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"The tricky problem of forum drama - a legalist approach", 18th Dec 2016, 11:29 PM #1
Xenocartographer♂
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Regarding... Nama has requested this topic be made into its own thread, so here it is.



Motivation

argylefox:I left because the majority of threads were bland – all you were expected to do was add an anecdote, ignoring everything before it. I think the main reason for this is that those threads were SAFE.
In any thread of any merit, someone will inevitably word something badly. Hardly anyone reads through their posts before hitting send, so comments can be blunt, or poorly worded or thought out. This makes someone slightly annoyed, and rather than discussing this in a reasonable manner, someone feels the need to get revenge. And rather than take a step back, breathing, and trying to take in another person’s view, they escalate and escalate and escalate.
Also, people on the forums are weirder than the average. Not a negative in my opinion, just that you are an eclectic bunch from a massively wide range of backgrounds with wildly differing views on topics such as religion, sex and gender. But where so many forumites ARE like the general population, is they struggle to accept there are any other views of the world than the one they have. This leads to arguments, and the escalation. There is no trying to see the other view, just shouting match to see who is louder before the thread is closed.
Lastly, some people are jerks. These people are in most, if not all of these threads, and they are either the first, or the loudest in each of them. They seem to delight in the chaos they are causing, and relishing the upset they are causing. If you are one of those people who love getting into drama, then I think you are causing serious damage to the site. Either decide you don’t like the place, and LEAVE, or stick around and try to be a part of the community. You have caused a number of great people to leave, and you have caused ME to leave too. If I come back to the site, it will probably be as a creator only, and I will probably avoid the dramas, unless they clean up. I glance back in occasionally, to see if it has happened yet, and if it is safe to return. I’m not coming back.

Dodom:Whenever the topic is about something with any political or social implications, there are many who show up, demand to be convinced of very basic notions regarding the topic, won't accept any answer, and will spam the thread increasingly angrily until every of their questions is answered to their satisfaction, or, in effect, until the topic is locked or people give up.

[3:56:12 PM] seanag: Any topic relating to gender is determined to be torn apart as people interpret things by replacing reality with their own
[3:56:44 PM] seanag: Then they rage about whatever it is they've defined is offensive and it starts a fight, and then the thread derails and gets shut down
[3:57:00 PM] seanag: It's a very tumblr tactic where they get together and just mob against something fucking stupid

Sleeper:Forum drama makes the baby Raptor Jesus cry



We have a drama problem. People are uncomfortable with forum discussions at best and being driven away at worst. Periodically, some topic or other will flare up as a hotbed of toxicity, and after much yelling and many personal attacks, it's finally brought to an abrupt end with a thread lock - a blunt tactic that leaves the underlying tensions completely unresolved and is, unfortunately, the only tool the moderation has to deal with such a situation. Recent examples include, of course, the "gender thread" and #AppreciationThreadgate2016, but the problem is not new and has already driven away multiple community members.




The problem

The forum has a thread explode every few weeks, with sufficient frequency and violence to drive people away from the forum - indeed, away from the site entirely. Clearly, this is a problem on its own. Ideally the community would come to self-correct, but that hasn't happened. When a fight starts, uninvolved forum users tend to either join the fight and exacerbate the problem, or stay far away. It is difficult to be a calming presence in one of these threads, and in the long term rarely productive. For a forum user to intervene in such a thread, then, is a potentially significant personal cost with a small and unlikely payoff, and so it is unusual.

From the moderation, we see a similar situation. In theory, these toxic threads would be dealt with via moderator intervention, followed by a thread lock if necessary and possibly bans. These last two are extreme measures and should be regarded as unfortunate. However, the moderation is no more immune to burnout than the community, and intervening in a thread that's already hostile isn't any more effective for them than for a regular user. Locks, therefore, are unfortunately common. The scarcity of mods only exacerbates the problem: Nama and Kyo are simply not enough to monitor the entire forum. Further, locking a thread is only effective as a short-term solution. It does nothing to resolve the underlying tensions and hostility. Further, it penalizes most the people who were least involved with the drama: CF drama in particular tends to come about when someone takes offense to a particular topic and acts aggressively about it, and a thread lock unfortunately plays directly into their hands.

Now, this is not meant as a criticism of the moderators. Nama and Kyo have put in a lot of effort into this forum, and are without a doubt doing the best they can with what they have to work with. I am, however, hoping to constructively critique moderation policy, which originated from a time when the forum was not so drama-heavy, and when the moderation team was much larger.




The solution

Ideally, forum drama would be refuted with a two-pronged approach. An organic community-driven response is currently being discussed elsewhere, and while this is both ambitious and laudable, it is only half of the available options. (This thread is a spinoff of that discussion, as requested by Nama.) Working with the forum staff to design new moderation policies and other official tools is an equally important possibility.

I personally would like to raise three possibilities:

More moderators. Nama and Kyo are overworked. Statistically speaking, the odds of one of them catching a fight before it snowballs is low, simply because there are so many threads per moderator. Once one does snowball, a single moderator is often insufficient to regain control, leading to thread locks. While there are, apparently, some technical difficulties with appointing more moderators, it would ease the workload on the current two, and allow problems to be stopped before they get out of control.

New moderation tools. Whether given code support or simply policy changes, a response more fine-grained than either requesting people calm down or shutting down the thread would also alleviate the problem. (Once again, the people most prone to starting these fights are also often interested in having the same threads locked in the first place, so a threat of a thread lock doesn't do much.) One possibility is a thread-specific ban (this could even be implemented without code support - "[NAME], stop posting in this thread"). Some forums have the ability to literally slow down a problematic thread, requiring a delay before new posts show up; this is sometimes effective at lowering tensions by slowing the angry back-and-forth that encourages them. I'm sure our community could come up with more.

Technical support. Both the above could be facilitated by trusted members being given access to CF's codebase to provide technical support. These same members could also help with debugging CF's nontrivial bug backlog, updating documentation, and otherwise alieviating Kyo's work as sole coder, though this is tangential to the main issue. They wouldn't need moderator privledges, but if given them could also take over some day-to-day forum busywork, freeing other mods for more important forum duties.




Discuss!

We have a problem. I hope to solve it. With that in mind, I want your input. Feel free to disagree or say I'm barking up the wrong metaphorical tree, but (and I shouldn't have to say this) keep it civil. We've driven enough people away.






Addendum: Potentially actionable items

Discussion in this thread has generated a list of potentially actionable items, reflecting proposals which may potentially be brought to the administration. The following is an up-to-date list as of 9:34 PM EST, 19 Dec 2016.

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19th Dec 2016, 12:24 AM #2
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I am giving out viewpoint to add into all this. Another thing which is my opinions causes explosions, is also people feeling helpless. Like they can't stop anything to happen. It is like being behind thick glass and seeing unpleasant things happen other side, not being able to stop them. Definy makes person to explode. You can only scream and shout. Also to some of us turning away don't feel solution, because things still are happening. Running is no option.

Solution, well, adding mods and giving them better tools is already option. Now forum is like unsafe back alley only few guards running around. However question still is do mods have good judgement? From personal opinion, yes. Still I wish this forum would have members, not necessary mods, but someones who are wise enough to steer at least some people on a right track.

Still it was mentioned those do not even read those threads and writes reply without thinking. I may add something more dangerous, misreading those threads. Sometimes because in hurry, bad, or because of condition which disallows reading them clearly. State of mentality is definy which affects many of us. It probably would ease up much if other can it to account, even if person itself can't just now.

Which means after change comes from us, forumites. Which means we need steering into right direction. It takes some time, but even having strong core group probably helps much. They just need be active enough. Which goes around to those wise enough again, pillars of forum.

Now to another problem, jerks. You really can't steer them much into right track, albeit some them may try become better person, but don't hold your breath. It is even longern process, trying to become better person from bad person. I can forgive those who tries, but I wish them be much more open about and open to advice too. Don't fucking give up!

So this leaves those uncurable jerks, those who will stays jerk no matter what. Banning is temporal solution, blocking probably hides them. Personally I would alter their title to reflects what they are. At least people may able to notice them before it is too late. Albeit nothing can do if they just creates new account, unless something is done about IP too. Another problematic as IP can be sometimes shared.

Can IP block problem solved if still allowing log-in with unbanned account? Sure, jerk can still create extra accounts from unbanned IP, but after all it is definy possible also get IP which is used to create account. Probably helps with bots too.

But all this is just my personal opinions and results from stalking this forum and it's members...
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19th Dec 2016, 12:27 AM #3
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something i've thought for a while is that there should be a few MAIN mods, and then each board has its own moderator, or a group of boards, or whatever.

that's the way it's worked on other forums i've frequented and it worked for them.

as for mods, i think HeSerpenty would make a great mod. she's kind and impartial but can be firm if she needs to be. i'd like to see her mod the Webcomic Discussion and Community Projects boards.
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19th Dec 2016, 12:45 AM #4
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I think Bold would be a good mod. He sticks to the rules, and is here every day to enforce them.

He can be harsh, but that's probably what we need right now.
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19th Dec 2016, 12:46 AM #5
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@Keltyzoid!

I approve idea of sub-mods. Also HeSerpenty definy sounds someone trustful for a (sub-)mod, if she can take it, what's it. Remember being mod is not easy, and I don't wish someone's art suffer from stress...

edit:

@Shrek

Mod or sub-mod? As sub-mod he is definy excellent for General Discussion and probably Mediterranean Avenue. Those places seem be most needing someone like him...
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19th Dec 2016, 12:49 AM #6
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The dual notions that "a great many have left" because of drama and "many show up" to cause drama are kind of contradictory and counterfactual. How many are we talking about exactly? If we can scientifically quantify how drama is damaging the community, we may approach this more effectively. Other than that, I'm not opposed to evolution of tools and community stuff, but it's going to be an ongoing trial-&-error series of solutions. Like computer viruses, drama will probably always find a way to sneak in and disrupt things.

Maybe there are four kinds of forumers:
1. the type that willfully bait for drama
2. the type that escalate more drama whether the cause is real or perceived
3. the type that emotionally detach from drama, trying to participate rationally
4. the type that won't or can't tolerate any real or perceived drama

These types might be a spectrum or they might be mixed to varying degrees for every individual. How can we regulate the interactions of people like this? Maybe you can get members to self-identify or report on each other where they are on the drama chart and segregate them. Sounds crazy, right? Except this is exactly how our legal systems work, for better or worse, segregating populations into law breakers and law abiders.

Well, to make it easier, the ones who won't tolerate drama self-segregate, so we're left with regulating the other 3 types.
19th Dec 2016, 12:52 AM #7
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I don't want to get into this too much to be honest I'll just give my two cents:

The fundamental issue is people need to apply active listening and empathy.

No amount of mod tools and moderation is going to fix the issue if people have no intention of applying the above. Moderation should revolve around getting these two things to happen.

I think there should be some obligation in the general discussion not to use logical fallacies, to pay attention to what other people say, and respond accordingly and to watch your tone.

Maybe that sounds totalitarian but I think part of the role of the mods is to keep people on topic. If someone comes into a thread with no intention of having a discussion they should gtfo of the general discussion thread. If these things aren't nipped in the bud they spread. Even if it's a minor thing it needs to be addressed, because people do what they can get away with. People will complain about the mods being to severe, but again, my position is don't go into general discussion if you are not willing to have a discussion.

We've had multiple threads talking about how to have a discussion, what's expected of people etc. etc. it's not that people aren't capable of having a discussion or learning to have one, it's that they are not interested.

I'm just going to chuck this video out there, like I always do.

I've repeated something along these lines countless times, so I think its the last time I'm going to say it. I know people aren't obliged to respond to me, but I don't know what people think of what I'm saying: Do they disagree or think I'm being obnoxious or don't read it? idk I'm willing to take criticism as long as it's constructive.

Nothing's going to change. I think just accept what's happened and move on. You're free to have this discussion, but that's just my two cents.
19th Dec 2016, 12:52 AM #8
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I really like the energy and solution-oriented thinking here, but I can't help but feel like we've been here... a lot.

Like, listing out our candidates for modship is all well and good (and both seem like great choices), but it really means nothing without Kyo being an active part of this conversation (and as cognizant of the problem and dedicated toward our solution as we are).

Otherwise, we've had this discussion before...during the great Mod drought of...last summer.

And I really can't stress enough that while I feel like this site really does need more mods and tools to help them more effectively do their job, that throwing mods at forum drama isn't going to stop it. It's part of a bigger issue.

Anyways, far be it from me to shit on parades. I like the sentiment, but let's get someone with power in on the conversation.
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19th Dec 2016, 12:58 AM #9
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People are going to have to accept to losing some freedom if this is going to work. Maybe this is something the community gets and has accepted now, but in the past, whenever the prospect of some form of more rules was brought up, people were nothing but resistant to it, insisting that everyone could self-police. Self-policing, however, is still a thing that simply isn't working. This community has proven time and time again that it simply cannot adequately govern itself.

I always loved how ComicFury could somehow manage to be relatively low on strife despite having such lax rules, but things change, and perhaps it's time to let go of that. With the rules not being very clearly defined, it can be hard to determine what is and isn't proper behavior even if you're actively trying to find out, and often, after moderation intervenes on situations of high tensions, some users seem to leave the situation feeling embittered and confused with how it was handled, not quite understanding the rationale.

Then again, perhaps the problem is simply that moderation is not adequately defined or explained. It could be either, really, and don't take my word as absolute law. Salt shakers are encouraged. Please don't throw things at me, though.

On the other hand, I feel that sometimes topics are closed prematurely. I have seen cases where moderation closed a topic before it had the chance to escalate, which is a fair decision, but it has the problem of not giving the parties involved the chance to handle it themselves. Yes, it could go badly, but in the absence of an opportunity to act like rational adults, you get people who rely entirely on moderation to regulate their actions. This is to say, moderation should allow people to make mistakes so that they can define those things as mistakes, not step in and prevent them from happening in the first place. Setting a precedent requires the issue the precedent is based around to transpire, or else it's all in potential events, and that's a good deal unclear.

I have more on this, but I'll leave it here for now.
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19th Dec 2016, 1:20 AM #10
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Alright, lots of good discussion! Let me respond to a few particular points, if I may?


JuicyGrey:I am giving out viewpoint to add into all this. Another thing which is my opinions causes explosions, is also people feeling helpless. Like they can't stop anything to happen. It is like being behind thick glass and seeing unpleasant things happen other side, not being able to stop them. Definy makes person to explode. You can only scream and shout. Also to some of us turning away don't feel solution, because things still are happening. Running is no option.

I appreciate you bringing this up, because it's something I'm not sure I touched on as much as I should have. There's a nontrivial amount of behind-the-scenes discontent on the forums, and it definitely makes things harder than they have to be. (I'm not going to name names, but on multiple occasions, an agitator in one of these fights has confirmed that they're acting out partially because they feel that nothing else is going to work.) I don't know how aware the moderation is of this, and it's certainly hard to codify because, by definition, it happens behind the scenes. This is somewhere where anyone else's perspective (whether or not it agrees with mine, of course!) would be extremely helpful.



keltyzoid!:something i've thought for a while is that there should be a few MAIN mods, and then each board has its own moderator, or a group of boards, or whatever.

that's the way it's worked on other forums i've frequented and it worked for them.

Could you speak more to how you'd see this implemented? Is there any division of responsibility besides who manages what section, for example?



Robotwin.com:The dual notions that "a great many have left" because of drama and "many show up" to cause drama are kind of contradictory and counterfactual.


Contradictory how? A subset of the community causes drama, and another subset leaves - or am I misunderstanding you?


Robotwin.com:If we can scientifically quantify how drama is damaging the community, we may approach this more effectively.

Robotwin.com:it's going to be an ongoing trial-&-error series of solutions


Both excellent points. One of my hopes with this thread was opening up just that sort of discussion.


Robotwin.com:Maybe there are four kinds of forumers: [...]

I'm going to have to mull this one over.




Sheik:Maybe that sounds totalitarian but I think part of the role of the mods is to keep people on topic. If someone comes into a thread with no intention of having a discussion they should gtfo of the general discussion thread. If these things aren't nipped in the bud they spread. Even if it's a minor thing it needs to be addressed, because people do what they can get away with. People will complain about the mods being to severe, but again, my position is don't go into general discussion if you are not willing to have a discussion.

We've had multiple threads talking about how to have a discussion, what's expected of people etc. etc. it's not that people aren't capable of having a discussion or learning to have one, it's that they are not interested.


A thousand times agreed. Ideally, people would self-police, but in the interim, backing up active listening with rules and a coherent enforcement policy would be a step in the right direction.





Seeen:I always loved how ComicFury could somehow manage to be relatively low on strife despite having such lax rules, but things change, and perhaps it's time to let go of that. With the rules not being very clearly defined, it can be hard to determine what is and isn't proper behavior even if you're actively trying to find out, and often, after moderation intervenes on situations of high tensions, some users seem to leave the situation feeling embittered and confused with how it was handled, not quite understanding the rationale.


Well said. CF's lax rules policies made sense at one point, when there were enough active moderators and enough general good-will towards them that more specific rules weren't needed.



Seeen:On the other hand, I feel that sometimes topics are closed prematurely. I have seen cases where moderation closed a topic before it had the chance to escalate, which is a fair decision, but it has the problem of not giving the parties involved the chance to handle it themselves. Yes, it could go badly, but in the absence of an opportunity to act like rational adults, you get people who rely entirely on moderation to regulate their actions. This is to say, moderation should allow people to make mistakes so that they can define those things as mistakes rather than trying to prevent a potential future mistake.


I think part of the issue is that the moderation is so understaffed that they don't have much of a choice. A preemptive lock saves time and cuts down on angst, and both of those are important with the forum as combative as it is. But as you say, this leads to both resentment and not caring, as well as giving agitators de facto lock powers.





Babble_ON:I really like the energy and solution-oriented thinking here, but I can't help but feel like we've been here... a lot.

Like, listing out our candidates for modship is all well and good (and both seem like great choices), but it really means nothing without Kyo being an active part of this conversation (and as cognizant of the problem and dedicated toward our solution as we are).


Agreed. One of my hopes for this thread is that an actionable plan can emerge, either with Kyo's input or to propose to him. As you've said, this sentiment has been out there, but it hasn't been acted on yet. I hope that we can generate some good and specific ideas - things that Kyo can evaluate as specifics rather than hypotheticals when the time comes.

(With this in mind, I'd like to re-raise the "technical support" point from the OP as a possibly important implementation detail. Anyone?)





I like how this discussion is going. Bravo zulu, y'all.
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19th Dec 2016, 1:55 AM #11
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I think one of the most important things a mod should do is try to mediate arguments. I get that punishment is required for breaking the rules, but plain banning, warnings or anything that involves "Don't do that" doesn't really alleviate tension, and can only make people want to leave the site later. Preferably, it's a good idea to get people to understand the other side and help those people figure out what they did wrong so, in the future, instead of someone acting like they care about the rules but break them later, those someones can learn morally about what they did. Now of course, punishment will be given if that doesn't work, but there are people who can really benefit and learn from it. I guess my way of thinking is the "good role model and teacher" style; I understand that that's a lot of work for the mods, but I think we're at that point where there needs to be more than the physical actions of moderation for heated emotions to cool down.
19th Dec 2016, 1:55 AM #12
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Answering first to you... Helplessness. Making mods aware it happens, helps. As well making user aware that they do have solution. Albeit I have heard current report system is rather tricky even for mods. Or was it updated at some point?

One thing which come to my mind, is something which allows mods to see fast how many times user had been reported. So if user gets suddenly like 50 new reports, something is definy now wrong.

For technical support, it takes some burden away from high-ups. Albeit it feels more of extra features to solution, than solution itself. Kind of having seat warmers in car. Still probably nice to have...

For others, I'll give something which I heard long ago: "True freedom is inside borders". I don't mind modding or extra modding. They don't feel like something which would hinder myself. I am however aware how some sites are rather gnarly because of oppressive modding, making those places rather bland. This can be mostly avoided if mods have good guidelines. As well ability report about mod to admin.

... But, yeah. Mostly we can now just wait until Kyo arrives again, and refine this discussion meantime...
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19th Dec 2016, 1:57 AM #13
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Also, I never liked the idea that threads should be closed because one jerk started something. I think closing discussions unwisely can lead to serious issues, and punishing everyone because of a couple of people isn't my way of doing things.

Merged Doublepost:

JuicyGrey:Mod or sub-mod? As sub-mod he is definy excellent for General Discussion and probably Mediterranean Avenue. Those places seem be most needing someone like him...


It's basically where I inhabit on the forums - though, I try to branch out.
19th Dec 2016, 2:01 AM #14
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My nonsensical comment about many leaving and many showing up was meant to highlight the fact that we don't know how many or what "many" quantifies [I mean they're users, but are they totally evil users, or is this a perception of someone, or a subset of users who can't tolerate much drama], so it's not a clear basis to fear the ComicFuryocalypse.

On the technical level, I guess stuff could be done by open-sourcing the forum code. Coders could push updates to GitHub and Kyo could integrate them if he approves. On the otherhand, I think GitHub allows private repositories as well. However, once again, we'll be waiting for who knows how long for patches to be added to the site, similar to waiting for moderation events.
19th Dec 2016, 2:15 AM #15
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My nonsensical comment about many leaving and many showing up was meant to highlight the fact that we don't know how many or what "many" quantifies, so it's not a clear basis to fear the ComicFuryocalypse.


That's a point, and I'm hoping to get a better sense of the problem scope out of this thread. On the other hand, I don't think it's alarmist to say that enough people feel discontented or chased away to call it a problem - certainly not ComicFuryocalypse, but ComicFurunpleasant, I suppose.



OpenSourceFury is certainly an interesting idea. My only concern would be who approves the PRs. If it's something only Kyo can do, then we still have the problem of his real-life schedule being a bottleneck. On the other hand, it's definitely more practical than Kyo being the only CF developer, we'd have more eyes on it than with a dedicated "tech support" position, and retaining final veto power might make the idea more palatable to Kyo. Consider that noted!

Also, I believe Matt had a CF-themed repo of some sort, fwiw.




Bolderousness:I think one of the most important things a mod should do is try to mediate arguments. I get that punishment is required for breaking the rules, but plain banning, warnings or anything that involves "Don't do that" doesn't really alleviate tension, and can only make people want to leave the site later.


That's an excellent way to sum it up, thank you! As you noted later, it is a substantial time commitment, hence my thinking that more mods would be a good idea.

It would also make sense, maybe, to discuss possible moderation policies with that in mind - specific steps are easier to implement than a general idea. Anyone?




Bolderousness:Also, I never liked the idea that threads should be closed because one jerk started something. I think closing discussions unwisely can lead to serious issues, and punishing everyone because of a couple of people isn't my way of doing things.


Agreed!
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19th Dec 2016, 2:18 AM #16
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Xenocartographer:It would also make sense, maybe, to discuss possible moderation policies with that in mind - specific steps are easier to implement than a general idea. Anyone?


It's kind of difficult for me to describe this, but there's a principle for police officers I learned in my Law & Justice class where they have to use their best judgement when it comes to immediate issues involving crimes. Currently, that's how I see the moderation guidelines, except without the stress of law enforcement. The mods have to rely on their own judgement within the basic layout of the rules. Whether that's a good principle or not is up to you, but that's where we are in the present.
19th Dec 2016, 2:21 AM #17
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Hey just so everyone is aware: y'all can pm me at anytime with a question on moderation and I'll tell you what it is you want to know.

so long as i actually know.

And if you ever want to like, appeal(?) a thread closure you can pm me for that too. I'm not a dictator, you guys can voice opinons about my work directly to me.
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19th Dec 2016, 2:23 AM #18
Bolderousness
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Nama:Hey just so everyone is aware: y'all can pm me at anytime with a question on moderation and I'll tell you what it is you want to know.

so long as i actually know.


Actually, wouldn't it be better to ask you questions here so the forums can get a public behind-the-scenes to how moderation is handled? It'll make things a lot more easier for people who are afraid to ask, regardless.
19th Dec 2016, 2:27 AM #19
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I was speaking in general, like if i close a thread you can argue against it

Merged Doublepost:

In all honesty, i'm really not flooded with problems on the site so much as everything bad that happens just happens so fast i can't do anything until it's too late.

and when actually moderating a thread i can't really post fast enough before other people jump on the person
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19th Dec 2016, 2:33 AM #20
Bolderousness
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Nama:In all honesty, i'm really not flooded with problems on the site so much as everything bad that happens just happens so fast i can't do anything until it's too late.

and when actually moderating a thread i can't really post fast enough before other people jump on the person


A thing I'd do is allow a cool down period for the thread if it's boiling over too fast. Lock the thread temporarily for a day or two while giving a public message of what's wrong. PM the hit-list of people to tell them the situation. Once everything is seemingly sorted out, open it back up and see if the water is gonna be alright.
Forum > ComicFury Problems, critique and suggestions > The tricky problem of forum drama - a legalist approach
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