Forum Moderator Issues

Open: A proposal for community standards of forum behavior

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Nalates
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Nalates » Fri Jan 01, 2010 1:27 am

With conflicts there are a couple of scenarios we see often. There are passionate ones like whether or not user-made-clothes are a good addition to a future MOOU. The arguments can be passionate and statesman like or an adolescent squabble. Debating facts and preferences in a respectful manner adds to the knowledge of the group. Venting emotions in an ad hominem flame war just digresses into the petty posts most of us don’t want to deal with, which is what I hope we can learn how to deal with and avoid.

I think I was participant in the thread Dot mentions. I write more about that in the Revisions thread. Since the moderators had a ‘dog’ in the race, one gets to see where biased moderation leads and that is another problem.

When any discussion goes into a debate the moderators have to maintain a balance of freedom and decorum. Night clubs have bouncers. Clubs that don’t and gain a reputation for being rowdy and having fights and loose a significant number of their customer base. Forums are the same. Just as one knows what parts of town to stay out of, so to one knows what to expect on some forums.
Mac_Fife wrote: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 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.


I think I understand Mac_Fife’s viewpoint. I’ve thought about this problem. I agree that ‘true believers’ can’t be affected by my posts, or probably anyone’s or even any number of facts. But, I decided I will post anyway. I am thinking of what new fans and infrequent posters will think. Any good propagandist knows repetition is the key to acceptance. A sour grape repeatedly posts their bitterness… sort of a striving for vindication. If that is not offset then all that is there is the bitterness. Those with an agenda promote it every chance they get.

While I think it is important to offset misinformation whenever it appears, that is a personal choice. For moderators the old debates and mischaracterizations are an ongoing problem. I believe locking the threads can create its own problems. But, a monotonous board that perpetually rehashes the same subject gets boring. While I don’t like locking threads, I think the best solution is to lock a re-debate/rehash thread with a closing post with a link sending people to the old thread. Other forum members can also send people to the original thread. I think voicing one's opinion of the thread also helps. Often a number of voices does get a closed mind wondering.
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.

I agree with the idea that good moderation improves communication. I’ve have seen vocal minorities shout down those with opposing viewpoints. :roll:

However, the forums are not bastions of free speech. MOUL, GoMa and others are PG forums. (Is OU PG? – My assumption is that it is) These are fan forums. Some have off topic sections, others don’t. Threads on global warming will draw heat and forum owners and moderators may not want the head ache. Controlling the topics is a matter for the owners and moderators to decide. The forums are privately owned. We don’t have to allow everyone’s soapboxes in our living room.
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Mac_Fife » Fri Jan 01, 2010 5:25 am

Nalates wrote:But, a monotonous board that perpetually rehashes the same subject gets boring. While I don’t like locking threads, I think the best solution is to lock a re-debate/rehash thread with a closing post with a link sending people to the old thread. Other forum members can also send people to the original thread.
Yes, I agree. That or merging the threads, but certainly don't allow the same debates to appear in multiple threads. That's a principle that should also apply to non-controversial threads: Repetition and dilution will result, and we've all seen that, I'm sure.

The bottom line is that it's hard for moderators: Often a post will reply on topic, but then digress onto something that belongs elsewhere. That's an almost natural part of the human thought process; that it is not entirely orderly (at least, mine isn't - it flits from one subject to another in a rather fickle way), but it then puts the mod in a bit of a dilemma - Moving a complete post is generally something the mod can do at their own discretion but splitting a post may be considered excessive editorial intrusion. Liaising with the poster may allow an amicable split, but again, it's a question of effort and time.

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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Lord Chaos » Sun Jan 03, 2010 3:19 pm

My approach to forum moderation comes from my desire for open and civil conversation. I realize those concepts often seem to be opposed, but I have seen examples. There have been some notable discussions on Uru Obsession that dealt with highly charged topics, and sometimes became pretty warm, but remained civil. It was the participants' choice.

I'm willing to read a forum thread until it become abusive. There are many examples all over, but what I call "uncivil" others might see as being the norm. I just have too much experience seeing many conversations driven into the gutter by the louder members driving out the good-hearted, softer toned ones. There's not much point in posting to a forum when one is ignored in favor of sharp-edged volume and words intended to shock.

I have simply never seen any good arise from abuse, accusation, ad hominem attacks. They're symptoms of a person who refuses to listen and when I run into people like that I just quit talking. If I were to be in a moderator's position I would think about the other people who, like me, are easily driven away, and manage the threads in such a way that these gentler folks could gradually begin to trust that the discussion would be kept respectful. No good decision can be made unless everyone's voice is heard, and our society isn't all that welcoming to gentle people.

Oops... missed the second page. Nalates asked "Is OU PG? – My assumption is that it is," which is an interesting question. UO used to be aggressively PG, which suited me pretty well. Others complained. Some of the rules were silly, such as not allowing any double-posting, or replying to a thread more than 30 days old. A couple of years back there was a major flare-up of something I still don't understand and UO is now managed in a more free-wheeling way. It's still respectful, for the most part, and well moderated, but moderation is less extreme. It's a home for a lot of people, which aspect of it I like.

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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by JWPlatt » Sun Jan 03, 2010 4:32 pm

Two fairly quick responses:

Repetition: Much of this is due not from those trying to get the last word, but from a steady stream of new people. New people bring a diversity of ideas, but often they are concerned about specific and consistent issues on forums with specific interests. They don't know what's come before - just what they need to do. These people need to be encouraged to ask their questions, and members encouraged to answer them objectively without criticism - without obvious admonishments for not searching first. Moderators familiar with existing topics can move the post to the existing topic and the new person will usually get the idea - by example rather than edict - and the action received as a helpful gesture. At the same time, posts which are quickly asked and answered fall into the depths of the page list while popular topics remain on page 1. It's like someone entering your conversation with others in person and politely getting attention before going about their business. If you have an answer, give it immediately instead of sending them to the "appropriate" place (the runaround). Not all posts need to be shunted to existing threads. The Star Wars forums are heavy-handed like that - or at least they were around the time the new sequels were coming out. It was so strict and oppressive, the moderators were full of themselves and I never went back.

OpenURU.org as PG: Not just PG, but a professional or business-like atmosphere for projects (not forums) based upon - even very loosely - the interests of the Uru community. What's okay at the workplace is okay here, generally speaking. In this case, however, it should be assumed that the workplace includes children, or apprentices, and it is our opportunity as mentors to teach them how to be both friends and professionals. The existing "Open Forums" here are merely the lobby, the lunch room or the water cooler (or the play room).
Perfect speed is being there.

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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Mac_Fife » Sun Jan 03, 2010 7:48 pm

JWPlatt wrote:Repetition: Much of this is due not from those trying to get the last word, but from a steady stream of new people.
Agreed. Posters cannot be expected to know about every thread that has ever gone before. My point was that mods should endeavour to keep related discussion posts together, so that it's easier for people to see the whole discussion. And certainly, question posts that only need a quick answer can be dealt with "in situ". I think that's a useful insight that JW has brought out there: That there are different kinds of posts, and that difference influences how you might moderate them. It's worth keeping that in mind for the "rule set".
Lord Chaos wrote:Some of the rules were silly, such as not allowing any double-posting, or replying to a thread more than 30 days old.
Yes, double posting is a subject that seems to get some peoples backs up, and is often regarded as "bad netiquette", like the "top posting vs bottom posting" arguments in the newsgroups. In a fast moving thread, double posting is not too much of a problem. In one that is slower to get replies then it's easy for a poster to find themselves with more information to add, but no-one else has yet replied. So what do you do? Double post and get cried down as a "bad poster", edit the post and possibly get accused of revisionism, or just sit on the information indefinitely?

Personally, I don't see a problem with double or triple posting. Generally speaking, the "rule" against it comes about as a means to stop individuals "bumping" their pet topics which aren't getting replies, so that they stay near the top of the topic list. That might be worth a slap on the wrist, but double postings that add value seem perfectly OK to me. If a "bump" is ever genuinely required for some reason, then a mod can be asked to do it, without adding a new post.

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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Nalates » Mon Jan 04, 2010 8:00 am

Lord Chaos wrote:I have simply never seen any good arise from abuse, accusation, ad hominem attacks. They're symptoms of a person who refuses to listen and when I run into people like that I just quit talking. If I were to be in a moderator's position I would think about the other people who, like me, are easily driven away, and manage the threads in such a way that these gentler folks could gradually begin to trust that the discussion would be kept respectful. No good decision can be made unless everyone's voice is heard, and our society isn't all that welcoming to gentle people.

I too see no direct benefit in abuse, especially in a forum. I know that many see the flaming start and leave the thread. My belief is that allows the flamers control of the forum. If someone wants you out of a conversation, then they can attack you or someone else and get their way. I see people leaving it to the moderators or others as expecting others to take care of them, not necessarily you Chaos. I’m speaking generalities.

I think handling flames and trolls is a shared responsibility. Members need to report the post and state their problem with it. If one is objecting to name calling, say that and why it is not pertinent to the topic. If it breaks a forum rule the moderator should take action, but its up to the members to alert the moderator. The serious problems fall in the area of border line attacks. Also moderators may not see an ad hominem attack as such. If one does no have clear definitions and examples, people will have different ideas. Also, some ad hominem attacks are pertinent to the discussion. So, it may be difficult for a moderator to make a call.

When the moderator chooses not to intervene, takes time to intervene or has a different opinion, I think it is up to the participants to make the call. When an ad hominem attack is used as a diversion or discrediting of the speaker in a way that does not address the point, it is inappropriate and should be called.

I decide whether an ad hominem comment is appropriate by considering whether the point being made by the subject speaker would be any more true or false if spoken by another person. Is the person speaking as an authority? If so, an ad hominem attack may well be appropriate.

I used to PM the problem people. Then I realized there was nothing to be learned by the larger community. I also realized some of the people where too young to know what was going on, they were mimicking bad behavior learned from others. I decided there is more to be gained by making a public challenge. Often when people, especially the young, are challenged they realize there is something about their behavior they have not considered. For me it is sort of a, when good people remain silent thing… Whatever, clear challenges seem to shift things. Silence allows things to continue unchanged at best and normally to spiral downward.
Mac_Fife wrote: Agreed. Posters cannot be expected to know about every thread that has ever gone before. My point was that mods should endeavor to keep related discussion posts together, so that it's easier for people to see the whole discussion. And certainly, question posts that only need a quick answer can be dealt with "in situ". I think that's a useful insight that JW has brought out there: That there are different kinds of posts, and that difference influences how you might moderate them. It's worth keeping that in mind for the "rule set".

I agree with Mac_Fife and JWP.

Judgment is needed in handling repeat questions. I think giving one an answer and politely reminding them to search before posting is a best solution for many posts. I also know how hard it is to search the forums. That we know an answer is here or on some forum, doesn’t mean it is easy to find, which is part of why I made the Uru Search page.

Other subjects are an easy call. A post asking if Windows or Mac is better is an age old question and certainly one to be moved to an existing thread. The only question I see in handling it is in deciding if the question is for real or a troll. I would tend to refer them off to a Linux site and lock the thread. :)

I doubt this ‘decision’ making can be a ‘rule’ as it requires mostly judgment. I am not sure we could write a clear rule. The more nebulous rules that change based on situation or context should probably be relegated to guidelines with examples. Placing it in writing, in one form or the other, gives people a heads up and moderators a reference for their decisions or actions.

Double and Triple posting… I’ve waited for a post to avoid a double post. I think if there is a good reason for a double post then I have no problem with it. I do try to respect whatever forum rule they have.

While a post can be edited, with annotation, it does not alert the forum there has been a change/addition. So, I tend to think new information should go in a new post.

Post bumping… I agree with Mac_Fife. The thread is either worthy of being sticky’d or it isn’t. Posts get bumped on some annual or other cyclical basis. The reason and topic probably decide if it is appropriate.

Old Posts… UO used to have that time limit thing, as Chaos mentions. At one point I asked that be lifted for the GoC section because of the need to update some old threads. Also some of the threads while old were still pertinent. I’m not a fan of thread age limits. Whether a forum has time limits or not, I think moderators should be able to override the time limit rules based on merit.

Also the email notices get sent to those formerly posting in a thread, which gives us a handy way to contact those interested in a subject.
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Mac_Fife » Mon Jan 04, 2010 11:38 am

Nalates wrote:I think handling flames and trolls is a shared responsibility. Members need to report the post and state their problem with it. If one is objecting to name calling, say that and why it is not pertinent to the topic. If it breaks a forum rule the moderator should take action, but its up to the members to alert the moderator.

Yes, and moderators can't be expected to catch everything that goes on in the most timely manner - they have their own lives to live too. But that's why most forums have a mechanism for the users to "report" posts that are questionable and put them into the moderator's attention queue, although I don't know that all users are necessarily aware of the option.
Nalates wrote:While a post can be edited, with annotation, it does not alert the forum there has been a change/addition. So, I tend to think new information should go in a new post.
That lack of visibility and notification of an edit is why I'm not a great fan of using it to add to an existing post. If it's something that you realise you missed out or made an error in just after hitting the submit button, then OK, edit the post. But as someone pointed out elsewhere, you can't "unsay" something in normal speech. You have to live with it.

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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Lord Chaos » Mon Jan 04, 2010 5:34 pm

I learned a lot of my forum practice at UO, during their more conservative period. I'd always wait for someone else to post in my sand sculpture thread, and then I could post new images. I'm glad I don't have to do that any more, because any thread dealing with personal art is going to be dominated by the artist.

Answering questions... I get really tired of people like those in the bicycling forum who, when a repeat question comes up, just say one word: "Search." I wish forums had a good way to put questions in an easily searched database, a kind of Wikiesque system. As it is, I'll just post an answer if I know one, and perhaps a link to a more thorough explanation. It's as easy to answer the question as it is to abuse the questioner, so why not be nice? I remember what it's like to be confused. :)

As to departing from abusive threads... I understand your point about just giving it over to the abusers. The problem is that my efforts to redirect threads have simply been ignored; once the abusers get the bit between their teeth, no gentle comments or reasonable ideas from me seem to deflect them. I'm kind of like a sand sculpture in a rising tide. So, I just depart. I have never been good at confrontation or conflict.

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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Nalates » Mon Jan 04, 2010 9:07 pm

Lord Chaos wrote:As to departing from abusive threads... I understand your point about just giving it over to the abusers. The problem is that my efforts to redirect threads have simply been ignored; once the abusers get the bit between their teeth, no gentle comments or reasonable ideas from me seem to deflect them. I'm kind of like a sand sculpture in a rising tide. So, I just depart. I have never been good at confrontation or conflict.

I empathize. What one does in the midst of flames is their personal choice.

I know many people do not like confrontation. However, our society seems to be growing more contentious people that engage in confrontation. My belief is having a good understanding of rhetoric and discussion tactics people use to abuse others will at least allow a knowledgeable note to be sent to the moderators. While I believe it is more effective to speak out, I respect others choice of action.

I hope to make it clear in the results from these discussions that challenging bad behavior and helping moderators is a preferred response. There are still several topics we need to discuss to get many of these things in perspective.
Lord Chaos wrote:Answering questions... I get really tired of people like those in the bicycling forum who, when a repeat question comes up, just say one word: "Search." I wish forums had a good way to put questions in an easily searched database, a kind of Wikiesque system […]

This is an ongoing problem. So far, any good solution I know of is labor intense.

Forum search tends to be weak. The database tools for searching the forum data are powerful, but SQL queries are complex. Unless someone improves the forum search page, there isn’t much to be done. Arctic Wagon maintains the Important Threads post at MOUL. Without him that would not exist.

I created the Uru Search page to simplify searching the Uru fan forums. Anyone familiar with Google search command lines can create the same search on the fly from Google’s home page. I think my search page provides help to searchers and requires no maintenance.

Neither of these induces people to search for their answer. All I see that can be done is for members and moderators to encourage posters to search first. Balancing politeness with instilling some sense of guilt for being lazy and not searching is a challenge for moderators and members. Getting people to have patience with new people not searching is probably something to suggest in guidelines.
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Mac_Fife » Mon Jan 04, 2010 9:48 pm

Nalates wrote:
Lord Chaos wrote:Answering questions... I get really tired of people like those in the bicycling forum who, when a repeat question comes up, just say one word: "Search." I wish forums had a good way to put questions in an easily searched database, a kind of Wikiesque system […]

This is an ongoing problem. So far, any good solution I know of is labor intense.

Forum search tends to be weak. The database tools for searching the forum data are powerful, but SQL queries are complex. Unless someone improves the forum search page, there isn’t much to be done.
The phpBB3 "advaced search" is pretty good, but:
a) Searching takes time and in today's "I want it now and I want it easy" type of mindset, many people won't bother to look to see if someone else has already asked the question. Not much you can do to stop that. Many forums have a "Please search before asking" global post, but these forums also tend to be the ones that give the dismissive and unhelpful reply "Didn't you read the top post?" to anyone who dares to post a new thread on an old topic.
b) The search indexes can become broken (as happened on the MO:UL forums). Rebuilding is possible, and is relatively straightforward in phpBB3, but in phpBB2 (as per MO:UL) it requires additional tools and can take a very long time on a board with a large number of posts. Since MO:UL has over 300,000 posts, you could easily be talking about shutting the board down for two or three days to fully re-index.

Many of the things we're discussing here all point to the same thing: The mods need to be allowed the time to do their jobs properly. They don't want to be distracted with bogus registrations and spam postings. Look at the memberlist on MO:UL and see how many of the new signups have a post count against them but no posts can be found - evidence of manually deleted spam posts. Look at the way the number of registered users keeps rising. At the end of GameTap MO:UL I think there was only about 8000 registered users, now there's over 14,000. I think very few of the extra 6,000 are "real".
What I'm getting at is the the admins have a role too: They need to do a bit of work to keep the forums "clean" and to not overburden the mods with clearing the spam trash, etc. Here, on OpenURU this version of phpBB is pretty good at keeping that "noise" out, although JW was forced to apply a mod to the previous version to achieve the same effectiveness. Other forums just leave it to the mods to sort it all out.

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