Forum Moderator Issues

Open: A proposal for community standards of forum behavior

Moderator: Discussion & Debate Managers

Lord Chaos
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Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Lord Chaos » Wed Dec 16, 2009 5:35 pm

I think you might be able to select a good moderator, and I don't see any other way to keep a debate civil. The main rule would be "Be nice, or your post gets removed."

Other than that, perhaps some hand-holding would be in order. Our society in general rewards those who make the biggest stink, and that behavior carries over into a forum. So, the moderator will most likely need to teach people some of the finer points, such as "Make sure you understand a confusing post before responding." Along with that, the idea of looking farther ahead and damping wild oscillations before they get started.

We've all seen it. I have to say, though, that even at its worst the Uru community is better than most others. Have you ever taken a look at an audio-gear forum? It's very instructive... and unpleasant.

Please note... if this shows up twice it's because it somehow became a "draft." Maybe I hit the wrong button.

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JWPlatt
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Re: Debate Tactics, Rules and Guidelines

Post by JWPlatt » Wed Dec 16, 2009 6:13 pm

Be nice, or your post gets removed
I tend to prefer "Be nice, or your post gets used as an example" so that there is learning from history and no charges of revisionistic moderators. Spam is a different matter.

Perhaps there needs to be a separate thread on Forum Moderation concernnig debates. It really is a different topic than debate tactics and rules. I'm not a mod here, so it's up the project managers. ;)

Keep in mind a significant number of gamers are youthful enough that they simply are not developmentally capable of the kind of thought processes and maturity of organized debate standards. Children cannot be held to adult standards, but they will naturally learn given time and good examples.

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Nalates
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Nalates » Wed Dec 16, 2009 9:13 pm

Moderators and revisions… for that matter revisions by anyone. Here I want to focus on moderator revisions and deletions. We can start a separate thread on whether individuals should be allowed to revise or delete posts.

“Selecting moderators” may have some preconceptions. Moderators are typically volunteers. There generally is not a large pool to draw from, as best I can tell. We generally do not get to pick our moderators. The behavior of and reasons for moderator action are not often explicitly stated or transparent. Most opinions of their quality of moderating are conjecture and speculation.

To me that means since we cannot select and draft the optimum moderators, one cannot guarantee unbiased or good moderators. This means relying on or trusting that moderators are the only enforcers of forum policy moves people into a victim mentality. I think that leads to many of the problems we have seen on other forums. I would like more personal responsibility and less moderator reliance.

Not understanding the rules moderators operate under contributes to the problem. Also, the forum owner may impose criteria and NDA’s, which I suspect is the case at MOUL.

I posit here that having nebulous rules and rules we assume all understand allows moderators and participants to interpret the rules differently and contribute to contention. That is a bigger problem than moderator bias.

I propose that by distributing the responsibility for good discourse to the individual participants we will get better discussions. A problem is that with some frequency new members will not know the rules. Participants can explain and direct them to the rules (Chaos’ handholding). Rather than repeatedly discussing the same issues we can create a rule set and guidelines that cover it and explain it and use it for reference. Instead of relying on moderators to do all this work, forum members can help out.

Still moderators will get complaints and in some cases some action will be needed. When does a moderator have an obligation to delete, edit, suspend or otherwise change a post?

Racial, religious and other intolerant or hate speech is a candidate for editing we agree on. But what defines the line? Calling someone a Catholic in a prolife debate can be relevant to a discussion. How it is worded can change how it is perceived, but one cannot completely control the perception of others. Is there a rule or guideline or can one be defined that clearly shows the line where a moderator steps in?

JWP brings up the very real problem of mental maturity. I could not find an age limit here. Adolescence is generally considered to start at 12 or 13 and run to a less well defined age, but 20 is considered an approximate ending age. However children ages 6 or 7 to 12 may participate in some forums. The preadolescences (10-12 or 13) tend to be undergoing rapid psychological change and developing a more complex morality. They still often have a narrow world view and rigid belief system. While the adolescence has more ability and potential to achieve a flexible belief system they generally are unaware of their mental processes. By 15 most have their full mental abilities. They may have yet to learn how to use them. Some people will never learn some abilities. (Reference)

I posit that by having a wiki with a set of rules and guidelines referencing the subjects of debate, discussion and logic that the young and older will be exposed to the information in connection with their participation in the Myst-Uru community.

Other than respecting the problems of youth and providing education, I don’t know there is anything else to be done.
Nalates
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Mac_Fife
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Mac_Fife » Thu Dec 17, 2009 10:44 am

Nalates wrote:Still moderators will get complaints and in some cases some action will be needed. When does a moderator have an obligation to delete, edit, suspend or otherwise change a post?
This thread has largely preempted a post I was thinking of making!

As far as moderator (or administrator) intervention is concerned, it has to be much like the chair's intervention in a formal discussion: The specific rule which is being contravened should be cited, so that there is both transparency and example. That won't completely remove the risk, but will reduce the opportunity for accusations of bias or unnecessary censorship.

As noted above, moderators are volunteers, and generally appointed by default rather than by acclamation and on merit. That's not to say that they are "bad moderators"; it's more that Mods need a clear set of rules to work with too, so they each can apply the rules consistently. Large communities will naturally produce more volunteers, so a form of "natural ratio" is maintained.

On some forums (and MOUL is good example here) moderators have a major task in dealing with spam posts and bogus registrations; since their time is limited then on a busy forum that can mean that supervising the real discussion is somewhat superficial, and lead to hasty judgement calls, with ensuing fallout. The point is that Mods need to be allowed the time to the job they were recruited for. Spam has not proven to be a big problem here yet, although JW has had to make some hard decisions in order to keep this site "clean".

The site administrator/owner is responsible for ensuring that the site stays on the right side of the law and meets the terms and condition imposed by the hosting service or provider: Those terms are a contract between the site owner and the host and it may not always be appropriate for those terms to be public knowledge, and in that respect the owner needs to be "cut some slack" on vetoing certain content, but I don't really expect that to ever become a major issue: If it does then it probably means we have bigger problems anyway.

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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Lord Chaos » Thu Dec 17, 2009 12:39 pm

I'm old, I'm crotchety, and I'm really tired of impolite people. Living in Los Angeles I know a lot about impolite people, and how easy it is for the general tone of personal interactions to be dragged into the gutter. It seems that one bad apple can spoil the bushel, but it takes a whole lot of good apples to keep things good. Personal opinion, there.

My approach to moderating would probably be more draconian than some people would like. I would enforce:
Clarity. Some posts I've seen on MOUL and others are simply incomprehensible. Send 'em back and tell the writer to try again.
Kindness. Give the other person a break; maybe they had an off day and weren't as clear as they wanted to be.
Patience. If this post isn't clear, let them try again.

I know moderators have a tough time. I wouldn't want the job on any forum, much less a very busy one. It takes time to do any job well, and when you get yelled at--and any moderator will get yelled at a lot--for doing your job it's even harder. Perhaps enforcing standards right from the start of any discussion would reduce the need for future enforcement.

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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Mac_Fife » Fri Dec 18, 2009 7:32 pm

Lord Chaos wrote:Perhaps enforcing standards right from the start of any discussion would reduce the need for future enforcement.
Indeed. It is important to do so, otherwise the moderation is seen as inconsistent, and the "How come my post got edited but Fred's post was left alone?" becomes inevitable.

Initially at least, moderation should be done in collaboration with the poster or poster's concerned, but there is probably a scale of severity of infraction that determines the nature of the moderator's action. Possibly something along the lines of:
  1. Post that is clearly inciteful, illegal, or may bring action against the site operators - Immediate deletion of post with warning email to user.
  2. Post that breaches agreed rules for the forum, but not to the extent of 1. - Remove post, return to user and request that it is amended or withdrawn.
  3. Post that contains obvious inaccuracies or misrepresentation - Leave in place, but request user amends it. Edit by moderator if necessary.
  4. Posts with tone that moves from "debate" to "personal attack" - Advise concerned parties that tone is unacceptable. Leave posts in place: Some dynamics are necessary within debate, just don't let it get out of hand.
  5. Post in incorrect forum or thread - Move post and advise user, either by email or within thread.
  6. Minor typos, broken links, unpaired tags, etc. - Moderator edits posts and adds note on what was done.
I'm not claiming the above is the only correct process or even that is anywhere near complete, but it's probably a reasonable representation of my own moderation mindset. It's also worth remembering that the forum software in use, and the settings applied can have a bearing on how easy or hard it is to do some of the moderation activities.

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Nalates
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Nalates » Sat Dec 19, 2009 2:49 am

Mac_Fife wrote:The site administrator/owner is responsible for ensuring that the site stays on the right side of the law and meets the terms and condition imposed by the hosting service or provider: Those terms are a contract between the site owner and the host and it may not always be appropriate for those terms to be public knowledge, and in that respect the owner needs to be "cut some slack" on vetoing certain content, but I don't really expect that to ever become a major issue: If it does then it probably means we have bigger problems anyway.

I’ve never imagined such a thing. What would an example be?

I agree that when a post is being edited, deleted or otherwise changed the reason should be clear in the moderators mind. I think good rules for the moderator to work from makes the likelihood of bias less. I don’t know that will reduce the claims of bias. I do think the rules and citing them will make claims of bias less believable.
Lord Chaos wrote:My approach to moderating would probably be more draconian than some people would like. I would enforce:

Clarity. Some posts I've seen on MOUL and others are simply incomprehensible. Send 'em back and tell the writer to try again.

Kindness. Give the other person a break; maybe they had an off day and weren't as clear as they wanted to be.

Patience. If this post isn't clear, let them try again.

:lol: I like these ideas. I can’t see a way to enforce them and keep a discussion moving. Forums have randomness in when people post and each post changes the tone of the conversation. Even when a post is removed it likely lives for some time and colors the following posts.

I also think Clarity is a subjective thing. I’m not sure how one would decide objectively. On several forums what Chaos calls kindness they refer to as respect. Make the assumption they are at least rational of thought and mean well. I see patience as part of respect too.

Mac_Fife’s post…
I agree consistent enforcement is important. The nature of moderation tends to make that difficult. On a busy forum moderators can’t read everything. Consistent enforcement is really up to the forum members, IMO. I also believe that reduces the work placed on moderators.

The severity of posts… item #3… inaccuracies and mischaracterization… in many cases these are difficult to call. I think any claim/statement that could be slander require authentication/substantiation and possibly rewording. In such case I think a moderator should immediately place a note in the post citing the problem and rule and request clarification with notice of pending action.

I don’t know if we can suspend a thread or post (temporarily hide) on this forum. In some a moderator can. In others they can’t. I suggest any method for handling such posts assume we can’t suspend posts.

Item #4 – this moves into the area of ad hominem attacks (See POST). I would like to have a clear rule on what is and is not acceptable. My belief is a person losing a point in a discussion often resorts to personal attacks and name calling. They have nothing else left. Citing the rule and identifying the problem fits with the idea that posts may not be removed but will likely get used as an example of poor behavior.


There is the consideration of whether posts are removed or the text is changed by the moderator. Revisionism is a real consideration in my mind. I tend to favor leaving all posts except those that break criminal laws, i.e., racial, religious and sexual hate. Even then I would likely leave the post and replace the body text of it with a citation of why the text was removed.

With posts that break rules, I think adding what they did wrong to the post is better than removing them. Condemning the behavior and warning that future abuse of the rules will result in some action is better.

What other actions are open to a moderator? Can a user be suspended for a week? That lets the discussion move on without them. For a point that is of value to them that is some measure of discomfort.

The continuation of these ideas is what does one do when a person repeatedly must be edited and warned? Is there a point when banning is appropriate? Where is that point? Is it a private or public thing? Is there an appeal process?
Nalates
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JWPlatt
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by JWPlatt » Sat Dec 19, 2009 3:27 am

A couple of notes:

Consistency of enforcement: A handy moderator tool for forum software would be attaching paragraph pointers from a rules database so a mod could pin a reason (and consequence) from the approved list of rules on a post in violation. I'd be willing to bet a certain amount of automation could come from this. Until such a feature were implemented in the forum software, cut & paste from the same set of rules would do just fine. If the mod can't find the rule applicable to the perceived violation, none was broken. If it is clear that the behavior did not break a rule, but the community believes a new rule should cover an undesired behavior, a proposal could be sent to the admin or, for example, be put to a vote by global moderators and passed on to the admins for implementation (written into the document). Personally, I find a growing set of rules akin to the tax code and it eventually becomes more trouble than it's worth. I've chosen the other extreme on these forums with one rule to ring them all and in the forums bind them to provide the widest possible interpretation - at least until it no longer works (or is cast into a volcano).

Thread purgatory: The preventive measure which covers this is to put posts on a moderator queue, pending approval before they becomes visible. Large youth-oriented sites like Disney or Star Wars do this. Personally, I don't like the practice at all but I see its value. The mechanism on phpBB would be to move a thread to a forum visible only to those in charge of such things where discussions in judgement can take place. Other forum software might make this an easier operation, such as a "hide thread" button. phpBB could implement this more easily if they provided a button to manually select threads to be placed into the moderator queue regardless of whether that feature is active. I might look to see in the documentation if that already exists. I've never turned on a moderator queue to find out.

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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Mac_Fife » Sat Dec 19, 2009 5:08 pm

Nalates wrote:
Mac_Fife wrote:... Those terms are a contract between the site owner and the host and it may not always be appropriate for those terms to be public knowledge, ...

I’ve never imagined such a thing. What would an example be?
Well, for example, some forums allow the posting of attachments. Some hosting deals may disallow, say, MP3 or other files on the site or impose an additional charge for them (since they may be associated with large download traffic). They site owner may not want to explain all that.
Nalates wrote:I don’t know if we can suspend a thread or post (temporarily hide) on this forum. In some a moderator can. In others they can’t. I suggest any method for handling such posts assume we can’t suspend posts.
This ties in with JW's post above. Most (recent) forum software allows new posts to be submitted to a moderation queue. This is a bit of a double edged sword, though: It forces all posts to be vetted by a moderator before appearing on the public site, so they can be checked for compliance. However, that means that discussion may become slow, may give moderators a bit more work (since they have to explicitly approve all posts, rather than disapproving the contentious ones), and there could be a suggestion that moderators are deliberately delaying posts they dislike.
Nalates wrote:What other actions are open to a moderator? Can a user be suspended for a week? That lets the discussion move on without them. For a point that is of value to them that is some measure of discomfort.

The continuation of these ideas is what does one do when a person repeatedly must be edited and warned? Is there a point when banning is appropriate? Where is that point? Is it a private or public thing? Is there an appeal process?
phpBB has a banning mechanism that can be based either on a User Name or an IP address. The latter helps deal with people who try to work round a ban, by re-registering under a different User Name. The ban can be indefinite, for specified period, or until a spcified date. When a ban is imposed, a reason can be assigned that the user will see. There is customisable list of ban reasons, and free form text field. Most forums have something similar. Short bans allow for "cooling off".

Additionally, there is a "Formal Warning" system that moderators can use. Warnings are retained in the user's log and viewable by moderators, so they can see if there's a history, even if they've never dealt with the user before.

Appeals should be allowable except in the case where there has been gross, repeated misconduct. In those cases, outright banning is probably the only recourse, as evidentially they are unlikely to change their ways.

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Re: Post Revisions

Post by Mac_Fife » Tue Dec 29, 2009 7:20 pm

This was originally posted in reply to Post Revisions, but seemed more relevant here
Dot wrote:
Mac_Fife wrote:... I suppose the main thing is to actually to defuse any potential conflicts before they develop into major issues.
One difficulty here, thinking of the current Uru 'community', is that there are already deep-rooted conflicts between the various groups.
Conflicts that develop in one forum can often re-surface in another forum, and so the divisions spread and "infect" others. In my view, the original conflict comes about because of ineffective moderation: Debates will often split into "camps". This is particularly so when the subject under discussion has no clear right or wrong outcome and each camp has a way they can move forward from their position. The issue arises when someone in each camp decides that it essential to convice the other of their "error". Moderation needs to recognise this and say "OK guys, you just need to agree to disagree", and lock the thread if necessary. However, we've probably all seen the case where the "flame war" simply starts up in a fresh thread. In those cases it would seem that temporary "cooling off" bans are the only recourse.
Dot wrote:There is a real problem though with several of the forums associated with Myst/Uru -- the unpleasantness and conflict puts people off from contributing and (in the end) even reading or visiting them.
And I put myself in the frame there - There are certain forums or threads that I hesitate to look at, because I simply despair when I see the same old arguments going on :cry: They often feature half-informed statements of "fact" purporting to be authoritative. I don't post to them, because trying to correct those "facts" simply fans the flames. In any case, the activists have become so entrenched in their positions that no amount of argument or evidence will ever change their opinions anyway. These are cases where moderation should have put an end to the debate much, much earlier.

One of the problems is that some forums see moderation as an interventionist evil, an unwanted form of censorship, a restriction on free speech. The reality is that moderation, applied well, allows everyone fair opportunity to comment, while a lack of moderation allows a vocal minority to browbeat everyone else.
Last edited by Mac_Fife on Tue Dec 29, 2009 7:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Moved from Post Revisions thread

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