The What, Why and How of Forum Moderation
The definition of a forum can be found in most traditional dictionaries. For example, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a forum as:
- “the marketplace or public place of an ancient Roman city forming the center of judicial and public business,” or
- “a public meeting place for open discussion,” or
- “a medium (such as a newspaper or online service) of open discussion or expression of ideas.”
Since we live in the digital age where much of human activity seems to be done over the internet, merely knowing what a ‘forum’ is may not be sufficient, we need to know what an ‘internet forum’ is.
According to pcmag.com, an internet forum is “A website that provides an online exchange of information between people about a particular topic. It provides a venue for questions and answers and may be monitored to keep the content appropriate. Also called a “discussion board” or “discussion group,” an Internet forum is similar to an Internet newsgroup, but uses the Web browser for access. Before the Web, text-only forums were common on bulletin boards and proprietary online services. However, Internet forums include all the extras people expect from the Web, including images, videos, downloads and links, sometimes functioning as a mini-portal on the topic.”
Participation in internet forums can be done anonymously or it can be registration-based. Sometimes they get confused with ‘chat rooms’ that facilitate live interaction and are interactive whereas a forum is generally not real-time.
Most forums fall under one of the following categories; product, network, ambassador and support, but while falling under one primary category, there is often an overlap with at least one other type.
Coming of age in the digital age, oWorkers has been fortunate to have witnessed the internet boom from its inception, which has cemented its thinking and helped it become a relevant player in the marketplace for data related services. In just eight years of existence, it has already been selected as one of the three top providers of data based BPO services in the world.
What are some examples of internet forums with a large participation?
Quora – Quora is an internet forum where you can ask a question, any question, and others, anyone, can provide a response. Users can also create customised spaces, like a homepage where topics of relevance to them can be collected together and displayed for easy access. User responses to questions can also be voted on by other users, resulting in greater visibility for the answers considered to be the best.
Reddit – This is a discussion forum on the internet with a simple and easy design and access. Users can subscribe to groups and sub-groups (called subreddits) based on their areas of interest. It is known as a thriving community where people help you find the right answers. A new thread of discussion topic can be started by anyone. As many people like to see their Reddit feed before anything else, it is also sometimes fondly known as the front page of the internet.
The need for forum moderation
A forum is a type of a website that owes its existence to vibrant and meaningful interaction amongst users. Hence, there needs to be a mechanism for interaction to take place. Each internet forum would have its own unique method for it to happen.
Users participate mostly based on their own interpretation of the right way to participate. There is an underlying assumption here that the forum has specified its purpose and rules and regulations as well as what is acceptable and what is not on the forum. It is to be assumed that users, while signing up for it, would have checked the box which said that they have read the rules and regulations and agreed to abide by them.
Thanks to the reach of the internet, barring issues that have a local importance or flavor, many forums are widely participated in from around the world. And people around the world communicate in many different languages. Hence, if moderation is a need, then the ability to operate in these languages becomes as much of a need.
With its centers across three distinct geographies, and an embedded policy of working with a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic team, oWorkers offers the ability to handle moderation services in 22 languages.
Sometimes, despite their best intentions, user participation can fall foul of the specified rules.
This, we could say, is need number one.
Internet activity, eventually, is a reflection of the real world. There are a large number of rules and regulations in the real world, but only a small minority of people end up as criminals, vitiating the society we live in. The same thing happens online. Most people will make all efforts to ensure they are compliant and that their actions do not create an environment that might be harmful for others.
But a small minority will go beyond accepted rules and insist on pushing their agenda through offensive participation.
Let us call this need number two.
These two, involuntary breaking some rule of the forum and wilful perpetration of offensive content, are the two primary reasons that fuel the need for forum moderation.
Moderation enables the forum to stay on its avowed path, and true to the users who have joined based on that avowed path and objectives. If the forum starts seeing irrelevant or malicious content, it is likely to lose its user base who do not want to navigate through the irrelevant and offensive content to find the nuggets of suitable content. Irrelevant content is also likely to lead to impacting its SEO karma, which could impact on new users joining and making the forum a more vibrant and thriving community.
Thus, moderation can be said to be important for a forum by ensuring its health through the management of the content that gets created.
Forum moderation – making it easy for moderators
A moderator is the lynchpin of a forum, and has the ability to influence its eventual success or failure. But that could be said for any job, the ability of the person to make or break it. The additional sensitivity of an online platform arises out of its ability to immediately reach a large number of people.
With its position as a preferred employer in each of its three locations, oWorkers attracts a steady stream of walk-in candidates interested in working for it. This not only keeps its hiring costs low, as it does not need to advertise much to attract talent, it also enables oWorkers to choose from the best available talent and deploy them to projects based on need as well as aptitude.
It makes sense to strengthen the hands of the moderators who carry out this task.
What are some of the things a moderator should be aware of?
There is a reason for the forum to exist
There is a reason the forum exists. It strikes a chord with its users which is why they come to it. That consideration and understanding everything else that may be done to keep the forum sane and its users secure. Participation on the forum, as well as any moderation that might be done, need to be done under that overarching objective of the forum.
Help users – most are genuine
Forum moderation needs to be carried out with the assumption that most users are genuine and caring and sensitive to the needs of others, and hence need to be handled as such. Infractions can be genuine oversights or an inadequate understanding of the rules. It does not necessarily mean that the user is out to sabotage the forum.
It is not personal
In the heat of ‘battle’ sometimes it can happen that a moderator loses objectivity and starts seeing violative participation as a personal attack. That needs to be guarded against, as it can lead to taking decisions beyond the scope of the job. If she steps back, the moderator will realize that none of the users actually know her, or that she is the one doing the moderation of the forum. If needed, ask the organization for help.
Be consistent and fair
Though easier said than done, handling issues with an even hand is always desirable. The organization is likely to have rules covering most common situations that need to be referred to in times of need. If in doubt, consult with your peer group or escalate.
Provide inputs to the organization
As the front-end of the organization most frequently interacting with users, a moderator has the greatest visibility into user behavior. This visibility needs to be fed back into the organization for the continuous improvement of the forum. Equally, the moderator is also likely to be the best placed to identify where the existing rules and guidelines for the forum are falling short. By feeding this information back to the management, she can ensure they stay relevant to the community and, eventually, make her own job easier.
oWorkers’ ability to attract talent also gives it an almost unfair advantage in providing staffing for unplanned peaks in volumes. It can hire almost a hundred people extra within just 48 hours. Beat that!
Forum Moderation should result in consequences
Setting up rules perhaps has no value if violating them does not lead to any consequence. Imagine if murder is a crime in a jurisdiction but when it happens, everyone looks the other way and the perpetrator gets away scot-free. Such a situation is likely to encourage more people to commit the crime. Perhaps even more than if it was never called out as a crime.
The online world being a reflection of the real world, similar rules apply and human beings also behave in a similar manner. This is why, if there are rules for participation, if there is a violation detected as a result of the moderation being practised, the perpetrator has to face consequences, ideally built into the rules and regulations.
Despite the work pressures that moderators routinely experience, oWorkers gets extremely positive ratings from employees, past as well as present, 4.6 out of 5 and upwards, on platforms like Glassdoor. It is a statement not only on the employee policies and treatment, but also on their management team, who themselves come with hands-on experience of over 20 years in the industry.
What are some of the tools available to moderators for violation of forum moderation guidelines?
Inappropriate content can be edited
If you find that the language is unsuitable, or inappropriate external links have been shared, or any other issue with the content that makes it inappropriate, like the sharing personal contact details, it could be handled simply by editing out the offensive content.
Individual items can also be marked as spam so that they stop being available to other users.
Discussion threads can be locked or moved
Occasionally a thread runs out of steam and stops getting traction. Even the originator of the thread no longer checking in to the thread, could be a suitable case for locking. The locking could be done along with a message requesting people interested in the subject to initiate a new thread, even though it is on the same subject. Locking could also be initiated if a duplicate thread has been created while another one is still live. A solution being reached could also be a logical reason for a thread to be locked.
A discussion thread can be moved by a moderator to its rightful location if inadvertently created by a user in a location unsuitable for it.
Deletion of a thread
Deleting a thread is perhaps a more severe action which could be undertaken if spam is detected in it. Deletion can also be done if the thread is not serving any meaningful purpose with regard to the original subject and may even have degenerated into profanities and personal attacks.
This is a higher-level action and typically taken against repeat offenders or in the event of a serious transgression.
With its partnerships with IT companies, oWorkers can access the latest technologies, even emerging ones. This is another benefit clients get as these technologies are deployed on their projects. They are not only GDPR compliant but also ISO (27001:2013 & 9001:2015) certified.
Forum moderation through a specialist partner
oWorkers is now a leading provider of outsourced moderation services. Companies from around the world trust oWorkers with their business, including several unicorn marketplaces. 85% of the clients of oWorkers are IT companies themselves.
With its efficient operational processes, like the saving of cost in hiring, oWorkers is well positioned to offer the finest pricing in the industry, with clients often realizing savings of almost 80%, especially the ones from the US and Western Europe.
Its three global centers offer quick turnaround and are equipped to operate on a 24×7 basis, as and when required by a client. Power your growth with support from oWorkers.