How I moderate a forum

(Dan Eastwood) #1

I wanted to share my thoughts on forum moderation, how I make decisions, and why I do things the way I do. I should emphasis there are my opinions, and do not constitute forum policy, but are my interpretation of how to be a good moderator in keeping with the rules @Swamidass has set up for us. I invite your comments and criticisms.

For reference, here are links to the Peaceful Science
FAQ and Disclaimer. Everyone has read these already, right?
Additionally, Discourse has a pretty good guide for moderators.

I got started as a large group moderator when Communities were first introduced on Google+. Someone called me in to help because he was having troubles with his existing moderators. Two weeks later all hell broke loose, the community owner rage-quit, and I found myself in charge of a large group of angry atheists. I got help, set up a power-sharing structure, and made sure the rules were clear to everyone. I’m not taking credit for all that, it was a real team effort. It also set up for the next crisis, but that’s another story. The point is I have a lot of experience managing a diverse online community, and dealing with the problems that come with it. I also have two smaller communities on G+, on for Agnostics and another (Darwin’s Bulldogs) as a collection of resources about evolution. Come on by for the few months G+ has left … :frowning:
One important lesson I learned is that community members need to understand the rules and how the moderators will apply them. No one likes getting moderated, but most people will understand why they are being moderated if you explain it to them politely.
Another important lesson I learned is that good moderation decisions should be nearly independent of personal opinion; the job is to apply the rules fairly, not to impose my opinions on others. That means that when I’m faced with a moderation decision for someone I might disagree with, I should try to call in another moderator rather than giving the appearance of making a biased decision.

With that introduction out of the way I can get down to how I operate. I have a few basic rules to apply:

  1. Don’t waste time. Sometimes moderation decisions require a lot of thought, especially if I’m trying to keep disagreeing parties happy. If no better solution to a problem is apparent, then I assert my right to apply a quick solution over some ultimately better solution.

I should emphasize this is my fall-back rule, not the first rule I try to apply. I don’t use this rule often, and when I do I tend to have second thoughts for a few hours anyway. This sometimes implies that heavy-handed solutions are needed, and I really hate heavy-handed solutions.

  1. Relevance. As a courtesy to others, explain why the link, image, meme, or video you are posting is interesting, or pose some question for discussion which requires that content. Give the reader some information to help decide if clicking on a link is really worthwhile; let them make an informed decision about how to spend their time. Including the length of a video is helpful too.

This rule means that it I can’t quickly determine if a post is relevant, then I can assume it is not. I don’t have time to follow links, read every article, or watch every video, and neither does anyone else. If you think it’s important to post about XYZ, then it’s your job to explain WHY you think it is interesting. Don’t leave it up to others to figure out what you were thinking (ie: do not waste other people’s time).
I don’t use this rule much here, because everyone here is pretty focused on topic. It’s primary use is to quickly dismiss images, memes, naked links, and videos that are too casually shared. Note that almost anything can be relevant IF you introduce it in a way that makes it relevant.

  1. Respect. If a little more effort on your part makes your post or comment a better experience for everybody else, then you are expected to make that effort. State your opinions as opinions rather than as facts. If you cannot get along with some other member, then have the courtesy to ignore them.

This rule is already covered in the forum Disclaimer, but it is worth emphasizing again. Even more than the Atheism community I moderate, this forum is subject to strongly opposed views. We need to start with that understanding, find some 2.54cm^2 of common ground, and work form there. I find that establishing common ground with others can be incredibly rewarding, much more so than the fleeting thrill of a pointless argument. So play nice with others, and take some time off if you get mad. Try not to make others mad, and apologize when you do. NSFW is obviously disrespectful. If necessary, write an appropriate warning and link to that content.

One more thing. on G+ I only have a few moderation tools; you can chat with people and try to get them to cooperate with the rules; you can remove posts; or you can ban them. Discourse gives so many more options than I ever had on G+, it’s almost frightening. I hesitate to apply some of those tools because some of the best discussions unfold in unexpected ways, but I also see the value of guiding discussions to keep them on track. I would like to avoid abusing my power to moderate, but I know I’m never going to make everyone happy every time. I am open to criticism and discussion of my decisions, and I hope you may now better understand how I make them.


(Neil Rickert) #2

I’ll just add, with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan:

A moderator’s lot is not a happy one.

(Dan Eastwood) #3

There is a certain satisfaction when thing are running well, but don;t give up the day job! :slight_smile: