Pandemic, megathreads and moderation

The big news of the spring wasn’t college admissions, but COVID-19. It’s almost the only thing people have been talking about for the last month or so. That’s true on College Confidential just as on every other online platform. Discussion of the pandemic has been common around the forums, but the Parents Forum has seen some of the most active threads:

Note that these numbers don’t include replies that were deleted for various reasons.

As someone relatively new to College Confidential and a parent trying to help a junior through the college admission process, I find these threads overwhelming. I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of people like doschicos to provide relevant information. And also overwhelmed with the length and complexity of these threads. I’ve found them hard to read and even harder to analyze for the purposes of moderation.

Interestingly, I’ve heard two different takes on the moderation of replies in these threads:

  • The rules of the site are being broken and moderators are letting too much get through.
  • Moderators are overly strict and biased.

It tends to be a good sign when criticism comes from opposite directions when it comes to moderation. I’d be worried if we only heard one type of complaint. Overall, I’d say the moderators are doing a good job, well, being moderate.

But I think these massive threads are making moderation more difficult than it should be. In a small thread, a moderator can read through the interactions between users and figure out what happened without having to have participated in the thread. But when the thread reaches hundreds or thousands of replies, that’s not possible. Moderators who have been involved with the thread from the beginning might be able to keep track. And yet, we ask moderators not to moderate threads they are active in. This is a classic Catch-22. If a mod is active, there’s an appearance of bias. If they are not active, they can’t make fair decisions without investing many hours reading.

I’m learning that the site is difficult the navigate. Not to avoid responsibility (because it is my job to make sure the site is usable), but the previous managers of the site really messed up the interface. I understand people are reliant on the bookmark feature to find discussions they are interested in. (And the feature is, apparently, unreliable. Hrmmmm…) So I can see why putting off-topic discussions of COVID-19 into one thread would help.

As an aside, we are working on making the site easier to navigate. We’re adding a forum index which will help new users navigate the topics. Personally I’ve missed this feature so much I created my own version so I could find things. It’s not nearly enough, but it’s a start.

At any rate, I’d like to ask for your help in a few ways:

  • Take a moment before posting a reply to consider whether this is the best place to say what you are about to say. It’s pretty easy for the conversation to verge into divisive subjects, such as politics, when we are all stressed out. To be blunt: nobody changes their mind about politics and least of all because of something they read on the internet. It’s just going to frustrate you and waste your time.

  • Consider summarizing news articles rather than quoting them. I know people want to share content with other parents, but it’s better to link to the source. Especially for news outlets we rely on in these difficult times, let’s not deny them advertising and subscription revenue. (And if you don’t trust the source, don’t post about it! :wink:

  • Please be patient with our moderators. There’s a good chance they are just as stressed out as you are by the pandemic and having to adjust to staying home. In addition, they have the stress of caring for the health of this community. Especially in private conversations (which are intrinsically more intimate) take a few minutes to consider what it would be like to receive the message you are sending before you hit the post button.

Finally, I’d like to hear your input on how to manage off-topic COVID-19 discussions. I have several solutions in mind, but I’d like to hear from you all before we decide. How can we continue having these threads without over-burdening our moderators?

Why was this thread moved to a forum hardly anyone goes to?

By this afternoon it’s likely your discussion, which was posted originally in Parent Cafe (which now says “moved” ) will be on page 2 where no one will see it.

This is part of the problem with moderation on this whole forum.

It is stupid to have moved your thread.

You ask us to be patient with the moderators, I would suggest the moderators be patient with the posters, who without them, you will have no forum at all.

Doschicos thread was very important to a lot of people, and I’m sure she appreciates your praise - except one of your moderators closed it down a few weeks ago. So now people have to find another thread - where they might be able to post something - which would have gone into that thread. Then it gets deleted by the mod(s) for being “off topic” and threats are made to the posters that the thread will be closed, also.

The truth about moderators (on most forums) is they let their power go to their heads and they go on power trips.

There actually is very little moderation needed at all in the Parent Cafe - where 99.9 percent of posters are adults in their 50’s and 60’s. Yet, the heavy hand(s) can’t just leave them alone. We can work stuff out ourselves, by - putting posters on ignore, questioning a post with another post or simply not reading thread where you don’t like how the topic of conversation is going.

Send the mods to the kid’s forums and threads and leave the adults alone.

This is my opinion.

Did a moderator move the thread?

A couple of comments from a moderator:

It was an administrator’s decision to close down the first COVID-19 thread, after moderators reported the number of complaints we were getting about the thread.

In ten years of moderating this website, I can say that more TOS violations are committed by adults than students, by far. Unfortunately, adult users tend to keep escalating debates until insults are flying. Having said that, the vast majority of users can go many years without receiving a single warning.

Hi @emilybee ! I posted to the Parent Cafe and moved it to this location. There’s a link in the Parent Cafe so that people can still find it, but this post applies to everyone! Again, I know the site is not making it easy to get this post in front of people, but we’re doing our best to make it work. I’ll respond to the rest of your reply separately.

@ccadmin_Jon

You don’t seem to understand that in a few hours your link on Parent Cafe will be on page 2 - where no one will see it.

Maybe this thread should be tagged with something like: “Important stuff- READ ME”

Twice. First the redesign and then the log in mess which locked out long time members.

That reminds me, @jym626. I’ve added a note at the top of the active COVID thread and a reply. Every little bit helps!

I was surprised & disappointed the big news thread (@doschicos) was shut down.

At one time, wasn’t it possible for Moderators to put repeat offenders in “jail”? Is that no longer an option?

IMO, moderators should moderate if people get nasty and personal but be less sticklers if a post, especially in the Parent Cafe where things tend to be conversational as much as or more so than informational, meanders a bit. Some of the best threads do, often coming back to the topic at hand in due course. I don’t see where some sidebars in a conversation are that bad. Often, they make a conversation more interesting. The “mega” type threads tend to do that and continue to thrive. If a certain sidebar starts to overwhelm a thread, it’s easy enough to start a new thread to discuss that topic as has been done many times.

Also, IMO, if someone breaks a TOS rule, deal with it with the individual poster(s). Don’t scold the entire thread’s participants and punish the many for the sins of a few.

Over the past few years, I have seen threads shut down for no clear reasons apparent to me, the reader, other than the impression that a moderator did not personally like the topic of conversation. That comes across as very heavy handed and misplaced.

I do know several posters, ones who I thought added valuable content, who have messaged me in recent weeks that they have left CC out of frustration around moderation and that is unfortunate. This is on top of many more who left when the website went through a major overhaul last year resulting in a less user friendly and less function design, especially for those using smartphones to access CC.

@CCadmin_Jon, I appreciate you starting this thread, the transparency, and asking for input.

It is. Unfortunately the two options for moderators are:

  • [] Slow down, but not block, users from posting replies for a period of time.
    [
    ] Permanently ban people.

The first option is pretty much useless since people can continue to reply. The second is really too extreme for most situations. So what moderators have done is ban people permanently and put an event on their calendar to unban them. This . . . is not sustainable.

What’s worse . . . it’s not really clear what the rules are for these giant threads. We do want to give people a little slack, but that can feel unfair since not everyone has the same idea of what’s allowed and what’s not. We’re looking at improving the “jail” feature, which could help in the future. But that still won’t solve the disagreement about the rules. (And it’s also a few months away at best.)

Before the awful cc update, the mods putting a poster in jailbars (or time out or what have you) I thought took away the person’s posting and PM privileges for a proscribed period of time. IIRC they could log in to read, but couldn’t post (either start a new thread or add to an existing one) or PM anyone. They were essentially in cc limbo for a week or 2 or 3. What happened to that?

The Doschicos thread was the single best thing about CC. I strongly agree with the below as well:

Also, IMO, if someone breaks a TOS rule, deal with it with the individual poster(s). Don’t scold the entire thread’s participants and punish the many for the sins of a few.

I suspect if you warn, then ban, a few posters quickly most of the other posters will fall into line.

And not that it matters, except to give credit where credit is due, the now closed COVID thread was started by TatinG.

Another thought is perhaps to somehow require new members to read the TOS and Rules before giving them posting privileges. If there was a way to have that somehow confirmed (like some of the facebook groups do) it might not only help with compliance to the rules, but it might cut down on spam posts. Just a thought.

After many years on CC, I’m uncertain what’s allowed in the Covid threads, given the explicitly political comments on every side that were allowed to stand in the original “Coronavirus in the US” thread without moderator action. This turned my understanding of what’s permitted here upside down.

However, I do think that, once moderators have made clear where the lines are and ask more than once for compliance, there is a good alternative to closing the thread. Why not ban posters who continue to post in opposition to moderator requests, for however long seems appropriate? You wouldn’t ban posters for their opinions; you’d ban them for refusing to follow the TOS.

All of us can express ourselves without resorting to insults or deliberate provocation, though it may take a little longer to get the point across (and won’t be as instantly gratifying a lot of times). I also think it’s unnecessary to refer to anyone’s actions here as “stupid” unless we’re on the “Say It Here” thread.

I admit that I’m one of the posters who prefer a thread stay basically on topic. There are a lot of posters who think it’s their right to post anything they want anywhere they want, even if there are other threads devoted to that topic. It’s getting hard to distinguish some threads from each other due to cross topic posting.

I agree that there are posters who argue the same points over and over with the same people. Take your fight to PM. Don’t take over an interactive and stimulating discussion with your personal fight.

Keep in mind that we don’t see most of the deleted posts that have gotten warnings and shut down threads. The little I have seen suggests the rest might have been much worse.

I agree if a thread strays quite a bit off topic that those posts should be moved to the correct thread or a new thread. Can moderators do that?

I agree that CC Parent Cafe shouldn’t end up like my local Next Door which is positively frightening in the arrogance and disdain reflected in those posts.

I agree that the moderators are doing the best they can in a very challenging atmosphere of entitlement and superiority. Thank you!

There are also posters who think of CC as their personal soapbox or personal blog. Aren’t there other forms of social media for that? Isn’t CC a discussion and learning forum?

Thank you for starting this discussion. I’m new to this site and started posting because I was concerned about safety issues regarding the virus. I have read info here about colleges for some time but didn’t feel like joining in posting before this virus. I found very intelligent other people who posted a lot of helpful information during a very stressful time with events impacting us all and changing our lives. I can’t tell you how valuable the info Doschicos and so many others was to us.

When I first was just reading at this site, one thing that stood out to me was that a pretty large number of posters have ‘banned’ across their avatars. That concerned me and made me reluctant to ever post here. If the virus had not happened I likely would have have posted for that reason. I was not seeing posts by these people that seemed like reason to ban (maybe such posts were deleted). I was seeing a trend that many who had been banned had posted some of the most helpful information and many posts that were obviously very well intentioned and kind.

When I started posting I found the warnings to posters in threads very jarring. Each time I read one of them it knocks me out of feeling like I’m having a friendly discussion with peers to one where I’m being scolded like a group of naughty children by an upset adult. I don’t feel I’m on an even field to have a discussion with people moderating and even in this thread feel cautious at expressing my feelings.

I think the moderating is heavy handed compared to other message boards I have been on in the past. I haven’t seen it this active anywhere else, in fact. All other moderation I have seen elsewhere has been in response to things that are clearly offensive such as being rude to others posting. I don’t like that myself.

I wish the people who decide things here would consider that we are in a very unique time in history right now and that facilitating the spread of helpful information can help people stay safe and alive. Shutting down that thread was a something I would not have done and think was the wrong decision.

You could have split the thread. People complaining about its contents could have been encouraged to have a separate thread. Or, make a debate thread where you do allow civil debate (as many places do), and tell people to go there if they start debating. Or just delete certain posts. Maybe I missed a lot but other than some people arguing about NYC at the end I didn’t see much in the way of people being rude to one another directly and am not sure what caused the thread to get shut down. Actually, I have NO idea what caused the thread to get shut down.

I find the restrictions on what I can and can’t post annoying enough that I post here much less than I would without them and also read and respond to other topic threads much less as well.

One example that frustrated me and that I think is unsafe and a bad decision, no offense, is the new thread on masks that has rules about not talking about if they work or not. Well, I am personally very interested in finding the very best and most effective make your own masks I can. I learned one particular mask design was extensively tested to effectiveness by a sew shop that tested as many materials and filters and designs as they can. They found one design and material combo that actually seems to give protection that comes a bit close to a n95 mask. It would be good for people to know this who are making masks but I think posting that info is against the seemingly arbitrary to me rules of the thread. If I break the rules maybe some here who are going to make masks anyway would choose to make this more effective mask and maybe be safer. There is probably a reason for that rule but I don’t understand it.

I also agree with whoever above said that off topic conversation is usually just people having a conversation. In real life when people talk we often go into off topic conversation and I’m glad no one stands near me telling me to stop doing so. In any real life situation no one would continue talking near such a person!

This isn’t my message board and I appreciate the wealth of information here. I am humble in knowing I’m new and don’t know the social dynamics in place and appreciate that being a moderator is an enormous job.

From my perspective it seems that the focus of moderation appears to be on enforcement of rules rather than looking at facilitating a positive environment that keeps people wanting to come here and post and keeps traffic to this site up. On other boards including one where I was a moderator, those were the focus of moderating. (shrug).

I have something else I wanted to say but I’m forgetting it just now. I might come back and post more. I hope this is received in the spirit in which I’m offering it. I am a user of this site who finds the moderation off-putting if I’m truthful. I have limited my time here as a result and have thought seriously of stopping posting here entirely as well. I think things could be done in a different way. I don’t know enough about this board’s history to know what is driving your decisions and am sure there are things that might make me think differently about things, but I do appreciate getting the chance to share my opinions and what my experience here has been like.

@emilybee, I pinned the thread to the top in the Parents Cafe forums so that you guys have easy access to it.

I’m not paying that close of attention to the back & forth and even I am aware of certain posters who seem unable to “let go” of what other posters say.

Those are the ideal candidates for a direct warning, then banning for x amount of time.

I would imagine this to be less time consuming than deleting posts multiple times a day and giving multiple general warnings to the class. Yes? No? Maybe?

I think it would be helpful if we could separate ourselves out a bit here.
The pandemic is affecting all of us but we all have different concerns when it come to college.

Potential threads could be,

Students graduating college this summer.

Students in the middle of their college years.

And,

Freshmen students worried about how the virus will impact their first semester on campus.

I give up on those extremely long threads when they start to go off on too serve a tangent, however, if people do so, surely some self moderation might be in order? Or the group could maybe bring the thread back on topic, gently, politely?