I broker judgments for a living, and one of the very many tasks a judgment broker does is to administrate an active free web based forum. However, I have a very long history of administering, moderating, or sub-administrating judgment – and several other topic-related forums, networks, and email and chat systems for decades. I recently closed the JudgmentBuy forum as it was not active enough to keep going and there are other judgment forums.
Back in the days when I started was before the web. I ran (Bulletin Board System) BBS systems that used modems and regular phone lines. Besides the free judgment-related forum I currently administer, I currently help administrate and moderate about ten other web-based forums these days. Due to nepotism and other issues I no longer help moderate the National Judgment Network forum.
There is one strict definition of what an administrator does – the person that deals with maintaining hardware, issuing passwords and security policies, and upgrading the software. This is only one part of what is required to keep a forum useful and interesting.
The other part of a forum administration job is the social part, the human interface “guiding function” (known as the moderator). This moderation function can be done by the same person, or a different person, or a different person, or a group of people.
In this article, I would like share my opinions on the social aspects (moderation) of forum administration. There are many problems maintaining forums, which include spammers, hackers, rudeness, politics, lack of fairness, keeping discussions on topic, advertising, grammar and spelling, and monitoring verboseness. (This article would be less useful if it was 50,000 words, so I will aim for about 500 words.)
Sometimes moderators are selected because of their knowledge, sometimes because of their helpfulness, and sometimes because of nepotism. Nepotism has ruined more forums than any other moderator-related reason, because nepotism can cause permanent problems and resentment.
The best moderator cannot simply be smart or helpful or responsive or fair. The best moderators must have several of these qualities, and the time to do their job. As I see it, the job of a forum moderator is to:
1) Answer questions.
2) Help stop problems.
3) Encourage cooperation and learning.
4) Be open and tolerant of alternative ideas.
The worst things a moderator can do are:
1) Arbitrarily allow some members to do things that others cannot. (That is unfair.)
2) Delete postings, or ban members who simply politely disagree with any discussion. (Forums are designed for open discussion.)
3) Being lazy, or too busy to do their job. (Being a moderator is a responsibility.)
4) Be careful when editing other people’s words. It is ok to correct spelling errors, or to move a discussion to a better topic location, however it is not right to put words into other people’s mouths.
5) Keep your personal feelings and biases out of your job. I have heard about moderators calling newbies (those new to the forum), and telling them lies, or telling them not to post replies to certain other members they are envious of, or do not like.
Forums should help people and provide information. Products and services useful to most members should be allowed to be discussed. If there is no interest in any topic, the discussion will fade away on their own.
As long as members are civil, polite, and obey the rules, all members should be able to post (write) whatever they wish without fear of hostility or retaliation.
I have met forum moderators that feel their users need to be protected if someone else writes something that is not exactly the way they like, so they feel they should deny opportunity and choice to all their members.
Forum moderators should think twice before deleting or censoring a message post. The rights of freedom of speech may not apply to private clubs or forums, however the best forums allow freedom of speech.