TAO Moderator guidelines

tao
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These are the moderation guidelines which we share with board members and officers for both the TAO website and our slack channel. It’s a good idea for community members to be familiar with them so you know what to expect when mods have to intervene. We’ll revisit these guidelines periodically to assess their effectiveness at promoting a healthy community.

The website terms of service – which are almost verbatim from the original Discourse install – actually do a pretty good job of setting expectations: our job is not to try to change people’s minds, convince them of their moral failures, or make them feel bad. We set expectations for behavior and enforce them even handedly.

In order of importance the behaviors we want to discourage are:

  • Harassment / threats This could be anything from inappropriate PMs to belittling people when they are not around to off-site behavior that makes people nervous. We don’t want to treat all awkward interactions between people as potential discipline issues – but we won’t ignore anything that puts people at risk.
  • Verbal Attacks Not on groups, not on individuals. The individuals part is easy, most of the time, the group part is tougher (especially for people who have gotten their internet training in the era of twitter) because it’s very common to think our own prejudices are “just the way it is” while reacting very angrily when we are in the crosshairs. We want to discourage hostile characterizations of individuals and groups. It’s particularly important not to get drawn into debating the accuracy of one of these things: once it turns into a quasi-debate it can spiral quickly and draw in other people.
  • Instigating fights This is more or less a subset of “attacks,” except it takes the sneakier form of trying to goad somebody else into violating TOS. Part of the art of modding is heading stuff like this off at the pass, so that it doesn’t escalate.
  • Bad Manners . This is a catch all for sophomoric stuff that makes other people irritated or annoyed without rising to the level of intentional infliction of discomfort: a dirty picture in a public channel, a tasteless joke, even spamming party parrots in the middle of a real discussion.

The behaviors we’d like to encourage are the inverse of these:

  • Don’t make people uncomfortable Respect people’s privacy and professional status. This obviously covers harassment issues – this is not a dating site! – but also things like telling people they are idiots for using the string callback form instead of passing functions in Maya. Even a purely technical discussion can be hostile and demeaning if done wrong.
  • Disagree about content, not people It would be nice to preserve the freedom of non-technical communication so that people can occasionally talk about politics, current events and whatever. That’s only possible as long as things stay on a plane where they don’t distract from the mission of the site; personalizing things is definitely a distraction.
  • Don’t put words in people’s mouths There’s a big difference between stating your own opinion (even if it’s one I don’t like) and trying to tell me my opinion from your perspective. The latter is usually the first step on the road to name calling and hair-pulling.
  • Don’t troll Don’t create drama that degrades the site for no purpose. If you really want to let of steam about something unrelated to our community there are a lot of places to do that stuff. Even if you’re not trying to scare, insult, or provoke people, generating drama is a makes the conversation less valuable for everybody. People who come here for advice on, say, HLSL vs GLSL don’t want to be sidetracked into India vs Pakistan or Gamergate vs Gawker.

Modding

Encourage people to report rather than escalating.
In general the community does a good job of diverting unhelpful conversations, but it’s not a regular member’s job to set people straight. The most offended, most upset person is not likely to be the one who can find a way to defuse a situation – as mods we should be the ones to bear the brunt (we can, after all, deploy powers that ordinary users can’t). Plus, if somebody seems to be trigger-happy with the reporting, we can help them understand the rules more effectively in private than we can in public.

Mod interventions, when they happen, should include both the negative the positive.
Building a good community is about more than scolding (“stop doing X”) – it’s helpful to suggest a positive, in-the-guidelines alternative (“you could put it like this…” or “just don’t respond”). We’re now over 1,000 people on chat alone, the likelihood that everybody will actually have internalized these principles is actually pretty low. Plus, we have members from at least 5 continents now – “common sense” in our frame of reference might be “crazy” for others. We can’t encourage good discussion without some good modeling as well as using mod tools.

Harassment / threats

This gets a single warning with a clear message to stop immediately. Repeat offenses will result in a permaban.

Offsite harassment (doxxing, swatting, etc) also permabans. However for offsite harassment we will need some kind of corroborating evidence: we can’t ban X on Y’s word alone or vice-versa.

Do make an effort to identify issues where there are different cultural expectations at work: ‘harassment’ in North America might be ‘harmless fun’ in Japan – at least for the uninitiated. Ultimately our standards are NA standards but we can be a bit more lenient to people who don’t get the nuances at first. It’s worth figuring out if behavior is really worrisome or is just ignorant; ignorance can be corrected, gently. But toleration has to have limits, and the more things pass from “uncouth” to “worrisome” the faster those limits kick in.

As a policy we will always cooperate with law enforcement on issues relating to threats or harassment. We should remind both parties of this in cases where harassment and threats are reported.

Lesser offenses

In general the visible procedure is always:

  1. A non-personalized observation that this discussion is getting out of hand.
  2. Repost the TOS link so that people realize this is a TOS violation
  3. If something really nasty is in public (an image or a slur or something) delete it.
  4. Contact all participants in the incident via PM. Keep the discussion in private channels. If other people complain, don’t go into details but say “X is handling it in PM”.
  5. If people keep piling on, post a clear message that this is being dealt with in private messages and that further contributions of any kind are not welcome.
  6. Once the fire is out, post a neutral summary of what happened (again, not using personal names ), why it was not appropriate, and noting that it won’t be tolerated. If it resulted in something serious, like a suspension or a ban, the summary should include that info.

The first time we see somebody going off the rails, we should interact with them via PM explaining what’s gone wrong and what needs to change. Any cleanup in the public channel should be de-personalized as much as practical (“this discussion is going off the rails”, not “stop it, X!” in public) . The victim/complainant should also be contacted by the mod so they understand the policy as well.

A repost of the website TOS is the ‘batsignal’ indicating that a mod operation is underway.

Mod should feel free to remove messages that violate TOS. If individuals have been attacked, an apology should be suggested. It’s also appropriate to suggest a day off from the site to allow tempers to cool.

A second offense includes a PM but it can also include a public reprimand if the mod thinks it justified (it’d be a good idea to check with other officers to make sure that the public reprimand is worthwhile; it’s humiliating and may make things worse). Part of the second offense should be reminding people that this conversation has been had before, and that we have a three-strikes policy. A 1-day suspension is a good idea.

Third offense is a last chance. A week’s suspension followed by an apology, otherwise a ban. The apology is important for people on the receiving end (this is something we can be frank about with the offender, btw) because the problem is not about a person or about the rules: it’s about keeping the community healthy, and tolerating somebody who lots of other people don’t want around is a loss for the community as a whole.

Style points

Modding is, unfortunately, a bit like parenting. You have to model the behavior you want to see in other members. Be polite, even with people who aren’t. Patience (even exasperated patience) is a virtue. Go slow, and watch your own emotions. Be tolerant but firm, humorous when appropriate but serious about keeping things positive, and above all thoughtful rather than impulsive.

Related to parenting: be proactive. If a discussion is heading for a fault line, a general to-the-air reminder that prevents something regrettable from happening is better than swift retribution after it happens. A good head-off-at-the-pass intervention does not leave a happy “winner” and an angry “loser” – it just moves the conversation away from unhelpful directions gently. Reinforcing via PM is a good second step if the general observation is slow to take hold. Try to avoid publicly denouncing individuals, though if something goes down right in front of you it’s a good idea to say “that’s over the line” and pop up the TOS link as a red flag.

In all interactions with problem folks don’t get drawn into arguing about the merits of what they said or did – emphasize that we don’t have the time, energy or money to deal with drama and we will take steps to make it go away. Don’t be drawn into ideological stuff, a lot of the trickiest mod problems are from people who have no emotional distance about their own ideas and cannot put them aside easily. Make them see our problem: “if this keeps up we will have to choose between you and the rest of the community – what would you do in my place?”

Try to focus on positive next steps: “next time this comes up, do X” or “you should talk about this with Y in private instead of complaining about her in public.”

When taking complaints, balance being supportive with being neutral. You don’t have to defend X to Y, or convince Y that X was just joking – all complaints should be taken seriously and considered thoughtfully. But it’s unlikely that you’ll actually agree with every complaint either – you may have to say, essentially, “I see why you’re upset but I don’t think this rises to the level of a TOS violation right now”. Everybody has a right to be heard and taken seriously; nobody gets to decide all moderation issues for us. If you’re not sure, ask other mods (and don’t forget the TOS link as slow-this-stuff-down signal while gathering your wits).

Don’t discuss your mod conversations with other users, except to acknowledge that they’ve taken place. “I talked to X about what he said to Y and reminded him of the policy” is fine; a detailed take down of X to calm Z down is not appropriate (feel free to hide behind “I really can’t talk about what I said to X, but I am trying to get him to stop saying inappropriate stuff in chat”) We really don’t want somebody to post a screenshot of a mod talking smack about one member to another!

If somebody from the community does a good job in defusing tensions, PM them a thank you. The more people learn to turn the heat down, the less need there will be for this doc.

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