The final installment in Rudy’s behind-the-scenes series on what it’s like to be an audio forum administrator…
“Why did you delete my post?”
“Insulted me in this post.”
“You are stifling my free speech!”
“OP is thread-crapping.”
“The moderators deleted my thread.”
“Your forum is racist!”
“This person is dragging political content into this discussion.”
These may not be verbatim quotes, but they do reflect the typical complaints the moderation staff sees either in their report queue or through a private message. Like most modern forums, ours have a report link under each post for reporting content that triggered a member enough to want to point it out to the staff. While some of the reports are not really a problem, the rest usually involve a complaint about some sort of content that goes against our published forum policies.
Yes, the policies, also referred to as rules. All forums have them. The better forums go beyond a generic set of rules and point out specific situations or behaviors that are not allowed. They are not only a set of expectations for members of the forum, they also serve as a guideline for the staff to assist in determining if problem content requires attention or not, and how much of a correction (punishment) needs to be dealt.
The staff has various means of correcting its members. The simplest might be an admonition within a thread to all participants that the discussion has gone off the rails: “We’ve just now cleaned up several posts of bickering. Let’s try to stay on topic here.” Other times, the moderators will issue a warning through a forum’s warning system, while others might involve a private message to the offender(s). The most severe result is a ban from a thread, a “vacation” from the forum in the form of a temporary suspension or the most final of all punishments, a permanent ban from the forum. Anyone who has moderated, especially in large forums, has seen a great many behaviors over the years.
Overview of Forum Policies
When adopting a set of rules for a forum, the staff attempts to keep the list simple, but that never happens in practice. We could easily try to get along with a single sentence to cover everything: respect others’ opinions, do not attack other members, avoid politics/religion/etc., keep discussions and content family-friendly, stay on topic, and address issues with staff privately. Yet the most mischievous of members will find any way possible to skirt the rules to say their piece by sneaking some of their comments in under the radar, or blatantly posting something in a pointed attack. It’s because of this reason that forums end up with a long list of policies. The best forum policy list always has the final disclaimer: “Anything else the staff deems unacceptable.”
Despite that, as a famous film once said, “Some men you just can’t reach.” And so it goes with running a forum. Some are habitual rule breakers. After a while, you get to know which members might drag politics or race into a discussion. Others you know will disrupt a thread with opposing opinions. A few will try to self-promote their own sites, creations or products when they aren’t watched too closely. There are plenty, also, who know how to stay within the rules just enough to fly under the staff radar and, when caught, their punishment isn’t too severe.
On the other hand, some members do not communicate well, and may come off as brusque or highly opinionated – they aren’t exactly breaking the rules, but they may not be the most pleasant to engage with on a forum. Some might also speak a different primary language than the forum’s membership, making communication a bit awkward. Also keep in mind that everyone has different situations going on in their lives, and everyone can have a bad day.
Make Our Job Easier!
With all of that in mind, remember two things to make a forum a more pleasant visit for everyone involved: remember that there is a real person on the other end, and only say something on a forum that you would say to them in person, face to face.
Wishful thinking, I know.
There are topics and behaviors that will come up in any discussion. Here is a sampling of what moderators deal with on a frequent basis, and what forum visitors can do to help guide discussions in the right direction.
“Let me guess who you voted for.” “Spoken like a typical ____ supporter!” Politics. One of our most dreaded topics. Historically, any discussion that even remotely involves politics will turn into a dumpster fire. Onto which someone has poured ten gallons of gasoline. Unless the discussion board is specifically about politics, just avoid the topic entirely. Remember that many people visit their enthusiast forums to get away from the daily onslaught of the media.
Are there other taboos? Yes, indeed. Avoid bringing religion into a discussion – you’re bound to offend someone. Posts discussing race, racism or xenophobia, LGBTQ issues, and other lifestyle choices that many will not agree with are also not a good idea as they are highly polarizing for many.
Remember to keep your contributions family- and workplace-friendly, as many forums frown on nudity or suggestive photos, as well as varying levels of profanity and sexual content. Forums with this policy are often not doing it to be prudes. Keep in mind this interesting factoid from years of observing server logs: our forums have historically had the most traffic during working hours. Accessing potentially offensive content could not only land you in trouble with your employer, but the forum itself could be flagged as having offensive content by services that can block traffic on a network based on content. (OpenDNS is one such service that offers optional filtering, in addition to DNS services.)
For lesser taboos, consult the forum’s policies. Some are more friendly to recreational substances than others; some may limit discussion to alcohol (many enjoy a beer thread, for instance), where others may allow discussions of cannabis. Most, however, frown on anything illegal like describing how to shoot up heroin, or blueprints to build your own home meth lab.
Legalities stem to other areas also. If you are in a music, audio, video or book forum, posting links about how to download something copyrighted for free will get your post removed in no time. “Hey, I found a link to download free Hi-Res music from this blog!” Umm, no. “I got the latest TV episode of Star Trek: Picard from torrents; I’m not paying CBS!” Don’t go there either. In addition to being illegal, this can land the site owner, staff and the person making the post in a lot of hot water. Links to buy illegal merchandise or illegally hack software are also not welcome.
Keep in mind the forum’s ownership when participating, as they often have rules unique to their situation. Anything deemed industry sensitive may be removed at the staff’s discretion, for example.
In addition to taboo topics, there is a long list of behaviors from the small number of problem members in a forum who will get worked up enough to disrupt a discussion. Here’s a handful of the most common of these. Avoid them, and you’re golden!
Thread crapping: Using an audiophile forum as an example, thread crapping is entering a discussion about vinyl to say that CDs are superior. Commenting that power cords are snake oil in a thread discussing power cords is another thread crap. If the topic were a question or debate asking for both sides, then it is acceptable. Otherwise, derailing a conversation and injecting negativity is frowned upon.
Calling out the staff: If you don’t approve of how your content was handled (perhaps we deleted your post), contact the staff directly. Don’t use the forum to air your grievances. Likewise, if you disagree with our rules, you can complain to the staff about them, but be aware that it’s probably best you avoid our forum entirely. We occasionally get a backlash, saying we don’t allow members freedom of speech; however, since the forum is a privately owned and operated enterprise, it is subject to its own policies, not those of the government (where freedom of speech applies).
Attacking fellow forum members: attacking another person in the forum is another that needs no explanation. Baiting, insulting, name-calling, etc. are all attacks we can do without.
Attacking people outside the forum: while most understand that attacking fellow forum members is not allowed, some still feel a forum is a safe haven to attack people outside the forum without punishment. Engineers, salesmen, anyone in the entertainment industry, members or staff of other forums, the local Maytag repairman…you get the idea. Members may feel the need to warn others about certain individuals, but that is skating a thin line. Our forum is not a place to air grudges about others you’ve encountered in life.
We are not customer support: as an extension to the rule above, using a thread in a forum to tell us all about your problems with a product and the company that sold it to you is not appropriate. Not only do some of these companies frown on it (and will request it be removed), the staff doesn’t want the forum to be known as a place that visitors ca turn to for airing problems with third parties.
Complaining about ads: If the ads are intrusive and interfering with how a forum functions, by all means point it out to the staff. But complaining about ads and monetization in general won’t ingratiate you to the staff and the forum’s owner(s). Most forums exist on that income to pay for server fees, licensing and domain fees and renewals, developer fees, etc. If the ads are not all that intrusive, consider whitelisting the site in your ad blocker to help keep the lights on. Purchasing through links on the site may be monetized also – take advantage of those as well.
There are more issues on a forum, as you can imagine. Overall, respect your fellow forum members and you’ll get the most enjoyment out of any forum you choose to visit. If you feel harassed, threatened or like you’re being attacked, don’t take matters into your own hands or engage with the troublemaker – report the offending content.
To wrap up this series on forum moderation and administration, I would like to thank you all for reading. I hope a behind-the-scenes look at running a busy discussion board has given you some insight as to what the staff sees daily, and how we deal with it. The internet would be a boring diversion for us if we did not have our niche forums to visit and interact with fellow enthusiasts. May your journey on the Internet be a safe and enjoyable experience!