Changing the rules of engagement (for the better, let’s hope)

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By Christopher Elliott

It’s been an interesting few months for this site. Late last year we introduced a crew of volunteer moderators and a few simple rules of engagement.

But like everything else, both the rules and the roles played by the moderators evolved.

Today, I’m proposing to clarify some of the rules of engagement and to more clearly define what the moderators do.

Until now, we’ve had a very succinct comment policy and no real definition of moderator duties.

Here’s what we’ve already articulated:

1. No personal attacks

2. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

3. Be nice to your host and moderators.

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Community guidelines

As a group, the moderators decided we needed to elaborate. So we found another policy that we liked (thanks, CBS Interactive!) and modeled our proposed rules after them. (Related: How to win your consumer dispute using the Elliott Method.)

Here’s the suggested text:

We strive to create an open and engaging environment for all commenters. To maintain that standard, here are some simple guidelines to ensure that your comments appear and remain on the site:

Stay on topic. Please comment on the subject of the post or story.

Be nice. You know the old saying: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you disagree with a comment, feel free to respectfully and politely challenge that comment in a civil manner.

No personal attacks, please. We don’t tolerate name-calling of any kind. Please be nice to your moderators and to the publisher, too. (After all, we’re only human.)

Don’t feed the trolls. If you think someone’s a nuisance commenter or worse, please don’t goad that person in the comments. That only makes it worse for everybody. Use the flagging system and let us know; we’ll take the appropriate action. (But remember that your definition of a “troll” and our interpretation of whether someone’s breaking the rules may not match.)

No #&$*(& swearing! This is the comments section of a consumer advocacy blog, not your high school locker room.

Stay out of trouble. Don’t post anything libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, abusive, harassing, or threatening. No messages containing viruses or other contaminating or destructive features. No trade secrets. You get the idea.

No free ads. Comments that contain spam, advertisements, business/self promotional content, campaigns, recruitments, or signature links are not allowed, period.

Don’t break any laws. If you’re thinking about breaking any rules, please think somewhere else. This isn’t a place to violate any laws or to discuss illegal activities.

Respect people’s privacy. You wouldn’t want your e-mail address, phone number, or other personal information plastered all over a public site, would you? Please do not share another person’s personal information.

We ban members. It’s unusual, but it won’t come as a surprise. We try to warn you before we do. Normally, our first ban will be 30 days; a second infraction will get a 60 day ban, followed by a lifetime ban.

Enhancing the community experience

During the last few weeks, our moderators have been very busy with deleting comments, and in at least two cases, handing out 30-day bans to two commenters. They’re exhausted. (Here’s our guide to contacting the CEO directly.)

One other item I’d like to try to include in the FAQ is a reasonable expectation for our moderators’ level of involvement. Here’s my proposed language:

Moderators are volunteers who care so much about the level of engagement on this site that they are willing to invest their time into making it a better place. They are not babysitters.

Moderators have the ability to edit and delete comments, to mark comments as “spam” and to disable an account. These decisions are not taken lightly, and only after consulting with the group.

It is unreasonable to expect the moderation team to read every single comment. They try, but on days with hundreds of comments, it’s not always possible.

If you see something objectionable, please flag it. That sends an email to the entire moderation team, and the comment will be reviewed.

The moderation team believes in due process. If your comment is flagged, the group will do its best to explain what was objectionable and to give you an opportunity to resubmit the comment. The moderation team tries to handle these corrections privately, but on occasion you will see a moderator make a public comment about a post. We reserve the right to do that.

In the unlikely event that your account is disabled, you should expect to receive multiple warnings in writing, both privately and in the public forums.

The moderators also believe in second chances. Unless you’re a spammer, your account will be reactivated after 30 days and your comments will once again be welcome on this site.

And here’s where you come in. We need your feedback.

What should stay? What should go? Does something need to be changed?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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