Moderating a Forum: Lesson 101

Most people have visited a message board at one time or another in their life. The vast majority has never posted anything at all, preferring just to view rather than contribute their ideas and thoughts. Most of the members that have contributed have posted useful input to discussions, which are valued by many of the subscribers to the board.

Why Are Moderators Needed?

The need for moderators often comes about because of the fact that on any forum, small minorities of people post useless and irrelevant information, sometimes with the sole purpose of creating havoc. Moderators are people who read most of the comments posted on a board and ensure that they are suitable for the audience.

Keeping in mind that most boards are intended for fans of all ages, the moderators have the responsibility of keeping the discussions tasteful and appropriate, keeping to the standards of the site they are moderating.

Responsibilities

1. Moderators assume the role of hosts and welcome new users to the board. They are also responsible for setting the tone and the style of the forum(s) they moderate.

2. A good moderator’s major task is to review postings to ensure that they are of the same subject matter as the board. At the very least, off-topic threads should be discouraged quickly or tacitly moved to other, more appropriate areas. Deleting posts that are spam and posts that mention other competitive message boards are also part of the requirements.

3. Prevent flaming. Flames are critical or derogatory remarks. A flame war is kind of like a shouting match where insults are hurled between people until they all flee, exhausted and battered. A good rule of thumb is to question whether the comment was directed at the member or at a situation, at the topic on hand. Good moderators gently prod people into posting responsibly by discouraging flaming.

4. As moderators read through postings, it quickly becomes apparent when there is a troublemaker amid the group. These troublemakers need to be handled – either by gentle persuasion or more harsh measures if necessary. In fact, the moderator must be ready to eject severe troublemakers from the group if they are continually disruptive.

5. Moderators must ensure that the board remains viable, active and alive. They must promote and ensure that an environment exists where people can post messages without threat or fear, and make sure that disagreements do not flare into all-out attacks.

Powers

1. You can move postings to the archive that go against any of the forum’s guidelines, are inflammatory, irrelevant to the forum, or impose spam. Note: Randomly moving large numbers of postings for no apparent reason other than the moderator disagreeing with the topic at hand should not be tolerated.

2. You can recommend banning a user who is posting spam, inflammatory comments, acting inappropriately, or disrupting rather than contributing to the board. When such action is appropriate, the moderator should discuss the situation with other moderators.

3. You can edit posts that contain language, trick words not caught by our profanity filter (e.g. f_u_c), or that are insulting and degrading to fellow board members. When you edit a post put in your username and the reason for the edit. Note that a good moderator will do a lot more editing of posts than locking of threads.

4. Most forum platforms leave the moderators with much more power such as managing, merging, etc… If you find a duplicate thread, merge it to the first one posted instead of locking it and if your forum allows for it, leave a temporary trace that you have done so.

Most common mistakes to avoid

1. Moderators are not locksmiths. Locking threads or topics should be the exception, not the rule. While some topics are more difficult to moderate, the moderator must let the discussions take their toll and allow them to die on their own. Locking a thread because a few members are bickering is preventing the majority of members to discuss the topic in a respectful manner.

2. Abuse of power. Moderators are often participating members with their own opinions. Deleting messages, kicking members out of a thread or banning members because they don’t share your opinion is the worst thing a moderator can do. Preach by example by respectfully disagreeing and not making discussions personal.

3. Keeping cool. As a moderator, you are representing the web site, the board. Your behaviour must remain professional at all times, even when other members challenge you (and they will). Think twice before accepting the position offered to you or before putting your name forward to become a moderator on a forum.

4. Disappearing acts. When committing to become a moderator, there is an underlying understanding that you will be present regularly on the board and that you will not let the other moderators do all of the dirty work. On most forums, the expectation is that you will be present daily for at least a few minutes in the forum(s) you moderate. If you don’t have time to action an infraction you noticed, you must report it to your colleagues to action for you.

5. Leaving no explanation. Members cannot read your mind. If you have time to edit or delete a post, you must also take the time to leave a footprint explaining the reason(s) for your action(s) so that members whose posts are removed or edited understand why. Nothing is more frustrating for a member than to take the time to reply to a post only to come back later and be unable to find it or to find it edited with no reason(s) provided.

You still want to be a moderator on a forum? You now have some very solid guidelines to study and to take into consideration before accepting and you’ll have a better idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Like anywhere else in life, there are good moderators and bad ones. We’ve all seen both and it’s not because a member is a good member that he’ll necessarily become a good moderator.

Happy moderating!

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