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The Civic Labor of Online Moderators (2016) [pdf] (ox.ac.uk)
20 points by DoreenMichele 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 15 comments



This paper starts out really oddly.

1. Adrien Chen is a piece of work. He was enabled through Gawker to publically dox a private individual. (Yes, ViolentAcres did moderate scuzzy subs.. but that's an issue for the admins if they want that there or not) Adrian's actions had real-world consequences for the person he decided to go after. He also rubbed salt in the wounds when he did it.

2. His quote about how the moderators represent the community again is completely unjustified. This guy is a yellow journalist, and his statements have no merit.

3. Calling Moderating "Emotional Labor" is such a patronizing tone. It's community maintenance. (I'm pretty sure that dang wouldn't consider cleaning up and managing hn as something he does to make people feel better).


Community maintenance is emotional labor as far as I can tell, or at least there's an overlap between the two.

Then again, I can't claim to have a problem-free view of how the terminology is applied because, as far as I can tell, it often escapes any formal definition it might have. And the waters get muddier; the more frequently the term is used to not just to apply a kind of accounting to various social/relationship dynamics but to assert an associated injustice, the more the idea that having to do any kind of emotional labor is associated with injustice.


It is technically emotional labour though. It isn't physical labour, but it is still draining.


It's mental labor. If you're a good moderator, there's very little to no emotions in your actions.


Expected moderation style is pretty community-dependent. In my experience it's been the other way around predominantly. Smaller communities can very much entangle moderation and the overall emotional balance among the members, especially when there's more delicate situations involved. Even in larger communities, depending on the interaction mode, moderators can be implicitly called upon as mediators, which involves a lot of trying to avoid people feeling like your response was insulting or unfair even if it was, and conversely making sure they feel like their own needs won't go unacknowledged.

In larger, topic-oriented, and/or highly generalist communities, ones that are looser and more impersonal in general, it's been more as you describe.


And if you are a good surgeon for example, you don't let emotions interfere with your decisions and actions during surgery either, but a mother of three dying on the operating table, with nothing even the best surgeon in the world could have done better, still sucks, while seeing a family break out in tears of joy when seeing a patient again after a surgery that went well, that still feels great.

There's a difference between handling something professionally, or not endulging in it, and not feeling anything at all.


Exactly. Which is WHY it is emotional labour....

From Wikipedia....

"Emotional labour is the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job.

More specifically, workers are expected to regulate their emotions during interactions with customers, co-workers and superiors."

The mods are expected to regulate their emotions.

Which makes it emotional labour by default.


What are your motivations for arguing this?

By this definition my response to you is emotional labor and you owe me for that.


It's not really, no, unless it's your job (or "job") to write this reply.


What is "patronizing" about calling it "emotional labor"? The how moderating decisions are communicated is quite important for many communities.


I don't understand why the word "civic". Most of moderators work for commercial entities. They're there to make sure the entity remains business/customer friendly. There's nothing related to citizenship in the raison d'ĂȘtre of that work.

It's like saying that human resource mangement is here to make the people grow. It's not, growing people is just a side effect.


The title of this is extremely amusing to me because I've only ever thought of online moderators as basically the lowest form of life, almost exclusively petty tyrants and ego-tripping jerks who try to flatter and ingratiate the people above them and are heavy-handed despots to anyone beneath them. Their role as "gatekeeper of ability to communicate with people via the medium under their control" is typically done by encoding their adolescent morality into policy and silencing anyone who goes against the grain or threatens their social standing.

It's actually gotten me thinking a lot about distributed moderation. Wouldn't it be better if access to any particular medium of communication (a forum, an IRC channel, a mastodon server) was federated? Democratized moderation would mean that people could then subscribe to whichever style of moderation they prefer, and people with unpopular styles of moderation (e.g. "ban everything I don't like", the style of the vast majority of forum moderators) would cease having so much power over mediums of communication.


Speaking as someone who moderated a torrent site forum in my teens, there's unfortunately so much truth in what you said in that first paragraph. Especially the part about adolescent morality as policy.


I was exactly the kind of petty, bordering on tyrannical, moderator back when I was a teenager. I moderated a website with an active community of over 10000 teenagers. This was a big deal in the 1990s. It quickly went to my pubescent, hormone-fueled teenage head. But it ended up being a valuable experience. In terms of being confronted with my own 'dark side', and in terms of learning how to deal with people.


The power hungry moderators you describe certainly exist, but they are generally just the loudest not actually near the majority. Most moderators deal with general internet bullshit as quickly ad possible while trying to avoid making more work for themselves.




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