if I were constantly posting topics in the forums that bashed the site or if I were spamming threads trying to advertise my personal blog. But I never did anything like that, not even close! In order for them to have banned me it means they were going out of their way to track down everyone that criticized the site off the site. To me, that’s just really sad and pathetic. It’s one thing to ban members for what they do within the confines of the site (there is a user agreement you have to abide by after all), but it’s quite another thing to make sure members have no ties whatsoever with those that criticize them. Their user agreement makes absolutely no mention that you’re not allowed to associate with “known trolls” OFF THE SITE!

Here’s a video I made shortly after I was banned. I take a lot of satisfaction in the fact it has been seen over 20,000 times! (NOTE: I’ve lost about 40lbs since I made this video).




After I was banished I had considered starting a website for fellow banned users to tell their stories called “Victims of Beer Advocate” or “Beer Advocate Refugees” or “Beer Advocate Political Prisoners.” But I just didn’t have the time or energy to go through with it. The anger eventually faded and has since become abject apathy. In the last two years I really haven’t paid much attention to what goes on there unless the news comes to me. There have been two stories that are worth mentioning, though:
  • In October of 2012, when Hurricane Sandy was headed towards Boston, Todd Alstrom manically tweeted that he just had someone’s car towed who was parked in his space. This story went viral within the craft beer community as beer geeks everywhere were outraged.
  • In September of 2013, dozens – possibly hundreds – of Beer Advocate users were banned in one fell swoop after news of a rival website, BeerTrading.org, became popular. Basically, if you were a B.A. member and you signed up for that other website you were banned. I’m not sure why, since Beer Advocate makes no money off members trading beers with each other. I believe they have a feedback system similar to eBay, but I don’t believe they profit from a trade between two individuals.

I’m sure there are plenty of other examples of the absolutely buffoonery that goes on at that website, but I don’t really care enough to pay attention anymore. I almost want to say I pity the entire Beer Advocate community, but I don’t. So whenever people tell me about the latest clusterf-ck involving Beer Advocate, or that they were unfairly banned from the site, my usual response is “What did you expect? You play with fire you get burned, plain and simple.”

Whenever someone tries to defend the site for its resourcefulness, I always ask why they don’t just use ratebeer.com instead since it’s essentially the same format and premise, the interface is more attractive and easier to use, their database is bigger, their website evolves with the times, and (most importantly) the users of Rate Beer aren’t constantly complaining about the site.

If you’re a Beer Advocate user you must be either a masochist or just extremely gullible. If there was no such thing as Rate Beer or BeerTrading.org I could possibly understand it being a necessary evil. Since there are superior alternatives available, why would anyone in their right mind use this site?
I challenge anyone reading this blog to start a thread about it in the Beer Advocate forums and see how long it takes until it’s deleted. Warning: your account may be banned for doing so.

Oh, and I never even mentioned the human cyclone that is Candice Alstrom.