How to respond if a forum moderator goes crazy!

by Martin Reed on 27 February 2008 in Articles

When forum moderators go bad

As a forum grows, it is highly likely you will need additional help when it comes to moderation. Even if your members are fantastically well behaved, moderators are useful to have as they are a reassuring, visible presence in your community. They help encourage conversations and are a reflection of the care and attention you pay to your site. It is important to choose the right members to become forum moderators.

Unfortunately though, even the best people can turn out to be wholly unsuitable, act inappropriately or get drunk on power.

When forum moderators go bad

Before taking any action at all, you need to consider whether your moderator really has gone bad. Did you issue them with guidelines on what you expect from them before giving them the position? If not, how can they be acting incorrectly if they have not been told how to act in the first place?!?

A rogue forum moderator can do your community untold damage. Every moderator of your site is a reflection of you – your professionalism, your dedication, your commitment. One bad forum moderator can ruin both your reputation and that of your site; therefore, you need to take decisive action when dealing with a rogue moderator.

How should you react?

This all depends on the problem you are having with the staff member in question. If the problem at hand is relatively minor, for example they are deleting/moving/editing threads that you feel should have been left alone, simply speak to your moderator privately and make your concerns clear.

Remain calm, professional, friendly and approachable. Use examples, and explain why you disagree with their actions. Don’t exaggerate, don’t generalise and don’t attack your staff member. Remember – the chances are, they are working for you absolutely free of charge. This in itself demands a certain level of respect from the outset.

The following example email/private message to a moderator is wholly inappropriate and should never be sent:

You keep on deleting loads of threads, and moving every post you don’t like. If you don’t stop doing this, you aren’t going to be a moderator on the site anymore. Either change your ways, or you are gone.

Instead, your message should be something along the following lines:

Hi (Insert Moderator’s Name)

I noticed that you moved the following thread (Insert URL) – may I ask why you felt this was necessary? I also noticed that you deleted posts on the following thread (Insert URL) although I think they were OK to stay . I am a little confused as to why you took action against these threads and posts and would appreciate you taking the time to fill me in on your reasoning.


(Your Name)

The second example ensures a constructive dialogue with your moderator. You have kept to the facts, used examples and explained why you are contacting them. Remember, to get the best out of your forum moderators you need to communicate with them. This includes making them aware of any mistakes you feel they are making. Unless you communicate, your moderator will never learn what is considered acceptable within your community.

How to react if your forum moderator completely loses the plot

Of course, the time may come when a staff member abuses their position to such an extent that more immediate and direct action needs to be taken. I would immediately remove staff logins for any moderators that become abusive or publish any member’s personal information, for example.

Should I need to take such action, the moderator login would immediately be disabled to prevent such behaviour continuing, and a message would be sent to the moderator explaining my actions.

In a future article I will write about the process of firing a forum moderator – although the need to do this shouldn’t come around, if the worst happens you need to do it properly and professionally.

Your thoughts

Have you had to warn or take action against any of your forum moderators? How did you do it? Did your moderator improve as a result, or did you have to let them go? Share your thoughts, ideas and experiences by leaving a comment below.

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Sue @ TameBay February 27, 2008 at 8:10 pm

Great photo, Martin!

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 27, 2008 at 8:10 pm

Sue – Fantastic, isn’t it?!?

Smiley February 27, 2008 at 9:32 pm

I haven’t had any bother with the forums. If threads are deleted my my co-moderator they go to a private area where I can review them, I can even delete it permanently or re-instate it if I felt it didn’t really need deleting.

I’ve installed a buddy system which includes an ignore feature now. As we grow quarrels seem to kick up between friends, former friends, blah blah usual chat site drama. Now they can just ignore each other instead of me having to review every bleeding post!

However, I have had to remove a staff member from the chat rooms. Not only was he booting people simply for a bit of banter, but he was a sexual pervert in PM !! I couldn’t believe it.

Now I’ve put safety measures in place to make sure this never happens again. Their staff name isn’t activated until they e-mail me the reference number I sent them via post. Obviously if they e-mail me the reference number their residential address is correct and they’re less likely to be complete nutters !!

It also reassures any users that we don’t just give any old memeber staff status, creating trust.

Chat February 28, 2008 at 12:09 am

Thanks for the nice message template Martin, will definitely use it in the future (Y) Also that is a great photo. It made me laugh when i was in class @ college, people looked at me weired ahah.


Bobby February 28, 2008 at 12:40 am

Haha, nice picture. I dont have any forums on my blog but iv dealt with my share of crooked moderators and administrators in my time on the internet. From power currupt moderators banning people for almost nothing too abusive admins going postal trying to destroy the forums. Bad mods/admins can destroy any forum.

Patrick O'Keefe February 28, 2008 at 1:10 am

Great stuff. We sound so alike on a number of issues it’s hilarious. :) Nice post.

Funny thing about that photo. I’m working on slides for my SXSW presentation and I was searching for an image to signify criticism. I came across that one! Then, an hour or two later, I come across this post and you had selected it. Eerie! :) hehe.

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 28, 2008 at 2:15 am

Smiley – It’s a good idea to have your moderators move content to an ‘invisible’ dumpster, at least early on in their role so you can easily retrieve content that was mistakenly ‘deleted’.

I love your method of recruiting more legitimate staff members by using snail mail – if only I had thought of that! If nothing else, you get to see just how serious that individual is about wanting a staff role!

Cody – I am glad you found the article useful. The key is to be specific, use examples and always remain professional and open to further communication.

Bobby – I completely agree with you. Bad staff members can and do destroy online communities.

Patrick – Ah, well if we are both in agreement it must mean that we are right! So, are you running with the image for your presentation? It’ll certainly get the audience on side!

Chris Guthrie February 28, 2008 at 2:30 am

Good post. Even though it’s important to go over guidelines with your moderators it’s possible that they might go crazy one day. In fact, I had a moderator go crazy on one of my sites and literally made at least 20 – 30 percent of the community pack up and leave.

What really bothered me about it is that the guy just exploded one day and caused a ton of damage not only to the community but also to the revenue brought in. I just happened to not log onto the forum that day and didn’t catch the explosion in time.

The lesson I learned is that it’s really important to spend time finding great moderators in the first place. Don’t rush to bring someone on just because you need the help, make sure that you find the right fit for your community.

This post reminds me of a topic I blogged about a while ago to help combat selecting a bad moderator. Have you ever considered having your moderators up for election?

I wrote a post about it on my blog (hope you don’t mind the link, but I believe finding good moderators is critical to the success of your community):

I’ve done it on one of my forums and it worked out pretty well actually. Have you ever considered doing this?

Patrick O'Keefe February 28, 2008 at 3:21 am

lol, it must. Actually, I decided to go with a picture of a clenched fist, instead. :)


Smiley February 28, 2008 at 4:14 am

I got the idea way back when I was support staff for Paltalk, they used a similar method.

Hopefully this will deter any future ‘undesirables’ tricking their way into the team.

It’s not as important for established sites such as yours to be overly-boastful about security measures. People know you’re moderated, they know the rules.

But as a new site you have to be different and advertise that member safety is our #1 priority like hell, in my opinion; (

Smiley February 28, 2008 at 8:26 pm

I have the perfect example for this thread.

My new ‘forum management’ (Wellsy) responded to a particularly vulgar thread in the polls section. Because we have a portal, polls show up on the front page. So he edited the poster’s thread and in bold writing left the message

“Can you please make less vulgar polls? Can you just make them ordinary threads in the designated sex life area? Thanks

What did he do wrong? Public scolding. The user felt alienated, complained which set off a chain of events in which the user’s friends joined in the complaints and resulted in this thread;

Really, he didn’t do anything wrong. He was right in his idea. We have a sex forum that is hidden from non-registered users, we like to keep polls clean. The question the poster asked could easily have been made an open topic in the sex forum.

Where he did go wrong, however, is that he didn’t PM the user and request politely to keep that area clean and clearly explain the reasons.

This was my fault of course, because I haven’t told him in detail how I like to run things.

So this is a perfect example, and a perfect lesson to be taken directly from this blog post !!

Smiley February 28, 2008 at 8:28 pm

Oh forgot to mention that what I’ll be doing is PMing him and explaining where he went wrong, and not scold him.

I’m not going to edit the post or get involved in the complaint, either, because I don’t want to publically humiliate him in front of the users.

Chat February 29, 2008 at 12:05 am

Smiley I totally agree with you, moderators should deal with rule breakers in private. It is not the general publics concern. Good job handling it and adding the example to the blog post.

Nicole Price February 29, 2008 at 8:52 am

This is a question that never crossed my mind. Yet its perfectly feasible and rational. You have explained the way out very well Martin.

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 29, 2008 at 6:46 pm

Chris – You raise a very important point when you wrote ‘I just happened to not log onto the forum that day and didnít catch the explosion in time’. Even if an administrator decides to use forum moderators, they still need to pay attention to the forum and visit it as often as possible to ensure all is running smoothly.

Thanks for your contribution and the link you provided. I haven’t used member voting for staff because I want to avoid recruitment being based on popularity. Staff selected in this way are more likely to play favourites, and you may end up missing out on the truly great staff members simply because they weren’t popular enough to get the required votes.

I appreciate that this may be an effective method of recruitment for some forums though, and am glad it worked out for you.

Patrick – Good luck for the presentation, I only wish I could make it!

Smiley – Thanks for the example. I agree that is is essential that any staffing issues or conflicts are dealt with in private. In public, the entire moderation team needs to show a united front at all times.

Cody – I am glad you agree. Nobody likes to be shown up or humiliated – anything that has the potential to do so needs to be kept private.

Nicole – Thanks for your kind comment, I am glad you found the article interesting.

Eva White March 3, 2008 at 7:19 am

I like the post. But not much useful to me. I am a blogger, and forums don’t really interest me much.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 4, 2008 at 7:22 pm

Eva – You know what? I haven’t written many posts about blogging lately. Thanks for reminding me – I will get a few up in the coming weeks.

Sue @ TameBay March 5, 2008 at 2:17 pm

Re. Eva’s comment, I’m a blogger too, but I find a lot of what Martin says about forums is equally applicable to blogs and their comment threads. A blog might be running on Wordpress instead of PHPBB, but its success still depends on community members.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 15, 2008 at 7:13 pm

Sue – I would agree that a lot of my articles are equally applicable to all online communities. You make a good point that the success of an online community does depend on its members, but it also depends on the dedication of its developer, too!

Dan May 10, 2008 at 12:00 am

Well… the mods on my forums are really nice, so I didn’t have this type of accident yet (ha!).. but sometime I’ve got an opposite sort of problem – ie, the moderators get a bit too lazy, NOT actually moving or removing the posts they should ;) I know it’s a factor of motivation which is factor of almost everything, but it’s definitely a greater issue for my mod collaboration than their potential craziness ;)

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 12, 2008 at 7:36 pm

Dan – You know what, you’ve inspired me for a future post on how to keep forum moderators motivated. Stay tuned!

Edward August 14, 2009 at 10:37 am

I’ve seen a version of the second situation happen, where a moderator had their powers disabled and wasn’t told. That was NOT a good idea!

That picture is great, btw. :)

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