Moderating in tricky territory: refugees, racism and rants

Alison MichalkOnline community moderation is no longer a luxury, especially when dealing with brands and products with contentious issues at their heart says Quiip’s Alison Michalk in a piece that first appeared in Encore.

The digital world is littered with reputation management failures, where brands have had their pages hijacked and reputations sullied by poorly moderated posts. While it is not always black and white, and there can be myriad factors at play, in the last week alone Qantas and Hyundai have both faced issues in this space with Qantas caught up in controversy over bigoted comments posted on the brand’s Facebook page and Hyundai in damage control after a customer complaint about a service charge went viral.

Neither of these brands could have seen this coming and the only response was a strong moderation policy. But what happens when the heart of your content is a hot button topic that you know will generate fiery and emotional responses? You need to act like a boy scout and be prepared.

There can be no better example than the SBS series Go Back to Where You Came From which followed the journey of refugees in Australia in reverse.

When a program is so contentious and potentially inflammatory it generates a maelstrom of online comments before it airs, you know the floodgate of public opinion will open afterwards.

In moderating commentary around the show, Quiip’s aim was to welcome debate and diversity of opinion, without crossing into discriminatory and offensive territory with the key challenge of keeping website discussions on topic.

We have a set of five key rules for community managers when moderating contentious topics and these served us well when working on this project. The rules are:

1. Be aware of relevant media legislation

2. Stay impartial

3. Enforce the guidelines

4. Avoid stereotypes and generalisations

5. Watch for trolls

Of these rules, number four was particularly relevant, given the program shone a torch on exactly that.

Moderators kept a close eye on the issue of racism, in particular sweeping comments regarding refugees that bordered on being prejudicial or discriminatory. In keeping with defined moderation parameters, anything harsh towards refugees was deemed non-permissible.

Moderators set expectations, reminding the community that comments that were “rude, abusive, aggressive or using inappropriate language” were against the terms of service and would not be published.

Analysing text-heavy content in a pre-moderated environment and making swift judgment calls for hours at a time is not something for the faint-hearted.

Increasingly brands need to understand that moderation is a highly specialised skill, and it’s not only your reputation at stake but the very community that you are building, which is a long-term asset for any brand.

Much like SBS’ multi-platform initiatives, we’re going to see brands looking beyond Facebook and increasingly experimenting with forums and other platforms. This is where the need for skilled moderation and communication increases significantly.

And while it may seem like a brave new world at times, it’s worth remembering that traditional communities have been around for decades. We shouldn’t disregard research and the experience of those who’ve inhabited this space since before the dawn of the world wide web.

Alison Michalk is the director of community management and moderation firm Quiip.

Encore 2013 issue 10

This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.


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