• 20 November 2012 19:38:17

    BLOG PIECE: Nexus moderation system overhaul, etiquette and ethos

    posted by Dark0ne Site News
    We’ve almost finished the overhaul of our moderation system tools and functionality and with it brings some changes to our moderation ethos and practises. To further explain these changes to you I’ve written up this document that explains the new tools we’ll be able to utilise and how this is going to affect things. As usual, it’s a big one so if you’re interested go put the kettle on.

    Our moderating ethos has always followed a concept of being strict but fair. It comes from my feeling that when you click that “I agree” button to our terms of service when you register your account, and once again if you post any comments or upload any files or images “I agree” means “I read the rules and understand that if I break them it’s more than likely I’ll be banned”. Ergo, in my humble opinion, if you get banned because you didn’t know that admitting you pirate all your games was a bannable offense (I’m sorry, but what idiot admits doing this publicly anyway?), or you didn’t know swearing at other members and calling them names would get you instantly banned then it’s no one’s fault except your own.

    As far as I’m concerned we’ve got quite a few rules but they’re really not hard to follow at all. So if you break the rules you either didn’t read them (your fault), or you read them, you knew the rules and you still broke them (your fault), or you read them and didn't understand them (could be our fault for not being clear enough, but more likely your fault considering 4.7 million other members haven't struggled with it!) or your personal beliefs and philosophies on what you should be allowed to get away with on the internet are so far withdrawn from mine that this was never going to work (which begs the question of why you agreed to join and interact on the site in the first place). We implemented an unban appeal system a year or so back. Around 75% of these unban requests are members who’ve been banned who use the excuse “I didn’t know doing would get me instantly banned, why wasn’t I warned first?”. It’s quite common for people to somehow blame us for their breaking of the rules. Don’t ask me how that works, I haven’t got the faintest idea. Very, very few contain an apology in them. It’s obviously our fault that they got banned, and not their fault at all!

    Having said that, we’ve got quite a lot of rules, and some of them are more severe than others. Admitting to piracy? That’s always going to be an instantly bannable offense. We buy our games, we expect you to do the same, and the developers of the games we support wouldn’t support us back if we openly helped people who weren’t buying their games. Going off on an insult filled rant at mod authors? Instantly bannable as well. But what about the more minor offenses? Stuff like asking users for endorsements or donations in file descriptions? This is a rule that is regularly broken by mod authors, but it’s not exactly as severe as telling a mod author where they can shove all their work in a hate-filled rant. Up until now our moderating system has been very black or white and it’s been extremely hard to warn people when they’re breaking our rules. Our new system is all about changing that.

    Most importantly I want to start by saying that this new system relies heavily on making our moderating actions as transparent as possible to the public. At the moment we have a sort of half-assed approach to giving evidence in the public strike and ban threads. It’s not uncommon to see “ banned, file troll” with a link to a reference post that only the staff can see. That’s not going to be good enough for me any more. We’re going to publish almost everything, and this is going to be done by us quoting the offending material within the ban notice for the public to see.

    Banning a user for admitting to piracy? We’ll quote where he’s admitted to it within the ban notice (if he’s linking to a bad site we’ll obviously censor the link).

    Banning or warning a user for trolling? We’ll quote the offending troll comment in the ban or warning notice. I don’t care if it contains swear words or personal attacks, lets get the facts out there.

    Banning or warning someone for something they’ve done in the chat? We’ll quote the chat log within the public notice. I don’t care if it’s 10 pages long. If someone wants to read it all then let them!

    Banning or warning someone for uploading work that doesn’t belong to them? We’ll quote pertinent parts of private conversations that lead to the admittance of wrongdoing, or quote from the file page description or file name to show and prove that this ban or warning was justified.

    When you post on these sites you’re releasing publicly available information, so when we moderate based on your public posts and activities everything we do as moderators should also be as public as possible. Everything should have evidence publically available. The only exception to this new policy will be for Spam bots. I don’t mind seeing “ banned, spam bot” with no evidence. It would be unnecessary and counter-intuitive to quote a spambot for evidence.

    Similarly we’re moving away from deleting comments entirely, thus removing the evidence, and moving towards “unapproving” or “hiding” offending comments. I want to keep a decent log of all offenses made and retain all evidence wherever possible. We’re currently setting up the file and image comments so that when we “delete” comments, really all we’re doing is hiding it on the forums and sites. As far you’re concerned the post is deleted but for us it remains as a source of evidence. Our evidence-keeping has been patchy at best in the past. We’ve got lots of evidence stored on some of the more high profile bans we’ve done (so that when they try to come back or lie about their “harsh treatment” here on other communities we can quote what they’ve done straight from their own original source comments and messages). We want to be able to do that for any and every offense, for our own piece of mind. It’s also great for self-moderation and those times when I’m personally called to review a moderator’s actions. With all the facts in front of me it makes it a lot easier to come to a decision without relying on other people’s testimonies.

    Thus when we’re banning or warning people we can still provide reference links to the offending posts for staff eyes only, but the actual evidence will be in the public notice itself.
    This matter of transparency is really important. Most people like evidence, people want evidence, and I think it will make our lives a lot easier in the long-run. So we’re going to evidence the hell out of you.

    As a moderation team we’re not without our faults. We openly admit to getting things wrong. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes we, too, can be a little bit dumb. So our transparency and willingness to publicise other people’s faults will go hand-in-hand with our transparency and willingness to publicise our own faults. We’ve never shied away from admitting when we’ve been wrong and we’ll continue to ensure our public apologies are as open as the warning and ban threads themselves.

    Notes, informal warnings, formal warnings and bans
    We’ve now got a more indepth system for warning members and keeping track of their moderation history. Lets break it down:

    • Notes are benign messages we can leave on the users moderation history for information purposes that all the other moderators can see as well. Examples where notes might be handy is if we’ve had a personal conversation with the member about permission to use someone else’s work. We can leave a note to say “Spoke to on 11.11.11 and he provided proof that he has permission to upload ”. Or “Changed member name from to on 11.11.11”. Other moderators can then check a user’s note history first before they jump to any conclusions.
    • Informal warnings are notifications we send to a member to warn them that they’re breaking the rules, or could potentially break the rules soon. We can use them to inform and warn members without it having the more serious and harsh repercussions of formal warnings or bans. Ideally informal warnings are best for warning members about what they’re doing when we know them to be otherwise good, helpful members, without it leaving a permanent bad and public mark on their moderation history. A good example of when we’ll use an informal warning is as a first warning for mod authors or image uploaders who ask for endorsements in their file descriptions. It’s a soft notification to let them know it’s against our rules and they should please stop. If they don’t stop, we’ll then issue a formal warning. If they still continue, we’ll issue a ban. Naturally if the offense is quite bad, even if it’s their first, we’ll be wanting to formally warn the member rather than informally warning them.
    • Formal warnings are what our strikes are now. The difference is formal warnings can now be applied to people using the Nexus sites themselves as well and be backed up with easy to apply restrictions if necessary.
    • When sending a formal warning a public, locked thread is automatically made on the forums which contains the information surrounding the warning. When issuing a formal warning we are provided with two text fields. One text field is for the public warning thread and it’s where we put all the evidence and pertinent information relating to the warning that we’d like the public to see. The other is just for communicating with the person we’re warning personally. No one will be able to see the information we put in this second text field except us, the moderation team, and the user themselves.

      Formal warnings can also be backed up with restrictions on the user’s account. Restrictions include blocking the user from adding or uploading any new files, preventing the use of the file tools altogether, preventing the downloading of files, forum and comment posting, image uploading, mod/image endorsing or preventing comments on a specific mod. These restrictions can either be “indefinite” or for a set number of days, after which the restrictions will be lifted from the account.
    • Bans work much the same way as they did before. In addition we can choose to publish the user’s “moderation history stats”. This will enter the number of informal and formal warnings this member received before we banned them in to the public ban thread. This will help to inform people interested in the ban that this member received a number of warnings before they were eventually banned from the site altogether. The thinking being if we’ve given the member 5 informal warnings and 3 formal warnings already, and we’ve banned the user for something seemingly not worth banning for (e.g. the requesting endorsements example) people will see that, actually, this user has been given more than enough chances to be acquainted with our rules and should have known better.

    Informal warnings and formal warnings provide unavoidable notifications to users using the Nexus sites. These warnings are impossible to miss and completely lock-down the use of the Nexus sites until the user has confirmed they’ve seen the warning and agreed to our terms of service again. It doesn’t matter if we warn someone on Skyrim Nexus, if they try to use Fallout 3 Nexus they’ll still be locked out of the sites until they agree to the terms again. It does not, however, lock-down the forums. Warnings are applied almost instantly to an account and the user will see the warning without having to log out and log back in again. There can sometimes be a delay of about 30 seconds between warnings being applied and the warning block coming into effect on the user browsing the site due to our caching system.

    A user’s complete moderation history can be seen by moderators, updated and changed via the “Moderation history” link on their profile. Similarly, users can see their own moderation history via their member area. Normal members cannot see each other’s moderation history, only their own.

    On the topic of notes, moderators can also leave notes for specific files within the file database. Working exactly the same way as notes work for members, we can leave notes on files with any pertinent information. For example, we’ve had a situation recently where an author has been given permission to use assets from the game TERA in their mods. Leaving a note on the file(s) about this will ensure any moderators who weren’t aware of these permissions being granted are informed, thus preventing moderation overlap.

    Moderator review mode
    Moderator review mode is a lock-down placed on a file that prevents users from accessing the file while a moderator investigates a potential issue with the file in question. It also prevents the mod author from changing anything to do with the file. We added it to our moderation tools a couple of years ago because we found if we just set the file to hidden and contacted the mod author in question then there was a small percentage of mod authors who would “fix” the mod, remove any offending material and then feign innocence and ignorance of the matter (e.g. “Er, what are you talking about, my mod doesn’t use any music from Lord of the Rings!”). Honestly, this did happen, more often than you realise.

    The problem with moderator review mode is it’s not very good at communicating to the mod author exactly what it is that’s wrong with the file (or image...yes, we can put images in the Image Share in to moderator review mode now too). We’ve updated the system to allow the moderator applying moderator review mode to leave a message to the mod author, via the file page itself, as to why the file has been locked down. We’re hoping this will reduce the amount of confusion there is when a file is initially locked down for investigation.

    The wastebin
    The wastebin is a new feature we coded to help us separate between mods that are in moderator review mode and seemingly awaiting further investigation from a moderator, and mods that have had a conclusive outcome to their investigation and have been removed. Up until now if we wanted to hold on to files as evidence we’ve kept the files in moderator review mode, even if we weren’t going to publically host the file. This has cluttered up the admin system as it’s hard to differentiate between files that are legitimately still under investigation and files that are literally being stored as evidence in case of future problems. The wastebin will now be our evidence archive, freeing up moderator review mode to just be used for those files that are still under investigation.

    When we send a file or image to the wastebin it will be removed from the file or image database (as though it’s been deleted), and the pertinent information regarding the file or image (including the downloadable files, the file description and your reason for removing it) will be moved to our wastebin for archiving.

    IP logging
    We’ve recently had a few cases of members creating dummy accounts that they’re using to endorse the files and images they’ve uploaded. It sounds stupid, I know, but people do actually do this. All moderators can now see all the IP addresses used to endorse files, the join date of the endorser and the system will quickly tell a moderator if there are multiple instances of the same IP address being used to endorse files and images.

    Mod author comment moderation tools
    All of the above features and etiquettes are live on the sites now. We’re now working on mod author comment moderation tools and hope to have some stuff live by the end of the week. This one’s quite a big topic, probably worthy of an entire news article all by itself, but I’ll try to be concise and explain our new stance on mod authors moderating their own comments.

    Ever since this site first started people have asked if they can be given the tools to moderate their own file comments. Not to ban people outright, but to be able to clean, prune and remove posts from their comments, especially troll comments. When YouTube released their tools that let video uploaders moderate their own comments these calls increased a bit, and then when Steam Workshop came out these calls increased more. I’ve always put this topic in front of you people, and more recently, in front of our recognised mod authors to see what the majority feel about this topic. Up until now the majority have always voted to keep the moderation squarely in the hands of the moderators. We experimented with the “comment rep” system that let the public decide which posts they liked and which posts they thought should be hidden, however this system had mixed results and could be used for trolling as much as it could be used for good. Recently, with the prevalence of the Steam Workshop system, more mod authors have liked being able to moderate their own comments and I think this freedom has now changed opinions. The argument is sound, take the pressure off our moderators and leave moderating to the mod authors themselves. However, I don’t want to do this. At least, not entirely.

    In my opinion, the YouTube/Steam Workshop method is the method you use if you’re not too bothered about the community or etiquette you’re fostering or don’t want to rely too heavily on finding good moderators who can handle the task. It’s the easy way out. Some mod authors will moderate their files well, they’ll not be “delete happy” at comments that perhaps aren’t super super encouraging and they’ll welcome useful constructive criticism. Other mod authors will not, and they’ll delete anything that isn’t a resounding big thumbs up to the mod author. And then there are some “mod authors” who steal your work, upload it to the another site and then delete any comment that people leave saying that the mod is stolen. Not good. Thankfully the report functionality at the Workshop has gotten a lot better from the early days, so good job Bethesda and/or Valve.

    You see, mod authors are great. Without them none of us would be here. But just like the moderation team mod authors are neither perfect or infallible. Most are mature, understanding, tolerant individuals who understand that there are always some bad apples in a community and will work with us to root them out and remove them without getting their knickers in a twist. Some mod authors, however, have a very thin skin and a weak backbone, some see negativity and criticism where none is being offered, some are more than just a little paranoid, and some have their heads so far up their...necks...that their ego is running the show now. We regularly have to deal with these mod authors and honestly, some of the stuff that gets rudely demanded of us and the threats we receive (even threats of calling in lawyers to remove comments someone else has left on their mod) is frankly astonishing. I do not want to be empowering these people.

    What we’re going to do is trial a new system that is a cross between our system of reporting comments and letting the moderators handle it, and the YouTube/Steam Workshop system of allowing mod authors to moderate all their file comments themselves. I want to reiterate the “trial” aspect of this. We’re going to implement it and see how it goes. If it needs tweaking or reworking, we’ll do it, but if we think it’s not working, mod authors don’t like it or it becomes more hassle and incites more drama than it’s worth, we’ll remove it.

    All recognised mod authors (those authors who have 1,000 unique downloads and are able to access the mod author private forums) will now be able to hide posts that have been made in their own file comments. When an author hides a comment the content of the post will be fully hidden (with no option to see the original content) and the text will be changed to read “The author of this file has requested this comment be checked by our moderation team and it is currently awaiting moderator review”. It will then be sent to a moderation pool. Moderators will be able to login to this page and see all the posts that have been hidden by mod authors and are awaiting review. At this point the moderation team will assess whether the mod author was justified in removing the comment.

    If the moderator agrees that the post breaks our rules then it will be fully hidden from the file comment topic, never to be seen in public again. If the moderator goes one step further and decides that the hidden post was bad enough to warrant an informal warning, a formal warning or a ban then the post will be updated on the authors comment topic to read “This user was given an informal warning/formal warning/ban for this post”. Mod authors will be able to choose whether they want that information to be public (they can leave it there for all to see) or whether it’s hidden from public view. I know some mod authors will like the idea of showing that people have been warned or banned for trolling their threads as it will act as a warning to others. I also know some mod authors won’t like that idea, so we’re going to leave that one completely up to you.

    On the flip-side, if a moderator looks at the post and decides that it does not break our terms of service then the post will be unhidden on the file comment page and it will be locked from the mod author being able to hide it again. I see potential drama in this setup as I know that some mod authors are going to end up throwing their toys out of the pram when they hide comments because they think the comment has broken the rules and we unhide them because we think they haven’t. Obviously our policy on this matter is going to be very simple: we get the last say. If you’re not ok with that, don’t turn comments on for your files. That’s been our policy for the past 11 years so it’s not going to change.

    We’ve put a lot of time and thought into this new system. For some the Nexus is too strict, for others, our zero-tolerance policy to trolls and general riff-raff has been one of the biggest draws to the site. Once again it falls into this category of not being able to please everyone and ultimately doing what I personally think is right for this network of sites.

    We’ll continue to assess the functionality and practicality of our moderation techniques and make changes whenever necessary.

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