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As an Admin on a forum, the responsibility is to grow the community and ensure as much as possible that the members are enjoying their time on the site. The moderators on a site should be trusted individuals that understand the direction and purpose of the site they are moderating. They should be people that are trustworthy and open to learning. Moderators will also have different styles when it comes to interacting with members. This is all fine and good.

However, when a moderator of a site single-handedly decides that the direction the site is taking is not in the best interest of the community and rallies outspoken and volatile members against the staff, what recourse does the staff have to minimize the damage done?

This moderator is regarded by the community as a leader and demodding or banning them would certainly invite major conflict.

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    So in your case, you have a staff member who is acknowledged by the community? Did he just say that some things have to happen? Or did he do anything? You say taking action against the rogue mod will harm the community, still you mention that he rallied the outspoken and volatile members -- do you fear a harmful conflict with these users? Or do you fear that they could influence your "normal" users? – Zerotime Jun 25 '15 at 21:41
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    @Zerotime The action taken by the moderator was to undermine and go against decisions already announced by the staff publicly. The fear is that the community could split. – Juan M Jun 25 '15 at 21:45
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    Go against the staff how? Are they saying (loudly) that they disagree with the position of the staff or are they utilizing moderator privileges to cause damage? I think this is going to be important in how to deal with the situation – Andy Jun 26 '15 at 5:23
  • @Andy They are disagreeing loudly with the staff position and could use moderator permissions to reverse some changes made (removal of certain users). – Juan M Jun 26 '15 at 18:03
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If you want to stop the moderator from doing whatever it is s/he is doing, you have two options: force or reason. The implementation of the first would be removing moderation privileges from (and perhaps removing more privileges, and perhaps even suspending or kicking out) the moderator in question. It's been established that that's not really an option at the moment. It's obviously best to explore the non-violent option first. I wouldn't completely rule out the use of virtual force, though - there's always a possibility that it may be the best option.

The use of reason entails a discussion. The first thing that springs to mind is a forum-wide discussion. That, however, is not a good idea. It's clear that the moderator in question has support, and I wouldn't extend that support community-wide - meaning that you could have different factions springing up. I don't know how much support the moderator has, and it doesn't seem like you do either. That's fine; it's impossible to know. But there's a huge risk of inviting a "major conflict" if you bring this into a forum-wide discussion.

What I would recommend as a replacement discussion is a dialogue between you and the moderator. Discuss the policy and his/her implementation of it (or lack thereof) and try to reach some sort of compromise or agreement. The most important thing, though, is to make it very clear that s/he is not being disciplined; disciplining is not good because it implies hostility between you. Be friendly. Discuss and try to reach a solution.

A variant of this is bringing in other moderators. I would advise against bringing in other admins because that sounds a bit like bringing someone in front of a tribunal to be court-martialed - which, as I said, will make the moderator feel hostile. But bring in other moderators. If you have a small amount, then things could go well. Larger amounts can cause conflict - not on the scale of the site-wide conflict you alluded to, but large enough. Whether or not you choose to bring in other moderators, make sure that you come across as friendly. Do not be an antagonist.

Hopefully, you've convinced him/her. At this point, your problem is nearly solved. If the moderator is indeed looked upon as a leader, then s/he should have no trouble bringing the other users around to the same point of view. The one issue that could spring up is, of course, if, after all the discussion, the two of you do not reach an agreement. Then you have a large problem.

You have two choices at this point:

  1. Get rid of the moderator's privileges.
  2. Bring it for a forum-wide discussion.

Remember how I said to not rule out the option of removing the moderator's privileges? Sometimes there are no good options. I'm currently reading Freedom at Midnight, a book about the formation of India and Pakistan, and one of the two lessons applicable here is that there are plenty of times where there is no good way out.1 You may have to cut your losses.

When making the decision between the two, here are some things to consider:

  • How many other moderators are on my side, and can they keep this rogue moderator in check? Doing nothing might not lead to results as harmful as you expect.
  • Am I right? Always question yourself. Listen to the other side's arguments.
  • How many supporters does this moderator have, and how much sway do they have? Think about whether or not this conflict could really happen. There may be some support for this moderator, but it could just be a bunch of hotheads yammering. A vocal minority could be doing all the talking, and it might not be hard to bring the silent majority to your side.

These aren't the only considerations, but they're some of the most important. You have to question every bit of the situation, even things you took for granted - like you being right about the issue. Consider everything. Everything.

From here, the course is yours. You need to make sure you know a whole bunch of these variables - depth of support, your own confidence in your position, etc. - before choosing one of the options.


So, as a summary:

  1. Have a heart-to-heart with the moderator, or a heart-to-heart-to-heart-to-. . . with other moderators, and try to bring the moderator around.
  2. If this fails, consider everything. Balance the damage done by the forum-wide discussion with the damage done by suspending the moderator. This is the key. Make a list, if you have to.

If you choose to suspend the moderator:

  • Be nice about it.
  • Make the reasons known to the community.
  • Be prepared to take flak for it.
  • Make sure that the other admins agree.2,3

If you choose to opt for the forum-wide discussion:

  • Set some order up.
  • Keep a time limit.
  • Stop immediately if it deteriorates into a bloodbath of words.

1 I have already discussed the other one, the use of nonviolence.
2 It would be embarrassing if the other admins disagreed with you.
3 This is more important than I may have made it out to be.

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    Generally, I agree; however, about this: "Discuss the policy and his/her implementation of it (or lack thereof) and try to convince him/her to change his/her mind." – IMHO you should never go into a discussion with the goal to convince the other person. If that's the only outcome of the discussion that you'd accept, the discussion is pretty pointless. Of course it is possible that you end up convincing the person you're discussing with, but you being convinced or finding a compromise are just as likely. – jPlatte Jun 26 '15 at 0:57
  • @jPlatte That's something I should have given thought to but didn't consider, thanks. Given that I talked about reconsidering his own position, would it be better to change that last bit to "and try to reach a compromise or agreement?" – HDE 226868 Jun 26 '15 at 0:58
  • Sounds good to me. – jPlatte Jun 26 '15 at 12:56
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Step 1: Communication

With any option you choose, I think, the process needs to start with a frank discussion with the moderator in question. I assume that the staff wants outspoken moderators, but doesn't want open rebellion. In this case, the discussion should solicit the moderator's feedback on what isn't working. However, the direction of the site (presumably with some input from the community) has been decided by the staff and announced. The expectation is that the moderator can follow that direction.

The moderator probably has legitimate concerns, from their point of view. Attempt to determine what those are from your discussion. The idea here is to suss out items that the staff may have missed or not anticipated. You may also discover a point of view that was completely ignored in your decisions. Reiterate the points back to the moderator in your own words to ensure that you understand what they are saying. Then, explain to them the next steps in the process (you talk to colleagues, etc. etc.). Set a reasonable date when you can get back to them with results. I'd also reiterate that you expect them to follow the announced policy in the mean time.

At some point, the staff needs to talk about some of these concerns. Some may have been brought you and discussed to death. Others may be brand new. Importance of the issues is best determined by you (or other members of the staff). Are you flexible on how policies are implemented? Are there issues that you won't (or can't) budge on? Discuss this and come up with a response. Remember that a valid response is "the policy is not changing".

Finally, follow up with the moderator team (so that everyone is on the same page). Summarize the issues, like you did at the end of your talk with the moderator individually. Once again, this shows that you understand the issues being discussed. Then explain what the outcome is. It also helps people understand your point of view if you can explain the "why", especially when they are getting a response they didn't want. "This policy isn't changing because of X and Y." It's a good idea to post these clarifications in public too, so that the entire community has a clearer idea of what is going on.

At then end of this process, if you didn't changing anything to make the rebellious moderator happy, I'd anticipate a small amount of backlash. If you have a private area for moderators, I'd allow this. It's a good time and place to further explain the why. If you don't have such an area and the backlash not stirring up the mob and handing out pitch forks, this is also a good place to explain the why. If the mob has been rallied, then it is time to do damage control...

Step 2: Use of the stick

If the moderator is performing actions to damage the community (removal of users is mentioned in the comments), then their permissions need to be revoked immediately. They have violated the trust of the staff and are no longer welcome to perform their position as moderator. Their role is to help the community flourish, and their actions have hampered that.

If the moderator continues to rally their mob of users after the discussions above have occurred, I believe they also need to have their permissions removed. It is at this point that they have gone beyond outspoken and concerned about the community to openly hostile to others (the staff). They should not be tolerating that behaviour of users toward one another. The same expectation holds for them.

Revocation of moderator permissions will generator some amount of drama. I've found that the best course of action is to present the community with a brief summary of what happened and why specific actions where taken. In the case of the moderator abusing power, it's nice and simple: "They have violated our trust by performing actions they should not have. As a result, we have removed their moderator powers. We trust our moderators to perform actions that benefit the community. This did not occur..."

If the revocation comes after the discussions and re-rallying of mob members, I'd pull portions of the discussion in the public. For me, this would include the summary of the issues brought to you, as well as the determination of what will and won't change. Make it clear that the moderator wasn't removed for having a different opinion, but for how they performed their job.

Step 3: Fall out

At the end of all of this there is the fallout. Either the moderator still has their position and has toned down their comments (win for you) or they have not and have lost their position. In either case, the staff will be asked why something did or did not occur. Try not to take these as personal attacks. People are curious and may be trying to further clarify what the policies mean. Answer the questions.

You may also need to replace a moderator after this. Start your process of selecting a new moderator. If this is done publicly, I'd mention (again) that you want moderators to share their concerns with the staff and not just be "yes men".

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