202: Handling Difficult Scenarios

For moderators both new and experienced, enforcing the rules is central to your role in your respective community. It’s something you’ll run into daily and not knowing how to handle an infraction severely undermines your abilities as a moderator. This article will be going over a few things relating on how to take action as a moderator. We’ll talk about the things you should consider in situations that require a moderator, the first steps you should take in common scenarios, and touch on what punishments are appropriate. If you’re unsure of the tools available to you and how they work, consider reading DMA 201 first.

Steps to Resolution

There are a few “genres” of things you tend to see on a daily basis, depending on your community. Keep in mind that every situation is unique. Because of this, you may find it difficult to understand what exactly you should do in each different scenario. If you find yourself in one of those situations, here are some good steps to follow for nearly every situation: 

  • Situation Identification
    • Is something happening?
    • Does this need a moderator?
  • Information Gathering
    • Context
    • Motives
  • Initial Response
    • De-escalation
    • Proportional Response
  • Situation Closure
    • Informing other staff
    • Stating a message where the issue occurred
      • E.g.“Sorry about that, situation handled!”

In some scenarios, steps 2 and 3 can be interchangeable or simultaneous. Sometimes the context and motives are immediately apparent with the action, such as a user’s intent to cause disruption by spamming gore in your server. You can see right away that no additional context is needed and that their motives are demonstrated clearly, so you can go right to proportional response. In this case, the user is typically banned and reported to Discord’s Trust & Safety team.

Situation Identification

There are two questions you should ask yourself whenever something catches your attention: 

  • Is something happening?
  • Does this need a moderator?

These questions are rather straightforward, but sometimes the answer may be a little unclear. Typically a member’s disruption in the chat will catch your eye. This disruption may be a variety of different things: they might be explicitly breaking your server’s defined rules, treating other members harshly, bringing the quality of your chat down through their behavior, or perhaps just a small yet visible disagreement. If you confirm that something like this is happening, you can then ask yourself the next question: Do I need to intervene?

When a member begins to disrupt your server, this member may need intervention from a moderator to prevent the situation from escalating. However, while it may be your first instinct to step in as a moderator when something happens, take a step back and evaluate if that’s necessary. If two members have a disagreement on a subject, this doesn’t always mean that the situation will become heated and require your intervention. Disagreements are common not only on Discord but in any sort of open forum platform where everyone can voice their opinion on whatever anyone else says. Disagreements are a natural part of conversation and can encourage healthy discourse. As long as a disagreement does not turn into a heated argument, disagreements tend to be mostly benign.

There are, however, also cases that will require a moderator’s intervention. If a situation seems to be escalating into harassment rather than simple disagreement, or if members are posting things that break your server’s rules, you can determine that it’s appropriate for you to intervene. 

Information Gathering

After you’ve confirmed to yourself that something needs your attention, you should begin the next step of gathering information. 

Before we get into that though, it’s good to note that there are certain scenarios in which you would entirely skip this step and immediately move on to the third step- involving de-escalation or handing down a corrective action. Situations like these are ones in which you can tell right away that additional context is unnecessary and that something needs to be done, typically immediately. Situations like this could be:

  • Posting NSFW in non-marked channels
  • Posting gore
  • Mass spamming
  • Call to arms (Raiding threats, posting IPs and asking for DDoS, etc)

In cases like these, additional deliberation is unnecessary as the violations are obvious. For more ambiguous cases however, you should consider the context of the situation and the motives of the user.

Considering Context

Context is the surrounding circumstances of each situation. This includes the events that happened before the incident, the interaction history of those involved, the infraction history of those involved, and even how long they’ve been in your server.

Consider the scenario where a user uses a racial slur. Some may think that the user should immediately have corrective action taken against them, but that may not be the case. This user could have been explaining an issue they run into in the real world, or they could be asking someone else not to use the word. With additional information at hand, it may become evident that the transgression is less severe than initially thought, or perhaps even a non-violation at all. The exact action taken will depend on your rules, but it’s clear that understanding all of the relevant information is key to ensuring you take appropriate and proportional action.

Motives

Another thing to consider when you first approach a scenario is the underlying motives of those involved. What are they trying to achieve? What is their goal by doing what they’re doing? 

For example, if two users are trading mild insults, it is possible to interpret this as friendly banter if you know these two people are good friends. Conversely, if you know these people dislike each other, then their motives may be less than friendly. Knowing your members well will therefore help you better to assess when a situation that needs intervention is occurring.

Initial Response

Now that you’ve confirmed both the context of the situation and the underlying motives of the individual(s), you can decide what action you should take. Unless you deem the conduct of a user to be notably severe, a typical initial response is to de-escalate or defuse the situation. This means you attempt to solve the situation by verbal communication rather than moderation action, such as an official warning, a mute, or a ban. 

De-Escalation

When it comes to de-escalation, you should remember that the members involved are typically going to be annoyed or upset at that moment due to the situation at hand. If you approach the situation from a stern and strict stance immediately, you could upset the members further and fan the flames, so to speak. 

An example of verbally mitigating an argument that's turning too heated would be to say “Hey guys! While we appreciate discussion and think disagreement is healthy for promoting productive discourse, we think this particular discussion may have gone a little too far. Could we please change the subject and talk about something else? Thanks!”

Now, consider what this statement aims to accomplish. It starts positive and friendly, thanking the users for their participation on the server. Showing this appreciation can help to calm the members involved. The message then states the reason for the intervention. Doing this respectfully is important, because if you aren’t respectful to your members, they aren’t going to be respectful to you. This effect is amplified on community servers where you are going to be interacting with the same active members on a regular basis. 

After clarifying the reason for intervention, you should make the request on what you expect to happen going forward. In this situation, this is asking the members to move on. It’s important to note that phrasing the request as a question rather than an order is a deliberate choice. The message thanks them one more time as a way to end it on a positive note. Your goal here is to defuse the situation so things don’t get worse. Keeping all of these things in mind when you phrase your communications is important.

De-escalation is a skill that you may struggle with initially. Being comfortable with it requires many different interactions and experiences with many different moderation scenarios. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t do it immediately. You’re going to run into scenarios where you simply aren’t able to effectively defuse the situation and may have to rely on a corrective action instead. It is still a very good idea to generally approach these situations without the intent of punishing someone. Not every situation needs to end with a punishment. The one skill that can take you from a good mod to an outstanding mod is the ability to defuse situations swiftly and efficiently.

Proportional Response

If you’ve tried to defuse a situation and they fail to listen, or continue to escalate, your next step is deciding what other effective means you have to end the situation at hand. So, what exactly should you do? 

Most servers tend to follow a proportional response system. This means that members tend to receive corrective action proportional to the acts they commit. If we think about our situation where an argument got too heated and de-escalation techniques were ineffective, we may want to consider restricting the privileges of the members involved. This serves as a punishment that is appropriate for the scenario while also allowing them the time they need to cool down and move on. Other examples of where a mute may be appropriate are minor spam, they are clearly inebriated, if a user is a little too harsh, or if someone needs time to cool off. It’s important to note that an official warning could also be given as an alternative which is typically done through a moderation bot. 

After you apply this mute, it is worth looking at the history of the members involved in the incident to determine if the mute is all you need. If these members have a history of being problematic in chat, you may consider removing them from your community.

It’s important to remember that the goal of the moderation team is to promote healthy activity in our communities. With this in mind, it’s also good to remember that moderators and members are ultimately a part of that same community and that you don’t want to intimidate the people that rely on you. If you react too harshly, you run the risk of establishing a negative relationship between you and your community. People in your community should feel safe approaching you about an issue. Just like in the real world, they want to be confident that if it ever comes to them being reported, they’ll be treated fairly. If you’re scared of being banned from the server because of a small disagreement, you tend to not want to engage with the server to begin with. 

Inversely, if you don’t react strongly enough, you allow those who wish to disrupt your community more time and opportunity to do so and you may not be trusted by your community to handle situations.

Situation Closure

After you’ve dealt with a scenario, it may be appropriate to take action in other places as well. Questions may arise from other members, your staff may need to know about this incident in the future, or tensions may remain high where the incident occurred.

Informing Staff

It is important to log this incident with the other members of your staff for future reference. There are many ways to do this, whether that be sending a message in your private staff channel, logging it within a bot, or maybe posting about it in your moderation log. These all provide you with a means to go back and check the history of these users and their run-ins with staff. It is important that you’re diligent about keeping these records. Other staff might not know about the incident and similarly you may not be aware of other incidents handled by your fellow staff members. If you find yourself in a situation where the problem user causes issues in the future, you will be able to quickly access the infraction history. This will allow you to appropriately adjust your response to the situation and emphasizes the importance of context when taking action.

Tension Resolution

Tensions may linger where the incident occurred. Other members may see what happened and feel second-hand discomfort or anger depending on the situation. It may be necessary to resolve this tension by thanking the other members of chat for their patience and/or bringing it to your attention and stating that it was solved. This has the side effect of answering where the users went and why it happened. 

For example, if two users had a heated argument in your chat and you ended up muting them, third-party observers may see this argument in chat and react negatively to the comments made during the argument. You can resolve this by stating something along the lines of “Sorry about that everyone. Situation resolved, users will be muted for a time to cool down.” This statement has the effect of stating what you did and why you did it. Acknowledging the situation as well as detailing that it’s been handled is an effective means to ease tensions and bring healthy discussion back to your chat. Keep in mind though, if the conversation has already moved on by the time you’ve dealt with the incident, this step may not be necessary. Bringing the conversation back to this issue may have the opposite effect and remind people of the uncomfortable situation.

Summary

You should now be able to confidently approach each situation and determine what the best way to handle it is. That being said, this is just a portion of your foundation. First hand experience is invaluable and necessary in order to be more efficient and fluent in moderating. 

One of the most undervalued tools in moderation is your voice as a person in a position of power and your ability to defuse a situation, so don’t be afraid of trying to mitigate a situation first. If you’re still in doubt about what to do, never be afraid to ask your other staff members, especially those who may be more experienced.

Remember: Situation identification, information gathering, initial response, and situation closure. Keeping these steps in mind will help you stay on track to becoming a better mod and better community lead.   

 

Ready to test your moderator skills? Take the Discord Moderator Exam!