Moderation

Some people are curious how moderators here go about their business. That in mind, you can sneak a look at the moderator guidelines, lifted from a thread in the private moderators forum:

Everything you always wanted to know about being a moderator, but were afraid to ask:

Wages: $0.00 per hour. Holiday and year-end bonuses mean three times the normal paycheck. Overtime gets paid as the standard time and a half. Moderators who are found slacking off will receive a 50% pay cut for each infraction.

Other benefits: You get the privilege of access to this super-secret and always exciting moderators forum, which nonmoderators (except for Distortion [citizen observer] and 180 Proof [short story contest winner]) can't see.

Job description: Keep the forum in good order, eliminate problems, keep things on topic and intelligent, and try to be diplomatic while doing so. Moderation is a form of editorial control. The standards for a discussion forum obviously aren't as strict as for a book or journal, but the basic idea is the same. People submit content, and you review the content to determine whether it aids or harms the purpose of this website. If it harms the quality of the site, you take action to either improve or eliminate said content (elimination usually being the more practical route).

Powers: You have the power to edit or delete any post. Simply click the edit button by the post and you can edit it the same as if it were your own. You can delete a topic using the "thread tools" menu. You can also lock, move or split threads, by using the thread tools menu. As well you can assign warning points and request revisions of posts. These options will be detailed later. You can also moderate forums you don't moderate, paradoxical as that may be. See here for an explanation of why forum assignments still matter.

PF's Goals: Philosophy Forums seeks to create a living archive of good, constructive dialog on philosophical issues. When you look at a post, try considering it from the point of view of a lurking philosophically-knowledgeable person who wishes to read an intelligent discussion. Would such a person want to read the post in question, or would the removal of the post help them better enjoy the site in the limited time they have available? Also consider whether the post is likely to incite responses which will in turn be posts which the lurker doesn't want to read.

The point of the hypothetical lurker is to show that the site is about quality material for the readership, not about making the maximal number of posters happy (though the size of the site's membership suggests the two goals aren't incompatible). In this way it's more like a professional journal than most forums are. Moderators are editors who can reject all submissions which the readership isn't subscribing in hopes of reading, the difference being that we edit after publication instead of before. Considering that a thread posted today will be read by people over the course of the coming decade, though, you should never leave a bad post alone on the basis that it's old -- act as though the publication date is tomorrow, because for some readers it will be. Of course the journal analogy is lacking in many respects since this is still a forum.


It's important to note that all of the guidelines in this post are open to debate. If you think you've got a better way of doing things, please let us know and we'll toss it around to determine how much merit it has.

Things moderators should attempt to eliminate:

  • Harassment of members by other members.
  • Disruption of a forum by a member, most commonly done with negative IQ posts and insults.
  • Spam: threads (typically by new members) consisting of a link to a site and little or no discussion content. If a philosophical link is given for the purpose of starting a discussion about the topic discussed at the link, this need not be considered spam and so need not be removed. Exception: If it's obviously the poster's own site, then it's still spam even if it has philosophy content unless there's a really clear statement of a topic and how the link fits into the topic. Please suggest a ban for spammers or leave a note about them in the trouble posters thread.
  • Double posts: sometimes a member will make the same post twice, a few seconds apart. When you see a case of that, just clean it up by deleting one of the duplicates.
  • Off topic threads: anything not suited to the forum it's posted in... see the "moving threads" section below.
  • Off topic posts: Anything not suited to the thread it's posted in. These are ok to a certain extent and nothing should be done about it them if they're not causing harm, but when they become a significant distraction and derail the thread they should be removed or the thread split... see the "splitting threads" section below.
  • Pornographic images: Remove the images from the post, and if that's the only content of the post then delete the post. Links to pornographic content are acceptable if they're on-topic, since nofollow tags are now inserted to let search engines know that PF doesn't endorse and isn't related to the content linked. A "not safe for work" notice in the post should still be provided to warn people of such links.
  • As far as profanity goes, use judgment. If it's either intended as or likely to be taken as harassment or disruption, edit it out. Otherwise, minor usage of profanity is just fine and should not be edited or scolded just on the basis of being profanity. See here for discussion.
  • Illiteracy. Fix as much poor grammar and spelling as you can stand to. If a post is long and has numerous errors, just delete it to save time. Apply warning points when there are numerous errors, not when there's just a couple. If a person couldn't stay awake through 6th grade English class, their contributions to philosophy are not worth having. Of course a few minor mistakes are fine, and plenty of posters who learned English as a second language fare well.
  • Low quality posts (be they ones that show lack of thought, lack of effort, insanity, or whatever) that waste the time of readers and tend to encourage low quality replies.


On the subject of homework, which often comes up, see the Dealing with homework thread and this older thread. Homework itself isn't inherently off limits -- it's just that homework is often presented in a way that makes it not acceptable. If a topic is just a statement of homework it's inevitably a low quality topic

Moderator Functions:
Note: The moderator functions are found on the 'thread tools' menu at the top of each thread.

Deleting posts and threads: When a topic or post is undesirable you can delete it. Please supply a reason for deletion where it asks simply so that if the poster inquires about it whoever fields the inquiry will know what to tell them, and if the poster is using the moderation notification system they'll get the reason directly. Note that to undelete a deleted post you need to select 'Show Deleted Posts' from the thread tools menu (and to undelete a thread, select 'show deleted threads' in the menu at the bottom of your forum).

Editing Topic Titles: Sometimes people choose pointless or misleading titles like "Hello" or "Tell me about this" or "why?" for their topics. Fix these by selecting 'Edit/Delete Topic' and then altering the title field in the list shown on that page. This is important, we want titles to be descriptive so that readers don't have to waste time finding out if they want to read the thread (and also it helps PF's search engine optimization).

Aliasing Topics: To add a topic to a secondary forum, edit the topic and just select the desired secondary forums from the listed options. This can be used for quality threads that span the subject matter of multiple forums; for example, a thread on the logical analysis of language could be aliased so that it shows up in both logic and language. So far, aliasing has very rarely been used.

Editing posts: You can edit a post just by clicking the 'edit' button in it. Please always supply a reason for the edit where it asks (standard reasons are available in a dropdown for the lazy), so that the poster and everyone else reading will know what was changed about the post (and for the auto-notification PMs). If you need to edit a lot of posts at once, use the 'Bulk Edit Posts' option on the thread tools menu to edit the whole thread.

Moving threads: If a thread obviously fits in better with the subject of a forum other than the one it's been posted in, move it to the correct forum. For example, if there's an "Is morality objective?" thread in the general forum it should be moved to the ethics forum, and if there's an "Is knowledge possible?" thread on the religion forum it should be moved to the metaphysics and epistemology forum. If it's a borderline case, it's better to error on the side of leaving the thread wherever it is -- only move the thread if you're sure of where it belongs. To move, select 'Move Thread' from the thread tools menu. When moving a thread to any forum except pseudophilosophy, consider whether you want to check the box to leave a redirect in the previous forum, so that members will know what happened to the thread (it's up to you if you think the thread is worth it). When moving to pseudophilosophy, please do not leave a redirect as that would defeat the purpose of getting trash off of the forums.

Splitting threads: If a thread goes far off topic, you have the option of splitting the thread into two threads. Only do this if the original topic is being lost because of a distracting second topic. (Minor diversions from a topic are, of course, ok.) To split a thread, select 'Edit/Move/Delete Posts' and check the posts you want to split, the select 'move to new thread' at the bottom and type the title for the new thread. Note that you can also move posts to a different already existing thread there.

Merging threads: Do this only if the threads are posted near the same time... within a week or two of each other, for example. If there are two threads going on simultaneously, both at the top of the forum and both created near the same time as each other, and these threads are on exactly the same topic, then merge the newer thread into the older one. Just select 'Merge Threads' from the thread tools menu.

Merging posts: Sometimes people senselessly make many posts in a row that ought to be one post. Select 'edit/move/delete posts' from the thread tools menu of the thread, check the boxes by the posts, and select from the menu to merge them.

Pin thread: This option makes a thread stick at the top of the forum. This should not be used very often. Normally we only pin 'forum rules' threads, although there've been a few exceptions.

Close thread: If a thread has become a serious problem which can't be rectified by editing and deleting posts, and yet there's enough good content in the thread that the thread as a whole shouldn't be deleted, then you can close the thread by selecting that option on the thread tools menu. Note that in most cases it's better to delete the bad posts or delete the whole thread instead... closed topics frustrate members by letting them read through and think up their reply, then refusing to let them submit that reply.

Bulk Edit Topics: This option at the bottom of each forum you moderate can be useful to modify many topics at once. If a spammer drops in and posts 20 threads, for example, you can use this to delete them all at once.

Related topics: Admins and mods can specify topic id numbers of related topics on submitting or editing a topic. This is different from the automated 'similiar topics'. It will normally go unused, and you should really forget about it.

Topic and Forum Moderation Histories:

To view the details of a topic, including the history of moderating actions on the topic, click its title in the navigation -- Philosophy Forums > Moderators > Moderator Guidelines and FAQ > Posts. To view the history of moderation activity on a forum, go to the bottom of the forum and click "View Forum Details."

Requesting Revisions:

2010 update summary: frankly, requesting revisions is a waste of time and you may as well just delete the post.

Moderators have the power to request that a member revise their post. To do this, click the edit icon by the post and then click 'request revision', which is below the 'delete' area near the top. This is hopeless, of course -- they will either ignore your request or resubmit a nearly-as-bad post... but maybe it makes you feel better than outright deleting. wink

When you request a revision, the post in question becomes unvalidated. This means that it will be invisible. If it's the first post of a thread, the whole thread will become invisible. The poster will receive an automated private message telling them that they need to revise their post, and giving them instructions on how to do so. When they submit an edited version of the post, the moderator who requested the revision will get an automated PM notification that a revision has been submitted. The moderator is instructed in this PM to go to the moderator control panel to check on it and decide whether to accept or reject the revision. If accepted, the post (and thread if applicable) becomes visible again in its revised state. If rejected, the post (and thread if applicable) is deleted.

A good scenario in which to request a revision is when a post's topic is reasonable but the post itself is badly presented such that it makes an ineffective post. (Exception: when you have good reason to think that the person isn't capable of presenting the post well, such as their demonstrable illiteracy, there's no point in asking them to revise.)

Important PMs:

Note that moderators have the power to force members to get a popup notification that they have a new PM (Morrandir's feature suggestion). Tick the 'important' checkbox when sending a moderating PM to force people to look at it. Regular members do not have this power to mark PMs as important.

Moderator Notes:

In your mod CP you can view a lost of most recent moderator notes, and you can access anyone's moderator notes through their profile. Use this to leave a record of issues with members for future reference.

Moderator Whiteboard:

The moderator whiteboard is a place to leave notes for other moderators. For example, you might mention something about a pending revision request or a poster who needs watching. Note this area is hardly ever used to date.

Moderating History:

In the mod CP you can view the moderator log history, and in each member's profile you can select to view topics or posts of that member which have been deleted. Use these options to get a better sense of how consistent a problem someone has been.

Reported Posts:

When a member reports a post as being bad, the moderator control panel will say "1 unresolved report" and when you click the 'view reports' page you will see the report in the list. Click through to the thread to take appropriate action, or click the 'discuss' link to discuss the issue in the moderators forum thread which is automatically created for it.

Please note that you should not discuss with posters who it is that reported their threads/posts. Reports should be treated as confidential, to be discussed just with other moderators and the poster who did the reporting. This is so as to avoid chance of the person whose post is reported taking offense and trying to exact revenge or otherwise being not nice.

When you resolve a report by taking an action, an automated PM is sent to the poster who reported it informing them that it has been resolved in the manner it was resolved.

Ban/suspension/warning requests:

Types of bans:

Thread Ban - Sometimes a member doesn't deserve to be banned, but just needs to be removed from a particular thread where for whatever reason they haven't been able to control their self in posting on the topic of that thread. Post a request with a link to the thread, and an administrator can block a particular member from replying to one particular thread while not restricting them from anything else.

Forum Ban - Occasionally, a member is unable to control their self when discussing the subjects of a particular forum. In such cases, they may be blocked from a single forum while being allowed to remain at the rest of the site. Geoff23 in politics is an example of this.

Suspension - A temporary ban. Paul doesn't believe in these and finds them a waste of time, but you may have better luck convincing dreamweaver to issue one.

Full Ban - A complete ban. Member will no longer be able to post on this website.

IP/Host Ban - Although people using the IPs of banned members are automatically blocked from re-registering, sometimes an IP ban or host name ban is added to cover a wider range for the sake of preventative safety.

Suggesting a Ban

If someone is detrimental to the quality of the site, you can go to their profile and select 'suggest ban' from the admin menu. Supply the reason for the ban, submit, and wait for an administrator to approve it. (Note: Using this interface leaves a nice paper trail should we ever be considering whether you'd make a good admin. You may view this as a positive or negative as you wish. So far everyone seems to view the threat of being made admin as a negative, so the 'suggest ban' feature has been unused.)

Alternately, you can post in the trouble spots thread on this forum stating the username of the person and what they've done. Please place the username within the [profile][/profile] tags, like [profile]Paul[/profile], so that the forum will automatically link the name to their profile. Note that in your description of the problem you can leave links to deleted threads and deleted posts since admins can view all deleted items. You may suggest an action (a particular type of ban) or a warning as you feel may be appropriate -- though suggesting a warning is a bad idea as it will never cause anything to happen, you should be taking the time to issue the warning yourself and then make a note mentioning that you've warned the poster. Additionally, you may wish to leave a note in a member's user notes (see user notes directory thread) to keep a record of the troubles they've caused (though this feature is hardly ever used).

To administrators: when banning someone, please leave a short explanation of why where it's requested. For example, "pseudophilosophy" would be a valid reason. You can just use the preset options or you can type a custom reason. Do realize that this reason will be displayed to the banned person as well as to other members who view the banned person's profile, so especially insulting comments are best avoided in most cases (though I usually can't resist).

Declarations of Moderating Actions

Moderating actions you take are recorded in the moderator log (including that which is viewable on the thread details page) and a notice is automatically PMed to the moderated person if they have so requested in their options. As well, when you check the box to issue a warning point a PM is automatically sent.

A post by a moderator which consists only of "There's no philosophy here; moved to scriptural/factual" for example is counterproductive. At best it interrupts the thread; at worst it encourages the thread starter to reply with an argument for why the thread should've been kept in phil of religion, dragging the thread off into a ditch at the side of the road and leaving it for dead. "I've deleted several posts for flaming" as well is counterproductive. The nonexistence of the posts has already demonstrated the fact (along with the PM notifications), and it encourages the flamers to reply in the thread saying why they don't think the posts should've been deleted.

In-thread warnings fall under the same category -- when you warn people inside a thread (like "Several people here have stepped over the line. Improve your posts or I'll take stronger action."), you're publically scolding and provoking confrontation, which is the opposite of what moderators are here for. Normally the proper way to do a warning is to edit or delete the offending material, and this has a track record of getting the message through more effectively than anything else. You may also issue warnings via PM (or IM) if you desire.

In summary, if you find yourself making a post for the purpose of stating a moderating action you've taken, please moderate yourself for being off topic.

Important exception: when locking a thread (though locks should be rare), please leave an explanation so that people know why it's locked.

Locks

The appeal of locking a thread is the sense that doing so puts an end to the matter. Does it really, though? Does it do it more effectively than other methods? Does it do it without negative side-effects? Consider these questions carefully before locking a thread.

New people come in every day through searches that turned up old locked threads. These locked threads are representing the forum. Consider whether you want the thread in question to be an ambassador which will mold how newbies feel they can act here. Then there's also the general frustration level of posters to consider; when you read a thread on a forum and start thinking up a good response to various posts in it, there's nothing more frustrating than disovering that the thread has been locked so that you can't say what you wanted to say. For the visitor it is much friendlier to either not see the thread or be able to reply to it.

There's an "I'll lock it now and go back and do the right thing later" theory which is popular yet rests on questionable reasoning. The theory argues that locking a thread for a bit allows time to go back and edit/delete offending posts. Isn't this essentially a way of saying "I don't have time to put the dog on a leash, so I'll shoot him"? Maybe you object that the thread is only being temporarily locked, not killed. Very well, "I don't have time to put the dog on a leash, so I'll break his legs and take him to the vet later." If you don't have time to take the action which you consider to be the correct action, doesn't it make more sense to just wait until you do have time -- or another moderator comes by -- instead of doing something that you don't believe is the correct action?

There's another theory which holds that a temporary lock can allow a thread to "cool down." If the posts are too hot, surely they should be deleted, right? And the act of deleting them, surely, will make the posters step back and be more careful about what they post next. If a poster or two is simply unable to retain their cool in a thread, you can request a thread ban.

There are of course occasional times when a lock is advisable, hence the existence of the option. Sometimes a discussion needs to be allowed to run its course, yet needs to be prevented from being necromanced forever -- the Gassendi1 Ban thread in Feedback is an example. Announcements such as forum rules also tend to be locked.

Usage of the Pseudophilosophy Forum

Pseudophilosophy threads are bad threads, but lest we fall into the affirmation of the consequent fallacy it should be noted that a thread being bad does not imply it's pseudophilosophy. The forum is not a trash can; or to put it another way, it's a selective, carefully maintained trash can. Placing a generic bad thread in pseudo is like tossing a loaf of moldy bread into the paper recycling bin.

One common trait of pseudothreads is that they're funny -- though this, again, does not mean that every so-bad-it's-funny thread is pseudo. More important is that the thread is, well, pseudophilosophical. This means that it considers itself philosophical yet fails miserably because its topic or major assertions are illogical or simply insane. A thread on how the universe and infinity can be understood via 8th grade geometry is an example. A discussion of paranormal events or supernatural powers is another, although these are actually pseudoscience and we merely permit them under pseudophilosophy under the theory that science is a descendant or at least cousin of philosophy.

No pseudophilosopher likes to be told that they're a pseudophilosopher. However obvious it may be, these people live in denial and will fight to remain there. Many people will be less insulted by having their thread deleted than by having it labeled pseudophilosophy. It is therefore worth considering if the poster is someone we don't mind chasing away, when moving a thread to pseudo. (Of course most of the time someone who would write a pseudothread is indeed someone we don't mind chasing away.)

Moderating Forums You Don't Moderate

You can moderate anywhere, but forum assignments are still important for these reasons:

  • They indicate who knows a particular forum best and is thus best equipped to deal with a difficult issue. Tough choices are probably best left to the 'native' mods.
  • They indicate where it would be preferable for you to read first given limited time... though really the cause and effect are mixed up here, as where you prefer to read is presumably where you're assigned.
    Under 'new posts' it only shows from the forums you're specifically assigned to.
  • It gives me an idea of how well-watched particular forums are and whether they need help brought in.


When you're dealing with a forum you're not assigned to, make sure you understand how that forum works. Sometimes there are differences. Obvious examples would be that the logic homework forum is more liberal about allowing plain statements of homework, and the Politics/Religion subforums don't require philosophical content, but there are subtler differences.

Note that the Feedback forum is a special case where you should generally not moderate. It's not intended for quality discussions, just feedback, and editing there is often a sensitive issue with people, so you should generally leave everything alone there except for spam.

Useful Links:

Visual Route - Trace the IP address of a user to find their ISP and location. This can be useful to investigate if two usernames might be the same person, or for IP banning.

HostIP.info IP map - Should hopefully show the geographical location of a member's IP address.

Rough IP match - More likely to work than the above. Note that you need to type the IP address into the URL in your browser.

Potential moderators list - This link is just for my own reference mostly, so I don't lose track of the thread.


If something here needs clarification, or if you have other questions to ask, please post a thread on the subject in this forum, or just reply to this thread if you prefer (note that replies will be deleted periodically as their content is incorporated into the FAQ). This thread will remain here as an announcement and will be edited to make it a more complete FAQ as needed, based on questions asked and issues discussed.

Random Q&A:

Q: What does the 'new posts' function show? Are these threads from just the last hour, day, or what?
A: You can customize that with the selector at the top, but by default it shows all topics with new posts since you last visited the forum.

Q: Can users undelete posts a moderator has deleted?
A: No, users can't undelete anything at all, even if they deleted it theirself. When a post is deleted, no user can ever see any indication that it exists.

Q: Does it matter how long a thread is? Is there ever a point at which you close it and maybe start a part II on account of length? Are long threads a server drain? That sort of thing.
A: No, the only problem with long threads it that to get that long they're usually off topic. (There's absolutely no server load difference between a long thread and two shorter threads which add to the same length... besides which, moderators needn't worry about server load, the webmaster handles that.)

Q: How do I go about finding the user's IP?
A: It's listed for moderators and admins in the bottom left of each post, below their name, title, location etc. Alternately, you can use the Mod CP to search the IPs of a member or match an existing IP to a member.

Q: Do long quotes or links violate copyright laws?
A: See this thread for discussion.

Q: Another moderator replied to a post/thread I thought was bad. Should I leave the post alone since they didn't think it deserved moderation?
A: Hell no. Numerous moderators are way, way too lenient and moderate nothing or virtually nothing. In my opinion, nobody is editing as many grammatical/spelling errors as they should, or deleting as many incoherent posts or pseudophilosophical threads as they should. So please, step up and do something someone else passed on.
We're always looking for people who are willing to donate their time to helping maintain the quality of the forums. If you've been registered for at least 3 months and have more than 75 posts, feel free to sumbit a contact form to indicate your interest so you can be placed on the list of future possibilities.
If you'd like to see who's been banned for what by whom, here's a list.
If you want to read posts that have been moderated out of existence, see "The Trash Can" subforum of the Feedback forum.

Please note that not all posts deleted by moderators are bad -- returning banned users and newly banned users with prolific post histories have their posts bulk-deleted in order to avoid wasting so many hours sorting through the posts.
When a poster is banned, their name becomes gray and their title changes to "banned." You can view a list of banned people with short reasons (categories of reasons, really) for the ban at the banned users list.

If you'd like more details you can PM the administrator listed as having performed the ban. We'd be happy give further details.
If you strongly disagree with a moderating decision, you have a few options. If you feel that it was an honest mistake by the moderator, PM the moderator who performed the action to express your reasons for disagreement (in your profile options you can select to be notified of all moderator actions taken on your own posts -- this is on by default). If you feel the moderator is biased or incompetent, you can appeal to a wider audience to get more perspectives on the matter which will either explain their agreement with the decision or overturn it. You may make a thread in the Feedback forum if you want full public participation, or use the contact the administration form if you want your appeal to only be visible to administrators and moderators. This being a philosophy forum, we welcome reasoned disagreement -- make sure you keep your cool and support your case.