Up Front by Emma Hart


The Up Front Guides: All Things in Moderation (Awaiting Approval)

Like any geek, I have topics I'm obsessive about. Unlike most geeks, one of mine is web community comment moderation policies. So I was interested in Julie's post at The Hand Mirror over the weekend, and the comments it elicited.

It also reminded me that I promised you a Guide to Destroying a Thriving Internet Community, and I like to keep my promises. (Also, I take requests and dares. I didn't get where I am today without people saying 'what the fuck are you doing?'.)

Moderation is for Pussies.

Become a free speech advocate. Let anybody say anything in any way they choose, no matter how big of a dickwad it makes them – and by extension you – look. Sure, you'll end up actually losing speech as users walk away from the bear pit, but those losses will be pretty much invisible. Suggest that anyone who objects to the resulting flood of personal abuse that they harden the fuck up and learn to take a joke.

Further tips on how to manage this approach can be found here: Derailing for Dummies. As a community manager, this guide will help you identify particularly destructive tactics commenters can use to make your community a stressful nightmare. What you do about it depends on your community, because sometimes the best approach is the exact opposite of the above. It may be that you have, somehow, managed to build a community which operates well through peer pressure. Your commenters have constructed a discourse* so healthy that it actively discourages ass-hattery. In this case, you'll have to take a different tack.

Moderation in Moderation is for Pussies

Become a benevolent dictator. Quash all whisper of dissent, even in its most polite and considerate form. Justify this as protecting your poor delicate readership from triggering, derailing and trolling. Ruthlessly police on-topicality. Have entire lines of argument that are forbidden, because 'we’ve had that discussion before'. (This will keep happening if there's an obvious hole in your argument, strangely.) The delete button is your friend. Alternately, put every comment through moderation. That way, nobody even sees what you delete. The best I've ever seen this done was by someone who replied to comments she left in moderation, allowing herself to abuse people who were unable to defend themselves.

If your community is less robust, you can get away with less extreme measures.

Try to be all things to all people. Every time somebody comes along and suggests the community should be something other than it is, change to accommodate them. Say you write a sports blog, and every now and then someone complains that you talk about a popular sport too much. Stop doing it. Okay, you'll alienate all the people who turned up to discuss that in the first place, but you'll keep the new guy happy for the couple of days they hang around before finding something else to complain about. After all, it's the internet: it's not like they could go and find another site that already does what they want, or even set up one of their own. It's your job to accommodate their needs.

Change is a great tool for pissing people off even in a strong established community. If you're really thriving, try changing platforms every six months or so. The uncertainty and disruption this causes, combined with the way it distracts your staff, should really test your users' patience. Less drastically, try changing your colour scheme and shifting all the buttons to interesting new places every month or so.

Attitude matters, too. On no account display a sense of humour. Feministe's current Next Top Troll competition, for instance, is clearly far too constructive, using the most extreme displays of troll-y idiocy to unite its community. My favourite is Joe, who makes some very cogent points about censorship:

you have been reported i am prepared to sue you because the minute you didnt post my comment you violated free speech and human rights. thats right i know lawyers

Total lack of sense of humour combines nicely with the Benevolent Dictator approach. Any time anyone makes a joke, no matter how obviously it's a joke, tell them off for being insensitive. Particularly to minority issues. Particularly if you’re not actually a member of that minority. After a couple of goes, people will be too scared that they'll put a foot wrong to have any fun at all.

Don't be innovative, either. When xkcd brought in a moderation bot that simply deleted any comment that had been made before, the novelty garnered publicity and engaged a community keen to play with the new toy. Whether it worked or not was almost irrelevant. But see how I used the word 'play'? That's almost humour. Being a part of your community needs to feel like work.

Managing an internet community can be a stressful and time-consuming job. Just imagine how much easier it would be with no users. Following these easy steps should have you there in no time at all.

* For those of you playing the Pretentious Wanker Drinking Game, I just said 'discourse'.

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