How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Message Forum

The following is a guide written for admins and mods of message forums. Yes, it’s necessary. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t have taken the time to write it.

Overmoderation

Most newbie moderators — along with far too many old-heads — fail to understand the nature of message forums is NOT to “get to the point,” but rather, to allow people to develop and discuss their ideas, even if they’re repetitive to the point of being painful. Repetitiveness is usually accompanied by changes in wording as the individual or individuals develop those ideas. In fact, repetitiveness with incremental development is precisely HOW people learn to formulate their thoughts. It’s the exchange of ideas where message forums can be so useful with respect to really sharpening people’s understanding about an issue.

Sometimes, that development occurs in leaps of gestaltic progress. Most of the time, however, it’s a fairly slow process, and can be painful for some of the more impatient members of the forum, as well as impatient moderators.

Word of advice: Be patient, as in forever. So long as the members of a thread are being civil, leave it alone. Those who no longer want to read it should walk away and this applies as equally to the moderators as it does to the forum members.

If moderators cannot understand this fundamental nature of message forums, I hear there’s work that needs to be done in about a thousand other outstanding volunteer organizations.

Thread Slamming

Thread Slamming is what happens when moderators close threads at the drop of a hat. If pressed, they will always provide between one and a dozen perfectly acceptable reasons as to why they closed the thread, all of them wrong. They’re only perfectly acceptable to them. They’re rarely acceptable to others, particularly to the members of the forum who’re right smack in the middle of ongoing discussions when a moderator yanks the rug out from under dozens of forum members by arbitrarily and capriciously slamming the thread shut.

Make absolutely zero mistake about it: Slamming threads shut left and right is INCREDIBLY RUDE. It royally pisses off forum members and is a massive disservice to everyone on the forum. It’s akin to throwing up roadblocks on half the scenic roads throughout a picturesque area simply because you don’t like the make and model of some of their cars.

Left unchecked, Thread Slamming is the number one way moderators destroy message forums, namely by driving the more active, innovating, and interesting members away.

Word of Advice: Unless a thread is spam, begins with inappropriate material, or is an exact duplicate of another thread, leave it alone. As for duplicates, merge them and leave a redirect.

Failure to Focus

Closing threads is also a sign of a moderator’s failure to focus on the problem. Moderators often either fear addressing individuals in person, or they ignorantly believe closing a thread on everyone is someone an acceptable way of addressing an issue involving one or two individuals. In this case, it’s like closing Theater 8 out of 16 and kicking everyone out of the theater just because two guys in back are talking. Huh-huh. No. You kick out the two guys. You do NOT ruin everything for everyone else.

It’s the same on the forum. If one person is overposting, being overly argumentative, abusive to the others, or in other ways disrupting the forum, address that individual directly, in private. If two guys are feeding off one another and getting each other riled up, you address both of them directly, again, in private. If you have a situation whereby people are ganging up on someone in an abusive manner, then by all means post a “Hey! Knock it off!” message in the thread and close it, but only for about 24 hours. Read ’em the riot act, in public, temp-close the thread, and tell them to come back when they’ve learned how to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve.

But by all means, re-open that thread.

Message forums aren’t the Army. Don’t punish the entire group for the sins of a few, or even one. Leave threads alone. Hot threads are hot for good reason. Cold threads will die natural deaths.

Overpunishment

I’ve seen good people banned from forums merely for disagreeing with a moderator. Seriously? Do they shoot their neighbors for failing to sweep the sidewalks? Admins, if you’re employing mods like this, FIRE THEM. Your thread is every bit as much at risk from overpunishment as it is from thread slamming.

If someone posts something inappropriate, remove the offending material, place a colored, “removed by moderator” in it’s place, and give the person a warning. Second offense, same removal, but give them a day off. Third offense, give them a week off. Then a month. Then three, six, and a year.

BUT, if they attempt to engage with a defense of their actions, moderators and admins have the responsibility to give them a reasonable benefit of the doubt and thoroughly review their redress for grievances. After all, as we’ve seen from the above length list, moderators often cause more problems than they solve. You, the mod, might be the problem, or at least part of the problem, not the forum member who you’re labeling as the offender.

Failure to Cite

Occasionally, people are banned from forums for no given reason at all. That’s as rude as Thread Slamming. If you’re going to suspend someone, by God tell them WHY. If you have rules, cite the rule they violated, along with the snippet which violated it. It’s a small courtesy, if but if fail, you’re no better than the worst ones on the forum.

Undermoderation

This is what most forums do after they’ve learned not to overmoderate. Naturally, the problem with this approach is to ask yourself, “Am I moderating at all?” If the answer is, “Yes,” then leave well enough alone. If you’re taking care of the worst offenders, but leaving lighter ones to the care of the other members of the forum, then that’s actually the healthiest thing you can do for your forum.

That’s it for now! Good luck!

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