What Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Lib Dem Newbies have in common

When commenting before about the successful use of Reddit by the Bernie Sanders campaign, I highlighted how much moderation of the community by volunteer moderates was central to its success.

There was an active team of moderators, who ensured people kept focused and happy – something that’s not often the tone of online political comment threads. But that emphasis on the positive worked well, as it does for the very successful Lib Dem Newbies group on Facebook.

And also for one of the most successful pro-Hillary Clinton groups on Facebook:

A private Facebook group created a little over two weeks is rallying its more than 1.3 million members to wear the Democratic presidential candidate’ signature look — a pantsuit — on Election Day…

Administrators encourage members to adhere to the “go high” mantra made famous by first lady Michelle Obama, and so far, she says, “the response has been astounding.”

It takes a lot of work to keep things light, though. First, the group is set to “secret,” meaning members must be invited to join by another member. The idea is to make admission tougher for Clinton critics who might harass other members or start debates. Those who make it in are encouraged to focus on “positive, personal” posts, and moderators won’t approve rule-breakers. They’re also quick to delete negative comments about either candidate.

The enthusiasm, despite these restrictions, is telling. It’s a highly curated oasis of positivity … The result is exactly the social media community that many Clinton supporters say they have been craving.

That final point is an important, and often missing, dimension to debates about the appropriate moderation policies for an online community. Moderating a comment isn’t just about the rights and wrongs of the individual who posted it, it is also about everyone else in the community too. Just as a successful chair of a real world meeting takes into account the speaker and the audience, so too do successful moderation teams.

As I wrote in that Bernie Sanders post:

I’ve taken that approach usually when chairing Lib Dem events too. In the offline world, I struggle to think of any occasion when, for example, I’ve asked questioners to keep to the topic at hand and had a reaction of BUT THAT’S ILLIBERAL AND CENSORSHIP AND IF YOU DON’T LET ME SAY WHAT I WANT YOU’RE HEADING DOWN THE ROAD TO BEING A NAZI. Online, of course, those sort of reactions are rather more common.

One reason for that difference is that in the offline world everyone can see everyone else in the room, and so it’s instinctively more understandable and more accepted for the chair to do things that are there to serve the interests of everyone in the room even if they run slightly into conflict with the person who is talking at that immediate point in time.

In the online world, that wider audience is much easier to forget, neglect or simply not care about – especially as in most online situations it’s dominated by people who are silently reading rather than activity participating.

But just because you’re reading rather than typing and easy to ignore doesn’t mean you don’t matter or shouldn’t be considered. Especially if it’s a site or forum that aims for a wider audience rather than just a private discussion between people who already know each other well.

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