Dzuk's Tips about Making Rules

Dzuk's Tips about Making Rules


I do blocklistey and moderation on occasions and someone asked me about giving feedback on their rules and I wrote this instead...

It's probably not perfect, but these are the tips that I have. Also I've only had experiences moderating smaller spaces, I don't have any first-hand experience of how this might scale.

I don't think this will necessarily work for everyone, but it's my perspective on a variety of situations and angles.

I also have a set of rules for my instance, which is licensed CC-BY-SA, so you can use it for your own instance if you like it.

You’re not a cop, you're a gardener

Think of your moderation as a way of cultivating a community, instead of policing it. If someone is being an asshole, there is no need for you to have them in your space, they can go somewhere else. If someone is not malicious, but perhaps not used to certain new ideas and wants to make sure they make others welcome, you can help them out.

Instead of thinking of your rules as a rulebook for your police work, think of it as a set of guidelines that shows a prospective user what kind of behaviour is welcome in your space and what isn’t.

This way of thinking really simplifies the moderation experience, and generally makes everyone feel happier and less stressed.

Focus on behaviour, not language

With certain exceptions (and there are good exceptions), focusing your rules on individual language is dodgy, because it often looks at superficialities rather than the way people behave beneath the surface.

Someone can behave with good faith and perhaps use not great words, whereas someone can use great words and be a slimy asshole. This is something alt-rightists and the like do all the time - dress up terrible worldviews in a way that makes them appear agreeable and pleasant to anyone who isn’t directly threatened by them.

This focus also enables you to give chances to those who actually deserve it - people who are well-intentioned but maybe not as clued up on certain things or is having a bad day.

Draw where the line is in detail

‘Don’t be an asshole’ is an enticing rule, but the problem is, a lot of people have different ideas of what being an asshole is.

So you should be really explicit, but not abstract. Clearly explain and give real-world examples as to the kinds of things that count as being an asshole for your instance. The game streaming site Mixer does this really well.

Making a clear line does 2 things:

1. People who aren’t a good fit for your community are less likely to join by mistake.

2. Marginalised people who are a good fit for your community will be more drawn to join your instance because they know that in no uncertain terms, you’ll be watching their back.

This isn’t as feel-good as ‘don’t be an asshole’, but it’s a lot more meaningful. You still have plenty of opportunity to frame your rules in a positive way (which I will get to later...).

Don’t give second chances to those who don’t deserve it

Don’t formalise any leniences in your rules, like a ‘three strikes’ system. Most forms of abuse are much better handled with instant bans, asking the person to leave (and then close access to their account when they do leave) or handling the situation at your discretion.

Acting like an asshole generally isn’t a mistake, so people who act like assholes should be out from the moment they cause trouble. This makes everyone feel safer, and prevents slimy assholes from hanging around, trying to skirt your rules and poisoning your social space. Bullies and abusers don’t recognise consequence by getting a slap on the wrist, they do however recognise being kicked out. (And even if they don't, well... they're gone.)

People with certain ideologies, like conspiracy theories and psuedoscience, generally believe in their stuff in an ironclad way and won't budge, so if they can't not peddle their stuff in your neighbourhood, then it's more than fine to ask them to leave.

This doesn’t mean you can’t ever give leniences, but reserve it for the genuine cases at your discretion.

This mixes nicely with the previous rule. If you draw the line in detail, nobody should be surprised if someone is banned for crossing that line.

Be confident

Be proud of your determination to protect the free speech of the marginalised, and use your rules as an opportunity to proudly and positively proclaim your instance's values.

Don't use language that validates oppressive groups of people, like "we're not a free speech zone". You are making a free speech zone in a way, a lot more than the so-called defenders of free speech like to think they are.

The people who usually think they are really good at freedom of speech at best are wilfully oblivious to bullying and abuse, and at worst treat speech like a form of social darwinism - the loudest and most abusive get the most airtime (which is often rationalised as "if you can't take the heat get out of the kitchen" 🙄).

By setting up these kinds of rules, you are demonstrating a commitment to freedom, by making sure you cultivate a space for non-malicious and non-toxic groups space to talk and express themselves freely. Don't let morally ignorant and abusive kinds of people tell you otherwise.