Author Topic: The Cost of Moderation  (Read 1082 times)

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Offline The E

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The Cost of Moderation
As y'all know, I recently resigned as Moderator on the forums and Discord. In this post, I want to go into my reasons for doing so in the hopes that this will illuminate what went on on the other side of the screen, so to speak.

I joined this forum in 2008. Relatively soon thereafter, I settled into a niche providing tech support, helping people to get FSO up and running while also doing coding work for the SCP. I also somehow got drafted into the BP team (thanks Darius, Batts, Fury, Dilmah, Herra - y'all are awesome), and as Fury decided to quit, I got drafted as a replacement for him amongst the ranks of the GlobMods.

As anyone else who falls into something, I had to do a lot of learning on the job. I definitely made mistakes, I remember some of them but there's probably a lot more cases where I messed up; I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I've hurt.

Thanks to the help of a couple people who share my desire for a healthy community, I think I got better at it over time.... but feel free to disagree (as I know some of you do).

Then, COVID started happening. As I entered a prolonged period of homeoffice time, there was nothing stopping me from being on Discord pretty much all day, from 7AM to 10PM, every day. I was present during all of that time, I read almost every channel, I acted in many ways as a roaming moderator on the lookout.
Some of the decisions I made during that time were rash, some ill-advised, some outright bad, and some of them led to the emergence of certain narratives about me. One of them, the most pernicious and in many ways the most hurtful one, was that I harboured a personal animus against certain members based on my personal political leanings. I mean, I'm not going to say that there isn't a kernel of truth to it -- My opinions of what a healthy community is are certainly informed by my political opinions, and I am certainly not shy about expressing them. That said, I always tried to be dispassionate about moderation decisions, without regard to my personal feelings about a given person (I do not claim success in this regard) and to get a second opinion when I felt that I couldn't maintain that standard.

Then, the events of last week happened. First, there was the mjn incident - A situation where I am thoroughly convinced that I made the right call, for the right reasons. As with every contentious moderation decision, this too was followed by turmoil - some people taking it as an invitation to air their grievances against mjn, over multiple channels that I was unaware of at the time and had no control over; something that was then thrown in my face as the HLP administrative staff condoning that behaviour.
Second, the Fusion/Andreas Rybak thing - Again, an issue where I feel I made the right decision for the right reasons. And yet, as the inevitable controversy around that erupted, suddenly I was framed as the person who unilaterally banned someone purely because I chose to respond to the topic.

At that point, I couldn't go on any more. With all the stress of the past few months all flowing over, I broke down, full crying collapse at my desk. As the by far most active moderator on Discord and the Forums, I was very exposed - And because there are people out there, and you know who you are, who bear incredible grudges against me and take every opportunity to pile on to any mistake I might make, every decision carried with it a risk that there'd be lengthy call-out posts on the forums.
I realized several things. One is, that this couldn't continue. I had to leave this role before I was going to become nonfunctional, before this community and interacting with it became a traumatic trigger instead of a source of comfort. Secondly, that my presence on the moderation team encouraged a stasis. As long as I was present and trusted to do the right thing (which, by the way, thank you to MageKing, MP Ryan and all the others for having my back), my calls for the recruitment of other moderators weren't going to be treated as urgent as I felt they were.

Thus, I resigned. Abruptly, for which I apologize as this threw the moderation team into a scramble, but out of sheer necessity.

----

Now, a few words to all of you out there who are inclined to blow up a moderation decision you don't like into hundreds of posts and a growing folder of screencaps:
You are damaging yourself and others. You're talking yourself into believing that being told to stop some behaviour is a rejection of you as a person. You're equating a temporary exclusion to a death sentence, a rebuke to a shot to the gut, and nothing could be further from the truth. The new guidelines are, I hope, a step in the right direction to making sure that moderation happens with an understanding that it is a very impersonal function, not a personal affront to the person being moderated.

A while ago, Battuta brought a piece to my attention that was quite influential in shaping my understanding of this matter. It's called "Five Geek Social Fallacies", and I would highly recommend everyone reading this to read that. There are humans on both sides of the screen, and it is all too easy to forget that.
If I'm just aching this can't go on
I came from chasing dreams to feel alone
There must be changes, miss to feel strong
I really need lifе to touch me
--Evergrey, Where August Mourns

 
Re: The Cost of Moderation
In my tenure as a moderator on the Rock Paper Shotgun forum, I noticed that a few of the more toxic members saw me as a person who was making unilateral decisions and tried to contact other moderators to try and play us mods out against each other. This was all rather pathethic, since we were all operating under the same guidelines and were all communicating with eachother wrt what to do. Even then it's very grating, since I (and a lot of people in moderation) are dealing with people who care more about their own egos then they care about other people. And if there's anything I know about you, it's that you don't have that.

I'm not sad about your retirement. I think you've already done more emotional labour then anyone in a volunteer position has any obligation to. And I am quite aware that when it comes to moderation of HLP, nothing will actually change. I think that if you look back on your tenure you did the best job you could have. Acting from empathy has a cost, and I'm glad you were willing to pay that for us. I also think you shouldn't have. Don't neglect your mental health for our sakes!

 
Re: The Cost of Moderation
Oh my Lord.

I have read that post over and over again for more than an hour.

I understand that many of you believe that I am supposed to say something, as the most likely largest offender in this situation. I believe so too. However, this absolutely not something I - and most likely you too - find allowable to write quickly and without much thought put into it. I am barely capable of writing this post as it is. I expect people to converse here soon, and I would like to request that you put that off for some time. It will take me a while to form my words to represent my thoughts as closely as possible, and I think it is vital that my response doesn't get buried under a flurry of other posts. I most likely will be incapable of finishing it today.

I will attempt to write it as soon as possible tomorrow morning - or if I can't sleep, I will be doing it over this night.
Eventually, I might just edit it into this post. Not sure which approach is better.

Thank you for your patience, everyone.
How do you kill a hydra?

You starve it to death.

 
Re: The Cost of Moderation
Please don't stress yourself out Mito.

 

Offline General Battuta

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Re: The Cost of Moderation
Oh my Lord.

I have read that post over and over again for more than an hour.

I understand that many of you believe that I am supposed to say something, as the most likely largest offender in this situation. I believe so too. However, this absolutely not something I - and most likely you too - find allowable to write quickly and without much thought put into it. I am barely capable of writing this post as it is. I expect people to converse here soon, and I would like to request that you put that off for some time. It will take me a while to form my words to represent my thoughts as closely as possible, and I think it is vital that my response doesn't get buried under a flurry of other posts. I most likely will be incapable of finishing it today.

I will attempt to write it as soon as possible tomorrow morning - or if I can't sleep, I will be doing it over this night.
Eventually, I might just edit it into this post. Not sure which approach is better.

Thank you for your patience, everyone.

Mito, it's not your fault. You were in a place where something was hurting you emotionally. You reacted. Now this is hurting you emotionally and you want to apologize.

You are in a bad place and everything feels like the worst, most important thing in the world. You need to be in a place where you can not feel that way. The fact that you feel bad about it is, I feel semi-qualified to say, probably enough for The E. I doubt he needs a lengthy mea culpa.

Please, rather than trying to take this on yourself, just go take care of yourself. An internet community should not be an all-consuming emotional experience. Try to get your keel back. Talk to someone, get some distance. It helps.

Again, the fact that you care is enough to demonstrate in, I think, nearly anybody's eyes that you are not acting out of malice.

 
Re: The Cost of Moderation
I was considering putting this off a bit until I myself cooled down and looked at the situation with maybe some more objectivity, but.

Yesterday, as soon as I closed my eyes, I've lost control of my body. The closest description I can provide is that it was as if it tried to suffocate me from the inside at every thought of this situation. Which, given that it was the only thing on my mind, resulted in about two hours of fighting myself for every single breath, shaking uncontrollably and trying not to bite down on my lips to blood before I could somehow collect myself.

With this, I cannot continue myself, either. I need to make this post as soon as I can, not only to not repeat the last night, but also because my line of work is very capable of seeing me mutilated in various ways if I lose my focus, and the distraction has been a major concern of mine for weeks already. Which is why I have to fully let all of this go before tomorrow.




Now, onto the reply itself.

One of them, the most pernicious and in many ways the most hurtful one, was that I harboured a personal animus against certain members based on my personal political leanings.
Second, the Fusion/Andreas Rybak thing - Again, an issue where I feel I made the right decision for the right reasons. And yet, as the inevitable controversy around that erupted, suddenly I was framed as the person who unilaterally banned someone purely because I chose to respond to the topic.

I am going to say this loud and clear, for everyone to know: I am responsible for all of this. This is all me. While I have always believed - and still do - that my disagreement with these opinions and some specific actions was in good intentions and for good reasons, the key word is disagreement.

And what I have done and said in the recent threads is everything that I can imagine going beyond a simple disagreement. I have conducted the most hideous attack I was capable of against the most vulnerable person in the community, completely ignoring all of the signs of fatigue and stress they were showing prior. I have not - and will not - edit or remove any of my posts that this behaviour has taken place in, for everyone to see. This is me.

I was thinking of writing a sort of an apology post for some time now. An apology to every member of the community who witnessed my behaviour, and doubly so to moderators who had to put up with me. However, this topic has since made me realize that the situation is far beyond the point where an apology is at best adding an insult to injury. I have assaulted and, to the best of my knowledge, irreversibly damaged a person and the community around them. This is definitely the most harm I ever did to anyone over the Internet, and most likely the most hurtful thing I have ever done to a person in my entire life.

Lately, I have come to regret many things I have done here. Weighing in on decisions without waiting for a clear picture and important information to emerge. Making personal decisions in the spur of a moment, biased with emotion, never standing back to cool off and think calmly before acting. Ignoring the signs of stress of community members, never taking a moment to comfort them. And even if I tried to defend someone from unjust action or harrassment, I have done it in utterly hideous ways.
Everything related to this is just a culmination of all these faults combined. My crown achievement in this community turns out to be to cause pain and suffering to others.

I am too ashamed to be able to address The E directly and that most likely will continue for a long time. However, I do hope he does not block communication from me, because I'm planning to checking up on him once I... become responsible enough to do so. Probably in a month or two. If he will not want to speak to me after this ever again, I will fully accept this and will not question it.



However, before I move on to the closing part, I need to reply.

General Battuta.

I will state this here publicly and openly: yes, I have severe grievances with him and yes, I understand this is absolutely not the place to air them, but I believe there are things that need to be said here for the health of this community.

I have told you to not speak to me. Not only because I have a grudge, but also because I have come to find your replies severely hurtful. That is the exact case with your post here, as it is nothing more than pure pain for me.

If it was any other member saying exactly that, it would have been comforting. If it was The E saying this himself, I would have wanted to burn in shame, but it wouldn't hurt as much as this. Given your previous involvement, I think that any reasonable person in your place would find the understanding to either just... fall silent for a time and let the emotions fall, or reach out and at least whisper the slightest word of apology, or indicate in any way that you regret something.

However, there's... this instead. Receiving understanding and comfort, being told that it isn't my fault for reacting to being hurt emotionally... From the exact person who was doing their best to hurt me emotionally. Not only that, but without any prior indication that the person might consider that behaviour as a mistake, and in the form of an arrogant and patronising post. It just... hurts.

I am absolutely not perfect, if I were, this topic and many other ones wouldn't exist. But it would be against whatever remains of conscience I still have if I did not say this: please, learn how to not do this. I believe it is harmful for the community, and I know for a fact that people have distanced themselves from it because of this. I can only speculate whether there were any who fully left for that reason. This is also my plea to the community as a whole: please, help this man learn. Teach him how to change ever so slightly.



Returning to the important part...

I find this situation to be far beyond any apology, and also definitely beyond my capacity to atone for it in any way I am capable of. This is why, to limit any further damage, I am leaving this community. I have seen the amount of harm and issues I brought to the community as rapidly outweighing my scarce contributions to it (if any; I generally did not contribute anything meaningful here) for a certain time now. Now I understand that I should have either severely distanced myself, or moved to actually contributing instead of blowing up issues and grievances.

This is a thing I've been meaning to do for some time now. Within the last month, I've forced myself away for a couple times, as I was getting unnecessarily riled up and wanted to avoid this exact situation happening. Then, I have decided that I cannot stay here in good faith any longer due to seeing the repeating personal attacks carried out against innocent people and what I presumed to be injustice in handling this situation, and the further interaction pushing me into a very unhealthy state of mind. I have settled whatever matters I had left in here and did all the personal "housework" I was supposed to do, to the best of my knowledge. I planned to create a new topic, in which I explained the reasoning behind my decision and touched upon a couple important things I wanted to leave for the community to consider, then requesting an immediate lock of the thread, fully knowing that I would be pulled back if there was any more discussion. I also considered that me publicly leaving was not a very encouraging thing for people here, and I wanted the thread to disappear quickly.

Out of pure chance, I have stumbled upon the Andreas Rybak/Fusion thread when I wanted to check the unread topics for one final time before creating the aforementioned message and disappearing. I had the rough draft of it mentally prepared, and have finally become at peace with my decision. That point is when I said what I said, and that causes my reason for leaving to change - from being afraid of things I might eventually do, to an absolute disgust over myself for what I have done.
If there is anything positive to come out of it, it is the fact that the... visibility of this post is going to be lower, due to me not creating a topic just specifically for it.

I am not sure when - or if - I will ever return to this place. There are some things that need to change in my life before I will allow myself to even consider engaging with you all, and I won't hide that there are also things I wish would change over time in this community. For now however, I'm not going to be considering any of this, as I just need to be away.


Now, to finish off, the things I wanted to leave over here.

Firstly, the matter of Andreas Rybak (Fusion on Discord). Given my aggressive defense of him, there is a great deal of personal responsibility for his further actions weighing down on me, and I do not plan on shying away from it. However, the first thing I want to approach is that, given how people around here have been acting recently, I find it very likely that he will experience harassment and mockery from prominent users, even if he doesn't ever give any reason for it. While I think that the new community guidelines would be perfectly able to stop any of it from happening in HLP public spaces (the forum and the Discord server), I am still worried about the possibility of personal attacks taking place in communities adjacent or even unrelated to HLP, also including malicious personal messages. I would like to think that I've left the matter in good hands who could step carefully with the problem at hand, instead of imagining him to be alone surrounded by metaphorical sharks who are waiting for his slightest mistake.

However, if word gets to me that he - supported by some evidence indicating it beyond a reasonable doubt - has broken the promise made to everyone here, I will absolutely not hold myself back in private, and will try to take reasonable action against him. For the record, I am not going to consider events that have been triggered by harassment of his person. The moderation staff has given him a chance, and you, people within the community, should too.

Also I need to mention that at the point of me writing this post, the matter of unbanning him on Discord was not fully resolved yet, but given the formal apology and the fact that he is still able to post on the forum, I have no reason to believe this is going to make a turnaround.


Secondly, my contact information.

If there is anything anyone might be interested in talking with me, or if there is any matter I need to be present for, you have two options. One is the forum's private message system - while I will not visit the forum itself anymore unless specifically prompted, the system will send me an e-mail to my personal address, although it might take me weeks to notice it, as I don't check that inbox particularily often.

My preferred way of contact would be via Discord: there are multiple community members who either have me on their friends list, or have a history of direct messages with me. To anyone who does not, just ask around a bit, there surely are active people around who could send you my DM handle, so you could send me an invite.

That said I want to make it clear: if possible, I do not allow my contact information to be shared outside of private messages. I am unsure whether it is possible to just see my Discord tag by just looking up my previous messages on the HLP Discord - if it is, please just disregard this entire paragraph. I would also suggest to the moderation staff that if any of past screenshots with my Discord tag resurface, please do remove them or, if there is any other valuable content in them, ask their authors to edit the tag out of them. This is not a demand, just a request, given the current lack of staff I don't want to be forcing you to work even more. Do it only if it's a non-issue for you.
While I initially wanted to say it just because I did not somehow feel comfortable with people being able to contact me without just the tiniest amount of effort on their side, the recent event related to MjnMixael is giving me a remotely practical reason for it.

As you can see, I am not burning the bridges behind me. I am unsure whether I would be able to muster the strength to do se even if I wanted. There's been a great deal of friendships I have found here that I can't just break... and after yesterday I would really appreciate some company later on. Also, I am quite positive I can safely keep myself together inside private conversations.



That said, while I'm not sure whether I'm doing the right thing right now, a massive weight is falling from my chest as I'm writing this. I'm pretty sure I might have forgotten something important I had to say, but this post is massive enough already and can't really wait too much, so I'm leaving myself the option to just say whatever I feel is important, if it reminds itself to me.

That said, stay safe, keep yourself together... And don't make the same mistakes I did.
How do you kill a hydra?

You starve it to death.

 

Offline General Battuta

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Re: The Cost of Moderation
If I didn't have regrets I wouldn't have already banned myself for six months.

 

Offline The E

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Re: The Cost of Moderation
Mito, my heart goes out to you and I wish you all the best and a speedy recovery.

Stress and burnout are real issues. None of us are immune to it, and we are living in extraordinarily stressful times. Take care of yourself, find your balance and your safe space, and take as long as you need to get back to the world. There is light at the end of the tunnel, things will get better.
If I'm just aching this can't go on
I came from chasing dreams to feel alone
There must be changes, miss to feel strong
I really need lifе to touch me
--Evergrey, Where August Mourns

 
Re: The Cost of Moderation
Quote
I am going to say this loud and clear, for everyone to know: I am responsible for all of this. This is all me.

No.

 

Offline karajorma

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Re: The Cost of Moderation
You really aren't. It says something about the level of general toxicity in this community that I don't know of a single moderator or admin who hasn't at some point wondered why they don't step down and be done with it.

It's one of the major reasons why we're trying to make some changes.
Karajorma's Freespace FAQ. It's almost like asking me yourself.

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Offline MP-Ryan

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I have to echo the other comments - no one person, or few persons, are responsible for all the *gestures around* mess that has developed this year.  There are a huge number of factors.  This is why we are taking a forward-looking approach to make it better and not revisiting all our past mistakes.

Mito, please take care of yourself.  Take the time you need, and do come back when you are ready.
"In the beginning, the Universe was created.  This made a lot of people very angry and has widely been regarded as a bad move."  [Douglas Adams]

 

Offline Galemp

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I have to echo the other comments - no one person, or few persons, are responsible for all the *gestures around* mess that has developed this year.  There are a huge number of factors. 

Not the least of which are factors affecting all of us outside of HLP. Fears of COVID itself, the stress of a year-long lockdown, being stuck alone or with a small circle; the escalation of political tensions, injustice and authoritarianism; the economic and financial instability, on an individual and household level. And all of this is compounded by the fact that everyone we care for is also stressed out. Divorce and suicide rates are something like 30% higher over last year.

None of us are in a great place right now, emotionally or psychologically. The best thing we can do, is be gentle with each other, and with ourselves.
"Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he's supposed to be doing at that moment." -- Robert Benchley

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Quote
Second, the Fusion/Andreas Rybak thing - Again, an issue where I feel I made the right decision for the right reasons. And yet, as the inevitable controversy around that erupted, suddenly I was framed as the person who unilaterally banned someone purely because I chose to respond to the topic.

So, I believe this is at least partially in response to me, and I'd like to offer my perspective. This isn't intended as a criticism of The E nor anyone else, just a different perspective on what happened.

Andreas and I came to the hypothesis that The E had banned him based on limited data: that Andreas was banned, and that none of the moderators we spoke to knew anything about it, except for The E, who appeared to block Andreas on Discord instead of responding. That's what lead me to make my post asking for more information. It turns out that there were legitimate explanations for everything - the moderators who responded to us just happened to have been very busy when the discussion about Andreas was going on, and a quirk of Discord's permission system stopped The E from responding to Andreas' DM. We've got the story straight, and I'm not trying to re-open that conversation.

What I am trying to point out is how being left in the dark like that forced Andreas to start speculating, which directly lead to some serious faulty assumptions, miscommunication, and tension between all involved parties. In other words, I think a lot of the unpleasantness could have been avoided with a little bit more transparency.

Again, I'm not trying to criticize anyone, just bring attention to what I see as a contributing factor. Most forums I've been on have had a policy to notify people that and why moderation actions were taken. So, all I'm trying to say here is, perhaps HLP should adopt a similar policy? Or, if there is such a policy, perhaps it should be extended to Discord?

 

Offline Luis Dias

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My heart goes to all people who are suffering in this thread (and elsewhere) for what has happened. I also hope you guys take care of yourselves. Regarding what xenocartographer just said, it feels right that a lack of information on all sides has had a destructive consequence, but I also feel there's an element of a lack of understanding or tolerance in these situations that creep up and escalate any simple situation into a maelstrom of ridiculous proportions, with a ghastly emotional cost to many involved.

I'd really argue for a desperate amount of increased tolerance in such situations where information is lacking. Please remember this is a community of people, but even if we feel a lot more sociopathic due to all this confinement situations around the world, and somehow forget people are involved, or just get swept away by the drama of it all as a thing per se, at least consider how systems wreck themselves very easily if every piece of such a system lacks any tolerance margin of error, and how such systems usually destroy elements within such systems that are placed in the most stressful positions within them.

Thing is, such elements in this system are actual people. I feel for you The_E, and for everyone else who also got themselves wrecked in this whole thing.

My best wishes.

 

Offline The E

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Again, I'm not trying to criticize anyone, just bring attention to what I see as a contributing factor. Most forums I've been on have had a policy to notify people that and why moderation actions were taken. So, all I'm trying to say here is, perhaps HLP should adopt a similar policy? Or, if there is such a policy, perhaps it should be extended to Discord?

Please take a look at the new guidelines thread - There's a lot in there to establish a tradition of transparency, and I hope that that will prevent such issues in the future.
If I'm just aching this can't go on
I came from chasing dreams to feel alone
There must be changes, miss to feel strong
I really need lifе to touch me
--Evergrey, Where August Mourns