Should moderator actions be in public or in private?

Continuing the discussion from Why is the SDMB membership declining, and what’s the best way to add younger members?:

Having content disappear without any explanation doesn’t educate anyone as to what happened. But on the other hand, if it’s a drive-by user with a low-effort troll, perhaps a quick delete is all that is necessary? The moderation effort should be commensurate with the situation.

There’s also the “criticize in private, praise in public” concept. I think the way to walk this line is to be critical of the discussion, pointing out when the discussion isn’t going in a productive direction.

I definitely agree that letting moderation discussion take over a topic is never a good idea. But I also feel that a quick mod note (which can be applied as an annotation on the top of the post, or as a special standalone post in the topic) acts as a nice signpost and reminder to keep things on topic, be civil, etc.

I can definitely say that, in my experience, it’s never a good idea for a mod to get into a back and forth argument on a topic. Nobody wants to deal with “rules lawyering”. There is the #about-this-message-board area for moderation discussions, and at a minimum you’d want to use the split topic functionality to split out these kinds of digressions so they don’t take over the topic. I hesitate to say PM, because staff have enough on their plates without having to defend their every choice in personal messages…

Should moderator actions be in public or in private?

Both, really.

Moderation should be mostly private – but a robust discussion of moderation strategies and decisions in a separate area is very healthy for a community in my experience.

From maybe a too quick read, pretty much everything you’ve posted in your OP is what happens here.

Posters are not allowed to argue with mod instructions in the thread. They need to take them to ATMB. Most of the mod notes are now attached to the post.

Spam and socks are deleted without much discussion. Trolls are announced banned if they’re long time posters but not usually if they just showed up to troll.

My take on Martin_Hyde’s post though is not the same as yours. I agreed with him in that thread.

I’ve found that when you want people to follow rules there are steps you have to follow. If you don’t, it won’t work.

  1. Make rules clear and easy to understand, and make certain people see them.

  2. Set consequences severe enough that they will sufficiently dissuade people from breaking the rules, without going overboard.

  3. Apply the rules consistently and fairly.

  4. When a rule is broken, make it clear that it was enforced.

If you skip step 1 people can’t follow the rules. If you skip step 2, nobody will care whether they break the rules. If you skip step 3, you will cause a lot of ill-will in the community. And if you skip step 4, it’s basically the same as skipping step 2; if people don’t see the rules being enforced they will think they aren’t being enforced, and won’t be dissuaded from breaking them.

If you keep moderation private, yes you can keep people from gloating. But your enforcement loses a lot of its effectiveness. It’s not a good way to run a community.

Are you saying that the effectiveness of enforcement comes from gloating? Or are you saying that gloating is an (undesired) consequence of moderation being public?

If you’re saying the latter, gloating could be outlawed.


As long as you can clearly make a distinction between gloating and reasoned discussion of moderation that is not a bad idea at all. :+1:

Maybe this is in effect already, but is there a level below an in-thread “Moderator Note” via PM? Where a post is modded before any reports come in, and used for the lightest infractions without “making a scene”?

Reasoned discussion of moderation happens in ATMB. I don’t think (much) gloating is allowed. I don’t think Martin_Hyde’s post was about that.

No, he literally talked about it. It was in the quote in the OP.

That’s what I’m responding to here.

He didn’t say the gloating was in ATMB. I didn’t read that it was. You cut out the part of my post that said that gloating was not allowed in ATMB. Those two sentences went together.

Ah, so you’re saying that as long as the discussion is in ATMB (where it belongs) then existing norms would already curb the gloating. I understand.

From what I see, most of the moderators actions vs one member could be handled by a PM.

"Hey, can you cool it down in this thread?’

"You are getting off topic, or a hijack. "

“Please stay out of this thread for a day”.

Most of the gloating is in the Trolls R Us thread, which is frequently a horror show. Mods have said that they find it handy, but most of the posts in it violate the forum rules about actions pitted being pit-worthy. Individual threads about trolls or whoever is fine. This catchall is just a dirty sink. I would like to see it disappear permanently.

These are good guidelines but, just FWIW, I run another online community and we don’t do any of this except we usually apply the rules consistently though we are very sensitive to varying contexts (hobgoblins, and all that).

Our community is very different from this one though and we try to discourage conflict. The rules are pretty much the rules of polite society. Those aren’t written down either.

The only time we publicize an enforcement action is when the violation caused great offence (we apologise and explain what we did to fix it) or if there is a total breakdown in a conversation because, say, everyone is arguing about Trump and I insulting each other. In that case, we put the whole conversation on moderation, delete the offensive posts and post a note to say why.

I’m not advocating that we should do those things here. I’m just throwing it out as something we do. It might inspire someone to have a better idea.

I think it’s a great exercise to look at different ways of moderating. I think the moderators do a great job here within the rules they have but I think the rules are awful. They emphasize conflict over resolution.

If the modding was done privately via PM and it finally resulted in a suspension or a ban, would there also be a rule that others couldn’t question the suspension and/or ban? If not, then either it gets drawn back out into public discussion, or the mods will have to do a lot more private messaging with each person that questions what happened.

When was the last time a suspension and/or ban was reversed following commentary from other members?

I’m not saying comments shouldn’t be allowed, but we never really were a democracy, were we?

Unjust suspensions and bannings aren’t our style, anyway. The vast majority of those that happen can be predicted very easily.

I would kind of echo other sentiments that for a forum of this nature perma bans should be relatively rare and mostly reserved for things like bot accounts that just register to spam ad links and etc. Multi-month sub-forum bans would seem more appropriate, and even a standardized escalation process. Warning 1, Warning 2, 1 week suspension, 1 month suspension, 3 month suspension etc. Obviously we don’t have reddit style automods so some of that is a manual process here, but it doesn’t really need discussed or disputed openly. I can’t think of any other sizable forum in which suspensions and bans are debated or questioned by the community.

I think what I was trying to express with my post that @codinghorror posted is boiled down to: our mods act like judges, they should act more like cops. Street cops don’t have to explain their decisions on the street, and the world usually isn’t involved in litigating every little citation written or arrest processed. I think a simpler rule set and more “normal style” moderating would get rid of what I called the courtroom atmosphere to posting on a lot of these forums.

In general, I would say that mod actions should be in public. That way, the warning can serve as a public deterrent to other people doing the same thing as the offender, and also lets people see the fairness or unfairness of the action - and also people know that action was taken.

To me the deterrent would just be the warning system. I think if you have a short list of clear and cohesive rules (which we currently lack), and people who get warned receive a standard message explaining what a warning is, which rule they violated, and what the consequences are of future behavior, I don’t really know what more deterrence is needed. If you know that the next warning will be your last, and then you eat a 7 day suspension, and then a 1 month suspension or etc, like that seems like a deterrent effect to me.

I think of some of the higher quality discussion forums on the internet, like for example the r/science subreddit, one of the best managed ones–it has a lot of rules to keep discussions on topic and focused on peer reviewed scientific literature (which obviously wouldn’t be applicable here), but they also just have a simple rule that says “No abusive or offensive comments”, and posts affected by that rule simply disappear and all you see is “Comment removed by a moderator.” There is no debate about it, no indicator of who even posted it. The forum is largely devoid of the kind of trolling and negativity this forum is filled with.

Now, given that we have forums dedicated to the discussion of politics and things of that nature, regulating “offensiveness” would be difficult, but having a simple set of rules isn’t hard. Forums with orders of magnitude more posters than we have do it, and they don’t require a cast of Judge Judy style mods who wade into threads and moderate with snarky and argumentative comments (which often just elicits more future bad behavior, imo.) Nor do they have people litigating mod decisions in a special forum for that purpose every other day.

What would really be cool is if the moderators from the SDMB didn’t stalk you on FB and try to moderate your posts over there.