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Moderating the community Facebook page

by Haddenham Webteam – 24th April 2019
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This article describes the process by which the Haddenham.net Facebook page is moderated, as it seems to be a source of potential frustration for a small but significant minority. If you are a non-user of the Facebook platform, much of the following may be of little interest – apologies if that is so.

The Haddenham.net Facebook page was created as an adjunct to this community website, aimed at providing a much more rapid means of disseminating news, information about lost pets (etc) and reminders of upcoming events in the village and very close neighbouring villages. It also provides a means for local residents to offer thoughts and comments about local issues in a much more efficient way than the 'Share & Chat' forum on the community website.

Social media in its various flavours and formats has transformed the way in which folk communicate with one another. Conversations that might previously have taken place between individuals or among small groups over a coffee in a cafe, in a bus queue, at a dinner party or over a pint in the pub are now shared with hundreds or even thousands of people online. This means that it has the potential to carry content that could be considered unacceptable or offensive to others. The challenge is to strike a balance between total freedom of speech on the one hand versus harmful or offensive content on the other.

How do we seek to strike this balance?

The Haddenham.net Facebook page has three moderators, all of whom operate through one Facebook account – namely that of the website editor, Keith Milmer. Keith is the named person to whom anyone with concerns about content can write – ideally via Facebook's formal 'Reporting' system or, failing that, by Personal Message or Email.

We feel that it is important that at least one named individual is specifically identifiable by users of the Haddenham.net FB platform as the primary contact person. Not all local Facebook platforms share this philosophy.

The moderators look at each and every initiating thread – this is simply to ensure that content on the Haddenham.net FB page is:

* Very locally focused
* Non-commercial

The moderators also do a very quick check to see that the initiating post is consistent with our published guidelines – which can be seen here.

Occasionally this process can delay a post from appearing for a while, but we do our best (without being permanently glued to our phones or tablets) to minimise delays.

We then keep a 'watching brief' on comments that follow from others, without intervention. We have lives to lead too, so we very much hope that the platform is 'self-moderated' by its users to the extent that follow-up comments are polite and mutually respectful. Thankfully this is true for 99 per cent of the time.

What defines "unacceptable" and how is this flagged?

The moderators do not have the time or inclination to view every follow-up post. However, whenever we receive a formal 'Report' from a user who regards something posted to be objectionable and/or causing distress, a discussion is conducted involving at least two of the three moderators (ideally all three).

The primary question we then ask is: "is the post in question consistent with our posting guidelines?"

The answer is usually pretty straightforward, but sometimes the decision requires a more careful judgement call.

'Reported' posts are extremely rare – in the last two years we have taken down less than 12 posts (and this from a user base approaching 2,500 individuals).

What happens when posts are deleted?

The moderators try always to send a Personal Message to the individual responsible for the post in question, to explain the reasons for the deletion. We regard this as an important courtesy but closing the communication loop does require the recipient to 'accept' the Personal Message that is part of the Facebook system – and on some occasions this does not happen. But it's not for the want of trying on the part of the moderators.

On rare occasions we gather that some of these Personal Messages have been posted by their recipients into the public domain on other FB platforms – an action we regard as morally questionable, but others are free to draw their own conclusions.

Problems arising from post deletions

The Facebook platform does not allow moderators to edit words or phrases that have resulted in the post being reported to moderators as potentially offensive – arguably, this is a shame, as reported objections often focus on a single ill-judged word or short phrase that could be easily edited out. Moderators can only delete the whole post.

On those rare occasions when a post has been removed, there's no easy facility to explain why (to all other FB users) without going into great lengths or disclosing details of a private message from the individual 'Reporting' the post.

The biggest downside is that any comments that directly followed and therefore linked to the deleted post are also lost from the thread. The moderators have absolutely no control over this very regrettable characteristic of the FB platform.

Why do the moderators appear not to respond to criticism?

We try to respond to individual criticisms posted on the Haddenham.net FB page via the Personal Message route, as we feel this is the most appropriate conduit.

That said, the role of the moderators is a thankless one as some folk (sadly) appear to have a great tendency to criticise. When fine judgement calls are required we are never going to please everyone, and entering into lengthy debate on the FB platform is likely to lead to endless arguments and counter-arguments. The three moderators act in a voluntary capacity and have their own lives to lead – we simply don't have the time and energy to enter into lengthy debates. But we try always to be fair and objective.

We do, however, take note of criticisms that are submitted privately (Personal Messenger or Email) and meet periodically to discuss ways in which the FB page might be managed differently.

We do not read other local Facebook platforms and do not engage with second-hand comments.

Why do two of the three moderators choose to remain anonymous?

The simple answer to this is that the two un-named moderators supporting Keith Milmer are mindful of the personal and sometimes vitriolic comments that have been published in criticism of the lead moderator and choose not to subject themselves to such fault-finding.

The way forward

From time to time the three moderators have discussed closing down the Haddenham.net FB platform but we have received many messages (reflecting, hopefully, the views of the silent majority) indicating that its utility and benefits greatly outweigh its challenges. We will therefore continue to offer this service to the community for the time being and welcome any comments from those who would wish to see it enhanced in specific ways to embrace our growing community as the village develops. Please feel free to email: haddenham.net@hotmail.com

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