Subjective Management of forums/blogs

Here we have the third installment of B.Z.’s series of quieries to the blogospheric community. In this case, we are asked to consider the nature of forum or blog management.


Former Blog Admin.
The Internet is not fair.

Interacting with others on forums or blogs its commonplace for a moderator or team of moderators to edit or delete your contributions (perhaps even with consequences to you) based on their subjective judgment. A guideline of what is allowed may range from specific to vague or even nonexistent and how close those guidelines are followed ranges just as greatly. Favoritism may be granted to some, and harassment (perhaps one of the things moderation is trying to prevent) towards others.

It makes sense to try and tone down things we would find unacceptable in any other social setting, such as harassment in any form. Poorly executed interaction should be prevented to ensure that people want to continue to interact. Complications arise due to the content of what we are sharing. Is it fair that people complain about bugs in software on the publisher or developers message boards only to find that their posts are deleted minutes later? Is it fair that a creationist posts their beliefs on an evolutionary theory blog, only to find their posts removed?

In both of these scenarios, no it is not fair. A company who makes profit on products preventing discussion about issues in their products does differ from a community not wanting misinformation propagated however.

When hitchhiking around the Internet, is it any surprise to find the adage: “life isn’t fair” to be any less true? What is the ideal approach to moderating a blog or a forum? Are you familiar with specific examples of either well executed or poorly executed moderation?


  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    December 8, 2008

    BZ, here are a couple of posts tracking a disagreement over moderation styles. You may find them interesting.

  2. #2 Tang
    December 8, 2008

    I used to regularly read a news site called Indymedia that was supposed to be a forum for independent amateur journalists from around the world to share newsworthy articles and multimedia over the internet, a few years before anyone had heard of the word “blogging”.

    Since the site was founded on the values of free speech, the management decided to make the site a completely open forum with no limits on posting articles or comments. The site quickly went over to whoever could shout the loudest, spam the most articles, and spend the most time always getting in the last word in the forums. Meanwhile, quality information and debate dried up as anyone with a brain stopped contributing. That made me a firm believer in the benevolent dictator model.

    Slashdot took a different approach and introduced the system of having moderators from the user base rank comments as valuable or worthless, and hiding the least valuable contents from the average user. It works well on a site with a large user base like Slashdot (and as a side benefit it relieves the admin of having to manage the comments) but smaller sites can get overrun by a large enough set of ideologically like-minded activists.

    Even large sites can be overrun by a handful of activists who make a coordinated effort to publicly agree with each other often and praise themselves for such great contributions while shouting down anyone who disagrees in the slightest. These posts can take up most of the comments in the targeted threads, especially when a flamewar erupts and most people decide to stay out of it. The average user then sees what appears to be the majority of a site they trust toeing a tight ideological line, with the few opponents being widely mocked and browbeaten. Social effects and psychology being what they are, the average user is now more likely to become a follower of the activists’ ideology.

  3. #3 Azkyroth
    December 9, 2008

    Would anyone disagree that sanctioning a controversial but generally well-regarded community member for responding intemperately to an abject troll, after an extended period of non-interference in the trolling from the administration, while giving that troll essentially a pat on the head, is a bad way to run things?

  4. #4 Elizabeth
    December 9, 2008

    Azkyroth: That is a little vague.

  5. #5 BZ
    December 9, 2008

    Tang: Thanks for posting. You lay out different methods and potential pitfalls well, but what do you think the impact of such management leads to?

    Slashdot has a very interesting system in place. What do you think the faults of their system do to the quality of their community?

  6. #6 Tang
    December 10, 2008

    Effects of comment management styles as I’ve seen them:

    No moderation tends to lead to a site becoming a constant crapflood once it gets popular. Sometimes the idealists or griefers wage war and take over the site. There’s also another kind of crapflood on Eschaton and LGF where the comments are filled with hundreds of “Hey Joe, how was your day?” type chatter that drowns out any attempts to discuss the posted topic. People tend not to bother writing a good comment when their magnum opus would end up buried under a hundred other posts and it would take someone a half hour of reading to find it.

    Benevolent dictatorship tends to lead to each blog’s comments becoming a mirror of the blog owner’s opinions. Polite and informed dissent may be tolerated. It depends on the owner. Since just about anyone can start his own blog, bloggers censoring their comments is not a big deal to me. I just think less of the blog owner if I don’t see just cause for a particular act of censorship.

    User based moderation a la Slashdot tends to lead to groupthink. Try arguing that Windows is a decent product or that the RIAA has a legal right to sue song warezers. You won’t get far with anyone. There’s also an interesting pattern about how people rate. No matter the high ideals and nuanced design that went into a ratings system, the bulk of users will only rate posts as I Agree (+max) and I Disagree (-max).

    User moderation also tends to lead to the canonization of certain popular users, or at least it exposes a metric of it. Someone who has a run of good or agreeable posts becomes almost deified in the community. People start upranking their new posts whether they are any good or not, they can break the site’s rules without punishment, and anybody who falls on their bad side is going to be in for a run of negative ratings.

    I don’t think the faults of a community-based moderation system like Slashdot affect the quality of a community as much as do the natural faults of humanity and human society. We simply see charisma and mob mentalities given a metric, so many votes.

    There is one notable fault, though. The bandwagon effect can be amplified when users see what posts have what ratings before they read and consider them. Everybody likes this, so it must be a good post! I wonder how much ratings and the tone of discussions would differ if a major site turned off the visibility of ratings and user names for a week.