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Community Building and User Generated Content Forum

Why Moderation Helps Communities Grow

 3:36 pm on Mar 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

I've always been a believer of moderating comments for civility in forums, on blogs, etc. It's been mostly based on experience - when discussions turn nasty, they engage a few members but turn off many more. Now, the NYTimes reports on research about article comments:

Subjects who read the article and the comments that followed didn't change their opinion about the topic. But, if the comments included gratuitous insults like, "you're stupid," the readers became more polarized in their belief and actually interpreted the original article in a different way.

Kind of sad that rude comments affect the original content, but there's a lesson for communities, too. IMO, this explains why discussions that include ad hominem remarks invariably deteriorate rapidly. If you believe the study, every rude remark polarizes the reader a little more, and when they add their own comment (something not looked at by the researchers), that comment is almost certainly going to be more opinionated and perhaps uncivil than it would have been. And, good members will leave to find more fruitful dialog elsewhere.

Courtesy has always been an expectation here at WebmasterWorld, which no doubt explains in part why it's still around 14 years after it was founded.



 6:27 pm on Mar 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

I think that moderation on many forums should be tightened up. The problem is that the controversial threas where people are calling each other all sorts of names often attract the most traffic.

So perhaps that why traffic on this forum has collapsed during the last couple of years?


 6:33 pm on Mar 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

Maybe we can find a happy medium and refer to each other as "right honourable idiots" -- like uncivilized politicians do in house debates.


 6:37 pm on Mar 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

I think traditional forums have lost ground to social media and blogs over the last five+ years. That doesn't mean they don't have a role, but user behavior has changed. People used to "live" in a forum - they discussed topics of interest, chatted about irrelevant stuff, etc.

Now, people tend to share really good insights on their blog first, and tend to "graze" forums more for very topical stuff. On other forums than this one, I've seen traffic and participation grow at the same time as time on site and pages per visit drops.

In my experience, threads with name-calling generate a burst of traffic and posts, but often harm engagement by higher quality members. Too much, and they leave forever to find an environment that isn't populated by jerks.

The member who's going to spend fifteen minutes crafting a patient, helpful, detailed reply to a clueless new arrival is almost certainly not the same member who's going to be calling people names.


 6:47 pm on Mar 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

And of course, it helps if the moderating is done in a civil manner.


 6:48 pm on Mar 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

I don't recall that the data concluded that moderation helps communities grow. It only concludes that unfettered expression leads to polarization of opinions. I believe the title of this discussion is misleading because the article does not support the contention that it puts forth.

The study showed that a lack of moderation has a polarizing effect on opinions. But there is no conclusion offered that moderation will help grow a forum. It seems that many of the most popular forums across most any niche contains various degrees of wild and wooly interactions that point to a lack of moderation. A lack of moderation hasn't prevented those highly popular forums across a range of topics from growing.

I believe that moderation of member expression can inhibit the growth of a forum. There's an upside and downside to running a forum that could be bigger but nastier as well as smaller and nicer. I believe it is exceedingly rare to have it both ways, to be both large and civil.


 7:02 pm on Mar 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

The conclusion was my extrapolation based on the assumption that unfettered hostility is generally a bad thing. It depends on the mission of the forum, I suppose. A political forum that wants to foster a thoughtful exchange of ideas where everyone's voice will be heard needs moderation. A political forum that is fine with name-calling might also grow, albeit with a different cast of members.


 7:03 pm on Mar 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

The Register has little ( if any ) moderation nowadays..seems very successful..and doesn't suffer from the "snipped because mod considered comment "off topic" type of censoring/restriction of opinions which don't "chime" with particular mod's*" that many fora do..

*IMO and IME fastest way to kill a forum..or to drastically reduce the activity in it..


 7:11 pm on Mar 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

...the assumption that unfettered hostility is generally a bad thing.

I agree with you 10,000% that it is generally a bad thing.

However, leaving aside our personal opinions and preferences, the article does not reach the same conclusion as put forth in the title. Sadly, as far as I have encountered, highly popular forums regardless of topics are minimally moderated.

As for a forum about politics itself, is it possible to host a highly popular and civil forum about that topic AND be about both sides, right and left? Does one currently exist?


 9:55 pm on Mar 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

is it possible to host a highly popular and civil forum about that topic AND be about both sides, right and left

"Jane, you ignorant slut."


wa desert rat

 8:43 pm on Apr 3, 2013 (gmt 0)

I started a relatively successful forum a couple years ago because of ignorant and rude posts and equally stupid comments from the moderators themselves. We get 600 uniques a day and around 3,000 page views and the only "moderation" we've done was to ban a three of the worst case jerks from that old forum. For some reason the place just moderates itself, pretty much. Everyone seems polite and interested.

However I have seen advice to forum webmasters telling them to "court controversy" in order to build page views and clicks to ads. It must be difficult to choose between making money and having a nice place to share ideas.


 9:50 pm on May 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

Without moderation, the lowest common denominator will define the style of the forum.


 9:55 pm on May 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

Without moderation, the lowest common denominator will define the style of the forum.

That may be true, as long as the moderators aren't members of the lowest common denominator themselves, which a good number seem to be.


 11:53 pm on May 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

A few years ago there was a thread [webmasterworld.com] which ended up being about moderation though it started out on some other subject. (If you're in 30-posts mode, skip to page two.) One of the great philosophical questions was whether moderators should be chosen from among the most active forum participants, or from people who keep a low profile.

The more active you are, the more likely it is that you will sooner or later lose it and call some fellow community member an inconsiderate piece of ### and the biggest ### moron who ever lived, as I did recently in another forum. (Not one in which I'm a moderator. But I doubt this would have stopped me. I should add in self-justification that the member's offense involved a site-scraping utility.)

That may be true

Sounds as if it's even more true than originally suggested :) because the "without..." clause doesn't always make a difference. So moderation is necessary but not sufficient.


 2:03 am on May 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

There is anonymous moderation where members have never met you physically and there is moderation where you are known to hundreds of members because they have all met you at some time, usually at one of the regular association meets.

Being known make a difference and at times can incite jealousy and more. About 13 years ago I set up a forum for a sporting association and warned them from the onset that it will require moderation. They ignored this and it wasn't long before committee members were looking for a solution. So I recommended that members be delegated as moderators and created special account privileges for them. But then those members were being targeted for removing what was unfit to read on a site that not only coached juniors but was also begging for government sponsorship. Consequently we saw a lot of moderators assigned who resigned soon after and when no one was announced as being a moderator I was blamed for not only deleting posts, but also of controlling the sport statewide which was ridiculous because I given up on that forum long ago as its content was not conducive to the mindset needed for good programming.

Anonymous moderation is less painful and there hasn't been a forum that I still subscribe to that hasn't suspended or cautioned me for "being honest" at some time or other (including this one).

However, if you do have an opinion and want to join a discussion, it would be more ethical to not moderate in the topics that you enjoy.


 2:48 pm on May 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

that hasn't suspended or cautioned me for "being honest"

I have to be "honest" with you that your statement does not sound accurate. I don't recall ever moderating you or having any issue with you as a member here on WebmasterWorld, so don't take the following statement as a description of you personally, because the following is not about you personally, it's about the statement itself.

There is some truth to your statement. I have participated in a forum where my comments were removed because they expressed negative sentiments about a member who was also an advertiser who was posting thinly veiled promotional posts. He complained, my comments were removed. I'm a member there because they're making an effort to moderate well, and that advertiser was told to change his posting style. I could claim I was edited for telling the truth. But I have to be honest and admit that my post was a direct challenge to a member, which made the post borderline uncivil, and definitely off-topic. I turned the discussion into a discussion about the OPs motivation, not about what was in the title of the discussion.

This forum (nor any other forum I participate in) does not moderate members for being honest. Rudeness, yes. Uncivil comments, yes. Taking a thread off topic, yes. There is a point where a topic goes from Topic A to Lynch Mob Pile-on.

Here are my personal opinions, do not take them as WebmasterWorld policy:

1. Two sides to every story
Many people who claim they were censored for telling the truth are often exagerrating to paint themselves as innocent victims of over-moderation, they're not telling the entire truth of what happened.

2. False calls for free speech
The biggest advocates for "free speech" on a forum are almost always trolls.

On the flip side, when good intentions go bad:
1. Some times moderators lose sight of the goals of moderation.
This is the fault of the admins. The admins must be able to clearly state what the purpose of moderation is. This must be communicated to the mods. The goal can be increased participation, civility or unfettered discussion. Whatever it is, it must be formulated and communicated so when a mod action is considered, the action works toward that goal.

2. Mods take things personally
This is why I believe selecting a mod for personal characteristics trumps their topic experience or knowledge. A good mod is patient, thoughtful, and gets along with other members. A bad mod takes things personally and "rules" the forum. Those are the ones that take things personally.

I was once jumped by the moderator team at SearchEngineWatch because I disagreed with a statement by one of the mods that supernatural forces and click fraud were at work to lower Yahoo's stock valuation. Several of the other mods jumped in to attack me personally as well as to deny the credibility of respected traditional news sources that offered the real reason for the stock drop. Graciously, Danny Sullivan stepped in and said I was right. Those moderators took my criticism personally. They were poor moderators.

3. The best mods are servants
The best leaders, the best moderators, are the ones who think of themselves as servants to the community, not the rulers over it.

[edited by: tedster at 1:26 am (utc) on May 6, 2013]


 7:53 am on May 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

Typical forum policy just about every where is that when recommending a solution or service, if it is commercial or a link is provided, then it is considered spamming. If one happens to mention an entity more than once in whatever period it is also considered spamming.

Even if the recommendation is for the only solution available when everyone believes that there is none, it is still considered spamming!

Often I come across information sites, you know, the ones that publish articles on how to do this and that for the sole purpose of entrapping visitors for ad-click revenue. While they have borrowed the information, often the best advice has been excluded. But when I email them to point out the inadequacy quite often I get a response like, "but that is a commercial solution". This is most amusing when considering that they have lifted most of their information from that commercial site or from another who has, and the only one making a profit from that information is their "free" service.

Actually, it's not amusing at all.

A bad mod takes things personally

I totally agree with this and it applies off forum also. Recently I received an email from a client who had been sharing my support responses with his IT staff and pointed out that it was felt by some that my comments had been sarcastic. Well this had me going so I read through all of my previous emails and at no time did I ever mention that the IT guy who had mangled the code that we provided was the root of all his problems.


 11:04 am on May 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

if it is commercial or a link is provided, then it is considered spamming.

That's what happens when forums are run by experts in the topic who are newbs about what goes on in Internet marketing. I once had a post removed for spamming so I PM'd the admin to teach him how to tell the difference between spam and a useful link. I agree, it's over-moderation to kill non-spam useful links, even if it's to a commercial site.

Aside from the obvious spam there's the kind that tries to appear like a regular post. On English language forums, run of the mill spam is easy to spot, it usually originates in a country that's not the USA or the UK, usually a third world country. If unsure, check the IP, if it's third world it's spam.

Then there's the third world spam that uses spoofed IP addys. Again, check the IP. If the IP belongs to a web host, it's spam.

Then there are the third world profile builders. They're not even dropping links. The link is from their member profile, and there are sneakier variations to this method I won't discuss because I don't want to encourage that kind of spam.

The spam from the UK that I encounter is usually pretty blatant self-promo, (Hi, I'm from smallbusiness.co.uk, please check out our store!). American spam sometimes comes from the web designer. So you have to check the IP/city of where the post originated then correlate that with where the website is regged. If they're identical then it's the site owner spamming you. If it's not, scroll to the bottom of the page and check the footer for SEO or web design credits and check the city of origin for those. If those are a match then it's was their SEO or web design guru spamming your forum.

American small business smammers are the worst because they think they're doing you a favor. A couple years ago a Popular Newb SEO Guru recommended to share good information on forums and leave a link back to your own web page with more information. He called it a win-win situation. But it's not of course. It's spam. Any self-promotion in the discussion area is generally considered spam. I don't know if Popular Newb SEO Guru is responsible for all of that spam, probably not, but to this day it's a popular link building method for small business people.

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