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Have you moderated or "sysoped" as we called it in the old days, in any online forums? What observations and conclusions have you reached in what you see as the role of the ideal moderator.

Have you ever wanted to be a forum moderator and didn't know how to go about it?

What's the difference between moderating a mental health forum as opposed to a general interest or recreational forum?

What's expected of a forum moderator?

These questions and others can be discussed in this Forum section. Feel free to post your query on the subject of forum moderation here.
 

ThatLady

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I administrate a forum for young (and young-ish) gamers. It's pretty rough in there, and nothing like these forums. The rules are MUCH more lax, at the preference of the forum owner. For those forums, it works...to a degree. Sometimes, things can get really out of hand and both my moderating capabilities, and my patience, are sorely tested. ;)

A mental health forum, as I see it, requires a lot more attention to rules and the requirement that people follow them, and be considerate of others' feelings and possible triggers. It also requires empathy and the ability to understand the difficulties people are forced to deal with when their emotions aren't working properly for them.

On these boards, we don't see many spammers, or trolls. That's really fortunate, as I deal with enough of those on the other forums. This forum, therefore, is a joy to me.

I've always believed that a moderator should participate in the forum, but should keep their participation positive and informative, never judgemental. That's not always an easy thing to do and, often, your efforts to do so can be misunderstood. It's necessary to step back from time to time and ensure that you're approaching touchy matters with a cool hand, and a cool head.

As far as wanting to be a moderator, the best way to accomplish that is to participate in the forum in a productive, informative way. Avoid the "troll wars", share your knowledge, ask questions about that which you don't know or understand, and give of yourself where you can. Endless requests to the administrator to "Make me a mod now!" aren't going to work. In most cases, when a moderator is needed, the administrators and the rest of the staff are hard at work analyzing who they think (among the active posters) would have the most to offer. If you've been active and helpful, your name will probably come up on that list.
 

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I have never had experience in a forum environment where things got out of hand. In the days when Compuserve Forums were the rage, there were very strict rules of conduct. Of course at that time, there was no internet and participation in Compuserve was by subscription, so everyone used their real name and each forum evolved into a community.

That changed once the internet began, Compuserve was sold to AOL and the forum software changed to reflect the desire of AOL to incorporate advertising into the forum software. Recently the branding of Compuserve was changed to Netscape Forums, but the concept of strict rules continues.

I agree that manners and civility are essential in maintaining control of the forum as well as the interest of the forum members.

This would be especially true in a forum devoted to support of medical issues, where members need reliable information in a safe and stable environment.

My own experience in inviting a member to join the moderation staff has been similar to yours. We look at the history of participation of the member, the quality of their responses to others and their eagerness to start new topics of discussion.

my moderating capabilities, and my patience, are sorely tested

Why do you put up with it?
 

ThatLady

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Heh. I'm a glutton for punishment, TSOW. ;)

Actually, I enjoy young people, complete with all their "warts". The owner of the forums is a young Canadian man of whom I'm very fond. While he and I might not always agree, I respect his feelings with regard to how his boards run. The people who participate there aren't like those who would participate on these boards, or boards on bird watching or furniture upholstery. Just as the online roleplaying games attract the very young, and more than their share of trolls and "griefers", so do the boards I mentioned. Yet, there are still those who are inspiring, and those you can reach out to, and those who will come for help and encouragement. Oddly enough, I've been able to do some good work over there, just by being there and "putting up" with them.

I do, however, have my limits. Most of them know, if you cross certain boundaries you'll be out on your ear. While they MUST push the envelope on occasion (it's part of their "charm", so to speak), for the most part they'll toe the line when they realize I mean business.
 

HA

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Because I am looking at moderating a mental health forum which has never been *moderated* and has an inexperienced person responsible for the forum, I need to start from scratch.

How do you deal with the problem of bots or persons registering only to post pornography or drug sites and other such advertsing?

Dr Baxter had the following suggestion and because I don't have moderator status yet, I will have to wait until I do to put this into place.

In general, look for the option of using what is called CAPTCHA or Visual Confirmation - or require Admin approval of every registration the way this forum does (I think that's the safest for a forum where the topics are sensitive and where the sensitivities of the members are paramount).
 

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I believe your forum software is phpBB, so the first thing that needs to be done is to update to the latest version. In later versions, they installed visual confirmation, which means the user has to copy specific alphanumeric characters to complete the registration.

While in theory, this feature should prevent bots from registering, I suspect that bots have been developed to overcome this obstacle. It's just my suspicion and is not based on first hand knowledge.

The other explanation is that spammers hire stooges {to be as polite as I can} to surf the internet for certain types of forums, manually register then post their trash.

A way to overcome this problem {to some extent} is to approve registrations rather than allow users to self approve their registration, much like the way it's done on Psychlinks.

If this method is chosen, then your forum administrator must check registrations daily. People who register to join a forum and who cannot access the forum for several days are likely never to come back.

These are some decisions that have to be made about you intend to run your particular forum.. The policy can be changed or modified as you go along as you gain more experience with the volume of traffic on your forum.

Other decisions include whether guests are allowed to view all or part of your forum, and whether your forum members can edit their postings. Also you will have to decide if you enable private messaging and avatars.

These are some of the initial settings I can think of right off.

Also you need to do regular backups.
 

HA

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Thanks for explaining the spam bot and registration in detail, TSOW. I will be coming back to this once I am set to go. It's a lot of work just to start the process!

I was looking for information on how to moderate a forum and found this resource with many links to read through:

Facilitating and Hosting a Virtual Community
Nancy White

Co-Facilitating
In some online interaction spaces there are co-facilitators. This can be very helpful in busy or large spaces where one person cannot cover all the territory. It allows the work to be spread out when volunteers are used. Co-facilitating can also provide training opportunities, pairing an experienced facilitator with a new facilitator.

Facilitators as Role Models
Facilitators are the most emulated members of a group -- no matter if they are modeling positive or negative behaviors. They are often the first members to be challenged. Integrity, patience, a good sense of humor and a love of other people will be valued in any host. And as virtual communitarian Howard Rheingold so aptly wrote, "One point of heart is worth ten points of intellect."

Sometimes the facilitator is also a "member" of the group. Keep in mind when playing multiple roles in a community that people may not know what role you are "playing" at any one time and react in ways you might not anticipate. Facilitators might see themselves as also "just members" of the community. Members may not. This distinction becomes critical when there is cause for intervention or problem solving. No longer will you be perceived as "just a member." And in some cases, you will never again be considered in that role. You are most often held to a higher standard.

Learning Online Hosting and Facilitation
Most people get their training "on the job." But you can do more to prepare. First, assess your facilitator qualities. Check out the list at http://www.fullcirc.com/community/facilitatorqualities.htm and consider your self awareness by checking out the article on Facilitator Self-Awareness at http://www.fullcirc.com/community/selfawareness.htm.

There are web sites and courses to inspire and guide you. Check out Full Circle Associates Online Community Resources. Participate in an existing community and seek out experienced facilitators to observe. Many are generous with ideas and can be mentors. The Electric Minds community provides members a chance to co-host, to get support as hosts with a topic devoted to hosting, and has established a mentor system for new users to the system. This range of support allows the community to "grow their own" hosts and provide some backup for existing hosts. Non profits are often looking for help with their online communities. For more ideas, see "So You Want to Be an Online Facilitator" at http://www.fullcirc.com/community/beafacilitator.htm
 

ThatLady

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HeartArt said:
Because I am looking at moderating a mental health forum which has never been *moderated* and has an inexperienced person responsible for the forum, I need to start from scratch.

How do you deal with the problem of bots or persons registering only to post pornography or drug sites and other such advertsing?

Dr Baxter had the following suggestion and because I don't have moderator status yet, I will have to wait until I do to put this into place.

In general, look for the option of using what is called CAPTCHA or Visual Confirmation - or require Admin approval of every registration the way this forum does (I think that's the safest for a forum where the topics are sensitive and where the sensitivities of the members are paramount).

I check every new member's profile as a matter of course. We use visual confirmation for membership, but I still check the profile when I see there are new members. Any URLs listed are visited, by me, to ensure their acceptability. Anything unacceptable is removed and the member is sent a private message to inform them of the change to their profile and the reason for the change. I then keep an eye on that profile for awhile; especially, if the member is actively posting. On a really busy forum, this would take a lot of time. Ours only gets, at most, two or three new members a day (on average), so it's not that difficult, really.
 

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Any URLs listed are visited, by me, to ensure their acceptability

You are quite right because often the URL listed is a front for the real thing. So the URL listed redirects the user to a different site, usually a porn site when this technique is used. I also check the email address of new members, because the domain of an emai address will sometimes yield clues.

That being said, a forum needs to have well thought out rules and guidelines that reflect the vision and desires of the forum. These guidelines provide the admins and moderators the necessary tools to enforce the rules based on pre determined concepts and avoids ambiguity resulting in arbitrary or subjective actions.
 

ThatLady

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Checking email addresses is also something I do with all new members, TSOW. It's the little things like this that can save you a lot of grief later on. :)
 

Peanut

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Personally I think this forum is too heavy in the moderation department. I don't see a need for so many moderators--especially given Dr.B's vigilance. To me it seems more like a title than a job.
 

David Baxter

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Toeless said:
Personally I think this forum is too heavy in the moderation department. I don't see a need for so many moderators--especially given Dr.B's vigilance. To me it seems more like a title than a job.

I have to disagree strongly with that.

First, the number one priority and overriding principle of this forum is that it be a safe placed for people to seek help and support. That means weeding out spammers, scammers, and other miscreants who might come here to prey upon or to ridicule or put down forum members. I can't be here 24/7. Neither can any one of the moderators. By having several moderators, especially in different time zones, it increases the likelihood that someone will be online at any given time to take appropriate action to protect forum members and the integrity of the forum.

The fact that you and other forum members may not see moderators doing a lot is a testament to how well they do their jobs here. Inappropriate posts do get edited and deleted with some regularity, often so quickly that you're not even exposed to them.

On a forum like this one, I would say that the best moderators are those who do their jobs so well you don't even know they're there.
 

Holly

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Hi Everyone,
I think if you have great moderators that enjoy being at the forum to oversee the integrity of the forum it will work. The fact individuals who want to assist in this type of forum format with out pay, volunteering time is crucial. The internet and forums have a new place in our world/society. I would expect that will only increase in time. It is important to have the safe environment. Many will not seek out help are advice unless they can do it in a private way! That is just my opinion!
 

David Baxter

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Toeless said:
By having several moderators
You have more than several.

To be exact, we have 10 at the moment. However, at least two of those are currently inactive for personal reasons, and others have limited time to devote to the task, which I fully acccept and which is part of the understanding when I ask anyone to be a moderator. That's another reason for having as many as we do - to try to ensure that the burden on any one moderator is not too great. Additionally, for various reasons, moderators from time to time decide that they wish to resign from the position to devote their time to other things in their lives. This allows us to have some continuity when that occurs.
 

Peanut

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Hey...you are free to do whatever you want--it's your forum (for now :bad:)! I just wanted to express my opinion that I think having that many moderators is not necessary or productive and I seriously question what it really accomplishes and what it really means.

And by the way I am aware of the resignation and/or inactivity of the various moderators.

It's just my opinion though--feel free to completely discount it

OK one more thing...if you look at the list of users that come here...there is about 26 that come every day, not everyone posts and usually about 6 are moderators. I know guests come too, but they can't post so they shouldn't be counted. It just seems like overkill. I mean, the members are not an unruly bunch, are they? :)
 

David Baxter

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It's not generally the members who come here daily that we worry about. It's the ones who are "unknown quantities" (e.g., new members) or who only post infrequently - they are less likely to be familiar with the rules of the forum.

Is it necessary to have this many? Perhaps not. Is it productive? Well, I have access to the logs so I can see who is doing what and I think it is.

I guess I'd ask why you think it's unproductive or a liability, or if you do think that.
 

Peanut

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For one thing it establishes an unnecessary hierarchy and I think that is a liability in a forum like this.
 

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