Why do Forums Go "Bad?"

Continuing the discussion from So when does an ignore user or downvotes system get implemented?:

I think this is interesting. Whether it’s Reddit or Twitter or BoingBoing… what turns a perfectly good (or at least average) community into a Lord of the Flies, monkey-shit fight at the zoo, free for all? I mean I think BoingBoing is a small community for one thing. For another, I really don’t think anonymity (at least on the Internet) is a distinguishing factor.

I’d be very interested to hear what @codinghorror’s thoughts are, but really it sounds like a good topic in general.


Let me see… just off the top of my head, here are the top 10 things communities need to not become Lord of The Flies

  1. strong moderation
  2. strong moderation
  3. strong moderation
  4. strong moderation
  5. strong moderation
  6. strong moderation
  7. strong moderation
  8. strong moderation
  9. strong moderation
  10. strong moderation

Yeah, didn’t The Most Ancient and Most Knoble Order of the Thistle KT. Atwood do a lot of work on this at stack? I’d love to hear stories and anecdotes of what worked,what didn’t, and what was surprising.

But what about strong moderation?

In serious, are there machine learnable patterns?

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Not really, no. The main thing is community flags.

If you want to keep the city clean, you can hire 500 garbagemen, or you can put a trash can on every street corner.

We do try to do some Just in Time reminders in the cases of

  • replying to a very old topic
  • first time ever replying, reminder that there are human beings on the other side of the screen
  • replying to the same topic over and over
  • replying to the same user over and over*
  • quoting the same post over and over*

I still want to go back to the classics: the number of times you’ve replied in a topic (or replied to a particular post, or replied to a particular person) should not be a badge of honor. It usually means There Were Problems.

Looking at http://bbs.boingboing.net/top/quarterly and picking the one with the most replies (255)

There is a lot to be said for “one (or three) and done”, when You Are Mad About Something on the Internet:

That said I understand different issues are important to different people and often the discussion can be illuminating, if people play by the rules and are participating in good faith, i.e. they are willing to evolve their position over time rather than having it be immutable and written in stone.

* not implemented yet but probably should be


Within a post? Because I feel like it’s often best to go point by point if you’re going to take the trouble to respond.

I’d say that the problem tends to be a lack of structure, which keeps everything rather informal. Many people enjoy a free-for-all so long as it remains congenial, but notice quickly when it is not. Moderation should be real moderation, like for a debate - more like a referee than a babysitter.

@codinghorror this is probably too big of a favor, but I’ll put it out there…

I am working on some Classifiers to detect fingerprint/p0f style mismatches. Basically browser imitators and web automation like selenium. Since I no longer work at giant financials my training set has… Dried up a bit.

Let me know if you are ever interested in running some metrics on auth and web flow fraud.



You tempt me…
Like a sirens song…

Would this affect users who wipe OS and browser fingerprints for privacy purposes?

Nope. Unless you Mod your browser to act like say WebKit when it is obviously IE.

I encourage privacy advocates. I catch the equivalent of a turned down hat, a trench coat, and an affected Texas accent.

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I would add, that strong moderation also needs to be consistent moderation.

I’ve seen situations on web forums where some favoured users can get away with things that would be moderated away if they came from someone else. Probably because they were either real life friends of the site owners, or because their trolling, condescension and prejudiced behaviour was a position supported by the owner.

Either way, when people see some users getting away with bad behaviour, they’re more likely to join in. Then we have a bigger problem.

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