302: Developing Moderator Guidelines

An often neglected part of administering a Discord server is the onboarding process for your moderators. Even when people have the right mindset, knowledge, and availability to moderate your server, there will still be an adjustment period. Your new moderators need to learn not just the technical ins and outs of your server moderation system, but they also need to adapt to more subjective expectations. These expectations include how to conduct themselves on the server, when and how to warn users, and other server-specific considerations and clarifications. While much of this will be subjective and something for you to determine yourself, this will cover some important moderation principles that you can use when developing your own moderator guidelines. An example set of moderation guidelines will be included at the end of this article.

Lead by Example

The moderators are the people that your community members look to, not just for enforcement of server rules and maintaining the peace, but also as role models for what behavior is appropriate for the server. If your users see moderators ignoring or bending certain rules, they will learn that that is ok for them to do so also, and they will call you out if you attempt to hypocritically enforce rules against them. As such, moderators should hold themselves to a higher standard than other users, especially in regards to civility and more subjective rules such as what is considered NSFW content. This also applies also for private interactions among the mod team.

For example, if a moderator is talking in chat and shares a suggestive picture, users will understand that other pictures that are equally as suggestive are ok to post. Not only will this encourage borderline rule-breaking behavior, it makes it more difficult for moderators to peacefully moderate NSFW content because users will say “Well, you posted this picture and the picture I posted is basically the same.” The same holds true in the way moderators respond to questions. If someone asks for help on something and moderators respond to them rudely or condescendingly others will treat new users the same way and create a hostile environment.

That’s not to say that moderators can’t have fun, of course. Moderators can and should participate in chat regularly and engage with members as normal users. If a moderator entering chat is disruptive in and of itself, it usually means that moderators are not active enough in the server. 

Ultimately, moderators should strive to be seen fondly by server members, yet respected in their positions of authority. Moderators that fail to enforce rules will be seen as unprofessional or “pushovers” by the server members, while moderators that enforce rules too strictly and/or do not participate in chat will be seen as aloof, aggressive, or out of touch.

The Spirit of the Rules

One of the things you may often hear is that the “spirit of the rules” is more important than the “letter.” In other words, it is more important that people follow the intent of the rules, rather than adhering to a literal or technical definition. As a result, moderators should focus on managing the problems of chat, including addressing unhealthy behavior that may not directly break a rule. It is appropriate to moderate people that are deliberately toeing the line to see what they can get away with (i.e., trolling), but what many moderator teams also forget is that the rules are not infallible, and moderators should use their judgment to enforce rules only when it makes sense, and not blindly following the letter of the law.

There may be instances where the wording or specifics of the rules end up disallowing behavior that, in practice, does not go against the main principle of moderation. In these cases, moderators should refrain from warning the user without consulting the rest of their mod team and also seriously consider modifying the rules to more accurately reflect the expectations of the mod team in regards to server conduct.

For example: let’s say you have a rule that prevents users from cropping images to focus on sexual body parts in order to prevent NSFW conversations from occurring in chat. However, someone ends up cropping an image of an in game character to focus on her skirt from behind, discussing the outfit. In this case, it may not be appropriate to warn the user since they are using this image to start an appropriate conversation, even if it technically breaks the rule about cropping pictures. So, the mod team should discuss ways that the rule can be rewritten to cover scenarios like these, rather than resign themselves to warning the user “because the rules say so.”

Remember: the rules exist to serve the community, not the other way around. Moderators should conduct themselves in accordance with the rules, and potentially even better, but they ultimately have the power to change them for the better of the server if need be. Treat your rules as a living document and remember that they are there to improve your community, not stunt it. 

When to Forgo Progressive Discipline

While certain rules readily offer an “instant ban” option (such as doxxing) in some cases, a user’s conduct may reveal that they are only in chat to troll or otherwise cause trouble in a way that does not break one of the instant ban rules. 

Just as the rules exist to serve the community, so too does the progressive discipline system. The purpose of the progressive discipline system is to allow your members to understand their bad behavior and rectify it in the future without unduly punishing them for occasional small mistakes. Conversely, this means that users that are clearly acting in bad faith on the server may not be afforded the same leniency and should be muted or banned depending on the circumstances especially if the user in question does not have any previously normal chat history. While users that instantly break rules without message history could all be potentially banned, some behavior you may want to consider in particular includes:

  • Predatory comments (e.g., “Are there any girls on this server? Send me a DM.”)
  • Racial slurs
  • Posting “cursed” images or otherwise spamming images in the wrong channels
  • Advertising other servers/their own social media

It’s important that disruptive users be addressed quickly before they sour the mood of the other server members (which could lead to additional infractions from users that were incited by the original bad behavior in the first place). Just as moderators should not use the rules to punish users that don’t practically deserve it, moderators should also be sure not to allow disruptive users to remain on the principle of following policy.

Other Considerations

While the principles above are the most generally important moderation principles, there may be other things you want to include in your moderator guidelines channel as well such as

  • How to evaluate more subjective rules (e.g., “what is NSFW content?”)
  • Technical instructions such as how to log warnings or other procedural information
  • The purpose of various moderation related channels

Always keep in mind any peculiarities of your server and questions your moderators might have so that you can proactively address them before they become issues.

Summary

A moderation guidelines channel is an important channel for helping your moderators get acquainted with both the procedural aspects of moderation and the more subjective aspects. Moderators should be aware that they are leading by example and hold themselves to a higher standard so that other users will be encouraged to follow their example. This will help them perform their duties smoothly as well as allow them to readily de-escalate conflicts before they become an issue, encouraging a positive server culture. Finally, by encouraging your moderators to evaluate situations critically, you have mods that can understand both when users should be swiftly punished as well as when rules may need to be adjusted or clarified to allow greater flexibility.

If you’re interested in seeing example moderation guidelines, you can check out the link here. Hopefully these help you in developing your own moderation guidelines. Happy moderating!