From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A forum moderator
is someone granted special powers to enforce the rules (or, as the case may be, their personal whim; the title refers to the powers more than the intent) of an Internet forum
, (Message board
or Electronic mailing list
). Almost all moderators on all forums can move discussions to different sections of the forum, "close" or "lock" discussions to prevent users from continuing to discuss them, edit the content of individual postings, answer questions (or help people with problems), and "pin" or "stick" discussions so they remain visible in their forum section even if no new postings are made to them; different forums may give their moderators further powers (see Powers
The roles of moderators can vary from forum to forum, just as the purposes of the forums themselves can vary. However, on boards intended to be public, moderators are generally accorded additional powers. This allows them to enforce forum rules and conduct administrative tasks that the forum owner does not trust ordinary users to perform.
Among a moderator's enforcement duties is often the duty to stop flaming
and keep the board a friendly place, free of personal insults (but different boards have different standards, and what is acceptable on one will invariably be prohibited on another). Most boards also ban illegal material (such as warez) and outright pornography, and many also restrict the use of profanity
and any violent or sexual images, however in other boards this is considered perfectly acceptable, or even the norm.
On some boards, moderators are expected to stay out of all contentious debates, or at least to use alternate accounts to engage in them unbeknownst to common members. On most boards, however, moderators may participate just as any normal member, provided they remain civil and generally obey the site rules. Some boards require moderators not to moderate any discussion or topic they're involved in, and many moderators on other boards take this upon themselves to avoid conflict of interest
As always, there are many exceptions. Many small boards are operated at the whim of the site operator and perhaps some of his or her friends, and moderators might be able to do whatever they feel like on such boards (provided they avoid crossing their colleagues and superiors). Of course, a board with overly harsh or capricious moderators will lose members, but this may not be a concern for those who operate boards for fun or as a tangential matter to their website
's main content.
Moderators can have some or all of the following powers, depending on the specific forum. Some of the powers, where appropriate, may be restricted to a subsection of the board (see Division of power
- Moving conversations to a different section of the forum. Virtually all forums are organized into various sections by topic to allow users to more easily read what interests them without having to sort through many topics of discussion they find boring. Moderators of most forums are able to move a conversation to a section more suited to it. On most modern forum software packages, a notice may be left in the original section so that those who contributed to the conversation earlier will be able to find it where they left it, at least for a few days.
(Note: forum sections are often ambiguously referred to themselves as "boards" or "forums". For instance, "I posted in the Wikipedia forum on the MediaWiki board" would be unexceptional in most communities, meaning "I posted in the section of the MediaWiki forum devoted to Wikipedia". For the sake of clarity, this article uses section to refer to sections of a board and forum or board to refer to an entire board.)
- Closing/locking threads (which term is used varies from community to community and software package to software package). Postings to Internet forums are organized into topics or threads of postings, typically organized sequentially by time of posting to form a conversation of sorts (see Internet forum). Most forums allow their moderators to close a given thread to further posting, effectively ending the conversation. This allows the existing content to remain fully visible, so that readers can easily see the moderator's reasons for closing the thread (it's generally customary for the moderator to post an explanation immediately before or after closing a thread). Certain users, generally moderators and administrators, may be able to post in closed threads, depending on the specific software package and configuration, although of course allowing too many users to post in closed threads defeats the purpose of closing the thread in the first place.
- Editing posts. In the event that a post is made that contains only some content that breaches forum rules, moderators are usually able to remove that content while still leaving any legitimate content. Even if an entire post is removed via editing, users will still be able to see who originally posted it and when it was originally posted, so that users who view the thread later won't be confused by any references to it. Usually this method is used to remove illegal or grossly offensive material that would remain visible in a closed thread, or else to stop a single post from derailing an entire thread.
Most forum software shows an edit notice whenever a post is edited, to prevent words from being put in a user's mouth (or to prevent a user from erasing evidence that he said something objectionable). This option can typically be made optional for certain categories of users if desired.
- Pinning/sticking threads (again, the term used varies). The threads in a section are usually displayed in reverse chronological order by last post. This means that the threads at the top of the listing for a section will be the ones in which someone has most recently posted, and therefore posting in a thread will "bump" it to the top of the listing. However, pinned threads remain above unpinned threads at all times, no matter how old. This may be used to, for instance, keep a copy of forum rules at the top of every section of the board.
- Deleting posts and threads. There are different kinds of deletion, and different moderators on different forums may be empowered to use different kinds. In general, something that's deleted vanishes from public view, if it continues to exist at all.
The simplest form of deletion is variously called hard-deletion, physical removal, or (on forums that don't support other deletion options) simply deletion. Essentially, content deleted in this way is not recoverable through the forum software. It may be stored in backups, and some data recovery methods may work, but such methods are usually difficult. Many forums restrict hard-deletion to only a handful of individuals, requiring lower-level moderators to use more reversible methods.
Other deletion methods can be collectively referred to as soft-deletion. The most basic of these is to move the content in question to a hidden section of the forum, so that only authorized users can view it. Anyone with the proper powers can then move the content back just as easily. One or two software packages, as of October 2005, have inbuilt support for soft-deletion—specific groups of users can be allowed to view a deletion notice but not the deleted content, or to view and undelete the deleted content. This allows more convenient soft-deletion of individual posts, which would otherwise have to be split from the thread (thereby obscuring their connection to their original context).
- Splitting and merging threads. If two threads exist on similar topics, or multiple topics are being discussed in one thread, the threads can be merged or the thread can be split.
- Banning users. Some forums allow some or all moderators to restrict or eliminate a troublesome user's posting or even viewing rights. Other boards restrict this ability to administrators. Of course, suspension of a user's account doesn't prevent the user from signing up under a different name, and for this reason a few forums also allow moderators to ban IP addresses. (Many boards that allow moderators to ban restrict the ability to IP-ban to administrators, however. Indeed, on vBulletin moderators can't be assigned the ability to ban an IP address.)
- Changing user account information. Moderators in some cases may alter certain aspects of a user's account, such as the avatar or signature, in a case of profanity or other circumstances.
- Viewing IP addresses. An IP address is the way Internet-enabled computers communicate with each other, and most forums log the IP address that all postings are made from. In general, this serves to aid identification of users, in combination with less technological means such as writing style, but it is by no means foolproof (see Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and proxy server for two main ways in which it can be thwarted). IP addresses can therefore assist in stopping ban evasion, for instance. In general, ordinary users are prohibited from seeing others' IP addresses for reasons of privacy and security—if a hacker or otherwise technologically-savvy individual knows an IP address, it's possible for him to "attack" it in various ways, possibly taking revenge for the expression of views he disagrees with or the like.
Many other powers can be allocated to moderators, but the above are all the most important ones. In general, all moderator actions will be logged for administrators to refer to later, so moderators can't take any special actions without their superiors being able to determine that they were the ones who did it.
Division of power
Most boards are owned and ultimately controlled by a single individual or corporation
, which may run them personally, or delegate this function to others. In general, most mid-sized to large boards have a hierarchy of some sort, with owners at the top, forum administrators
below, and one or more levels of moderator below that. Smaller boards might not have any dedicated moderators at all, with the site owner personally dealing with any problems.
On most boards, some or all moderators have powers in only certain sections of the site. One moderator might be empowered to act in the sports
section, another in the general discussion section, still another in the movie
section. These local moderators
may be augmented by Global moderator with powers over the entire forum, or perhaps all or no moderators will be global. Administrators typically have global moderator powers in addition to their more broad-ranging powers to change the board settings, layout, etc.
Choosing a moderator
Different boards choose moderators in different ways. As noted, on some boards moderators are just friends of the owner. In others, moderators are elected by the users. On more serious boards, administrators and senior staff generally choose moderators from among long-time, respected, level-headed members. On boards belonging to large corporations, moderators will still usually be selected from among the forum membership, but may be required to go through some form of training, sign non-disclosure agreements, or the like.
There are generally sufficient volunteers for moderator positions that it's unnecessary for even large, professional boards to pay them, but a few grant their staff small stipends. Boards with paid subscriptions may waive them for staff.
sites like Slashdot
, moderators are semi-randomly
selected by the software among registered users within a certain posting frequence range (not obsessed posters nor non-contributors). Their task is limited to five evaluations ("points") that they can distribute among any recent comment. Their work is subjected to an open meta-moderation system