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I have seen a couple of websites (mostly forums) that had a small area (e.g. subforum) where moderation was intentionally limited or completely absent. This is usually done to allow people to let off some steam, and allow them to fight their fights in public if they really feel a particular desire to do so.

In one particular case -- an enormous gaming forum -- I remember that this subforum caused immense issues when people used this subforum to publicly insult the administrator, his wife, his children, as well as other moderators and their family members. Even though the rules strictly said that this was allowed, the subforum was closed in the end, and dozens of people were banned from the website.

The question: could/should the administrators and moderators have seen this coming? Is there some way to "keep the sharks at bay" in such a zero-moderation area, so that it does not end up harming the community itself?

  • 5
    I see no reason for such a thing. – bjb568 Jul 30 '14 at 22:03
  • Good thing SE isn't a social networks site or a regular forum – Cilan Jul 30 '14 at 23:19
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A good rule of thumb for moderation is: If it's allowed, expect it to happen eventually.

And here's another one: Users always need to be held accountable for what they say on your site.

This is the all-important question: Why do we moderate? This philosophically drives the answer to your question. The answer, in short, and however each community defines it, is: to prevent things from getting out of hand.

Of course, each community defines this and sees this differently. Forum culture, for instance, might not consider noise replies ("Thanks!") 'getting out of hand,' whereas Stack Exchange does. Each subreddit defines their own rules of moderation.

When you introduce an unmoderated section, you are telling people that everything goes. In short: yes, you have to expect things like this to happen. The fact that the 'authority' has created a moderation-free space implies that it's totally okay with administrators for users to go and do/say whatever they want, when in reality, it very much isn't.

In other words, if you have an unmoderated section, you are allowing everything. Death threats, harassment, violence... all of it becomes acceptable in this one little space. So, when do moderators step in?

Draw the line somewhere. It's okay to have a section which is less stringent about content and topic control, since this allows people to vent some frustration and/or post off-topic content, but make sure you know where your boundaries are and strictly adhere to them.

  • In other words, if you have an unmoderated section, you are allowing everything. Death threats, harassment, violence... all of it becomes acceptable in this one little space. That's really not the case. When users register on a forum they have to agree to the terms of use. Enforcing those terms (e.g., complying with applicable laws by removing death threats or child pornography) is site administration, not community moderation. Semantics aside, there are exceptions to every rule, even when the rule is "there are no rules." – Air Aug 7 '14 at 16:20
  • @AirThomas An administrator deleting a post is still moderation. I assume the OP meant exactly what they said by moderation-free, and if not, they need to clarify. Other than that, my point was precisely what you just said. – Aza Aug 7 '14 at 16:22
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Forums usually have a general topic. This may be a game series, a scientific topic or how to moderate a community.

Usually you want reward your users for participating, often by ranking or similar. But you accept, that people, who are getting familar with the other users, want to talk about other things: politic, private things, music and kitten videos. A lot of forums offer them these "off topic"-subforums.

In sense of moderation these topics are not wished by your community but the community ask for it. So you create a forum but the participation in this forum does not count on their ranking or whatever-digital-point-system.

This is different to your explained totally moderation-free zone. Your story is a really sad one and how you experienced, if you allow people to go wild, they do.

If you want an zone where the hard rules of your community should be soften, a reward-free-zone is more reasonable than a moderation-free zone.

Depending of your legislation, you have still to accept responsibility for the user content.

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It all depends on what you want to achieve. And if you remove the rules, there's pretty much one thing you'll achieve:

Warning. NSFW content, activities you may find highly demoralizing, and generally the cesspit of the Internet.

/b/.

Currently, 4chan lost a lot of its teeth. There are quite a few rules restricting the board, but still these daring to look in there will get a clue about the result. But several years ago, it looked quite differently.

As various boards of 4chan had different rules, the rules for /b/ were:

"ZOMG NONE!!!1*".

Note: "ZOMG NONE!!!1" applies to moderators as well.

The result is something that can be... scary. Let me give you an example. A thread cheering a girl committing suicide due to the /b/'s prior activities: They stole naked photos of a teenage girl they from her flickr account (exploiting some weakness of flickr allowing access to private albums), then found her personal data, contacts on facebook, and sent these photos to her school, school friends, parents, her boyfriend, all with quite malicious derogatory comments.

That's as low as it can get. Are you willing to handle that?

  • Thanks for the history lesson, but this is not really relevant. :-) The major reason for /b/'s decadence is the fact that everybody acts anonymously by default. – Lee White Jul 31 '14 at 9:42
  • @LeeWhite [citation-needed] – Air Aug 7 '14 at 16:20

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