The Power of the Moderator

20 11 2009

An interesting tweet lead me to Mathew Ingram’s recent post “Comment behaviour: How far is to far?” on the recent Greenbaum controversy.

Kurt Greenbaum is the director of social media for the St.Louis Post-Dispatch, and had written a post for the Friday’s edition of Talk of the Day – “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten. And did you like it?”. What subsequently evolved included a vulgar comment, its deletion, and finally a resignation.

Was Greenbaum justified in contacting the school, which lead to a staff member losing his job? Or does it serve the staff member right for making vulgar and inappropriate comments online while he was working?

Moderators are in a position of power to decide what is allowed onto the site. The issue is that this power should never be abused, in order to ensure an open and authentic conversation. Moderators should never delete or unpublish comments simply because they are negative for your brand, and they should never pick and choose what to allow through simply because they like/dislike it.

Moderator’s are faced with inappropriate language, weird and lewd comments on a regular basis – the anonymity of the web often encourages this kind of behaviour – but in these cases the moderator has the power to simply delete and not allow comments of this kind through.

My rule with moderating is that I edit any inappropriate language out of comments – but if they’re on topic, and their contribution is valid apart from the swearing I will allow the rest of the content through. Any comments and ideas that come through that are derogatory to other members, off topic or just entirely inappropriate are not let through and deleted. Simple as that.

But my issue isn’t with Greenbaum deleting the poster’s comment, it’s the fact that he felt justified in contacting the school directly, taking the matter into his own hands. Should the staff member have been making comments about women’s genitalia during his work hours AT a school? Absolutely not – but is it Greenbaum’s responsibility to take this action? How can you properly prevent your staff from making these kind of comments online, while on your clock? You can implement firewalls, and block known and popular sites, but with social media becoming widespread within the corporate space this is becoming more and more difficult.

Greenbaum’s comments didn’t hurt or offend anybody (apart from the staff at St. Louis Post-Dispatch) because his comment was deleted from public view – did the issue need to be take a step further?



2 responses

14 01 2010
re: turn on

There are some thorny issues relating to comment moderation, akin to the ethics of censorship. However, a moderator who notifies an employer of inappropriate commenting by one of their employees might be an infringement of privacy. A moderator’s responsibility is to the site; that kind of moral vindictiveness might engender resentment if the community deems it an overreaction.

15 01 2010

I definitely agree – I feel that the moderator’s power is to be limited to the site that they look after. In my experience as a community manager, I have received crude comments and profanity (more on some sites than others), but I have never felt motivated to trace their IP and take the issue any further. The web age has allowed people a certain anonymity to say whatever they please. My revenge? I simply don’t publish the comments.

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