Forum Rules, PM's, and other related non-posts

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Forum Rules, PM's, and other related non-posts

Post by Nalates » Tue Apr 20, 2010 3:47 pm

This is a spin off from Disingenuous - Veiled Insults. I've added the Other Related Non-Posts... In this area I am thinking of Tweets, off forum blogs, private emails, and other communication channels that may spin from forum posts.
Mac_Fife wrote:
Nalates wrote:Can one report abusive PM’s?

Does a site need to include a privacy point on whether PM’s can or cannot be sent to moderators with only the consent of one party?
Most forum software will allow PMs to be reported in much the same way as public posts are. I think PMs need to given a bit more freedom of expression otherwise there'd be no point in directing people to go to PM, but the terms of service you agree to when joining the forum are probably for use of the forums as a whole i.e. the forum rules apply to PMs as well as posts. But making an explicit statement on sharing PMs with moderators is possibly a good idea: As an expansion of that point, in many cases, if someone PMs a moderator with a moderation request (rather than reporting a post), then the PM is likely to be shared with the other moderators, a) so there is transparency in what's going on, and b) so another mod can take up the issue if necessary.

Yes, a thread on Post/PM reporting is probably worthwhile.
I’ve never noticed a report button on PM’s… I had to go look. Yep, there is a Report Button on several of the forums I participate in. I suppose I’m in a minority that hasn’t noticed. I attribute that to my thinking of PM’s as private and never really looking to or considering reporting a post.

There is an idea that PM's should have fewer restrictions than forum posts. But, much looser and in what ways?

I have questions of the privacy issues regarding PM's and how one party might share them, presumably without the others consent. I generally consider a PM private and not for general publication without permission. With the realization there is a Report button I think it should be obvious moderators may get to see the PM.

In PM’ing moderators it would seem reasonable to include content from PM’s and posts. I am also considering content from Twitter/Plurk and blogs to show attitude and probable intent.

The thing I find interesting is the difference in Reporting a post and PM’ing moderators about a post. It seems to me, from what I understand now, that a PM may be a better way to handle an issue with veiled and disingenuous posts and general attitudes of disrespect. If PM’s are shared among moderators it seems that would allow for more consistent response with a problem poster. Is that a better way to handle those issues?

This would also allow one to pull several problem posts along with blog posts and tweets to show attitude and thinking. I would think including one’s reasoning and objections to the comments in the PM would help.
Last edited by Nalates on Tue Apr 20, 2010 5:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Forum Rules, PM's, and other related non-posts

Post by Mac_Fife » Mon Sep 06, 2010 1:07 pm

The subject of off-forum material, like Tweets, emails and blog posts, is probably going outside of the remit implied by the title of this forum, or at least it opens up a whole other can of worms.

Emails are probably the most difficult ones to try to fit in here, because there's no public visibility of them: Only the sender and recipent(s) know the content, so the idea of public "standards" doesn't really seem like it comes into the equation. If the emails are published in some way, then the content may be measured against that medium.

Blogs and tweets may show some intent or attitude as Nalates suggests, but there is still a problem or two there: A forum moderator, for example, only has any control over what appears on the forum itself; they can't make any questionable content on a blog post go away. The implication of Nalates' comment is that in order to fully understand the context of a post or a poster's attitude, then you need to be aware of what that poster may be writing elsewhere, possibly on other forums, blogs, etc. This in turn opens up a couple of sub-issues: a) How can moderators know that these additional sources exists? In some cases that will be more obvious than others, but if you can't maintain the same rigour in all cases should you be doing it it any? b) Will the general body of forum users necessarily be aware of those other sources? Will a moderation action look "odd" to anyone not aware and simply serve to highlight things that'd you'd rather maintain a low profile on?

I suppose the key question is "should 'history' from a third party site be allowed to influence how you handle a post?" I'm inclined to say it shouldn't, so long as the post does not directly reference the other material: Posts should be measured against the standards set out in the rules of the forum they are posted in. Yes, in cases that means that some veiled insults can get posted, but unless you can point to a rule and say "that's why this isn't allowed", then it's just too hard to deal with. Moderators aren't (usually) lawyers, and don't have the time to do the research. And you'd need to be able to demonstrate that all posts are subjected to the same vetting rigour.

PMs are a little bit different as they're "in-forum" but not public, putting them somewhere between emails and posts. As an aside, you can't generally tell if someone is sharing a PM you sent with others (I usually tell people if I'm going to share a PM with others, but I think anyone PM'ing a moderator on a forum issue should expect that the contents will get shown to the other moderators). The point here is that PMs are naturally less restrictive than posts, not least because a moderator can't see any objectionable content unless the recipent forwards it to the mod. But insulting/offensive PMs are probably going to be considered an abuse of the forum facillities, so once notified, a moderator could reasonably take action.

All in all, what it means is that it's probably down to the individual to pursue any cross-site issues (c.f. Cyber Bullying Laws) as any forum or site operator can only be expected to keep their own house in order.
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Re: Forum Rules, PM's, and other related non-posts

Post by Nalates » Mon Sep 06, 2010 7:23 pm

Mac_Fife your thinking is reasonable but I disagree with some of the ‘why’ in your points. Also, PM’s and Tweets (etc.) are off forum posts for practical purposes. Whatever, we come to a similar conclusion. I’ll explain my thinking.

I think my disagreement on reasons primarily centers on how we think of the person creating the problem. If one considers a problem poster as just another person that disagrees with another then we have one situation. It is when a bully or griefer with actual personality issues engages that everything changes and we have very different situations.

I agree using outside and third party information is a can of worms and quickly gets complex. Emails provide some example of the complexity. A moderator may only see one side of an email conversation. The problem with that is any part of or all of the email can be fake. Even a one word change can distort the tone of the email. If both parties are supplying copies of emails, the moderator can only tell when someone is changing something. But, there is little way to know who is telling the truth and supplying unedited email. I agree it is not the moderators’ duty to research the matter and attempt to decide.

But, when one can with certainly know who essentially forged documents, that information should remain part of the decision making process for all things that involve the person.

Forum Admins can open the database and verify the accuracy of PM’s, something they can’t do with emails sent outside the system. I think that is pretty much a last resort measure. I also think it is a good idea to make it known such review is possible.

With problem members similar issues involving a number of other members may begin to show a pattern. I think even with an apparent pattern built over time believing the emails about a problem member, is risky. I think completely ignoring copies of emails is unrealistic. But whether to ignore them or give any weight to them is a moderator call that can only be made within the context they have. If I were writing rules for a forum I was going to have to moderate, I would probably disallow the use of email for anything other than a measure of contention between specific members. Any other use would require both parties to submit the email and that they match word for word.

Plurks, Tweets, Forum Posts, Blog Articles, and other public information can more accurately reveal a person’s motivation and real thinking. I agree it is not the moderator’s job to find the material. I think it is the duty of those involved, abused, or victimized to get the information to the moderators. In RL judges and juries do not go collect information and evidence. The prosecution and defense do that work and so it should be with disputes in a forum. A moderator is in more of a judge’s position. When a link is provided it is not a time consuming task to verify the claim.

You bring up the issue of fairness. Your thinking seems to be, if one cannot find everything then nothing should be used. If one cannot be COMPLETELY fair to everyone then don’t go there. Here I strongly disagree with the concept as I read it. I believe one should use everything available to make the best decision possible. Our legal systems follow the principal that juries decide on the facts available. Courts are about justice not fairness. We know that it is unlikely all the facts will come out. We know that we will have juries make bad decisions because of missing or inadmissible evidence. We know it is part of the system that juries will use their life time of experience to try and see through the spin and go beyond evidence. They decide who is telling the truth and who they do not believe. We do not give up prosecuting everyone just because we can’t be fair in every detail. Fairness in our court systems is limited to the opportunity to be heard and receive equal treatment.

To try and bring some level of fairness to a decision process often just paralyzes the decision making process and bogs everyone down in issues of fairness, which is something many of us doubt exists or is ever achievable.

How will moderation look to the less informed members of the forum? I can’t imagine that this would be a consideration. I think one should stay as far away from the concept as possible. Rather than having to decide the issue based on matters related to those involved, which is already difficult, the concept brings everyone into the decision process regardless of how well or poorly they are informed.

We also know for a fact that parties in a disagreement will attempt to have a trial by public opinion when they know it can influence the decision makers. The first thing they often do is spin the issue to the public/forum members thereby increasing the number of poorly informed and the amount of misinformation increases. I think this line of thinking leads to bigger and dirtier flame wars.

Posting a reason for a moderator action is about as far as I think one can go down the road of satisfying general opinion.

The idea that all moderator decisions have to show the same level of rigor in vetting evidence would seem to make an assumption I think is invalid. Since it is not the moderators’ duty to dig out evidence the rigor will vary from decision to decision. The amount of rigor and vetting is up to the participants, which is what I think you conclude. The idea of uniformity of treatment by the moderators lies in how they handle the information supplied. Over time moderators are going to learn who is a troll, who is an abuser, and who is an old grouch.

The level of effort going into a decision about whether the old grouch is being grouchy is not a post by post decision making process. The effort has already been made in a series of previous posts. That a quick decision is made on a post from prior knowledge does not mean moderators are being unfair or failing to provide due diligence.
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Re: Forum Rules, PM's, and other related non-posts

Post by Mac_Fife » Tue Sep 07, 2010 8:43 am

Nalates wrote:Forum Admins can open the database and verify the accuracy of PM’s, something they can’t do with emails sent outside the system. I think that is pretty much a last resort measure. I also think it is a good idea to make it known such review is possible.
Yes, but even that isn't a simple exercise, at least in phpBB forums: You have to be able to find the right message IDs in the database, then find the text record corresponding with the ID. In short, phpBB isn't set up to allow anyone, even an Admin, to easily read another person's PMs, and while it may not be true within this community, a quick read of the phpBB support forums will show that an awful lot of forum admins don't know enough to be safe digging around in the database ;) . And you have to assume that the original PM actually still exists in the database (I think in phpBB, if a PM is not associated with at least one message box then the message is purged from the database, i.e if both the sender and recipient have deleted the PM, there will be no "original" to check).

But you raise an important point, one which crossed my mind as I wrote my previous post but decided not to put down at that point: Accuracy and editing. When information is relayed or quoted, e.g. from a PM or email, things can indeed be altered, taken out of context or otherwise misrepresented in order to support whatever standpoint one wishes to take. This can be extended further to webpages that appear on other sites: I recall an incident fairly recently where a post was reported due to "inappropriate content" on a page linked from the post. When I looked I couldn't find anything particularly wrong with the page. It transpired that the page author had edited it to remove the offending content, or at least that's the conclusion I arrived at. Now, even had the person making the report taken a copy or screenshot of the original page, then I'd really have no way of telling if it were genuine or mocked-up.
Nalates wrote:To try and bring some level of fairness to a decision process often just paralyzes the decision making process and bogs everyone down in issues of fairness, which is something many of us doubt exists or is ever achievable.
Indeed. Which is why I suggest that moderation on a forum needs to be a matter of what can be determined from what exists on the forum. As soon as you have to look elsewhere, or request anything from someone else, that will add "elapsed time" and on a busy forum things can get out of hand rather rapidly, as is highlighted by your comment on spinning public opinion.

On the issue of fairness, it's probably more about consistency and that's why I think the perception of a possibly uninformed public does matter: You could get the same kind of posts occur between two users that you know a good friends and between two users that are "old enemies"; the former can be taken as friendly banter, the latter as vicious sarcasm. Another poster, as an observer, will get a mixed message on what's allowable if you moderate one post and not the other.
Nalates wrote:The level of effort going into a decision about whether the old grouch is being grouchy is not a post by post decision making process. The effort has already been made in a series of previous posts. That a quick decision is made on a post from prior knowledge does not mean moderators are being unfair or failing to provide due diligence.
That is different, because now we're talking about history from the "local" forum which is readily reviewable by the moderators and admins. Logs of previous warnings and moderation histories will indeed give moderators knowledge of when "the old grouch is being grouchy", but my post was considering the "history" from off-forum sources.
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Re: Forum Rules, PM's, and other related non-posts

Post by Nalates » Tue Sep 07, 2010 5:55 pm

[…]that isn't a simple exercise, at least in phpBB forums[…]

True. Knowing some MySQL and SQL is needed to find the post. While I think anything of current interest would still be in the DB there is the possibility the member would delete it. I still think pointing out the possibility the post may be read could help. It could also encourage removal.

When warned would an abuser realize that and remove offending files? Probably. But, unless they made a habit of removing sent material it would stand out. Finding the members pattern of PM use would be a difficult challenge and deletions can clear quickly. While I think it is possible, it too would be beyond many admins’ capability.

In the end the warning might just be something else to worry the abuser and burn up a tiny bit of their time than an actual effective tool.

“Accuracy and editing…” This is the tuff one. The Changed Page problem you bring up is a real problem. Blogs can be edited as can forum posts. I think tweets can only be deleted.

Also, we are agreed, images can be edited. Anyone good with Photoshop/Gimp can fake a post, blog, etc. screen shot. So, the authenticity of these would only matter and be examined in a legal action where professionals could examine images for changes, something far beyond what a moderator can do (time and/or skill limitations).

My thinking is the history of a person would begin to reveal deceptive behaviors. The off-forum information in any consideration is problematic. But ignoring the off-forum information and deciding on just in-forum information makes it easy for an abuser to game the moderators, at least for a time.

When you say ‘look for’ and ‘request’ I’m not sure we are thinking about this the same way. I believe a moderator should not have to ‘look’ or ‘request’ off-forum information. It is up to the complainant to provide the information and make it easy for the moderator to find it. I would not expect the moderator to go looking for it. Look at it, yes. Hunt it down, no. Explore looking for it, no.

On the friends/enemies history and why people would get mixed ideas of what is permissible… First, I doubt it is possible to keep that from happening no matter what the moderators do. So, again trying to moderate based on what people may think tends to block action or increase the workload. Second, each moderating event cannot be explained to the forum membership. That would be far too time consuming and would likely extend the arguments as abusers try to spin the public opinion and gang up on the moderator. If friends come together to defend an abuser it can get really confusing and involved. So, other than explaining it to the ones action is taken against, that seems a counterproductive effort.

Consistency in the moderating process could be seen as an attempt at fairness. However, once opens the door to fairness issues things get complex. I would always try to keep far away from claiming intent to provide fairness. Trying to be fair in creating rules or guides is reasonable but once made the moderators should be trying to honestly interpret and enforce rules equally. Fairness should not have to enter into it. Providing ‘benefit of doubt’ equally to all involved may be labeled fairness or it can be seen as intellectual honesty. I would try to refer to it by the later to avoid complications and fairness arguments.

I think much of the thinking on off-forum content is about how we see ‘fairness’. I see it as just information where an abuser is likely to think they can talk freely and reveal real motivations. Moderators have to consider some type of ‘rules of evidence’ in regard to that information and realize how shaky it is. But the off-forum information can form part of the history too. A number of people reporting an abuser is bragging off-forum, especially if in regard to different events, should carry weight.

I think much of this discussion is about where on a scale of Absolute Truth to Total Malicious Deception the off-forum information falls. I personally put it at about 1/3 in from deception. Reporting PM's I think is about a 1/4 in from truth. After that I think the individual's history should influence how any of the off-forum info is considered.
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Re: Forum Rules, PM's, and other related non-posts

Post by Mac_Fife » Tue Sep 07, 2010 7:30 pm

I wonder if the threat/warning of being able to pull PMs from the database is a kind of double edged sword that might backfire a bit? I can see some people (maybe even many people) becoming concerned at the suggestion that PMs might not be as "private" as their name suggests. The fact that it's difficult for an admin to get to a PM is probably an intentional design feature for "security".

Gaming the moderators/system will happen anyway, as people will argue "but my post wasn't against the rules" and explore fine nuances of interpretation to justify the protestations :roll: .

On providing information to a moderator, which may be, say, in the form "User_X posted this, but when you read this blog you can see that he really means this different thing", it seems to me that it almost demands that the moderator asks for User_X's response.

Appealing/debating moderation decisions: Appeals should always be allowable, but ongoing debate needs to be avoided, and certainly many forums prohibit public debate of moderation, for exactly the spinning reasons you mention. Plus it just makes the forum as a whole look ugly.
Trying to be fair in creating rules or guides is reasonable but once made the moderators should be trying to honestly interpret and enforce rules equally.
Exactly. So unless the rules somehow manage to encompass third party material, which I think would be very difficult to do effectively, then we're back at square one. The problem I see is that you would end up over-regulating to the point that no-one would be able to post anything that is in any way controversial for fear of breaking some rule :? .

I guess what I'm mostly worried about in this is that what I want to be able to do as a moderator is to react quickly and effectively to stop discussions going off the rails and that means having low workload in executing an action, and I have an uneasy feeling that what you're suggesting is pushing things the other way, if you see what I mean.
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Re: Forum Rules, PM's, and other related non-posts

Post by Nalates » Wed Sep 08, 2010 6:45 pm

I think you right about our pulling in different directions on off-forum info. We see the importance of off-forum info differently, which is good.

I do agree with your point about a moderator needing to be able to make quick decisions and keep things on the rails. I'm with you on that aspect of this discussion. I do think considering off-forum information includes fast decision making. It does not have to slow the process. It may help to see this by considering when it is likely to arrive and how it might affect the moderator and her/his time.

I only see a few points in time when it would arrive.

It may come as a separate FYI separate from any active post. These situations really would not have an urgency and I think would be for building history on members.

Next I can see it coming in a post report. In this case there would be an urgency. If there is no link to the off-forum info, I don't expect the moderators to Google it up. I also don't expect the moderator to give it a lot of consideration, UNLESS it fits with the members past history. Additionally if it fits the history of interaction between those involved I would expect it to carry more weight. But, this is a dicey decision as anyone could be gaming the issue. So, if the off-forum info were mostly ignored at this point, I would consider it reasonable. To totally ignore it or ignore what it may reveal and eventually decide if it is credible seems to give a huge advantage to bullys and others with compulsive disorders that deliberately set out to game things.

The next point I see the off-forum info arriving is post-moderator-actions in the form of a complaint or appeal in regard to the action. I do not see this scenario as having urgency either. I also would not expect the information to have much affect on the current decision. I would expect the moderators to learn from the off-forum information and adjust the members histories when they find the off-forum info credible.

I think the off-forum information is likely to more quickly reveal when a member is trying to game the moderator. To gather the information to decide the actual intent of a poster from just the in-forum posts can take some time. I do believe some compulsive abusers adjust their behavior to what they think they can get away with on a specific forum, and that increases the time it takes for moderators decide a members behavior has deeper motivations.

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.

Also the off-forum information is only likely to come up in special cases. I think usually only in regard to members with habitual problems. Habitual offenders are likely to be those with underlying personality issues that drive repeat offenses. The moderators are likely to spend inordinate amounts of time dealing with their posts and problems they cause. I believe off-forum information is likely to help moderators come to a faster, more accurate decisions. I think it can reveal the existence of deeper motivations and irreconcilable behaviors. I think once recognized the result would be spending less time making decisions. So, I see the time in deciding by use of off-forum information has having a net time savings.
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