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Turns out Kim Keller is a character in a series of graphic novels made by a guy who goes by the initials L.E.O. It had absolutely nothing to do with the police and it was all just a series of coincidences that led up to a harmless misunderstanding.

But if *I* had that misunderstanding, it's reasonable to assume that my other players might also have the same misunderstanding, and have cause to feel unwelcome or unsafe.

So we talked about it a little and we ended up erasing the memento, which I didn't feel good about (I would have preferred to just change it so that it didn't set off any potentially harmful misinterpretations).

The important part here is catching these things early, because if someone misinterprets this thing to mean blue lives matter, and talks about how that makes them uncomfortable, and the creator isn't around at the time, then that sort of convo can spiral.

This is the sort of thing that can easily lead to long and often unproductive conversations about what's allowed on the site, about censorship, about consideration of others' feelings, about culture wars in general, and then twelve hours later when the original author logs back on they're confronted with this absolute FIREHOSE of Discourse about a thing that they *didn't even mean to say.* They were literally talking about something completely different!

By then the conversation isn't even about the thing they made, it's about These Things In General, and the creator will either have horribly uncomfortable and complicated feelings about this whole Thing they've accidentally unleashed, or they'll take one look at it and go "Nope," erase the thing, post "I was actually talking about a graphic novel," and go hide for a little while until it all blows over.

Moral of the story is that it's _totally okay_ to apply your moderation privileges to things that are absolutely, 100% harmless, but which have the potential to be misunderstood to be something hurtful. Catch them early before they're seen and misunderstood, explain to the creator that you know they didn't mean it like that, and where possible work with the creator in question to resolve the issue and avoid misinterpretations.

Online Community Moderation Thread Part 93819: the same story going round and round forever

Been watching this Scott Cawthorn thing play out (the Five Nights At Freddy's guy, who it turns out was secretly donating the game's profits to far-right abusers while publicly donating to useful groups to give himself a veneer of respectability).

If you've been moderating for a while you'll see the same social mechanics play out over and over like clockwork, and you'll feel frustrated at this.

You'll be like, "This only last happened a couple of years ago, don't people learn?"

Remember, your site has new users since the last spin of the merry-go-round. Some of them are in their teens!

The FNAF community is handling their Milkshake Duck situation poorly because they trend so young that for many of them, *this is their first Milkshake Duck.* Their first ever! You remember how much you flailed and how much of an ass you made of yourself during *your* first Milkshake Duck, don't you?

You'll continually go through the same stories over and over until a portion of your userbase is old enough to recognize these cyclic events, and then you'll keep going through them because you have new users, but the old users will roll their eyes and go "Pfft, kids today."

The solution - I'll say it again! - is to list common harmful social mechanisms *right there on your website,* so people recognize and derail them on the fly.

Again, it's gotta be right there on your site, and *tailored to your audience,* and in a place that's easily accessible for reference. If you're a gerbil site, talk about the time Yummy Nuts Gerbil Food partnered up with the Handmade GerbilSkin Pillow guy and the absolute mess of how your community responded. Your community has some cultural memory but on the internet it's not worth Jack if it's not written down.

(armchair admin moment: Y'know what I would've done if I ran the FNAF subreddit during Milkshake Chica? I would've posted a notice and then shut that crap down. Gone read-only for a couple of days. Milkshake Duck events are a time for personal reflection and emotional processing, not for reading the hot takes of internet strangers. ("Hot take" is shorthand for "I haven't thought this through at all but I want to be the first to post it in case I get lots of redoots or uptweets or whatever."))

(surfing random waves of algorithmically-amplified emotion is not a healthy thing to do during a traumatic event. A Community Consensus will attempt to form within literal minutes of the news breaking, regardless of whether anyone's had time to sit with their emotions or not.

Of course shutting down a subreddit while it's at the absolute peak of its traffic is unthinkable, because corporate-owned internet wants us to think that numbers going up is good.)

(it's often a good idea to do the things that corporate-owned internet would find unthinkable. Corporate-owned internet does not have its users' interests in mind.)

One wrinkle to the "Shut it all down and let people think for a minute" approach is that for a non-zero portion of the userbase, this community IS how they think, how they process, how they identify themselves, and suddenly yanking that away and forcing them to sit with their own emotions would be cruel to them. I'm aware of that.

I said earlier in this thread, "You will have to deliberately hurt someone." That's important to keep in mind if you want to run a community website.

Online Community Moderation Thread continued, red flags for an early ban:

* using "god" or "hero" or "deity" or other wanky self-aggrandizing crap in their username. You'll wanna be up to speed with the semi-obscure names of almost-forgotten gods that undesirables tend to use, including spelling variants (we had a guy who named himself Asmodius who ended up in prison, you can probably guess why but it's actually worse than you think).

* framing commonly-held community standards as "unwritten rules" and demanding that every infraction of theirs results in a new Official Rule. This ends up with you writing new rules for one person - which means making everyone read the new rules (and go "huh? people were seriously doing that?") when really only one person is the problem, and that can easily be solved with a ban rather than pointlessly inconveniencing your entire userbase.

* Talking about free speech, censorship or the first amendment in the context of a single website is an early indicator that you're dealing with someone who has a child's understanding of free speech. This is someone who'll cause you problems later on, because when they say "free speech," they really mean "free web hosting / free audience." Ban early, and if you feel like you must, remind them that they can make their own website with whatever rules they like.

(the "if you feel like you must" bit is there because some admins do feel like they must explain bans to the banned. A ban is so you don't have to deal with or talk to that person again, and I personally don't bother. I'll talk to them plenty before the ban, but after it's done they're outta my life and someone else's problem. If you talk to those you've banned, you're opening yourself up to an pointless and unpleasant interaction that will never end.)

A common denominator between many of the folks you'll want to ban from your website is that they all want to see what they can get away with.

More often than not, they treat everyone around them the same way. That includes work colleagues, intimate partners, you get the idea.

Someone who consistently bends the rules will eventually victimize your other users, if they're not already doing so. You'll find out when half a dozen come forward at once.

Ban before that point.

Semi-related to the topic of serial abusers and their crossover with people who get banned from websites, and on the subject of people not coming forward with reports of abuse; if people treat you as the admin with disproportionate respect, if they call you "sir" or "ma'am" or "boss," that's a problem. That makes you less approachable, which means people are less likely to come to you with abuse reports. Tell folks to knock it off, you just made a website.

(me, early in Improbable Island days, a twentysomething dumbass who thought he knew better despite being in the internet's Edgy Cringe Is Cool Actually era: "Haha lol I have a cult"

me, very shortly thereafter: "oh shit I have a cult, this is Bad Actually"

me now, a latethirtysomething dumbass who thinks he knows better but at least does know better than he did ten or twelve years ago: "Don't let folks turn you into a cult leader kids, it's Awful Actually")

(lotta Actually going on here huh)

(the "Don't call the admin sir" thing is actually in the coc. Improbable Island has probably the biggest coc you've ever seen ( and that particular thing used to say "unless it's obvious you're joking," but now it doesn't, because to newbies it's never obvious someone's joking)

Earlier on I said "If it's make a new rule for one person or ban the person in question, just ban" - I also wanna make clear that codifying your community norms, writing them down as part of your CoC in a descriptive (as opposed to prescriptive) way to remind you and others of what the community is like when it's at its best is Good Actually.

I also wanna reiterate that online community management is tricksy and subtle and sometimes contradictory

Online community management thread part ten billion: hobby degradation

Another awful online social dynamic I wanted to highlight (in case you hadn't had enough of those by now) is the zombie-consumerism takeover of the hobby forum.

It works like this. Rich guy joins the forum and starts posting pictures of their massive collection of gerbil tanks, admin doesn't say "Hey this site is "look how nice I am to my gerbils," not "look at my huge bank account," piss off Richie Rich," trouble ensues.

Many hobby communities end up like this.

If the "I'm rich, look at my stuff" posts are left up then they'll inevitably become popular because folk like shinies. Popular posts set the tone, especially if you've been shortsighted enough to attach visible engagement numbers to posts.

(adding a "high score" to casual social interaction is a really bizarre thing to do with predictably awful results but sites do it anyway for quick dopamine hits)

You'll get more of these sorts of posts.

Furthermore you'll get fewer "Look at this awesome gerbil tank I found in a dumpster and spent a few weekends refurbishing, here are my tips" posts, because the tone of the place has been changed by the rich invaders. The tank refurbishers now look upon their method of engagement with the hobby as being out of necessity - which for many it was! Talented hobbyists get that way because they weren't able to just buy their way out of a problem!

If this dynamic is left unchallenged then the community devolves into wallet-flashing and unboxing videos. The point is no longer to engage with the hobby itself but to spend as much money as possible, as visibly as possible, and to critique others' spending habits (when someone spends a lot of money on a thing but suspects they might have been ripped off, some feel ashamed and are quiet, and some feel compelled to defend their decision to anyone who'll listen).

This isn't a dynamic you have to tolerate. It happens because admins don't remove wallet-flashing posts. The solution is self-explanatory; treat these types of posts as spam, move them to the trash, grumble a little bit about how rich people ruin everything, rinse and repeat.

(it's tempting in situations like this to go "This always happens under capitalism." That's a cop-out. Yes, capitalism and the fetishization of consumption are to blame. No, that's not a road you want to go down, because it dead-ends at "Welp, nothing we can do." You can't fix capitalism as a whole all by yourself, but you can fix your online community. Capital will try to persuade you that you can't; ignore it)

Thread housecleaning:

This thread is long and unwieldy and hard to process and neverending because the subject is long and unwieldy and hard to process and neverending. If you're intimidated by its length then consider this a taster for what you'll have to deal with as an admin!

This is a stream-of-thought thing where I just toot out whatever comes to mind as I think of it, it doesn't have a table of contents or chapters. I might write a book one day, I might not, consider this a draft.

Thread housekeeping (housecleaning was a brainfart) part 2:

Some folks are asking again if they can turn this into a blog post; by all means link to the thread as it evolves but hold off for now 'cause I'm by no means finished, also be considerate of others replying who don't want that. Check earlier housekeeping posts for my stance on screenshotting etc

Popping this onto the end of the community moderation / admining thread because it's tangentially related and there's notes of responsibility to audience etc.

I'm writing an MotD about COVID-19, trying to encourage those of my players who haven't yet gotten the vaccine to get the vaccine.

This isn't the sort of thing you'd expect a game website to do, and I'm... kind of wondering why that is, and trying to deconstruct my hesitation and figure out why this makes me uncomfortable.

I guess my biggest concern is that I run a game website, and it's not my place to give public health advice. But then I can counter that by looking at the tactics of our enemies; internet trolls, psychopaths and hostile foreign governments are similarly unqualified to give medical advice and yet they do so anyway, to great effect.

Whether I like it or not, whether I'd normally do it or not, these aren't normal times and if I've got an audience, some of whom could be persuaded to get a vaccine, some of whom wouldn't get a vaccine otherwise, then I've got an obligation to make the best attempt I can.

Next consideration, how many minds am I likely to change... probably not that many, but if it's even potentially non-zero then I've kinda gotta make the effort.

I'll let y'all know if I get any blowback, but tbqh yeah there's gonna be blowback. Being an admin is kind of all about blowback.

Update: there was absolutely no blowback whatsoever and some people gave me money.

I wibbled around a lot, typed out some very long MotD's and deleted them, and ultimately went with something shorter:

"A rare serious update here, especially for those of us in the USA: the Delta variant of Covid-19 is here, and it's not fucking around.

"If you live in a country where vaccines are available, and you've been putting off getting one, I implore you to ask your doctor about it.

Plenty of folks figured they had a low risk of getting or spreading the disease and were putting off getting the vaccine so as to let the elderly and immunocompromised get first dibs.

"If this describes you, I applaud your patience, but those of us at most risk have all had the jab now and Delta is killing and hospitalizing people who previously didn't have as much to worry about.

Again, ask your doctor, they (usually) know what they're talking about - don't trust me, I'm just a stranger on the internet, and the internet is full of bullshit."

In my experience, people who are slowly realising they've made a horrible mistake are just as likely to buckle up and double down as they are to actually change their behaviour, unless handed an escape hatch. Hence giving the willfully unvaxxed an opportunity to go "Uh, yeah, just making sure everyone else who needed it more than me got it first!"


Adding onto the community moderation thread:

I just saw a guy in another thread do the whole Let The Lies Spread argument: instead of banning misinformation and propaganda from your site, allow it to stay up because your users will argue it and show it to be nonsense, and anyone watching will see it debunked and form a sensible conclusion.

If that's a thing you believe is true, still, in 2021, when people are eating sheep deworming paste, then you should NEVER run a social website.

· · SubwayTooter · 5 · 36 · 56

If you let the sheep worm paste posts stay up and put the responsibility of debunking it onto your users, then random bystanders (who would have never thought of eating sheep worm paste) will see two people arguing about sheep worm paste.


And they'll be right. Because you hosted that argument. You facilitated it. You paid for it to happen on your property.

Your regular users don't want to argue with weirdos about sheep worm paste, but they will, because they like your website and don't want it to become a rabbithole into the upside-down.

They'll resent you for putting this labour on them. Many will leave and the ratio of normal to sheepwormpastebrain will go in the wrong direction.

"The best solution to bad speech is more speech," bullshit. That's been tried by facebook and reddit and twitter for a decade and it's ruined whole countries.

(for context, the dingdong making this ridiculous and proven-dangerous argument was doing so in a thread about Lemmy, which is a federated program that mimics reddit, which apparently exists because reddit *hasn't* spent sixteen years proving its format to be garbage?)

(who looks at a hivemind-inducing, nuance-eliminating, meme-spreading outrage-encouraging hot-take-rewarding upvote/downvote Skinner box and thinks "Ah yes, the problem with this is that it's not FEDERATED")

Community moderation thread continued: I recently saw a messy moderation incident play out in a very public and very cursed way, and in trying to untangle the thread of bad decisions that got to this point, I figured I'd talk a bit about power, because it looks like this is where the whole mess started.

Much much earlier in the thread I said that some people will resent you or treat you differently for the "power" that they think you hold over them.

I know, "power" over what someone does on a website in some small portion of their free time doesn't feel like capital-P Power. Especially not here on the Fediverse, where you can just pop onto a different instance and carry right on. But many people don't see it that way - they see your deletion rights over their comments as real, serious, make-my-very-words-disappear POWER, to be feared.

(as an aside, in my experience this kind of thinking tracks with people's mental state; when folks are having a bad mental health day (or week, or month, or...) they're more likely to view you as POWER ADMIN. Some kinds of depression manifest as paranoia, and even being talked to by an admin can be terrifying!)

Now most people don't actually want power, and are (rightly) suspicious of those who do. You made a website to have a laugh with some mates, not to have power.

Well, I've got some bad news for ya, buddy.

Whether you personally think you have power or not is as irrelevant as the distinction between having power, and having a bunch of people THINK you have power.

So while you may think you're talking to someone under your power as a friend, to them it doesn't feel that way. To them it feels more like talking to a boss or a teacher or a doctor or a judge, someone with power over them.

It's very very easy to hurt people from this position.

(this is why I cringe reading guides on how to set up social networks for your real-life friends. This dynamic ends friendships.)

Take this "I have power" dynamic and put it anywhere you need to make a delicate decision. Even though you just run a website, people (especially those in a fragile mental state) think you have power over them, so you have power over them. Offhanded remarks will be taken deeply to heart. Casual banter is ill advised.

Once you're an admin, to some people you're no longer a person, you're a cop. No matter how you act, no matter who you are, Power = Cop to some people.

This is why it's often useful to have informal intermediaries and advocates between you and your users. Most people don't have this "Admin = Cop" mindset, and those who you're friendly with will often (without you needing to ask (you shouldn't ask)) smooth things over with people who might be afraid to bring things up with you. Cultivate these intermediaries by thanking them privately - don't put them on the spot or give them an expectation of future interventions, just say thanks.

(I'm not talking about mods here, just normal users who you're friendly with. I have several players who I often want to promote to mod status but keep being reminded that they're more accessible and helpful *without* the Official Mod Hat that can frighten some delicate users)

It's on my mind, both because of the Bad Decision Train I saw unfold on another instance and because of my own experiences lately - mental health and bans.

I recently had a chat with a player who asked me to erase all of their characters. They were having a very bad time mental-health-wise, the Island was making it worse, and they wanted their characters erased because they couldn't stop themselves from logging on.

(even if you design your site so that it's hard for people to use it to hurt others, people will find ways of using it to hurt themselves)

Anyway about a week later this player turns up again with a new account. At this point, with the conversation about how they hurt themselves with the site fresh in my mind, I issue a permanent ban - both because I don't want them to hurt themselves, and because I absolutely will not consent to them using *my* website to hurt themselves. I may not be able to stop them from hurting themselves elsewhere, but I don't consent to being made a part of that.

And this is one ban that I don't disclose.

The decision about whether, when and how to talk about bans really has to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

If a player is banned because they pose a risk to other players, then we tell EEEEVERYONE, because Discord is, regrettably, a thing.

If a player is banned for cheating or being a general dick, well, that's a maybe - I might mention it in chat but it doesn't warrant a Message Of The Day.

If a player is banned to protect themselves more than other players, then no, that's not a thing we'll talk about. Because of our position of power (whether it's real, imagined, or whether there's really any difference between the two) it would be at best inappropriate for us to do a public announcement about an issue that involves a user's mental health.

Sometimes this starts a rumour mill churning. Which sucks, but the churn's gonna churn. Refer to earlier "ban for lying about mods" bit.

Refer also to earlier "Be thick-skinned" and "People think you're a cop" bits.

Being an admin means that sometimes people will hate you and tell lies about you, and there's nothing you can do about it that won't make it worse.

There's a lot of good times involved in being an admin too, but you have to be prepared for being hated and lied about. This is important. If you honestly don't want that, if you think that would outweigh the good you're able to see and do, then this isn't a job for you.

More for the community moderation thread? Aye sure more for the community moderation thread.

Improbable Island made a grand last month. For a hobby that'd be AMAZING. For a full-time job, that sucks. Especially for a moderator, sysadmin, artist,
writer and developer all in one.

But this is the way it goes, running a website for money. Some months you're rich, some months you're poor.

Some folks don't do well with uncertainty but if you grew up scrabbling then you'll have an easier time!

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@ifixcoinops I guess people who miss forums and mailing lists but who aren’t aware of forums and mailing lists. Persistent threads, longer posts…

I thought you might have have been subtooting that Lemmy thread. Then I scrolled up on the monster of that thread. Thank you, it's validated everything I think about learning from fandom drama etc. Treat is as online community history. So much this.

@onepict Haha I was indeed subtooting that Lemmy thread :P

But yeah fandom drama, particularly, is incredibly illuminating on how people behave online, and yet this vast treasure trove of drama writeups and analysis gets ignored or written off as... well, Fandom Drama, by new community managers who pull a Surprised Pikachu face when the exact same thing happens on their site :P

I think there's a bit of snobbery about fandom anyway in some tech circles, it feels a little like a naughty secret. But I saw it online, on LJ and on Tumblr. The drama repeats itself and a small fandom is a close knit community. When it scales up it's unmanageable. Stories like MS Scribe and the Bit of Earth saga, show how bad actors can cause strife, in some cases fraud, and definitely reputational damage.

It's also a very different feeling being in a small community where drama happens and being outside pointing and laughing. Which I did as a 20 year old. There's a point where on occasion you do need to leave as the drama comes.

But my on-line empathy and how I try and behave online is definitely experienced gained and from observation.

@onepict TBH I think that's the only way to get good at online community management. Do it for ten years minimum, and another ten years beforehand on the user side. And yet big tech firms keep hiring folks in their 20's.

I think that's because big tech thinks in terms of the technology rather than the soft skills. Those community skills can be hard to quantify when your metrics are based on growth. Plus who's going to take you seriously when you reference your fandoms and also being an avid reader of fandom wank during the early 2000s. That interview would be awkward

Although the most amazing story from that time was Miss Scribe and the epic write up about it. Heck the story about the write up is interesting from the detective work involved. A text book example of a bad actor in a community, gaining power and influence through manipulation and sock puppets.

It may just be about a Harry Potter community, but the BNFs (influencers) were grown professional adults, they had power in the community. Take the lesson from the intent. Not the subject of the community.

Miss Scribe found the divisions in the community and for want of a better word, performed psyops to gain power. I reread it last year and the write up. Just wow. You should write a book, we need the community management guides.

@onepict Aye too right, folk don't see it for what it is, especially in male-dominated spaces. And even outside of those spaces folk are sometimes afraid to bring it up 'cause then that means talking about the stuff you've seen online, which can provoke the question of "Soooooo... you into that stuff, huh?"

(sometimes from folk who are equally into that stuff but aren't "out" as such)

Fandom in the early 2000s was queer. So not traditional male spaces. You also had the mixture of very young kids coming in. Older folks who were the zine generation and the rest of us in the middle. Fandom is one of those spaces that keeps refreshing and then the kids discover the olds have always been here. We are just tired. We have literally seen it all before. I need the oracle gif from battlestar galactica now.

@onepict (aye that's what I meant, phrased poorly - I meant that young-male-dominated social tech companies don't look towards fandom as a source of info on How Things Can Go Wrong, because they think "oh that's just fandom drama.")

One of my best mods was an old-school fandomlady who only retired from modding because she had to put her affairs in order before moving into hospice care. She was very wise. She died in 2019 and I still miss her.

One other opinion I didn't agree with was trying to separate the software from the politics. When it's the main instance on a fairly new platform no matter how good it is you may not have the momentum in the community to fork.

I don't think you can separate tech from politics, you also can't try and reduce concerns about toxic elements in a community as "its just politics." Software is created to communicate and shape our perception of the world around us. It's for People, and politics is also about how our political systems are in theory about the people. Trying to deny it puts you in the same camp as the management of basecamp. Politics like it or not is a huge part of FLOSS.

Although I also recall politics being a huge deal, I remember I had folks on my flist who were very shy republican as the group I interacted with were democrat and very socialist with it. So there's nothing new about the push and pull with that.

@ifixcoinops imagine if a 20th century publication had just had the editorial policy "we will print literally any letter that is sent into us, no matter how harmful, misleading, or outright libelous it is" They'd have been shuttered in two months.

"Everyone deserves to be provided with a platform and an audience" has NEVER been what free speech was about.

@bulkington Precisely. When bad actors say "free speech" online, they're not actually talking about being able to say what they want; they're talking about compelling someone else to do the work of providing them the means to do so, and demanding someone else do the work of connecting them to an audience. "Free speech" online often means "Free web hosting and free audience."

@ifixcoinops short correction: injecting sheep deworming paste.

@ifixcoinops I think there can be a place for that sort of debunking, but it requires a particular sort of context which is rare, such as a dry academic forum debate, a court room or a structured truth and reconciliation process.

I've seen various people make that argument - that the truth is stronger and will win - but out in the wild this doesn't work. Lies spread faster and can do damage quite easily, particularly when combined with fear. Truth, like trust, is slower and harder to establish. With the internet's centralized communications systems, the power of lies is further amplified.

@ifixcoinops for note, that deworming paste is a standard treatment for rosacea in humans.

Nevermind the hundreds of studies showing its effectivness against viral infection.

I think that the only sheep in need of deworming here, is you. Don't believe me? Then go ahead and prove me wrong. Start here if you can only look at CNN and ABC.

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