Online communities: Issues

I used to manage a forum (as a moderator) long time back for an online board system. I did it because the owner didn’t want to! It was an iteration of the “bulletin board system” that predated the Internet as we now know of. Reddit (and others) were absent. Those were the days of Orkut. Yes, its that old.

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I had to give up the moderation duties because the forum was subsequently infested with anonymous people. Although they required email addresses to join in but I didn’t have the visibility in the system. This post was motivated with when I stumbled on this:

Be kind. Don’t be snarky. Comments should get more thoughtful and substantive, not less, as a topic gets more divisive. Have curious conversation; don’t cross-examine.

This is the most difficult thing to enforce. Anonymity, somehow brings out the worst in us as humanity.

When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. “That is idiotic; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3” can be shortened to “1 + 1 is 2, not 3.”

Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that’s easier to criticize. Assume good faith.

Eschew flamebait. Don’t introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents.

Flamewars are natural progression and many users will feel compelled to weigh in their comments, even if it has no relevance to the issue.

Please don’t comment on whether someone read an article. “Did you even read the article? It mentions that” can be shortened to “The article mentions that.”

This, is the commonest issue where users want to demonstrate their “intellectual superiority”. No wonder, the Twitter streams end up breaking out in flame wars!

I faced another issue subsequently managing another forum nearly ten years later. It was the same “rinse and repeat” scenario. As we had the email notifications turned on by default, notification spam became an issue. Moderating (or policing forums) is a full time job.

This has importance for those toying with the idea to have a forum for support services. People will chatter anyway and the politics will be involved. Hence, a word of caution.