We all know about the most common types of forum pests and why they're bad. Trolls troll, flamers flame and spammers spam. But they aren't the only type of pests out there, one other breed of forum pest is the backseat moderator; also known as the pseudo moderator.

Backseat moderators are members who try to act like they're staff when they aren't. Some of them are bad members who attempt to manipulate and/or troll the real staff and other members, while others are vigilantes who actually believe that they're doing the right thing; essentially the forum world's incredibly annoying ripoff of Batman. And despite all the problems that these members' behavior can cause, a lot of forums don't have rules against backseat moderating.

In this article I will list some of the problems that these members cause, reasons that they do what they do, ways to spot them and ways to deal with them before they can hurt your forum.

Why is backseat moderating bad?

Members who try to "act like staff" often end up creating an unfriendly environment and violate or border on violating the rules themselves. Some of them will even insult members who violate the rules or go after new members for violating even the most minor rule.

Even backseat moderators who are trying to be good, helpful members can cause problems by making it look like they're given special treatment, making other members believe that backseat moderating is perfectly fine behavior and by making the staff have to clean up replies to rule violating posts in addition to the initial rule violating post.

Some of the problems with backseat moderating are:

  • It can confuse members.
  • It forces staff to not only remove rule violating posts but replies to them as well.
  • It can lead to arguments.
  • It can make it look like certain members get special treatment from the staff.
  • Backseat moderating leads to more backseat moderating.

Know their motives

Members backseat moderate for many reasons. Their motives can range from lawful good to chaotic evil. In other words, they'll sometimes believe that their behavior is completely appropriate and helpful when they're really just causing even more problems for the real staff members to deal with.

  • They're trying to covertly troll and flame-bait other members.
  • They dislike change and are using it as a weapon to get rid of new members.
  • They're controlling and want to feel like they have power over others.
  • They believe that by "acting like staff" they'll be more likely to be noticed and promoted to staff.
  • They believe that they're just helping out by telling members the rules.
  • They're staff elsewhere and have a hard time getting out of "staff mode" on forums where they aren't staff.

Know the symptoms

The following are the classic symptoms of backseat moderator syndrome, if a member shows any of these symptoms then they are almost certainly afflicted by the backseat moderator bug.

  • Posting suggestions for staff actions, for example "This thread should be closed." or "This member should be banned."
  • Publicly revealing that they've reported a member, for example replying to a rule violating thread with "Reported."
  • Telling other members how to behave, for example "Threads like this are against the rules." or "Change your signature, it's over the size limit."

Other symptoms are sometimes displayed by backseat moderators, while these symptoms alone don't make you a backseat moderator they can backup a diagnosis of backseat moderator syndrome when they appear alongside the classic symptoms.

  • Staff ass-kissing, for example constantly talking about how great the staff are or practically worshipping staff members.
  • Talking like they're part of the staff, for example responding to a bug report with "We already know about this issue."
  • Talking about how others mistake them for or believe that they should be staff, for example going on about how a member mistook them for, or said that they should be staff.
  • Actively hunting for and reporting even the most minor rule violations, for example reporting or PMing a staff member with a huge list of minor signature violations.
  • They ask to be made staff, for example they ask to be made staff.

What's the solution?

The best and easiest way to handle backseat moderators is to have a rule against backseat moderating. Make it clear to members that if they try to play vigilante against members who violate the rules then they themselves are violating the rules.

Of course, not every situation is the same. So you may want to give punishment on a case by case basis. For example a backseat moderator whose motive is trolling and one whose motive is helping are different, and as a result should be punished differently.

Even when they mean no harm they should still be told that they can't backseat moderate. Even though they may see it as harmless, backseat moderating is something that can get worse the longer it's allowed to continue. Backseat moderation is never truly harmless, even when it's not directly hurting members, and as long as it's happening it will give others the impression that it's perfectly fine to act this way.

How should members handle rule violations then?

Simple, members should handle rule violations by reporting them and not replying to them. Most forum software packages these days have a built in report system, and even if your software doesn't you may be able to find a modification for it or you can ask members to PM online staff members about any rule violations.