Moderating Effectively

As your discussion community grows, it becomes increasingly likely that you will find a small number of disruptive users (or that they will find you; some people seem to wander from system to system looking for places to cause trouble). Whether out of malice, boredom, or greed, somebody will try to abuse your discussion system. As soon as you delete their posts, they will immediately appear under another name complaining about censorship and prattling about their First Amendment right to advertise sex aids and talk about politics on your software discussion board. Inevitably, this will bring in a chorus of naive but well-meaning users quoting Voltaire who didn't see the porn ad that got deleted, but they sure know they are against censorship.

You may find this whole thing to be fun, or you may just find it a boring distraction from real work. If left unchecked, like Usenet, any public discussion group will rapidly accumulate a significant amount of spam and "noise." The noise itself will drive away the best users, and the signal-to-noise ratio will worsen.

To address these issues, it's best to apply some simple rules:

• Moderate your discussion group regularly. An unmoderated discussion group tends to drift off topic in ever wider swings.

• Don't delete things merely because you disagree with them; reserve the Delete button for things that are really off topic or abusive. Although FogBugz tries to prevent people from finding out that their posts were deleted so they won't launch into a full-scale attack, a small percentage of your users will have access to the discussion group from different IP addresses, so they will discover that their posts are being deleted.

• On the other hand, don't be afraid to delete things just because they are off topic. If you're running a technical support discussion group, go ahead and get rid of the political ads and the ruminations about which fast food joint is best and the pointers to the latest Evil Doings of Big Government. There are plenty of other places where people can go to discuss those things. (If you find your users complaining vociferously, you might try setting up an explicitly off-topic discussion group to satisfy them.)

• Help train FogBugz AutoSort whenever possible. It's always better if a post is deleted instantly by FogBugz AutoSort before anyone sees it, because it reduces the number of people who even notice that moderation is taking place and launch into predictable rants about censorship.

• Train FogBugz AutoSort to delete any posts that are about deleted posts, censorship, and forum mechanics. They are off topic and sure to stir people up. If you don't do this, you'll keep repeating the conversation about censorship every three weeks as new users join in, which will eventually bore the old users, driving the good users away from the discussion group and attracting the bad ones.

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