When Does Forum Moderation Become Censorship?

 So you want to be a moderator?

Do you know how many would-be dictators are out there, masquerading as forum administrators and moderators? If you have any experience of online forums you’ll probably know that the administrator is the all seeing eye with God-like powers and moderators are their anointed servants with powers only limited by whatever the administrator sees fit to give them. Very often the admin is the owner of the site and the mods are his mates with a clearly defined hierarchy and powers of separation. This often gives rise to the old adage “Give someone a uniform and they become a tyrant.”

Not all tyrants wear a uniform however and the picture above of The Dear Leader administering his own domain serves as a useful reminder that power in the wrong hands can indeed be a dangerous affair.

Probably for as long as the internet has existed, when small groups of like minded people gathered together to throw ideas around and online forums were created, some kind of moderation has been a necessary evil in much the same way as an exam invigilator or referee at a football game will quietly do their job and largely go unnoticed until such time as intervention is required. You don’t generally see footballers sneaking worried looks over their shoulders every time they kick the ball. The entire game is not about the ref; it’s about who plays in the game and the enjoyment of being there. The end result of course is paramount and the very purpose of the game.

An online forum on the other hand, is not normally a game of two sides and winning is not usually the objective, but with the internet being what it is, where light itself can be bent at will, anything is possible.

How to become a dictator

Where’s the can opener Kim?

I’m surprised Ebay or Amazon don’t sell DIY Dictator Packs; they’d sure to be onto a winning formula for the budding admin or mod and one can only imagine the set of instructions slapped on the side of the box: apply first thing in the morning and only remove when power is relinquished. The big difference here being that becoming a dictator of some tinpot republic with a slew of extravagant medals stuck on your chest can often be a messy and bloody business. Becoming a moderator however, is a slightly less bloodthirsty task and is very often an invitation only event. Take a look around and I think you’ll find that being a dictator today is de riguer when you consider Maduro (Venezuela), Putin (Russia), Erdogan (Turkey), Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Assad (Syria) not to mention The Dear Leader himself Kim Jong-un (North Korea) amongst many others. What all these crackpots have in common is the ability to surround themselves with yes-men and sycophants, a skill that you, the aspiring admin, will need in your toolbox at all times.

Further dictatorial skills at your admin/moderator disposal should be an intolerance of dissent, questioning of authority and certainly the squashing of any questions relating to your authority as omnipotent leader and holy one. You should also make clear to the minions who dare to inhabit your kingdom that there is a very clear pecking order which is incontrovertible, unquestionable and is carved in blood stone. Allow me to offer up the following suggestion:

  • Administrator
  • Super moderator
  • Moderator
  • Cleaning lady
  • Uber poster
  • Admin’s Mum
  • Bronze member
  • Newbie

Naturally you are free to tailor the hierarchy of your fiefdom in whatever way that turns you on and it’s also important that each and every visitor is made aware of the rules of engagement without delay.

Crime and punishment

I really can’t stress enough how important this aspect is to the running of your forum as you would wish it to be. No doubt you will have published an extensive list of terms and conditions which will include every known felony that could possibly occur on your watch, thus barricading yourself behind an armour plated steel fortress of impregnability. You may also wish to consider how to carry out sentence on your unsuspecting targets, especially as you know that nobody ever reads terms and conditions anyway, which is the magic bullet up your sleeve, so don’t forget it.

Cover all the angles.

Many experienced and battle hardened admins prefer the aerial smart bomb approach, usually delivered by stealth, thus no warning is ever received. This approach has the added and very delicious effect of never having to look the newbie in the eye as they can be a tad troublesome at times. The belt and braces and coup de grace of course, is simply to banish their IP address into the gulags and be done with it; satisfaction guaranteed, allowing you to sleep at night like any self respecting dictator. Naturally if you are afflicted with an ill advised rash of benevolence, you could always dole out random infraction warnings as you see fit which has the spicy advantage of putting the sh*ts up those who won’t toe the line and gives you the unrivaled pleasure of watching them squirm as fear takes a hold with its icy grip. Some softie old admins even publish a scale chart of offenses depending on their severity and the kind of sentence the offender might expect to receive, but this often leads to resistance and whispering within the ranks and is not usually advisable. However, overuse of the words snail,boat hook, sunshine, white, black (or any other colour for that matter) should be flagged and moderated with extreme prejudice.

Let’s get down and dirty

Oh the horror!

Remember at all times that the first rule of running a forum is that you are not presiding over some lily-livered democracy. The above extract of T&S illustrates the point perfectly, especially when buried deep in the text so as to be hardly noticeable and from your point of view, brings the concept of three strikes and you’re out to a whole new and mouth watering level.

For added effect, you may also wish to include the following  short but sweet veiled threat in your conditions of service; after all, you wouldn’t want the great unwashed thinking for themselves, conspiring with one another and running off to cry at mummy’s apron strings would you?

Fear is the key.

So, now that we’ve established two key points, that is, questioning any aspect of The Rules openly  on the forum and that PM’s do NOT belong to forum members, you as administrator will have consolidated your position in one fell stroke through the much maligned tool we know as fear. You see, the medicine you are handing out may be bitter at first, but like sheep in a corral, you’ll find that acquiescence will eventually reign supreme, mark my words.

The New Moderator Army.

Some admins go it alone and choose the lonely path of leadership but many take a leaf from Col Gaddafi’s little black book and recruit a small but compact team of moderators, none of whom need to be actual virgins or Amazonians of course, but you get the idea. In this case it’s vital that each is given a clear incentive to wield the sword of Damocles in the form of regular ego boosts, gold stars or if you’re feeling particularly generous, a new title such as Global Moderator or any other such fancy title. Rest assured that they will wear those medals with pride and gusto and remain loyal like the lapdogs you wish them to be. Encourage them to inject keywords into the moderation list so that your subjects are constantly kept in the dark and on their toes. You know it makes sense.

Wait outside!

Post and like counts are the currency of the forum and the surest way to keep your members on their toes is to dangle a ban over them, with the additional penalty of a post count reset. You see, serial posters wear their post count as a medal of honour in the same way that you the mod wear your title with pride. The big difference here is that only you can zero their post count and reduce them to the humiliation of newbie status at the flick of a switch.

Are you a censor?

A vile and pernicious question if ever I heard one. Of course you’re not a censor; you’re simply following orders and ensuring that your followers are only exposed to information that you want them to see. As author of this piece I’m squirming with delight at being able to share with you some golden nuggets gleaned from a forum which shines like a beacon in an otherwise tawdry landscape of pseudo democracy, in a land which has had it’s fair share of flirtation with that very noble ideal.

Naturally some of these screenshots have passed through the board of censors and thus have been rather spoiled, however it’s not difficult to see the onerous task our friend at admin has on his hands and one has to wonder at his patience and understanding. One only has to peek at the kind of questions our overworked and undernourished admin has to fend off on a daily basis to realise that some forum members simply won’t take no for an answer.

But if for one moment you were to stand back, look at the bigger picture and be reminded of the words of Charles de Gaulle “Silence is the ultimate weapon of power“, you would shudder at the thought of that weapon being used against you wouldn’t you? After all, your very existence as an admin/mod is only propped up by the very audience you pretend to serve and if indeed the weapon of silence did strike in ever deafening waves you’d very likely find yourself sniveling in a lonely corner of your crumbling kingdom asking yourself where it all went wrong.

Well, you’d have to ask yourself one question.

Do I still want to be a moderator?


9 thoughts on “When Does Forum Moderation Become Censorship?”

  1. This is some heavy stuff. I know I have no desire to become a Moderator or a Dictator, I just like to share some of the things I have experienced with a PC. I will respect the chain of command but I will not always agree with the one in charge. Have a great day Marc. Daniel.

  2. Great article Marc! There is a lot of inherent truth there among the wit.

    This type of of behavior is not restricted to forums either. I know of one quite popular tech blog which acts in a very similar manner. If you research the site you will not find one negative or critical comment, only those of a positive nature emanating from sycophantic followers. That’s because the admin DELETES any comment which is even mildly critical or contradictory.

    I would submit a comment of complaint but they would only delete it. 🙂

  3. My IP address has been blocked on one linux forum because I told them that they were snarky after I had several less than friendly replies to a question on their forum. Most linux forums are very patient and kind to mine and others dumb questions. I am sure it is a thankless job being a moderator.

  4. I have the privilege to belong to a wonderful forum where flaming, jousting, blocking, banning, censoring etc just does not occur.
    We have a moderator but her job mainly involves adding new buttons, how to get photos to load better or putting a topic in a better section.
    Some members have left because we fail to ‘fire’ when they chime in!

    Yes we are a small group but we help people worldwide with their horse’s feet problems.
    We respect each other’s views as we each have a similar yet slightly differing method of trimming horse’s feet. We don’t place ourselves on a pedestal of perfect ability. Neither do we drink cool aide!

    Other such similar horse world forums indulge in the most grotesque versions of flaming, self aggrandisement & full-on running down the new member & other members.

    But unlike those ‘other’ horse forums, between our members, we generally manage to successfully help the new member for as long as they need our help. All free of course.

    Now that HAS to be unique in the forum world!

    So if you have never seen such a respectful forum, take a look here:-

    1. Clissa, delighted that you’ve found a balanced and friendly forum; it makes all the difference.
      Coincidentally, my brother keeps horses and I’ve passed the forum link to him, although whether he will sign up is another matter, for the reasons stated in my article. Once bitten, twice shy one might say.

  5. A great article Marc, full of truth, having ‘been there, done that’. It was many years ago when there was very little frantic abuse using every swear-word known to man, and individual likes and dislikes were respected.
    The moderators didn’t have a big hammer, only a small, silver one, Maxwell style.



  6. Remember that Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. One may be a good and honest politician, but their reign will be short, Mindblower!

  7. Is it too far when a forum like a certain Thomas The Train forum *I won’t mention it here in case I get censored* starts banning people because they are not like the hard going “OMG A NEW REDUB ME MUST HAVE IT! MY PRECIOUS!” and complaining about TRAINZ simulator models not being all put together having to hunt for certain files?

    Furthermore you have to have an account just to VIEW the forums. You can’t even browse as a guest to see if it’s an active forum or not.

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