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There are many perks to having a chatroom associated with a website. However, the chatroom is fast paced, and there are typically less than 15 users active at once. While there is often a moderator around, there are instances where a problem occurs when a moderator isn't around. By the time a moderator is available, the moment has passed, and the only references are logs and user's opinions of the issues.

Here are a few examples of situations that will need to be addressed:

  • Flaming
  • Spam or trolling behavior
  • Discussions involving sensitive topics (such as suicide)

It may be days before the users involved are seen again. How should we moderate the chatroom to handle situations for when there is no active moderator available?

  • 2
    What is the problem you are trying to solve? Are you worried about spam? Are you worried about language? Are you worried about heated debates concerning pirates vs ninjas? – Andy Jul 30 '14 at 0:58
  • @Andy I've updated the question to specify the possible issues. – Tanner Jul 30 '14 at 1:07
6

I notice you've tagged IRC, so here are some IRC-centric ways to solve your issues.

  • You could use +m channel modes to moderate the channel whilst you're away. This won't do much aside from prevent people from chatting whilst you're away, and is more of an extreme.

  • Use a bot that monitors chat and will promptly issue punitive sanctions

  • Use a bouncer like ZNC to maintain your presence (this could be more of a bluff, but it will also give you logs)

  • Set out the rules or a link to the rules in the channel topic/server MOTD

Because IRC works in real time, short of using these methods, you may have to promote some users either to IRCops for your server/network, or to halfop (% using UnrealIRCD) to give them some power.

  • You can read more about channel modes here: link
  • You can read more about IRCops and access levels here: link
3

IRC is a tricky beast to moderate in general. If you're involved in the administration of the chatroom, definitely look at appointing some of the most responsible and active members of the chat during different times of day as a moderator so they can assist with controlling the chatroom and ensuring that thing stay civil.

The bonus with IRC is that you're not always tagged as a moderator and depending on the chatroom's setup (IRCd software, whether or not it has services, etc) you can appoint moderators who have restricted access and only can use their "rank" to help moderate when needed.

This works better for larger channels, but a similar process works with even smaller ones. Automated methods that detect swearing or otherwise bad behavior (such as a bot) can be useful if moderators can't be found.

1

The ability to flag and automatically deal with flags will solve two of your three example problems.

Spam

If a user is posting spam, your other users should be able to flag the posts. After a certain threshold is met for number of flags, the user can be ejected from the room. If possible the offending messages could be removed as well.

Flaming / Trolling

Generally this isn't as serious as spam, but can be handled the same way. If a user accumulates enough flags, they are ejected from the room. In this case, I don't think removing the messages is appropriate as it hides the trail of what was done. Unlike spam, it can be useful to go back and see this behavior.

Sensitive Topics

This is going to fall into a few different categories.

  • "Upsetting" topics: User is considering suicide; User is considering going to Vegas to marry the stripper he met in Reno; User is 17 and wants a baby now and is going to trick her boy friend to get said baby.

In all of these cases, what is the moderator to do? Ban the user? The user is sitting in your chat room, discussing their life choices. Be a human and talk to them. Obviously they are upset or confused or in need of guidance. Talk to them. If you can, steer the conversation to something constructive (suicide hotline, divorce statistics for elopes in Vegas, life outlook of single teenage mothers).

  • "Controversial" topics: The United States should torture kittens and makes them into pudding; Spying on everyone is great; Moderators are power tripping people.

Again, what is the moderator to do? All of these can start as constructive conversations. Assuming they don't head into trolling territory, they could even become heated discussions. That is the point of your chat room. Discussion. A chat room can't be serious all the time. On the flip side, it's not always going to be fun and games either. Topics will be raised that people have opinions about. Let them discuss them.


If your software doesn't have the ability to raise flags, perhaps another automated system can be built. Can a bot be added that could perform moderation duties and accepts flags? Your other option is to trust more of your users and grant them moderation power.

  • Andy, if you wish to give your answer more specificness, the subject in question is a program named IRC (Internet Relay Chat), which is a text-based realtime chat program. It can employ the use of bots, but has no flagging system (unless you script one in, but that would use a bot :P) – Talisman Jul 30 '14 at 10:17
1

On IRC there's not much you can do without a moderator being there, so your realistic options are

  • closing or restricting the chat room while all moderators are away
  • trusting people to keep it clean and check logs if problems are reported
  • using a bot
  • giving more people access to moderation privileges on the channel.

A bot could do things like punish for certain common offensive phrases and post automatic replies to educate users after they post something they shouldn't. A bot could also be used for things like vote-kicking and informing moderators outside the chat on a related site or even by email.

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I don't have any experience of moderation outside of SE so this answer only applies to those communities - I hope it is useful nonetheless


I don't want to come across as saying that chat isn't useful for the community, or that there is no need at all for moderation in chat, but I think it should be said that we shouldn't lose any sleep about chat moderation:

  1. Chat is way less visible to the outside world than main. It's also infinitely less useful. The only useful purpose of chat is if it is being used to help build and knit together the community of users producing useful content on the site.
  2. Because of the above, there isn't the same issue with 'broken windows' and urgent cleanup needed in chat. If there is an issue, it's more likely to be concerning whether the community is being harmed by folk falling out in the room, or the minor (but still important) effect that the site's main chat room has on welcoming new users familiar with the sustem.
  3. If someone is chatting, they probably aren't asking or answering questions on main at the same time. If an important user rage-quits chat are they likely to rage-quit the site too? I think they aren't and may even start contributing more - until it's all eventually forgotten and things settle back down.

So "How can I effectively moderate a chatroom without always being there?" Just gently moderate chat when you are there - blatant abuse will be taken care of by chat flags and everything else can likely wait until you are back.

  • 1
    You have a constant theme that chat is second fiddle to “main”, but I don't see how that follows from the question. It's true in some communities (e.g. Stack Exchange) but not in others. – Gilles Jul 30 '14 at 12:36
  • I'm speaking from my experience on SE, I've no idea how chat works in other communities and a question about every internet community would surely be 'too broad', wouldn't it? – Jack Douglas Jul 30 '14 at 12:39
  • An answer that's specific to SE would be a worthwhile, if partial, answer. But you should clarify that you're only covering a small part of the domain space. Being applicable to more than one community doesn't automatically make a question too broad! – Gilles Jul 30 '14 at 12:42
  • 1
    Thanks Gilles, I've edited in a disclaimer. – Jack Douglas Jul 30 '14 at 12:44

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