Mod cultures - What do we want?
Right now there's a lot of discussion ongoing about community culture, building Tildes' attitudes as a community into something that is solid enough to withstand waves of new users without being disrupted too heavily by newcomers that have yet to learn the culture.
But what of mod culture?
This topic isn't only for those that have mod experience, there are plenty of users with experience talking to mods that have their own negative stories. Over on reddit the actions of one mod team affect the brand-image of all modteams on the entirety of reddit. One bad action by a mod that occurs in a default subreddit backed up by the other mods in that subreddit becomes (in the eyes of users) the behaviour of all "reddit moderators".
Often I see mods making things far far worse by being one of the most combative and hostile in-groups on the site. Talking to users in a manner that is best described as the way the worst teacher in school talked to teenagers as if they were 4 year olds, not listening to anything a user is actually saying and dismissing them outright because they're the user and they're the moderator. I understand some of it comes from difficult interactions with genuinely toxic individuals that waste enormous quantities of time better put towards better things. However what I see are moderators approaching every interaction with every user with criticism as if they are almost certainly the same-old toxic user. This is not the case.
This is exceptionally important here on Tildes because it won't be a mistake to take the actions of one moderator and have it colour your image of other moderators on the site. When the site holds responsibility for moderator actions due to oversight and control then the actions of all moderators are going to be considered the actions of the site and the rest of the mods.
So, how do we want our mods to talk to users? How do we want them to interact with users? What controls can be put in place to appreciate quality moderation? What can stop quippy mods that shut down valid discussion with 1 line reductive answers? Etc etc.
What is good moderation and what is a good moderator?
Personally what I try to apply to my own behaviour is to actually LISTEN to people and act as an equal, or at least present the appearance of listening. The thing that bothers people most feeling like something they care about is dismissed.
What are the many issues that you've see in moderator behaviour (in front and behind the scenes) and in what ways can Tildes go about things differently to stop them?
On reddit, I've been first (of course) a simple user, then I was a mod for some pretty big subs (including a default, back when those existed), and then I left all my mod positions. So I think I'm in a fairly decent positions to post my take:
This has been true of almost every mod team I've been a part of or interacted with. Mod teams that weren't routinely hostile to the out-group were the exception far more than the rule, and were usually the product of very peculiar subreddit communities.
When I was a mod, hostility seemed a 100% natural and sensible development.
We the mods knew what the problems were, what the dynamics were, and what could be done and needed to be done.
We dealt with a small but extremely bothersome minority of users who were perniciously hostile to us, and the defensive mechanisms that we developed to handle them easily extended, through exhaustion, paranoia, laziness and a fair bit of self-righteousness, into reasons to be hostile to anyone who questioned us at all; because being anything less than that seemed like both a waste of time and a potential opening for pernicious users to exploit.
So, instead of explaining to the 1000th user who clearly hadn't bothered to read the rules why we removed his post, we just told them rudely to read the rules, and muted their near-inevitable subsequent message of protest.
If someone publicly challenge a rule that we had established to deal with problematic users, and which seemed to be overtly stifling of less-than-problematic users, we had a very short tolerance for debate, because we felt like we had had it endlessly and always with the same arguments, and that oftentimes people were bringing them up again in bad faith.
A key problem, which tildes already seems to want to tackle from the start, is simple exhaustion. I'd say all teams I was in were simply far too small for the workload. You can only volunteer to handle the same bullshit so many times before you feel like you are entitled to just shut bothersome people up or tell them to fuck off; before you start seeing each user not as an individual, but just as another undifferentiated instance of the same nuisance you've been dealing with for years.
Another key problem, which tildes also wants to tackle, is hierarchy. The mod pecking order, as much as the all teams seemed to want to pretend didn't exist, was absolutely a thing, and effectively created an aristocracy of old timers whose influence was automatically disproportionate to their actual amount of contribution to mod work, simply because they could if they wanted to demod us all, and thus had very real weight to any claim to seniority.
Finally, and again I'm happy tildes wants to tackles this, was the issue of disconnect between mods and communities. With the small subs, being a mod meant being a user 90% of the time, and then volunteering to do some cleanup and some maintenance once in a while.
With the larger sub, you were a mod all the time. You were always needed to do work, and the work took a lot of time, and the anti-mod elements in the sub would not let you live in peace as a user, always bringing up your status as a mod even in irrelevant discussions just to pick fights. Eventually you grew disconnected from the community, spending most of your time in the mod slack/discord, chatting with people who got what your experience was about. That alienation bred a sense of superiority that was toxic to mod work.
Well said. I have a near identical background and experience.
I have a few nitpicks, which I hope will provoke diving deeper and bring us closer to figuring out some sort of "solution" that would improve these issues.
I think these occurrences were not necessarily because of the communities but oftentimes because of particular cultures in the modteams, often driven by the topmost mod marshalling the modteam in the direction of that culture. A "listen" and "understanding" approach as opposed to a "dictate" and "tell" approach. The latter style occurs more frequently for the reasons you already gave - effort and exhaustion. Very few people have the mental restraint to not get impatient with a user for having the brought the same thing up that has been brought up 100 times before. The better modteams know the user doesn't know that, and approach the user with the same "listen" approach and respect as if it is the very first time they're discussing it.
Perhaps it could be encouraged for modteams to document their common issues, document the common discussions, and document the reasoning and back/forth of the issue. This can then be shown to the users that bring up something that has been brought up before. - A downside being that I can already see this being a "send the user a link and then ignore anything dismissively" response.
This is such a succinct and powerful way to put it. I don't have something to add, but I just wanted to thank you for it. Treating people with respect as individuals is really important.
Do you not think that this issue arises even in cases where there is no hierarchy at all? People create their own hierarchy based on the way that the mods speak to one another. And, depending on the mod culture itself (whether people respect the listen or the dictate styles) you'll see either listeners or dictators rising to the top of the hierarchy. To clarify - I use the word dictator here in the non-political sense.
The janitor position. It comes with no arrogance, very little differentiation to the rest of users, it is humble while at the same time contributing something of extremely high importance to the community.
As opposed to the overlord or boss position.
Do you think this is going to be solved just with pure mod numbers then? I suspect we'd see some people who put in extremely high numbers rise up, and I worry that the kinds of people with the free time to put in such incredibly high numbers are not always actually the kinds of well adjusted and balanced people that you want.
I expounded on this at length the other day. I don't know if I'd be as hostile as you suggest here, more likely I'd simply stop "working" as hard on moderating but the root of the problem is the same.
That said, the key difference with ~ is that the issues you've seen a million times can actually be fixed (open-source!)
Do you have any recommendations for modding large communities? Lots and lots of mods? Is there an upper limit which would be too many?
This can also be used advantageously. The old mod who does nothing can still intervene if the active moderation team goes haywire like you described.
Yes, I feel like this is often forgotten: sometimes algorithmic methods of deciding degree of influence just can't capture a person's maturity and skill. Some people genuinely do a good job, some top moderators deserve the spot because they genuinely are the best in that position.
The real problem is figuring out how to construct communities and moderation systems that really put the best in place. And how to discern disgruntled users from genuine complaints from users when a mod goes too far.
IMHO, so far my only idea for a long term reliable approach is to simply make it easier to branch off a community, to allow the community to simply walk out the door and follow who they think is the most competent, without needing to fight over ranks.
I've mentioned ideas before such as allowing parallel moderation (where mod actions are applied to the submission stream like "patches"), and Git like data structures where you can fork off the entire forum, but still cross post natively between the branches (if the mods allow it).
The core idea for why it would work is that walking out and branching off wouldn't cost you much, you don't need to burn any bridges to do so. You just decide that you want a different lead / hierarchy, but you can participate in both in parallel. Posting and commenting primarily on your favored branch, but seeing both. You can replicate in all the threads you like, while applying your own moderation.
And best of all, the large cluster of users wouldn't need to choose a camp. They too can see the existence of the various branches and follow those they think provide the best experience.
This turns moderators into proper curators for their own branches, where they decide what belongs in their niche, and users can follow one, a few or all.
I think the largest boon to a healthy mod-culture and overall site function is a clear-cut set of site-wide rules that are consistently and enthusiastically backed by the admin staff. In comparison with reddit, a mod on a subreddit has a small handful of things that they can do to enforce the "rules" but there's nothing to stop an infringing user from making more accounts or simply interfering elsewhere. The reddit setup effectively leaves the volunteer moderators getting the short end of the stick. I think that perhaps this site could engage in a discussion of having less autonomy in the sub-forums, in order to better homogenize site-wide rules to make the moderator function more clear. Perhaps even calculating or electing "directors" and "moderators" to be separate users that have separate functions, directors focused on actual community engagement, and moderators clearing out the trash. Too often on internet forums, moderators attempt to control discussions through "enforcing the rules" but I think stratifying the moderator duty to be far more concrete will increase the quality of Tildes.
There's always going to be a tension between moderators and users in a community. The important thing that reddit lacks is a good way to remove moderators who genuinely don't have the best interest of the community in mind. That's largely because it's hard to decide (oftentimes) when that's the case. If it were a democratic process where community members could vote mods out, then the mod team would be different each week.
In moderating my fair share of communities on reddit, it's amazing how short-lived moderator controversies often are. Users will be up in arms at the mod team for a couple days, and then a week later it's as if it never happened at all. What's also unfortunate, is that the more active a mod team is, the more likely someone's going to slip up and cause a controversy. The less active mod teams I'm on have had very few if any controversies with the moderation but are generally lower quality.
As others have stated, each community is different and it's hard to enforce a standard for that reason. Let's not forget that moderation is strictly volunteer and at the end of the day the site can't stray to close to treating mods as employees.
There will need to be some improvements, but I think reddit is a good place to start in terms of looking at moderation practices. It definitely needs to be improved, but generally speaking large communities are moderated to a sufficient standard.
Note that this can happen because it wasn't a real problem, but it can also happen because all the affected users left or got banned. I'm still mad at the top /r/bitcoin moderator for silencing roughly half of the community at a very critical time for bitcoin, but I sure as hell won't talk about it on /r/bitcoin because 1) I have mostly stopped using it, and 2) that would get me permabanned immediatly.
Same here. And I'm even one of the top voted commenters in that sub, despite having been inactive for quite a while before the count in question was made: https://www.reddit.com/r/btc/comments/5gx1g8/and_now_for_something_completely_different_the/daxnele/?utm_content=permalink&utm_medium=front&utm_source=reddit&utm_name=btc
My thoughts: https://tildes.net/~tildes/1wc/mod_cultures_what_do_we_want#comment-rkg
Well on Reddit it's different. Each community can choose its own standards and decide who they want to be mod and who they don't. Unless I missed it, how will Tildes choose mods and will they be per group or sitewide? These are important things to consider before moving forward.
Though, all mods should be representative of the site as a whole and have a set of guidelines decided on by the lead mod or admin team - whatever the hierarchy is - to apply to most moderating that they will do.