So, funny thing.
I was in the middle of an interesting post yesterday. I had just been to WebmasterWorld and stumbled across a thread about an article from Portfolio.com called Slimed Online. The article dealt with two Yale law students who had their reputations dragged through the mud thanks to some unsavory message board conversations. One girl was (wrongfully) accused of having Herpes, another was reported to have slept her way into law school and then there were rumors that were even more offensive than those combined. I was all set to start a conversation about the role of moderation in online communities and how important it is.
And then all hell broke loose on our own blog.
A disagreement arose. Accusations were made. F-bombs were dropped. Tantrums were thrown. And I sat back and watched as my less-than-two-week-old baby was defamed. It was the perfect example of how a community can go from respectful and above board to potty-mouthed and somewhat childish in record time. Yey us!
The situation did add some context to the story, though. And it made me think about things differently.
So the question is, how quick should you be to moderate? When you’re the owner of a blog, a forum, a social network, etc, when do you get to tell your community to STFU? When does their right to speak their mind intersect with your right to run a healthy, riot-less community? And what’s my responsibility? Can I let people see that I’m angry or do I have to play it cool as the owner of the house?
I think it’s a fine line. Personally, I hate any kind of moderation. Maybe its the journalist background, but it never sits well with me. I don’t ever want to edit someone’s words. I don’t want to delete comments. I don’t want to get in the way of your ability to be outspoken. I happily give you the right to call me an idiot and to show me every one of my faults in excruciating detail. However, I don’t give you the right to make baseless attacks. I won’t let you upset everyone else just because you’re having a crappy day. I won’t let you hurt the community that we’re working to build here. I want this to be a place for conversation and debate. Not a place for people (or myself) to act like asshats.
So that means laying out some ground rules for the blog. And once that’s done, it means stepping up to enforce them, even though I don’t want to. I didn’t do such a good job of that yesterday. The fire sparked, grew and burnt out of control before my hands could stop shaking. But I’m a little okay with that. I know it just represents the passion in the air. But as moderator of this community, I still could have done a better job getting the conversation back on track.
If you’re the one in charge of that blog, social network, forum, newsletter, whatever, it’s your job to establish your own line. You have to make it known what you’ll allow and what you won’t and then enforce that. You can’t let people have their way in your community because its your name on the line. Your blog isn’t an open forum. It’s your house. What goes on inside paints a picture of who you are.
The owners of that law message board dropped the ball when they didn’t step in to end the attacks being made on those two law students. When you allow people to throw dirt in your home, it opens you up to lawsuits and headaches that no one wants to deal with. People are watching their online reputations more than ever before. When your blog is holding a conversation that defames someone else, all eyes are going to be on you for hosting it and allowing it to happen. They’re going to want to know why you didn’t take action and why you allowed it to happen. No one wants to censor their visitors, but you also have a duty to keep the conversation productive. You brought everyone to your site. Now you have to take some ownership of that, of its success and its failures. It may suck, but it’s also your job.
Comments about the role of moderation in communities are welcome. Comments about he said/she said, who was out of line yesterday are not. Consider yourselves moderated. ;)