Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Suggestions for a Code of Practice for Forum Moderators?

Forum Moderators are the often unsung heroes of the Internet world. They often commit themselves to supervising an important forum community for little, or more usually, no pay at all. They keep things humming along, remove bad posts, keep things on topic, enforce the rules, answer questions, and help out users. By and large, forum moderators are indispensable and generous people.

Nevertheless, as pointed out in my earlier post, forum moderators enjoy an often unchecked power to censor. Since forum moderators fulfil such an important role, perhaps there ought to be a Forum Moderator Code of Practice. I checked for such a thing online, and couldnt locate a defintive or comprehensive version, although I did find that people had thought about this issue and some even incorporated such a kind of a code into a handbook for moderators.

As a lawyer, and even before becoming a lawyer, I had a fine sense of fairness. And fairness requires "procedural fairness". Now, what makes forums unique, is that they are private enterprises, by and large, and as such are not required to be "democracies" or accountable to users, except to the extent that it is a good business practice to keep users happy. Nevertheless, forums often serve a public interest and are imbued with a sense of community and membership, and accordingly, there is a prima facie need to employ fair procedures. Of course this is not by any means legally required, and is solely at the option of the Forum owner, but I would argue that good business practices would include procedural fairness, as that is what keeps Forum members happy and returning to the Forum.

And upon reflection, I think that is what is lacking in many forums; procedural fairness. So, I propose a Forum Moderator's Code of Conduct. Let me start off with a preliminary list of elements or principles.I would love to hear from anyone with suggestions.

1. As a general principle, Forum Moderators should strive to not intervene in Forum discussions.

2. Intervenetion by Forum Moderators should occur only when a Forum Rule has been breached and the breach is clear and serious.

3. Rules of the Forum should be clearly set out to all members and Moderators alike.

4. When a breach occurs, it is a best practice to notify the poster and clearly identify the breach to the poster and ask the member to correct and/or edit the posting.

5. If the poster fails or refuses, the Moderator should remove the post permanently, and notify the membership that a posting has been removed and the reason why. This can be done through a sub-forum. A copy of the removed post shouldalso  be sent to the poster so the poster has a copy.

6. Posters who disagree with a decision by a Moderator to remove and/or edit a post, should have recourse to challenge the decision by appealing to a committe of moderators.

7. If the appeal to the moderators fails, the poster should have recourse to appeal to the general membership through a sub-forum.


Ceres said...

Hi Zak,

I'm sorry to hear about your recent problems with forums. I'm a forum moderator – please don't hold it against me. :-)

The Forum Moderator Code of Practice is a great idea and an interesting one. However, I'm unsure how many forums would actually adopt it, especially if it's not compulsory.

With forum moderation, I think a lot depends on the personalities of the moderators. If a moderator doesn't get defensive when a member questions his/her decision, then I believe most problems can be resolved amicably (after both sides offer their viewpoints and opinions).

If a moderator gets defensive, matters will likely become worse and members will get frustrated and be unhappy.

I think it's unrealistic to suggest that a forum moderator always wait for the member to correct a breach of rules. When a forum gets busy, it's impossible to keep track of such things. In most scenarios, I think the better option would be for the moderator to correct the mistake (if possible), then send a PM to the member letting him/her know what the problem was, what changes they've had to make to the post, and whether the member needs to take any further action.

I agree with you that it's important to allow the member the opportunity to challenge a decision. If things can't get resolved directly between the moderator and member, then yes the input of other moderators, admin or other forum members should be introduced (each situation will be different).

At the end of the day, both members and moderators make mistakes! How each one reacts when challenged will dictate how amicably things can get resolved.

Zak Muscovitch said...

Great points Ceres. Many thanks!