|The politics of moderation|
Moving, deleting, bad word blocking
I participate in only a small handful of online communities. This one (the newest but most active for me) and a few software company support forums that I haunt for answers and occasionally have had the answer. Recently, political activism bit me and in about two days I put up a new web site with forums about the issue and landed a newspaper article about the site. The day the article ran I had participants posting topics, and heatedly debating the issue. Participation continued...
I very quickly began to question what I had gotten myself into. My slant is towards letting everyone's words speak for themselves but realized that the content of the forum would also reflect on ME as the "admin" and I had mixed emotions while I watched the whole thing develop.
Here's what started happened to me, how would you have responded?
1. Instant and obvious trolls. I thought they would take time to arrive but the popped up right away. The topic of the site was already charged politically, and these folks were pouring gasoline on the flames hoping for a nuclear explosion, it seemed... Also it was a local matter and the IP's of the trolls were from a thousand miles away.
2. People new to forums didn't understand topic moving/deleting. I had a few different forums setup for different topics and moved topics as seemed appropriate and saw a very strong reaction of the "censorship" flavor.
3. People complaining about the site itself. Not constructive criticism, I would have welcomed that -- mostly personal attacks at me.
4. Language I considered in poor taste. Not actual "swear words" per se, but some language meant to be offensive.
I realize now that I was begging for these situations by posting a political forum linked to a site with a particular angle, but I inferred these also as exaggerated symptoms of what many forums experience. I had what I would call "moderation jitters" and had to consult friends and family for their opinion on whether I should just take the whole thing down. The experience is over now but my first online community "mayorship" definitely got me interested in doing it again. Just NO politics next time! :)
Well, for what it's worth, I cannot go to the PubCon 6.5 for political reasons....I'm running for office and the elections take place quite near that time.
But, onto your question:
|how would you have responded? |
It depends. Based on the information you've given, it seems you are in the middle of the politically explosive situation. At that point, you need to just settle people down. Tell people to relax. Tell them to discuss things rationally. Tell them if they don't, they will be banned. An open forum for political discussion is sorely missing on the web. (Perhaps there is one, but I haven't run across one)
Politics are not allowed at WebmasterWorld, so this post needs to be very generic in nature, and hopefully very inclusive.
Politics tend to polarize people. Ok. It makes for good reading when both sides are allowed to make their point. If either side is supressed, then it (the forum) becomes a right/left wing site. Again, I'm thinking from the standpoint of a middle ground where all viewpoints are allowed.
Truthfully, If you take a stand to the right or the left, then you will gain total support from the respective side. But, again, I've never seen a site in the middle.
Perhaps that is a good idea for a new forum? (On the web...not here:>)
|Instant and obvious trolls |
Leave 'em. It makes for good conversation after the event passes.
|People new to forums didn't understand topic moving/deleting |
They'll learn. Forget about it.
|People complaining about the site itself |
That's what the new area of your website is for, isn't it? The "Problems and Suggestions" area? Be honest where you've screwed up...it goes a LONG way.
|Language I considered in poor taste. |
Simple rule: If I would be embarrassed about having a 12-year-old little girl read the post to her mother...it goes in the trash.
Moderation is one of the trickier issues. If you moderate enough to make a difference, you will draw charges of censorship, moderating nazis, etc. I think most of us enjoy the environment here at WebmasterWorld a lot, but if you look at things like Alexa reviews you'll find complaints about excessive moderation, etc.
As a forum owner/operator, you have to define the rules and stick to them. You'll never make everyone happy. If you want a more freewheeling environment, great. If you want to keep things very polite, that's OK too... just hold to your vision, and don't worry about the critics.
Having a clear and well-defined Terms/Standards/Guidelines document and diligently enforcing it help set a tone for the type of material and the manner of its presentation that are deemed acceptable by the community. The broken window analogy from urban blight studies is a suitable metaphor, especially in a small or developing board.
I moderate on two BBSes, one that's only gets a half dozen posts a week, is attached to my personal site, and I've never had to edit anything. Probably won't ever have to edit anything, because I really don't care what people say there. Its intended to be a "wide open" forum.
the other is a very busy forum attached to a commercial site, and its a totally different story. A LOT of moderating goes on, but the forum keeps being active, and no-one ever complains about censorship. Here's the reasons why (IMHO)
Clear TOS, and a Sticky at the top of every Category: Seems obvious, but there is absolutly no way anyone can claim ignorance of the rules this way. Each category sticky contains a list of rules particular to that category, a description of what that category is intended to encompass, and links to the TOS, and to the FAQ. Its amazingly effective.
The second thing is a hidden "moderators" category. Its a busy site, and we get postings from all time zones. Fortunately, there are a number of moderators, and between us, we overlap coverage pretty well. If something is blatantly against TOS, it gets nuked instantly. If something is borderiline (and we try and err in favor of the users), it gets locked, flagged, and a note gets dropped in the moderator's section. A second confirmation of it being against TOS, and it gets nuked.
Its a fair system, and no-one seems to get offended by it.
Oh, and the other thing we do, that's kinda fun:
Out and Out Spam messages promoting websites or Viagra or whatever.
We don't delete them. Instead, we have a sot've informal competition between the moderators to see who can "edit" spam messages in the most humorous and creative way.
Bad word blocking can be fun if they are automatically replaced with a comment about the poster who made it.
"You are a jack***!" "@#$% YOU!"
Gets replaced with:
"You are a great dude and I am in need of some therapy and some #2 pencils." "Love you!"
It really gets funny when they try to complain about how their post was changed and then swear some more...
The Politics of Moderation?
Don't do politics.
Be clear, concise, consistent, polite, don't nitpick, and take action.
Be Clear: Write your TOS is the simplest, easiest to understand language possible.
Be Concise: Make sure your TOS covers the needed points, but keep it as short and readable as possible.
Be Consistent: Treat everyone the same.
Be Polite: Don't intentionally insult your members. Be prepared to apologize if you accidently offend members or make an honest mistake in moderation, but don't apologize for enforcing the TOS.
Don't Nitpick: Some members will try to nitpick the smallest details of every action a moderator takes. Don't get drawn into these endless debates, on the forum, or in email.
Take Action: Act as soon as possible when moderation becomes necessary, waiting to "see how things work out" often only makes things worse.
In other words, say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you said. Members may not always like this, but they will more than likely respect you for it.
Outstanding posts, thank you all very much!
|Politics are not allowed at WebmasterWorld, so this post needs to be very generic in nature, and hopefully very inclusive. |
I definitely wouldn't want to bring politics here. I'm very happy with a non-political community. :)
|"You are a jack***!" "@#$% YOU!" Gets replaced with: "You are a great dude and I am in need of some therapy and some #2 pencils." "Love you!" |
I had to turn on a few bad word blockers and was not happy with the "#######" default replace but couldn't think of a better option. Opposite replacement is definitely the way. :)
|Be Clear: Write your TOS is the simplest, easiest to understand language possible |
I definitely made a mistake with this... but my second TOS hit the nail on the head. My first had a lot of "happy talk" instead of being straightforward. Lesson learned. :)
|Mr Bo Jangles|
|The second thing is a hidden "moderators" category. Its a busy site, and we get postings from all time zones. Fortunately, there are a number of moderators, and between us, we overlap coverage pretty well. If something is blatantly against TOS, it gets nuked instantly. If something is borderiline (and we try and err in favor of the users), it gets locked, flagged, and a note gets dropped in the moderator's section. A second confirmation of it being against TOS, and it gets nuked. |
I like this idea.
And generally on moderation, I think WW is going to be my model - I think they get it right most of the time. The tone is set here, it's easy to get a feel of (the tone) IMO i.e. respectful - and that's what I want my forum to be like.
|Mr Bo Jangles|
I think one overriding consideration in tactics and methodology, is to avoid publically embarassing the individual - if you do that, you'll create an instant enemy.
I also think (and I see this in the WW moderators handbook) that if you choose to edit a person's post you should send him/her a (kindly) sticky e-mail explaining why - that will go a long way to soothing any hurt feelings, and let's admit it, generally there would be some hurt feelings, albeit maybe briefly, with a moderator edited post.
|Be Consistent: Treat everyone the same. |
This is one of, if not the, most important rule in moderation.
If you do not consistently and fairly administer the rules, it's all over.
If you let your friends get away with things you do not let others get away with, you *will* lose users. I've seen too many forums devolve into a small group of moderators and their buddies, where they inevitably wind up scratching their heads wondering where all the other users went.
You will always have users that will complain about how you've administered the rules. It's important to review your own actions and make sure those users are not right.
As far as political forums go, when I moderated a news site years ago, it would frequently end up with political discussions. Besides the rules implemented site wide (i.e. use of language, no advertising, etc.), the only additional rule I added in political discussions was no personal attacks against other posters. You could insult political officeholders and the like, but if you descended into a personal attack against other posters, you were done.
In those days, editing a message was not an option; so the only recourse was to delete the user's entire post, and send them a note describing why it was deleting and want changes they needed to make if they wanted to re-post.
And, I'm not sure that's not such a bad idea. If you edit a post, I think you may get more criticism than if you had simply deleted the post and described to the poster what changes *they* needed to make.