Pinsider Robin, along with Pinsider Martijn founded Pinside.com, the largest pinball forum on the internet. Below Robin discusses Pinside’s approach to moderation on the site, which is a much debated topic.
This Week in Pinball: What is Pinside’s overall approach to moderation of its members?
Robin: Pinside has a volunteer team of moderators, whose task itis to make sure all user generated content is in line with our Community Rules. This is either content that the moderators come across while reading Pinside themselves, but we also rely on all Pinside members to help out and report transgressionsof our rules via our “report abuse” functionality. After all, with 1,500-2,000 posts made daily (and that’s just the forum, we also need to monitor the Marketplace, our events listing, game ratings, high scores, profile stories etc) we can’t possibly see everything ourselves.
Even with this setup, the main approach is to be “light” on moderation and let the community and the discussion run “by itself”. E.g. when somebody posts something very rude or posts utter bullshit, we hope that other members will step up to point out, address or correct that. We will normally only step in if we really feel it is needed.
It’s very hard to please everybody, but in our decade long experience of running Pinside the above approach seems to work best.
TWIP: There has been some criticism that Pinside “over-moderates” individuals that are critical of manufacturers. How do you respond to that?
Robin: Well, the question whether Pinside over- or under-moderates really depends on who you ask!
Pinside allows pinheads from around the world to connect and communicate. The main goal is to provide them with a platform to share knowledge, views and opinions on all things pinball. When it comes to discussion about manufacturers, we want both critics and fans to have an equal opportunity to post their thoughts. After all, that’s the whole basis of discussion. And as long as that discussion reminds civil and posts are in line with our community rules, we don’t interfere. It is very rare for content to get removed.
There is one exception to the above: anonymous accounts. We do not allow brand new, anonymous accounts to post possibly damaging rumours or unverifiable information about companies. For starters, because we don’t want Pinside to be used for hidden agenda’s (i.e. competitors hurting each other by spreading false information). But this obviously also has to do with accountability; If there is no one to hold accountable for a post, we have no choice but to remove it. The introduction of our ‘user verification’ system last year, has been instrumental in stopping anonymous accounts and trolling. But still, if we find out that an account is a duplicate or if we suspect that the the sole purpose of an account is to post dirt about an individual or company, we will most often kill it.
And that creates a huge challenge in itself. Should there more emphasis on protecting the manufacturers (with the risk of people missing signs of impending problems) or protecting the ‘buyers’ (with the risk of unfunded rumours actually causing those problems)? We currently choose the middle ground and try to let information run freely. If such information is posted from a verified and well-established account we are unlikely to interfere. Members themselves are responsible for what they post (even legally speaking).
I want to emphasise that Pinside is and always has been independent. I’m well aware of the importance of the site owner of an online forum to remain objective and impartial. That means no companies may have any direct influence on (moderation) decisions. But while we don’t take sides, we do aim to promote the hobby, not kill it. We have responsibilities: towards the industry, towards our members and to ourselves (the future of Pinside).
TWIP: Some are calling for less moderation and more promotion of free speech. Others are calling for bans of certain members, which can be seen as the ultimate moderation. How do you find a balance of more vs. less moderation?
Robin: I’m not sure what more free speech Pinside needs. We essentially already allow everything (with some common sense exceptions such as religion, politics, etc). Provided that one can bring their message across in a manner that doesn’t break our site rules there is plenty of room for all opinions to be posted. We sometimes remove parts of posts (e.g. profanity) but it’s very rarely that we delete complete posts.
The ban requests are an entirely different story and I know a lot of people think that simply banning users would solve problems. It often doesn’t work. There have been folks telling me if I just banned this short list of people, then everything would be better. What they don’t know is that others also send me similar lists. Guess what, often times people are on each others lists – accusing each other of being “bad apples”, go figure.
As such, banning people from Pinside really is a last resort. And even then, we’ll often find banned members (try to) come back under a different handle (more difficult now that we have verification in place) or their “place in the hierarchy” is simply taken over by someone else.
TWIP: Is the moderation team on Pinside trained? Are they paid or is it strictly a volunteer position?
Robin: Being a moderators is a volunteer position. Moderators spend many hours per week helping me run Pinside and do it all for free. Obviously, Pinside does not have the resources to have all these moderators on the payroll. Plus that would also create all kinds of expectations and I’m not sure that would work well.
All moderators are hand picked by me (or rather, they’re kindly asked whether they want to join the Pinside team) – often at the suggestion of other members or existing moderators. I look for people who are on Pinside every day, who show levelheadedness, make mature posts, show common sense, are calm, relaxed, nice and who have a clear understanding of how online communities (should) work. I especially look for individuals who do not make any rash, individual decisions. Behind the scenes, most moderations (except the clear cut cases, like spammers) are discussed between multiple members of the mod team. This helps ensure that we don’t have any moderators pulling individual favours or going on power trips.
All of this doesn’t mean moderators aren’t allowed to post their own opinions and participate on the site like any other Pinsider. But opinions of moderators do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Pinside.
TWIP: Really tempted here to ask “why would anyone want to be a moderator?”, but I’ll refrain!
Robin: Haha, it’s not THAT bad! The mod team are big pinball fans, and obviously frequent visitors of Pinside. Being a moderator is often regarded a thankless job, but I believe the mods do enjoy being part of the Pinside team. We have a lot of fun on our backchannel chat (where we discuss all kinds of matters related to the site and to moderation). I also like to believe that I see a big sense of camaraderie and a common goal to keep the site running in the right direction.
That and the free beer of course!
TWIP: Free beer?
Robin: Sssst, don’t tell anyone!
TWIP: What is the biggest challenge you face with running Pinside?
Robin: There’s lots more to it than most people realise!
But if I have to pick something, it would be the forum. It sometimes keeps me up at night. Seriously, there are times when I wish I hadn’t started a pinball forum or that it didn’t grow to what it is now. The internet can be very harsh and this unfiltered stream of different opinions can sometimes wear you out. Especially in a position as the site owner, where you are often confronted with the worst stuff that is happening on the site: Feuds between members. People getting scammed. Trolls. Good industry people getting raked over the coals. It sometimes feels like a responsibility that I’m not sure I want to have.
And then there’s the whole balance of fun vs noise. Roughly half of our membership sees Pinside as a place to have fun while discussing pinball topics. The other half feels that this banter is noise and wants us to keep things more on topic. Naturally, it is impossible to please everybody although I have been trying things (e.g. the Lounge and the Basement) and am working on other stuff too (top secret) that will hopefully keep a lot of people happy.
TWIP: There was an announcement a while back of a possible “purge”, where some members may be banned for a period of time. Did that happen, or are there plans for that to happen in the future?
Robin: We’ve had purges in the past. These were always unannounced. They are periods when we are a bit stricter and quicker to hit the eject and freeze buttons then we normally are. To be honest, I don’t view the “announced” purge as a particular success (but you gotta try out things sometimes), because suddenly people are expecting things.
Frankly, the moderators and I are an incredibly relaxed group of people, so it takes a lot to get banned. I’m not going to make any more announcements about purges. Pinsiders will find out themselves when they get banned (although this never happens without a warning first).
TWIP: Are there any plans to allow current banned members back onto Pinside?
Robin: I always like to think people deserve a second chance. Sometimes even a third chance. After that, it gets hard. This has to do with credibility and trust. Some people have simply made themselves impossible. And some probably just shouldn’t be on a forum (getting banned everywhere is kind of a good indication of that). Fortunately, our actual banned members list is pretty short. But, to answer your question, it’s safe to say that anyone who manages to get banned more than 2 times is permanently out.
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