The perils and pitfalls of moderating online comments

Very good post on the role of a moderator on online forums.

The rule of thumb I find useful both there and here (and, more importantly given the way people’s internet habits are changing, over on Facebook where blog content is imported) is to approach moderation the same way a good chair would approach chairing a public meeting.

Giving people a chance to have their say is right up there at the top of the list of objectives for chairing. Alongside it are other considerations like trying to give lots of people in the meeting the chance to have their say: the free speech of one person shouting down whatever anyone else says infringes the free speech of all the others also wanting to talk.

While it’s obvious that political (and for that matter, religious) forums are far more likely to turn toxic, at least in theory, than those devoted to subjects like model railways or music, I’ve always found that many online community sites are only as good as their moderators.

The point about shouting down others is a very good point. What’s worse is when the shouting down isn’t just one disruptive individual but two or three backing each other up. It seems to me that it’s a case of “civil behaviour”, “high traffic”, “no moderation”, pick any two. Do nothing to rein them in, and the loud aggressive types will drive away many of the more reasonable posters, who might otherwise have made a useful contribution, but find the online atmosphere too unpleasant. It’s why, for example, I give the official Marillion forum a very wide berth.

Although sometimes I wonder whether at least some of the trolls aren’t necessarily malicious, but demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger effect when it comes to online discourse. This would explain why they always blame ‘the other guy’ when a thread turns nasty.

Blogs are a bit different, in that many of them are very much personal soapboxes, and their owners primary interest isn’t to build a community around the blog – those such as Making Light are very much the exception here.

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2 Responses to The perils and pitfalls of moderating online comments

  1. Mike S says:

    It never fails to amaze me that seemingly innocuous comments will incite incredibly vicious verbal interchanges on on-line forums. I guess sitting in your pajamas at a computer where you can hide behind a screen name somehow releases the savagery inside some people.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    I’ve encountered one or two people who claim that people online aren’t “real”, and are just constructed persona who have no emotional connection with the real people behind them. Therefore they can be insulted with impunity. This perhaps explains why people who can be quite personable face-to-face turn into malevolent trolls online.

    I’ve also heard of studies that some people turn belligerent online in the same way as some people get violent when drunk – the lack of face to face contact relaxes the inhibitions that otherwise keep their behaviour civil.