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  • I was recently having a discussion with the original creator of answerMug. We’re good friends and were basically shooting the sh*t, when he mentioned he had been moderated for cursing here on the site. I don’t remember his exact words, but he ...

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What Does the Mug Stand For?

  • I was recently having a discussion with the original creator of answerMug. We’re good friends and were basically shooting the sh*t, when he mentioned he had been moderated for cursing here on the site. I don’t remember his exact words, but he conveyed a bit of surprise and said that he’d forgotten we changed the policies. I basically said, “Goof, we changed the policies when you owned the site because members requested it. Do you remember that?” He lamented that he remembered how, when he first set up the site, that his hope was to have it totally unmoderated, though he learned quickly that some people don’t police themselves, and that some moderation would always be necessary. We moved on with our discussion and life went on.

    Only, my discussion with him about the moderation on the site isn’t the only discussion I’ve had about moderation lately. I’ve had a lot of those talks. Many go much the same, with an “Oh yeah, I forgot,” sort of tone, and we move on. Even still, something is building, and I think it would be remiss for me not to acknowledge that.

    The thing that I have always loved about answerMug is that anyone is welcome. It’s a chance to learn and grow. It’s a chance to expand our horizons, meet new people, and maybe even try to see the world through the eyes of someone very different from ourselves. To me, that’s the magic. I love the knowledge for sure, but it’s the people- it’s you- who make this site worthwhile. I don’t value any member more than the next, whether we agree or disagree. And, like you all, I do mourn the losses when people leave, and not as a site owner, but as a person who genuinely cares about each of you. At the same time, I also feel that these things are often inevitable. People grow. People change. Some find they’re not a good fit. I accept that. We each have our own path and journey and we need to be true to ourselves. When someone decides their time is up here, I do feel the loss, but I don’t regret anything.

    I struggle with a way to provide transparency without alienating members. I want you all to know what we’re doing and why. I want you to feel involved in the course of the site. You’re here and your opinion matters. But, again, there isn’t one person whose rights are “worth more” than another’s. Just as you’re entitled to answers, another person is entitled to privacy and respect. And, so, it becomes a matter of balancing- diplomacy. How much transparency can I offer without impacting the rights of someone else? Because, I really think, that if you guys saw things through the same lens as the moderators, most of your fears and concerns would be put to rest.

    Mug Moderation By the Numbers

    We have three volunteer moderators- myself, My2Cents, and Goat Jumper. We are here when our schedules allow, but none of us has specific hours we’re here. M2C and GJ have specifically been asked not to make this a job because I don’t want the site to feel like work to them. They’re site members first and they help out when they see something. I think they do an amazing job. We disagree a lot, but I think that, together, we represent the interests of the diverse membership here well and we do a fair job of making sure each person is fulfilling their duties honestly, fairly, and equitably. Not one of us have a horse in the race, so to speak. We’re not friends. I respect the heck out of both of them because their loyalty is to you and to the site- not to me, not to each other. Each day when they log on, they are here for you. They are here representing you. They are looking out for your interests. And, they get a lot of flack for it too. I expect to catch crap, but these people- to volunteer their time- to speak up when they see something wrong- to challenge me when they think I’m wrong- to challenge each other when they think the other is wrong- and to do so in a respectful manner, day in and day out. I’m not even kidding- I am teary-eyed writing this. Those two are amazing. You may not think so now, if you’ve been on the receiving end of a letter, but I hope you will by the end of this.

     

    Each line/row on the chart above represents a different member. The dates are the dates we contacted the person about the event. The color represents the moderator who removed the content. This does not include the single removal we’ve had since 3/1 that was overturned.

     

    I ask that you not use the data to speculate who was contacted for what and when, but, rather, see where you fit in the mix. You know which dates you were contacted, if you have been contacted by a moderator. Are you being unfairly targeted? Or, are you one of 10-20 people who got messages? You and only you (aside from the mods) can identify who you are on this list. I cannot possibly be more transparent than this. We’ve removed 36 pieces of content from the site since 3/1. Our biggest “offenders” have received two removals and only two people received letters about doing the same thing twice.

    You guys can take what you want to out of this, and I’m glad to hear your comments, but you know what I see? I see a whole lot of people doing the right thing. We’ve only contacted 27 people since 3/1 and MOST of them chose not to do whatever got removed again. We have one mod who is out there kicking butt and has removed nearly twice what I have- and there’s a huge variance in who is getting stuff removed and why. You may think you’re being targeted, but these numbers don’t lie. You are not. Anyone who breaks a policy is. Kudos to her for making this site a better place to be and for upholding the policies evenly. If any one of you feels like you have been misrepresented in this chart- and you can verify your own data- please PM me and I will update it. I do not want it done publicly because I don’t want these matched up with the individuals and I will remove any comments that clarify who any member is to ensure the privacy of the group.

    Is there Biased/ Unequal Moderation?

    I have seen this theory creep up a few times- that we’re not moderating equally. I think that the chart above mostly blows that theory out of the water, but I know that some of you have concerns over what’s left on the site. Indeed, that could well be a sticking point. Are we leaving content up that shouldn’t be up? More importantly, are we doing it intentionally?

    I had a discussion with two members recently about this. In one case, a member approached me after they saw a large amount of a specific type of content get deleted. Again, I’m not going to say who contacted me or whose content got removed- you both know who you are. In this case, if you choose to out yourself, that’s fine, but please do not out the other person. Respect their privacy. The person who contacted me said, (paraphrasing) “JA, did you delete all that because I complained about it in a question?” I responded, “You complained about it in a question?!? Nobody reported it. I just saw it while I was out.” There was a whole thread dedicated to how I was ignoring that group of content. You guys made up your minds that I was being biased and didn’t even consider that I might not have seen it. No reports. Nothing. Now, I have spoken with that member since, and we’re on the same page now, but this is a perfect example of someone wrongly assuming there’s some kind of bias. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I am not omnipotent. I have no magic juju that takes me to TOS-violating stuff. If I don’t see it and the mods don’t see it, we can’t remove it. We rely on YOU to report it.

    I personally look at every report that comes in. If it violates our policies, the content goes. If it doesn’t, I delete the report and move on. If something you report is not removed, by all means, email me and ask me why or add a note on your report that says you want me to follow up with you. IF I don’t remove something you’ve reported and I cannot tell you why I didn’t, then by all means, call me biased. Then, you will have your proof. Until then, it’s misinformed speculation.

    Are We Conservative or Liberal?

    I can’t count the number of times I have heard complaints one way or the other. Whether we’re conservative or liberal depends entirely on your personal point of view. However, without ousting anyone, I can say in the past 30 days, my inbox has received two letters saying the site’s policies are too lax and two letters calling for tighter moderation. Like it or not, you guys are split. We have a diverse group and our very liberal and very conservative members will likely never be happy with the level of moderation on the site. While I’d like everyone to be happy, I’m ok with that. To me, that means everyone is welcome and every group is represented. That’s where I want us to be.

    Closing Remarks

    As long as there are people here, answerMug will always be imperfect. However, it is these imperfections, these growing pains, these hard discussions, that make it beautiful. Yes, it stings when people make accusations that we aren’t being fair, but, at the same time, I recognize that each of you is crusading for your own brand of justice. That, too, is beautiful. You didn’t have the full information to make some of the judgments you have, but I believe you do now. I am proud of this site. I am honored to have the mods we do. I am deeply touched that so many of you are here. Whether we agree or not, that’s what this site is about. From this experience, same as any other, we can learn and grow. So, while I humbly disagree with so much of what has been written, I also am glad that each of you is here to disagree and that, regardless of where we stand, you each have felt comfortable expressing your view- without fear of censorship or retaliation.

    Got a plan to make the Mug better? Let’s focus on the actionable things we can do to improve it. My inbox is always open.

Comments

17 comments
  • SavvyAnsley likes this

  • Nevan B
    Nevan B
    Thank you for posting this. Moderation is often a thankless job and there is a lot people don't understand about how it works and how the moderators try to be as fair as possible. Of course I have my own personal gripes (I don't like being moderated for using "curse words";) but I can live with and respect the rules. I am disappointed when I see people leave this site because we desperately need more activity. I would hope that the moderation (or lack thereof) isn't driving people away, but I know some will never be satisfied. I only hope that it continues to improve and people continue to join (and stay). 
    April 24 - 1 likes this

  • Just Asking
    Just Asking Nevan B
    Thanks for your thoughtful response. We have people on both sides of the coin right now- some calling for stricter moderation and some calling for fewer restrictions, so it's a double-edged sword. I am leaning of some improvements that can be made to the technological aspects/ bones of the site that may actually settle some of it. We have some really great people and a very diverse member base, which is part of the reason aM is such a cool place to be, but those differing opinions are certainly butting heads these days. I'm hopeful that, as long as we're all open to dialogue about it and can respect where others are coming from, as well as learn what's driving the conflict, we'll be able to work it out in a way where everyone feels good about things.
    April 24 - 1 likes this

  • tom jackson
    tom jackson
    An excellent post...

    I am 71 years old.  My wife and I have been married for over 35 years.  There are two things we have learned that are essential to both our personal growth and the growth of our marriage.

    Those two are: The first is "Real intimacy is seldom polite," and the other is "Ask for what you want 100%"  

    Marriage isn't for sissies, the shy, or the easily insulted or offended---at least if you want to learn and grow.  Same for these question and answer sites.

    The Carolina Reaper is now the hottest pepper in the world.  It contains 4 times the heat of the hottest habanero.  I absolutely refuse to eat either.  But I also think it would be totally inappropriate of me to attempt to seek out and spray weed killer on every Carolina Reaper or habanero plant so that I don't accidentally come across one in my next Mexican entree.

    My first Q & A site was ask.com. Moderation could have used some anti-anxiety medication.  Many of us followed Rooster to Blurtit.com.  I found it much more reasonable than ask.com.  I pushed the envelope once and was asked to tone it down---No problem.  I can choose alternate ways to express what I want to get across.  The point past which one should not go frequently has to be found by going to at least partially past it.  

    I do occasionally come across a post or a picture that I would consider to be in "poor taste," but I can just move on.  De gustibus non est disputandum---One should not argue about taste.

    If one is pleasing everybody, one is probably not doing his job properly----either that, or you are serving white bread with cream gravy and a glass of warm milk at your restaurant.

    Regards...

    April 24 - 5 like this

  • Just Asking
    Just Asking tom jackson
    Well said. :) Thank you for your thoughtful response.
    April 24

  • Glis
    Glis
    I always appreciate and always will what you tried to do and what you have done JA. In all honesty though I think the numbers on your chart shows what the main problem is and how unbiased some of the moderation has been.

    Not to be said  in a negative fashion but you mention " Liberal and Conservative".  Neither of those things should have any bearing on moderation.  Personal politics or values shouldn't have any bearing or consideration for moderation.   I know this isn't my sandbox but as a user it is my opinion and that of what I believe to be many others that if one is basing there judgement of the TOS and what slides and doesn't on  personal values, politics, and religious leanings that they are in fact unfit for being in a position of authority.

    I have had little personal issue with what I have had modded 80% of the time but I do notice more and more people leaving in the past 2-3 months.   From what I see based on the current crop of users since the site move I really think the cursing rule needs to be relaxed and the PG-13 rule to really mean PG-13 and not PG.  To say the that all the rules are enforced with the same strictness I. as a user,  have started to disagree.  The spamming and repeat questions rules are hardly enforced and have a tremendous amount of discretion and wiggle room while the PG-13 and cursing rules seem to be primary focus.   Even the harassment rule gets used to much because I've seen it used to take down strong dislike to peoples vacuous replies but other threads were someone or two, or a few are just stalking certain users comments and making clear attacks stay on.   I know y'all aren't everywhere but i've seen some of the mods on these very threads before so I can't buy it's always an oversight.
    I know a LOT of people feel this way and to greater degrees than myself.   So I out of respect to you and the site I think it's worthy of me saying all this.   I always enjoyed this and you.   I can't say that about many site owners or mod staff. However with the unintended demise of the other sections that have a limited functionality and the current stock of the regular and active user base I think it would be wise for some of these rules to be revised.  I understand hind site is 20/20 and it takes cash to update and fix things,  but it is what it is now and maybe some reworking of the mod a style and TOS is needed to balance that issue out.  More money isn't going to come to the sight by more people getting upset and bored into leaving and having less hits.  Especially since many of these people are the ones who have some of the most active threads when they post.


    I know this may sound harsh and be a tad insulting but I hope that reading this it's understood that it isn't personal and is in fact because I like site and and honestly do appreciate what you have done as a regular person operating out of their home and and bank account.

    April 24 - 2 like this

  • Just Asking
    Just Asking Glis
    Thank you for your response.

    To be clear, liberal and conservative are not political terms in this context. They refer to personal values. A conservative person is not likely to enjoy the sexual innuendo or the cursing. A liberal person is going to prefer uncensored discussions. That's the gist of it, anyway.

    And, I agree that those things have no bearing on how moderation is carried out- by moderators or in terms of moderation, but they do matter in terms of how policies are set. For example, when I did the poll on site cursing, we were nearly split in the middle. Our liberal members wanted the cursing ban lifted, our conservative members wanted the bans kept in place. We see this time and time again. What photos should be allowed? What sexual content should be allowed? What language should be allowed. I have opened the floor for discussion on these things time and time again to evaluate our policies and we continue to be split.

    I have also tried to open up discussions on "spam" and how people want it handled. There was a poll on that not too long ago. I think what it came down to is that nobody wants the censorship of being told their questions are limited- the best fix there was perhaps some sort of technical advancement of the site that would allow for people to remove things they didn't personally enjoy from their view. And, something like that may come when there's funding for it. IF there was a site-wide vote with no names named and the proposal was to cut someone off at 10 questions in an hour or a specific number per day, and the site majority was in favor of it, I would find a way to make it work. This isn't about me and it isn't about you- it's about the greater audience. I don't ever want to be the kind of admin that just does things arbitrarily. If we act- if we change things- it must be something done mindfully, with intention, and with the support of the majority. Without a majority vote, I won't change it. The same goes for any policy.

    And, to give you a glimpse of the timeline here, a person with conservative values messaged me last week and told me if we didn't crack down on moderation, and make the rules more stringent, cut back on the sexual innuendos allowed, that they were going to leave. As sad as it was, because I very much liked that member and valued them, I told them that this site would never meet their needs. I won't make it more conservative. I don't want more restrictions. I wished them well and they closed their account. So, for anyone who thinks I'm targeting our liberal members with this, no. It was actually a complaint and departure by a conservative member that spurred this. It was my hope that, by publishing the raw data, the conservatives would see that we do enforce policies and the liberals who feel targeted would see that they're not the only one getting removals. I think I actually wrote this on Wednesday or Thursday of last week and then floated it by the mods for approval. Goat said "JA, don't post that, we should talk." And, so I saved it in the drafts, waiting for more feedback before going live. Oops- apparently drafts are public. :/

    With all that said, I've had many talks with GJ and M2C in the past week, all focused on what we can do better or what we can do to alleviate some of the tension. Since my blog was already live before my discussion with GJ, I just left it. I didn't consider that the data would be interpreted any way other than how I intended it. To say one is more restrictive than others, I don't think that's so. I literally look at every single content deletion, whether it's by me or not, and if it's not something I would have deleted myself, I say something. So, the numbers could just as easily be skewed showing me with 100% of the removals because I personally approved of every single one. The point in showing who did the actual deletions was to demonstrate to people who felt targeted that they were one of 10-20 people, meaning they couldn't possibly be targeted. That is what I hoped people would see when they looked at this.

    Moving forward, again, the site is financed by me, so development is difficult. You already acknowledged this, but to hit home the point,  that also means I don't care about profitability. I care about the members. And, every time someone donates, that money goes into changes. For example, when we got our time stamps and member names in the question list, that was one person's donation. I will be able to personally fund more changes near the end of May. In fact, as soon as I finished my discussion with GJ last weekend, my next message was to our developer. I asked him to block out some time for us to address some of the issues with groups. I've already coordinated that and the chat fixes. Now it's just a matter of either waiting for my funds to come in or donations to cover it. Either way. I should also add that, when I talked to GJ, I specifically asked him to propose some changes to policy. He took it upon himself to start rallying the troops, which I am incredibly grateful for. When good minds come together and have a firm understanding of what needs to be accomplished, and what the root cause of conflicts is, there's no way people aren't walking away with either solutions or peace.

    I don't take offense when people stand up and say what they want to see happen. Not at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. Many of you are taking ownership and responsibility. You've made AM your home and you're standing up for what you think is right. You're protecting it. I couldn't ask for a greater compliment than that.

    When I say we'll never appease people who are on either far end of the conservative/ liberal scale, I do mean that. To lean too far in either direction would mean that we're cutting off the voices of the other side. That would undermine the intent of the site. I won't do that. However, there is room in the middle, and I thought we were there. Maybe we are. Maybe we're not. As sad as it is to potentially lose people over that, I'm at peace with it. I sincerely hope that you guys are able to come up with solutions I didn't come up with on my own that will help us push past things in a way the majority of people feel is amicable. I am listening. I do hear you. I don't have answers, nor can I support lifting things without more information, but I'm very much game to see where things go and if we can come up with something that supports our overall goals. The site is you and people like you. I am grateful for that.

    April 24 - 2 like this

  • Glis
    Glis Just Asking
    It's just hard to state all this as users without becoming rants and devolving into a piss and moan rant or temper-tantrum about things so I wanted to acknowledge that.
    Even in some of my dialogues with people about this issue I noticed myself heading down that path and head to step back.
    I'm sure I'm offensive even at most mild to a fair amount of users but maybe people should be more open about someone being overly crass or offensive to them without being a jerk about it.  People might avoid their comments and threads if they just clearly say that  a certain kind of response isn't much appreciated on their threads. 


    The thing about the spam and repeat posting thing is.  IMHO as someone who has been a mod on a few sites before.   when people run up the boards with posts and threads  in a machine gun fashion it limits the speech and exposure of others and is silencing to members.   It's an abuse and assault on the community and other users and is essentially peeing on a fire hydrant to say to the other dogs  " THIS IS MINE".   I fully understand and support your intentions of not wanting to silence people and have a promotion of speech.  However when it's repeating the same topic, the same questions,  at the same time, and taking up all the space.   That is killing the speech of everyone else and saying that the free speech " belongs to me. Shut up and hear me first".     Again as a user I wouldn't recommend limiting how many questions are asked in a time frame or anything like that, but I do think there are TOS rules in place were discretion could be used to ask that people not engage in that type of thing.   A good number of people post 20 questions in an hour that are varied and have a good diversity,  other just ask 20-30 question as fast as they can type them that are all about the same thing and in many instances the same exact question but slightly rephrased.  There is a world of difference between those two cases and doing the former is stealing voice, free speech, and exposure from the other members.

    April 24 - 2 like this

  • Just Asking
    Just Asking Glis
    My worry is that when discretionary policies come into play, moderation is a matter of opinion at that point. How will you know if you're in the clear when you fire off 20 questions? How will anyone know? I don't think they can know because the ruling would be arbitrary. Each of us mods will have a different opinion and each member will have a different opinion. We see this in terms of sexual content here a lot already. How can we provide dependable and consistent moderation on an unclear policy? (FYI, the sexual policies are very clear to me... to others, apparently not so much.)

    There was a time on another website where a friend of mine and I would assign topics to each other- we were prolific askers, so we'd race to see who could do 15-20 the fastest on our given topics. IMO, it was hilarious. People jumped in on those and started doing their own, so it wasn't exclusive. One night, she gave me "frogs" and I probably had mine all up within 10 minutes. But, other people picked up on it and the board probably had 150 frog questions by the end of the night. Sure, some people called us spammers. And, I think stuff like that is far more inclusive of others than the kind of thing you're referencing. But, let's say there is a 10 or 20 policy. How do I justify pulling or silencing those other questions and not ones like the frog questions? Frankly, the site that stops me from interacting with my friends, and virtually anyone who wants to join in, is not a site I want to be part of. So, how do I differentiate the two? It can't just be my opinion. It can't be arbitrary. Where's the hard and clear line?

    April 24 - 2 like this

  • Glis
    Glis Just Asking
    Again I see your concerns.  I'm not trying to imply I have all the answers or mine are the concrete correct ones.   Maybe having a clearer definition of what is considered spamming in the TOS.   I know we disagree slightly on what a repeat question is and I have learned to come to accept that..
    Ultimately though I would like to say I'd hate to see a block feature implemented since I know what negativity that brings.

    April 24 - 3 like this

  • Just Asking
    Just Asking Glis
    I don't have a problem with that. I will think on it some more. If you come up with something, let me know please.
    April 24 - 2 like this

  • Glis
    Glis Just Asking
    Definitely, if I think I got something creative or novel I'll give you a shout.  I'm gonna let it rest now though before I become a whining broken record or fall in a rabbit hole I don't like allowing myself in.
    April 24 - 3 like this

  • Nevan B
    Nevan B Glis
    The cursing rule is also a lot easier to enforce, so that might explain why cursing is cracked down on and more vaguely defined offenses (such as what defines "spam";) are not. 
    April 24 - 4 like this

  • Glis
    Glis Nevan B
    The traditional internet forum definition.    The old USENET and IRC definitions.

    what Maddox says here.

    http://answermug.com/forums/topic/28109/isn-t-this-the-best-definition-of-forum-spam-ever

    April 24 - 1 likes this

  • Karen
    Karen Glis
    I've watched that, it has a lot of truth in it. 
    May 7

  • Karen
    Karen Nevan B
    Posting the same questions over and over and over whether they be Trump or trash-bags, is considered spam. I totally agree with you on this. 

  • weylon.com
    weylon.com
    I should note that I chose to allow moderators to moderate my content in order to make a point, the point that even though I was the owner, I was not immune to doing what is right for the site.

     As far as conservative/liberal, I love questions regarding politics and religion as long as they are asked in a way that allows discussion and not simply promoting the ideas of the asker.

     I think it all boils down to respect, if we would just respect others, just realize we aren't perfect ourselves and try and view things from the other person's point of view, we'd likely all be happy.

     No site can hold those people who have no respect and think the world revolves around them.

    April 29 - 4 like this

  • Just Asking
    Just Asking weylon.com
    Shoot. I could have just posted that and saved myself more than an hour. ;) Beautifully said.
    April 29 - 3 like this