Friday, August 19, 2016

Incapable Enforcers

I first came across internet communities 20 years ago, when I was 12. It was a forum, one about the game Civilization. Sure I'd popped in and out of chat rooms before that, but this was the first place I really 'set up shop' and made my home.

At the forum there was a moderator. I mean. That's obvious, there are lots of admins and mods all over the internet. The problem was this particular moderator seemed to be incapable. Sure he banned people who needed to be banned, and enforced the rules, but, he seemed to be unable to enforce the rules without pissing people off.

He was the first in a very long line of people who I've met who are the same. Most communities have a moderator like this. Compare this to the bulk of other moderators who are able to enforce the rules without pissing so many people off. Sure you will have a personality conflict, but I've actually been at a few very 'free flowing' forums where people have literally posted polls asking who the worst moderator is. This happened two times. Both times the one moderator that I had trouble with "won" both polls with over 50% and maintained that lead throughout the entire poll.

This is not unusual. A quick google will find dozens if not hundreds of such polls. Here is one such poll that I picked because it's not immediately clear which community it refers to. One person leads at 43%, with a massive 27 point lead over the #2.

Now don't get me wrong, when someone gets "yelled at" (translation: somehow gets in trouble with the mods) they almost never feel good. There are many times, however, where someone will get yelled at and recognize they fucked up. There are also times where the person will feel that they are being targeted, However, from time to time, one moderator seems to almost always upset people when he or she yells at them.

Why this is... I honestly don't know. I can't figure out what it is about the way they enforce the rules that rubs so many people the wrong way. I've gotten to know some of them personally, if only as an acquaintance, and they are not bad people. In fact, they seem friendlier than the average person. If I had to guess, I'd say it is, simply, incompetence. They are nice people, and as such, don't know how to "enforce" the rules. They feel that the only way to enforce the rules is to be "mean". At least, I think so. Again, I'm not sure exactly what it is.

In my personal experience, one commonality is that they seem unable to properly gauge the intent of the person they are yelling at, and yet, use their incorrect perception of the intent as the basis for their decision. An example:

Bob and Bill are both part of the same online community. Bob has a paraplegic. Bill has gotten to know him and knows that Bob is comfortable enough with his disability to joke about it, in particular, he likes the idea that rather than going for a walk, he would go for a "roll." Bob also has a funny story about a time he rolled down a hill and crashed into some garbage bins. Again, Bob laughs at all of this. Bob says that these jokes help him feel better about his disability; the fact that he fucks up just like anyone else from time to time. Ben meanwhile is a moderator. Ben knows Bob is in a wheelchair. Bob is not around, but his name comes up in a discussion where one of the topics is keeping your house clean. Bill says "naw, Bob is great at cleaning, he can knock out 3 entire garbage cans at once!" Ben is horrified at Bill being so crass about Bob's disability and bans him for a week.

Now we have the benefit of knowing that Bob would have made the same joke himself if he was in, and that Bill knows Bob well enough that Bob wouldn't mind at all. It's not unreasonable to presume that Bill might be upset at this. Ben, in his ban report, says "Tried to make Bob feel worse about his disability." Again, because we know the full story, we know Bill's words, in fact, would have made Bob feel better, not worse.

This is clearly why, in this one instance, a moderator could rub someone the wrong way.

There are a few ways to "solve" the problem that do not require any staffing changes in the community. The simplest of which is to keep in mind what moderators are around. It will make the community less pleasant, but is still far better than leaving it.

In the end I'm really not sure what it is about some people that cause them to constantly rub people the wrong way when enforcing the rules, but, I will continue to keep my eye out.

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