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So recently a moderator in my community went rogue and did considerable damage to my website. He deleted many users, removed posts, and then quit the forum angrily.

I recognize the bad decision to hire him, I just need to hire a new moderator in the wake of this meltdown. We managed to rollback all the damages, but a fair amount of information was lost anyway.

Here's the question:

Many users are now wary of the mods, and treat them with caution and hostility. As the admin, I've decided not to punish anyone for argumentative attitudes (within reason) in relation to this, as it was mildly traumatic.

That being said, how do I accept a new moderator in the wake of this? The power vacuum caused by the original mod's absence is resulting in a higher level of spam and longer times between moderated posts. So we need a new mod quickly.

But the wary and hostile attitude of the community towards the current mods who were friends with the rogue mod leads me to not want to cause further division between the current mods by bringing in new blood.

How should I mediate this to cause the least amount of communal rift and anger?

  • Have you considered involving your users in this discussion? By which I mean, sharing the link to this very question, as evidence of your good faith efforts? (Not necessarily advocating that, more curious.) – Air Nov 12 '14 at 19:57
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You have a few challenges:

Re-earning the trust of your users: Your users are hurt and suspicious because of what happened. You've undone what you can, but there are lasting effects. As with any service that has had a major customer-relations problem, a top priority for you is to show them what you've done to mitigate against this happening again. What additional safeguards are you putting in place? How are you changing your monitoring of the site? How will you screen future moderators? This is not a time for "just trust us; we'll get this right next time"; be open and honest with your users. Ask them for help where it makes sense to do so. Be open to suggestions -- which doesn't mean you need to implement them or give the users control of the site, but be open to input and engage with the users. (I'm not saying you haven't done this in the past. I'm saying that it's even more important now.)

Addressing your short-term moderation need: While you figure out what you're looking for in the next set of moderators (and how to choose them with a minimum of strife), you have a web site that needs moderation now. Instead of, possibly hastily, choosing permanent moderators now, "under the gun", can you make some temporary appointments from among your most reliable users? Tell them up front that this is for three months (or however long), that you're asking them because of their track record, and that you see the short-term job as being about moderation and community repair -- so who better than leaders of the community to help with community repair?

Addressing your longer-term moderation need: You need to hire some people, yes, but after any project failure it's worth first doing a "lessons learned" analysis. What could you have done differently, in retrospect? What was completely unforeseeable? What should you do differently next time? Armed with that analysis, you'll be in a better position to make long-term hires.

(I haven't been the owner of a community that has exploded this badly, but I've been a user in a couple communities that had problems at the top, so I've seen this from that perspective. The last point, about lessons-learned analysis, comes from experience on software projects gone wrong -- different domain but some of the same kinds of problems.)

  • Building on the short-term moderation need: if there is a way to give people a subset of moderator powers (e.g. the ability to flag possible spam for review) but not full powers to delete, change info, etc. that could help offset the workload without eroding trust in the mod team nearly as much. – David Z Nov 29 '14 at 5:57
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In addition to the excellent answer provided by Monica, you need to assess your technical infrastructure. Should your moderator be able to remove many users and posts? You may need to separate some powers between moderators if this type of activity is anticipated to occur again. Obviously, this could be a one time thing, but your users have now seen it happen.

Over the coming weeks/months/years even, this incident will be referred to whenever a moderator seems agitated. It will likely be in a joking manner: "Oh, Mod is mad! I hope they don't go deleting everything. Hahahaha!". Each time this comes up you (or your team) will have to decide how to react. Currently you aren't punishing (which is good). Consider how this will wear on you over time. It is now that you need to act so that those future interactions can all point to the actions that occurred.

Monica mentions that a post mortem is a good idea. I agree. You can use this to determine what happened, how it happened and develop a plan to prevent it from occurring again. Sharing this information with your users is also important. Companies share these reasons frequently. Some have lots of details, others offer only a high level overview of what happened. Each of them, though, explain what they've done to prevent a similar issue from occurring again.

One thing to consider, as I mentioned in my first paragraph, is to separate some moderator powers. Moderators need the ability to clean up users - spam, trolls, etc - but it could be rate limited (only X users can be deleted in an hour). This would scale based on your community size. Alternatively, deleted users could go into a "deletion queue" that a second moderator needs to approve. For spammers and trolls this should be easy to get a second moderator's opinion. As nice benefit to this is that disagreements should cause your moderators to talk to one another. Instead of working in a silo, they have to get on the same page why a user needs to be removed when a disagreement occurs. This adds a bit of overhead to your moderators. Depending on the size of your community this could be a large hindrance. But, it does provide you with an option to consider (and possibly reject). Why not share that with your community too?


Moderator selection isn't an exact science. It sounds like your current process is to appoint a new moderator. In that case, it probably depends on previous community involvement. How have they reacted to the current situation? Can they explain their views in a clear manner? Are they community oriented? They may not agree with you on all points, but do they come across as someone who has the interests of the community in mind and are they able to work with your existing team?

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Have your users participate in your moderator selection.

Let them propose a moderator and let them vote for or against the candidates they propose. That way you make sure that the new moderator will be trusted by the community. Also, should the new moderator also go rogue, the community can not put the blame exclusively on you, because they have recommended the moderator to you.

However, you should not lay the moderator selection completely into the hands of the users. Make clear that you reserve the right to veto any candidates they propose or remove them from the moderation team when they don't work out.

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