One simple thread posted in our forum, turned into a flame war, dividing our popular cat-related board and resulting in a major overhaul of our rules and guidelines. The result of this post forced several moderators, including myself to look at our actions closely, examining the reasoning behind our intentions. It brought into focus a discussion of the staff as to what would be an appropriate way to handle the banning of problem members and caused us to formulate a new set of guidelines. These guidelines enabled us to deal with future problem posters while leading to a broader understanding among a group of weary, dedicated moderators and the forums owner.

Had you surfed in to read the post back then, the post may have seemed simple and unassuming to some of you. However; the post dealing with issues of cat welfare struck a wrong cord in the hearts of members and moderators alike. The post brought to the attention of the moderators within the Mod Lounge prompted several moderators to respond publicly and unfavorably within the thread. This unplanned action looked contrived to some of the members, who considered the responses a “ganging up mentality” and said so.

A few days after we thought the dust had settled, the member, who claimed she had been attacked mounted her soapbox and posted a long tirade in our Feedback Forum about “being targeted” by the moderators. This post led to a flurry of replies (many siding with the self-proclaimed victim). The board became divided over this issue, with several members threatening to leave the board. The moderators, overwhelmed by the venom being directed at them withdrew from any moderating activity and met in the Mod Lounge to discuss the ongoing situation.

Leaving the original post on the board during this time of crisis, with the absence of mod intervention turned out to be a major mistake on our part. Disgruntled former members returned, coming back to post about their grievances. The thread grew into a major bashing festival toward the moderators, and the webmaster. Several of our members chose to leave the board. They posted their goodbyes within the thread. We did not move the posting off the board, mistakenly respecting the wishes of the original complainant who repeatedly claimed that the moderators were heavy-handed and would remove the posting. So the posting intact and online,grew into quite a ball of snakes.

Because of the targets painted on the backs of the moderators, the discussion in the mod lounge reached a crescendo of intensity. Several moderators tired of the hateful PM’s being fired at them threatened to quit. After a lengthy discussion, a new SuperMod persona emerged.

SuperMod gave an active moderator a chance to apply a correction in a posting and do so anonymously. This meant that if there was a problem brewing on the board, a moderator could slip into the cyber-phone booth and don the supermod cape using a code word. Then out of a list of canned responses, the moderator could choose the appropriate comment for the situation go into the post and clean it up. No one would know who made the correction because the board name used was SuperMod.

Hoping SuperMod would stop all the nasty pm’s. The moderators thought this would be the answer to their problem. They had even come up with different scenarios that arose in problem posts. These responses were stuck at the top of the mod lounge, and could easily be copied and pasted.

I am sharing this SuperMod experience because over time it became clear that canned responses and SuperMod didn’t work as well as the Moderators had hoped it would. SuperMod was placed back in the cyber-closet, to be used only if the Moderator chose to do so. We then went back to the standard way of handling problems.

Using the standard method meant that sometimes, we do indeed become targets of a member’s wrath. After all, you can’t correct someone’s posting or remind them of their lack of board manners without leaving them feeling violated and annoyed.

The unhappy member left our board, and we drafted a new set of moderating guidelines that are still in place today:

1. We discontinued the public chastising of members who are acting up. We now go to a more private avenue of PM’s or emails.
2. In regards to problem posters, or potentially delicate topics, only two moderators are allowed to post within the thread. The moderators can meet and discuss the post, and the acting moderator can incorporate any of the ideas taken from the mod lounge within the thread on the board, but no more than two moderators are allowed to participate overall.
3. Any negative feedback on the boards is promptly removed. This means any post that throws a negative light on the webmaster, the moderators, or the site itself will be removed quickly. The poster is notified to respond only to the webmaster via emails or PM’s. If after the first warning, the post is re-posted, the member will be warned again. The third time, the membership will go under review and proper action will be taken.
4. All PM’s or emails sent will be courteous and along with the warning will come the reassurance that if the disgruntled member contacts the webmaster, they will receive a prompt answer.

In removing negative feedback, we are sometimes accused of limiting “freedom of speech” of the member, to which we reply this is a privately owned board with specific rules and not the streets of America.

From this incident, we learned that just because someone volunteers to be a moderator, we need to be selective of who we choose. Several of our moderators had issues with this poster, and they pushed the envelope with her both publicly and privately, providing the fuel to keep the flames going.

We also set up a special forum IN MY OPINION soon afterward. We use this forum as a testing ground for future moderators. Members who meet the qualifications can sign up for a three month run at being a guest moderator there. Two real-time moderators oversee the program. The guest mods have their own Guest Mod Lounge off limits to the other moderators besides the two involved. It is by watching the actions of the guest moderators and listening to the reports of the moderators overseeing the group that we have found quality individuals who have gone on to becoming full-time moderators.

Today the forums run smoother and the moderating team is united. All rules are posted on the board, and the banning process is in effect. The moderators are held to a higher standard, in that while posting in a troubled thread, we have to check our emotions at the door and remain courteous and professional. The same goes for the private communications between moderators and the troublemakers. The only time that civility goes out the windows is when dealing with the trolls posting objectionable photos in our forums. They are automatically banned; no warning is given.

Through one post, and one disgruntled member, many wheels were set in motion that now makes our forums a better place for all concerned. Today, we are one of the leading forums on the Internet within our specialty. It hasn’t been an easy path, but the journey taught us much along the way. Part of our success hinges on the fact that we admit we are still learning, and what we have learned is not to dismiss the needs of our members. If those needs are valid, we will listen.