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 » Wed Jan 13, 2010 3:34 am

Everyone has opinions. A number of people acknowledge the problems.

Without opinions many people go along wondering of they are the only ones seeing or experiencing the problem. While the knowledge is key now, once open source is released, that may change. Also, the players involved are more interested in Plasma than Uru, or so some have said. So, stating ones experience is not something I see as out of line. While saying one experiences another a certain way is a statement of experience it is different than charging another of a behavior or character. It's subtle but significant.
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by mszv » Mon Jan 18, 2010 6:44 pm

Hi all,
Here are my thoughts - long post. I don't usually post on this kind of stuff, so it's fun for me to do it.

1. It was easier to be a moderator (when I was a moderator) on the Ubisoft forums rather than the Cyan forums. That's because the Ubisoft forum had people whose job it was to manage the forums, someone who the volunteer mods reported to, someone who the company paid as it was their job. Ron Meiners and Katie Postma were great. Cyan had that too -- but the Cyan people who we reported to (I was a volunteer mod on both sites) were busy doing other things and the people working for Cyan weren't community managers, for a living. For all that, Chogon in particular was great, he just was stretched too thin and wasn't around much. In a purely volunteer forum, the whole thing is tougher to manage, but it can be done. For a site I like (though I don't know the internal politics, but I know one of the people who runs it) -- look at adventure gamers.

2. It's always a judgement call, though having a nicely written set of forums rules is good. That's just how it is, in my opinion -- people are complicated. You can have as many rules as you want, as many examples, and it can be tough to decide, in a particular situation, what to do. Sometimes people who are nice as pie act crazy. Sometimes people who seem kind of mean end up being kind and have good points to make. If you know that, it's easier to deal with it.

3. You always have a choice of mods, at least in Myst series games forums I followed, the English language forums. Helpful pleasant people (I'll except myself, if you don't think I was helpful and pleasant!) often get picked to mod.

4. A team of mods works out best -- people who can bounce things off each other. It doesn't have to be a big team. Time zones can be tricky but you can communicate by IM. One of things to decide, how active do mods have to be. If you want super active mods, then you may need to pick people who don't have jobs. But - people having jobs provides a nice balance. It's tricky. Also, your mods should not have to deal with spam, mostly. The forum software needs to do that for you.

5. Unless you think you are going to have a super fractious forum, I would not have a forum where you have to approve each comment before it was posted. If you want that, you are going to need mods who are on all the time. After the fact modding works fine, in my opinion.

5. One thing to decide -- do you want the mods to be able to express their own opinions. We could do that on the Ubisoft forums, though I rarely did so whan I was a mod on the Ubi forums. On the Cyan forums, you could too. I started to express my opinions on the Cyan forums, and when I realized I wanted to do that more than mod (life intervened, also, could not mod anymore at that time, didn't even have much time to sleep!), I stopped being a mod. There's issues either way. I rather think it's better to have mods not express opinions, but it always comes out anyway, and it's also really hard to get people to mod if they can't express an opinion, particularly on a site run by volunteers.

6. Most people don't read the stickied posts. A linguist friend of mine, Srikandi (remember when she was a mod on the Ubisoft Uru forums?) explained this to me. We look for what's changed in an environment, not what stays the same. Stickied posts are good, in my opinion, because you can link to them, when you reply. If you know how people will react, it won't annoy you to answer the same questions over and over again, or move posts. That's something about human behavior you won't be able to change. You have to assume different people will ask the same question, over and over again, also post in the wrong section of the forum. That's just how it is. It's better to have a way to easily move posts and threads to other sections. I didn't usually merge threads (such a pain) but that can work too, though I found it can annoy peopl if their thread gets merged with another thread. I preferred moving thread to the correct section of the forum, and letting the duplicate threads stay -- it was ok it it was a bit messy. The popular threads always rise to the top anyway.

7. Never embarrass anyone publically, if you want a civil forum, ever. Also, never IM anyone anything you don't wanted posted somewhere else, even if you are telling them they can't do something. Never use anyone's post as an example of what not to do. Adults in particular are sensitive about that.

8. One of the things you have to decide on -- is it acceptable for people to dislike, hate, bash the product, in this case it would be some flavor of OpenUru. For Ubisoft Uru, Katie and Ron made it clear -- that was acceptable, but people were not supposed to bach each other. Furthermore, when Ubisoft cancelled online Uru, people could bash Ubisoft, but not each other. I personally like that a lot - you can say whatever you want about the product, but you aren't supposed to bash each other. It's tough though -- people get very protective of the product.

10. Katie Postma was really good at this -- she worked from the premise that people were good, and if they posted mean stuff -- maybe they were just having a rough day. She was good at difusing situations, though she could make the difficult decisions when she needed to. If you can somehow communicate that you like the people posting on the forums, that seems to diffuse situations -- it helps to actually like them! Katie was really good at that.

11. One thing to decide -- how active do you want mods to be? Do you want them doing marketing/communicating/managing kinds of things -- starting threads, posting intersting info, those kinds of things? Or do you want them to have a hands off approach?

12. Volunteer organizations in general -- they can be difficult. The way I think of it -- when you are getting a paycheck, it mellows you out. Things can be tough, but people are paying you. In a volunteer organization, all you have is power and influence, combined with the relative anominity of the internet. It's also an asynchronous discussion, so disagreements stay up forever. All this makes people crazy sometimes. If you know that, you can take steps to manage it.

I know that's a lot. You got me started!
Being a mod was a great experience.

mszv

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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Mac_Fife » Mon Jan 18, 2010 8:18 pm

Good post. I'll pick up on a couple of points (there's lot's of good stuff in there, but I don't have a lot of time right now ;) ):
mszv wrote:4. A team of mods works out best -- people who can bounce things off each other. It doesn't have to be a big team. ... Also, your mods should not have to deal with spam, mostly. The forum software needs to do that for you.
If people know that the mods are working as a team, then I guess it helps to offset any accusations of bias, etc., but I expect many volunteer forums will struggle to get any size of team that can be online at around the same times in order to make collective decisions. That means that things make take longer to get a reaction from the mods, which can sometimes send out the wrong message (or at least send a confusing one: Post A gets deleted quickly because the mods happen to be online, Post B is equally contentious but sits for several hours because most of the mods are asleep).
And I agree, mods should not have to be managing Spam. Problem is that once the Spambots find a new weakness to exploit, it can take a while before a software response is available to plug the hole.
mszv wrote:5. One thing to decide -- do you want the mods to be able to express their own opinions. We could do that on the Ubisoft forums, though I rarely did so whan I was a mod on the Ubi forums. On the Cyan forums, you could too. I started to express my opinions on the Cyan forums, and when I realized I wanted to do that more than mod (life intervened, also, could not mod anymore at that time, didn't even have much time to sleep!), I stopped being a mod. There's issues either way. I rather think it's better to have mods not express opinions, but it always comes out anyway, and it's also really hard to get people to mod if they can't express an opinion, particularly on a site run by volunteers.
Yes, good point. When JW set up these forums it wasn't a question that I think was asked directly, but there was something of an idea about the issue. What was a concern was actually the use of post colour to indicate rank or role (e.g. on MOUL, the blue text for Cyan posters and green text for moderators): The colour tends to make some people read things into posts - "if it's blue it must be a statement of Cyan's official position". In effect, the "colour posters" aren't really being allowed to express an opinion. What we decided to do here, since the mods for each forum section are effectively the people leading the related prjects, i.e. they want to partipate, was to disable the admin/moderator colouring. In that way, they could join in the conversation without drawing particular attention to their moderator status. The rule is that by default all posts are as an ordinary forum user: If a moderation post is made then you write that explicitly into the post, e.g.:
MOD NOTE: This discussion has run it's course, so I'll close this thread. If the issue resurfaces, then please start a new thread.
It works OK on the basis the mods are only required to spend a small proportion of their online time moderating. On a busy forum it may be a greater challenge.

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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by JWPlatt » Mon Jan 18, 2010 9:19 pm

Just to elaborate a little off topic while doing my best to contribute something on topic, the conscious decision was to be clearly in the real world of an open source code project. I wanted to avoid any perception of an IC guild with grand poobahs and such; any sense of hierarchy that implied anyone was more important than anyone else. People new to the Uru scene who are attracted simply by an open source project for Uru/UCC generally and Plasma specifically won't understand, won't want to see, and won't feel welcomed by inflated titles. The omission of an artificial hierarchy flowed down into projects and moderation as the absence of colors, as Mac_Fife says, and showing Manager/Moderator groups rather than immediately identifiable individuals on the forum indexes. I rather prefer the idea of merit, skill, talent, contribution and other positive attributes to be the measure of status and earned positions. Project leaders are responsible for their projects and moderators. Leaders and moderators of one project do not necessarily lead or moderate other projects. In this specific circumstance global moderation is minimal. It helps to keep things grounded and equal so that moderator is a position of responsibility and accountability, not authority and power passed down from on high. And everyone can have an opinion without the threat of authority.

It might be interesting to watch how the MQO forums, being more the typical fan forums, get settled. I expect to do at least some of that and I don't expect to be able to hold to the higher philosophical ideals we're trying to uphold here. There are realities of family and fan forums for commercial use. For starters, there will be specific rules. ;)
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by JWPlatt » Wed Jun 02, 2010 3:31 am

I was doing a some hard drive cleanup and found a couple little gems I wrote just prior to my exit from the Star Wars forums nearly a decade ago. I'm amused by this now, which is why I'm sharing, but I've never gone back to the Star Wars forums. I still carry the experience I had there in how I handle things now.

These have to do with moderation, but not exactly the current flow of this thread. This thread has been inactive, so I think it's okay to pick up on a somewhat different tack: moderation of free speech, and doing one's job. Your impressions?
JWPlatt wrote:
GlensGirl wrote:Your 'free speech' argument doesn't hold up here... we're from all over the world
Nice point. You had me in a moment of uncertain introspection here, but I got over it. Your point is specious. Multi-national attendance to anything does not preclude an expectation to speak freely. Especially if the host country has the right in the foundation of its laws. And while it's true that the Constitution of the United Status applies only to government behavior, not private, the laws of the land do provide a deeply entrenched philosophical belief system that pervades our everyday life. The Constitution does not, for example, protect student newspapers from the whims of a school's administration, but there is the defacto expectation that a school will respect the spirit of the Constitution nonetheless.
JWPlatt wrote:
New-and-Improved Spewey wrote:I didn't make these rules. I'm only enforcing them. I'm just doing my duty as a moderator.
When I invoked the word "fascism" as an admittedly extreme reference in my original comments, I never expected anyone to actually repeat the words so often said in defense of one's actions on behalf of fascist governments. These very words have been used so often in the defense of atrocities committed, and have become so historically loaded with meaning, it's astounding that they are still being repeated. This excuse is an attempt to separate oneself from one's actions. Historical perspective has beaten down this excuse by showing you either believe in what you are doing or you don't do it.
My exit post:
JWPlatt wrote:The mods here pounce on posts with a ferocity I've not seen anywhere else. It's very unfriendly.

Their overeager squelching of our various shades of discussion about even remotely related topics by channeling us into a few massive discussions where everyone gets lost in the noise is why I have discontinued my contributions here.

Mods will be quick to protect their egos and flippantly say, "no great loss." One might think if everyone gets sick of it, there would be no one left. The reality is that this oppressive policy just encourages a high turnover where only the lowest common denominators will tolerate the abuse and stick around. The quality of these boards suffer, which only furthers the mod's ironic belief that they need to police us even more.
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Mac_Fife » Wed Jun 02, 2010 12:58 pm

Interesting. I've seen posts that parallel these on at least three (quite different) forums before this... I'm not quite sure what that really says about to attitudes to moderation.

It's probably difficult to take too much from these posts, as there's only limited context for them, but:

Free Speech: Well, there's always the issue of "editorial control" - if a publisher (newspaper, book, or a website operator) holds a particular view on a subject then you can expect that opposing views may be suppressed. They're paying the bills, so they get to call the shots. If you're dissatisfied with that you go to a different publisher who's more sympathetic to your vewpoint, or you self-publish, if you can. A decade ago, self-publishing was impractical for many, but free blogs etc., make it an option available to virtually anyone now.

"I'm only obeying orders": Yeah, throwing that out as a means of distancing the individual from the action isn't really acceptable even if the individual believes it. Sure, mods are tasked with enforcing the rules that the admins have chosen to impose, and it's plausible that some rules may not sit well with some moderators. So either you "put up and shut up" or you get out - mods are generally volunteers, so no-one is holding a gun to their heads and forcing them to mod a forum. Meanwhile, if rule seems "wrong" for whatever reason, I haven't seen any forum (that I've had sufficient visibility of) where the mods can't propose a modification to the rule or query the validity, but see "Free Speech" above. Proposing a change doesn't mean it gets accepted.
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Nalates » Wed Jun 02, 2010 7:59 pm

I like the ideas you expressed.

At GoMa I had a long debate which in the end was about someone complaining GoMa was restricting free speech on the forum. It ended when several people pointed out the forum had never had total free speech nor claimed to have it. Some people don't actually understand what free speech is and what responsibilities go with it. I think many problems center on such misunderstandings.

I don't see private forums as a platform for free speech.

Forums typically have a focus. They also have rules they hope will shape the culture of the forum. My belief is that with in those concepts people participating in the forum should be free to express their ideas and challenge other ideas. The SD&D is about how that could look and the tactics people use. The result is hopefully something people can use to reduce problems.

Trying to get moderators a clear sense of what is or is not acceptable is a challenge. I hope SD&D can help with that.

In the Flaming thread I came across the idea that flaming is a valuable tradition on the net and that flames can serve a useful purpose.

While you don't get into the issues they considered a problem, it does sound like the problem moderators have of deciding when to step in. The idea that flames have a use certainly changes how I will write a suggested rule and how I think about how moderators can decide when to stop a flame or other disagreements.

I would hope more people become aware of the idea 'obeying' written rules has limitations.
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Mac_Fife » Wed Sep 08, 2010 10:34 pm

In the Forum Rules, PM's, and other related non-posts thread:
Nalates wrote:I agree on avoiding debating moderator actions and decisions, especially publicly but also privately. Private debate between moderators over a decision is fine and I expect that. Appeal by a forum member is reasonable. But, forum members have incentive to be unreasonable. Appeal processes tend to resolve in some consensus or compromise on the issue at some middle point, when there is a shift. The farther a position is from the decision, the more movement it takes on the moderators' part to reach middle ground and that favors unreasonable positions. People quickly learn that. I think moderators tend to want to be reasonable. This means intellectually honest debate on an issue puts moderators at a disadvantage as one side of the debate can be gaming, which is why I think they should not be debated. Also, any change to a moderators' decisions must have overwhelming reasons and evidence to support it.
I brought this over here to avoid going off-topic in the other thread.

Hmm. I see the resolution of a moderation appeal panning out slightly differently: Consider it as a pseudo code flow:
1. User posts.
2. Moderator edits/removes post.
3. User complains (possibly to another moderator) about the action and explains why they think the action was wrong.
4. Explanation accepted: Proceed. Explanation rejected: Go to 7
5. Action is reversed.
6. Go to 13
7. Moderator states why original decision is upheld.
8. User appeals to Administrator
9. Explanation accepted: Proceed. Explanation rejected: Goto 12
10. Action is reversed.
11. Go to 13
12. Administrator states why original decision is upheld.
13. Stop

The point I'm making is that many moderation actions don't really have a half-way house: They either stand in their entirety or are reversed in their entirety. That's because either it was right to moderate or it was wrong to moderate. A post is either removed or not: The half-way house of re-instating with edits seems a pointless one to me, as that's the same as "You're post was removed. Please try again without breaking the rules this time".
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Nalates » Thu Sep 09, 2010 6:09 pm

I agree with the flow of the process. I consider the ‘half-way house’ to be in the thinking of the individuals making the decisions.
If the appeal can be convincing, the issue clear cut, and the moderation clearly based on a rule violation then I agree there is no half-way point. I just don’t see the issues presented by an abuser/bully as always being clear cut. I think such people escalate the gamesmanship and complicate the lives of moderators. So, I see a place for debate in your moderation work flow (which is somewhat the outline of a debate with limited exchanges). Allowing more exchanges would probably allow this to appear more like a debate, which should be avoided. As long as exchanges are limited I think your flow is accurate, the half-way option minimized, and it is more a series of statements than a debate.

If debate of the action and related issue is allowed by additional exchanges, I think this falls apart. I think once a moderator moves into trying to be fair, they become more open to being pulled into a debate of the decision, which is why I prefer to remove describing fairness as part of moderation. Saying the goal of moderation is to be intellectual honest and equal treatment to forum members seems less open to manipulation.

Removal or Editing a post… Limiting action to removal certainly simplifies things. I think that refers to a point we have somewhat discussed, Post Revisions. I think a moderator requesting a post be edited or removed is a new context. Your preference keeps it clean and simple.

If I were only concerned about moderation (no implication about your concerns intended), I would agree a post needs to be in or out. I have concern about the good points even the worst abusers can make. Because of that concern I tend to get drawn into complication in the moderating process.

I suppose if the point is that good another poster will make it. So, the temporary loss of the point to remove a problem and keep moderation simple is likely a good choice.
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Re: Forum Moderator Issues

Post by Mac_Fife » Fri Sep 10, 2010 7:35 am

Maybe I misrepresented what I meant to say: I didn't mean to imply that editing a post should not be an option, but the decision to edit rather than to remove a post should be one taken only at the point of the original moderation action. That decision, as we've discussed elsewhere, will be based on the nature and severity of the infraction. But, the principle of the moderation either being justified or not still stands, whether we're talking about an edit or a removal.

The main point, which you've captured, is that there's no more that one exchange at each "stage" of the appeal process. If the appellant can't convince the moderator of an error on first appeal then they have to escalate to the administrator if they still wish to pursue the matter. It's a matter of pragmatics: Volunteer mods probably don't have the time to invest in prolonged debates over a moderation action, and each exchange probably puts another 24 hours into the elapsed time. That lag can be exploited for gaming.

This all puts the moderator in the role of arbiter in a dispute in which they're also one of the participants - well, that's the nature of how forums work, and you have to trust that the moderators have some level of integrity. And there's always the safety net of Admin appeal (although, again as we've noted previously, Admin may equal Mod on some smaller forums).

The issue of "lag" raises another aspect of moderation and goes back to the issue of timely action: It can be very helpful for moderators to be in communication with each other in near real time, so a second opinion can be sought or to request help to deal with a "broken thread". PM's don't really help there as mods may be online but not logged in to or viewing the forum, so it takes time to get a response. Setting up a collaboration group in an Instant Messaging system (outside of the forum software) is probably a good plan, but still not without it's faults.
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