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How should I behave as a user when I'm also a moderator, especially in cases of inter-user disagreement over content or policy?

I have my own reasons for thinking I'm right, of course, but I don't want people to think that I'm going to moderate by fiat when I really just want to have an opinion in the community discussions.

  • is this question specific to Stack Exchange? – Malachi Aug 1 '14 at 14:08
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    I don't think so, @Malachi. On moderators.SE, I think we should assume that people are talking about moderation in general unless they specify a context. – Lee White Aug 1 '14 at 20:10
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Am I a moderator or a user?

You are a moderator.

That doesn't mean other members of the community don't value you anymore as a person or contributor, but it does mean that everything you do or say has at least the potential to be read through 'diamond shaped glasses' and so it pays to always be aware of that.

diamond glasses

Ironically this can even apply to actions before you became moderator, but there is not much you can do about that! An example from a Stack Exchange site:

enter image description here

Moderators aren't powerful world leaders of course, but this question is a bit like a president wishing (s)he could walk down the street or do a bit of shopping like a 'normal' person - maybe not everyone will know who you are, maybe not everyone will care (watch out for those guys!), but it's unrealistic to think you can escape the role in public.

I think the answer is to try and be humble - get a reputation as someone who is willing to listen to criticism, willing to admit mistakes and who doesn't shout anyone down. That doesn't mean watering down moderation, it just means how you behave after moderating! Again, not everyone will notice/care, but much of the community will then accept your off-the-cuff comments and friendly chat for what they are without losing respect for the diamond.

  • uh... probably :) -- sorry, I tried, but I couldn't help myself. Great question, and great response. It's kinda the "spider man" thing "With great power comes great responsibility" – Baronz Feb 15 '16 at 18:23
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This boils down to community culture and possibly community tools. If your community has a way for you to post as non-moderator that is a great way to interact as a user. For example, Reddit allows you distinguish a post, marking it with an 'M'. This is a good way to show that it is a moderator speaking officially.

If your tools don't allow this kind of distinction, it becomes important that you state explicitly that you are offering an opinion as a user not as a moderator.

In either case, though, you are still associated with the moderator group. How that is handled depends on the culture of your community. If your community has a history of moderators stepping in only to "lay down the law", then that is how interactions are viewed. If the moderators have a history of interacting, posting opinions, and interacting with user content (both good and bad) in an unofficial way, then the community will see it as a normal interaction.

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    Technically the M can be overridden to other content, that's CSS ;-) – jcolebrand Jul 29 '14 at 20:01
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    This reminds me of the Pope speaking ex cathedra – Dan Aug 13 '14 at 16:41
9

In a smaller forum, where moderators actively participate as users, and take moderator actions relatively rarely, we've added a special markup for "Moderator speech".

enter image description here

As long as the moderator talks in "user mode", their opinions are to be treated as just that - opinions from a fellow user. You're free to disagree, dispute, oppose, discuss.

If moderator intervention is required, the mod breaks out the "moderator speech mode" and whatever is said in the golden frame, is law. We don't do this leisurely, and users who get the golden frame inside their own posts know they did something seriously wrong.

Primarily, if moderators had to act as moderators at all times - unable to take part in heated discussions, unable to have personal opinions which are not exactly in line with "official opinion of the site" etc - we wouldn't have any moderators. Or we'd need to hire some. Thanks to the "moderator mode" they are able to participate in site life as common users normally, while being able to step up to the position and duty when need arises - and never have the users confused when they speak privately, and when as representatives of the site.

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    I do like this solution, and I've seen something similar in a couple of places. The ability for the moderator to take off his metaphorical hat for a time is wonderful. – Brian S Sep 2 '14 at 22:30
5

It's very difficult to distinguish official moderating from normal membership of a community. Being a moderator brings a certain level of respect, but also a certain level of distance from that community. I have listed a few options I have used / seen used over the years to try and help overcome this.

  • Have two accounts, one for your regular user and another that has your moderator title and privileges. Keep all your posts separate.
  • Use official tools provided by the sites software to mark a post as official (if the site provides these).
  • Use different writing styles (fonts, colours etc.) for official posts.
  • Keep a signature announcing all your posts are your own unless otherwise stating they are official (or in a certain style, see above).

I once saw one person go to the extreme of creating a separate "personality" when typing in a different font as a moderator. They used a different writing style and everything, though I expect that was difficult for them to keep up and I certainly wouldn't want to try it.

No matter what you try though, there will always be some who take anything you say as official. Once you are elevated to the ranks of moderator you need to be careful on how you act and what you say. It's part of the responsibility and privilege of being a moderator.

3

No matter what you do: Users will always see you as a moderator.

As a moderator you are a community representative. Everything you say will be taken as an official “announcement”, even if you tell them that your post represents your personal opinion. The best solution is to keep quiet in case your post could be misinterpreted, otherwise you will worsen the situation.

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    In my experience on Stack Exchange, this isn't the case. It happens sometimes, but always is a gross exaggeration. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jul 29 '14 at 19:52
  • @Gilles however on reddit, we moderators of subreddits are often seen as employees of reddit, or that we have all power, and we don't. – jcolebrand Jul 29 '14 at 20:01
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    @jcolebrand The "distinguish" mechanism on reddit exists specifically to prevent this perception, and I think it works pretty well. Not to mention the trivial nature of subreddit creation. We can't be responsible for perceptions that are completely unreasonable (nor does the average community member expect us to be). – Air Jul 30 '14 at 20:10
3

If possible, have a mark distinguishing actions as a mod and as a user

I am going to give you two different examples.

One is from moderating a community themed around speaking Russian language properly. It was in a Facebook-esque Russian social net, vk.com. When I spoke as a user, I used my normal profile and posted normal comments. Noone could even know that I am a mod if I didn't say it.

When posting as a mod, I just had to press a button. The post appeared to be posted by the community, not me, and, conversely, noone could even see my name, only other moderators.

The other example is from being an in-game admin in Persistent World, a role-playing modification to a game called "Mount&Blade: Warband". Because of the focus of this mod (role-playing) being very different from the focus of multiplayer of the vanilla game (slashing everyone you see into pieces), most of the new users didn't understand how things go by us, and constant admin supervision was needed to keep peace. The role of the admin was mostly to respond to users' complaints and tell who is right and who is wrong in each situation, applying punishment if needed, and sometimes providing other minor help.

Essentially, my admining time and my playing time were distinct. As a player, I could see that admining is needed (some user asks for admin help) and switch to admin mod, but it was considered not OK (and sometimes even forbidden) to start playing as a normal player if being the last admin on a server. What is more important, if I, as a player, had a dispute with another player that would normally require that a player makes a request to an admin, I was not allowed to make any actions myself, I had, as a normal player, to write a complaint that would be reviewed by other admins. Of course, if I needed to stop a user on a rampage of rules violations, it was another story.

In my admining state I could see admin chat (players' complaints go there, as well as other admins' messages), I had a distinct outfit, I had special admin in-game abilities that were certainly not suited for using as a player.

As a normal player, I was not different from other people in any way. Only my nickname (which is very easy to change in this game) could tell who I am.

In both places it worked perfectly, hence I am definitely suggesting said techniques.

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