I can’t believe it. I’m writing a book. Over the next few months, this blog will be a space to think through the ideas and research I come across, as well as the physical, emotional and ethical challenges of this new project. I’ll probably add a newsletter in the near future. In the meantime, here’s some basic information about what I’m doing!
What is the book about and when is it out?
The book features conversations and case studies with people leading online communities. It’s due to be published in mid-2020 by Tiller Press, a new imprint of Simon and Schuster. It’s partly a guide to best practices in community moderation, and partly an exploration and examination of what this emerging and interesting work means to the people who do it.
Who am I?
I’ve been an academic researcher and science journalist, and I currently work in product management for The Atlantic. When I was in grad school, I wrote my thesis on online comments and moderation.
Why am I interested in this topic?
Moderation has fascinated me ever since I started researching comments sections in 2014. At the time, I was a recovering journalist just getting into the tech side of media, and comments sections provided a great case study in journalism’s dysfunctional attempts to adopt technology. In the beginning I thought my research would be about comments, but the more I spoke to comment moderators, the more I became interested in their stories. Many of the people I talked to didn’t intend to become moderators, but embraced the role because they were passionate about a topic or community. They’d worked in this new area of journalism for months of years, often without a lot of company support. The work took a lot of emotional energy, didn’t necessarily pay well (or at all) and took place on platforms that hadn’t been designed for it. Despite that, they were generous and open with me about their experiences, and many of them loved moderating. And they were powerful - the choices they made every day helped shape many, many people’s experiences online, both visibly and invisibly.
Eventually, that research turned into my graduate thesis and into a conference, #BeyondComments, that focused on moderation and making it better and easier. We talked about how moderators handle difficult conversations, negotiate relationships with large platforms, and build understanding across different points of view.
When I graduated, I thought I was done with studying moderation. Then, in 2019, the folks at Tiller Press (a newly-launched imprint of Simon & Schuster) asked if I’d be interested in turning those thoughts into a book. It took me a while to sort out my schedule and theirs, but I loved the idea. I knew I wanted to jump back in, but also to broaden my scope to forms of community moderation beyond journalism.
What is moderation, anyway?
There are several forms of moderation. I define “moderation” as the work we do in online community spaces to guide and shape conversation. It includes removing comments, responding to comments, posting questions, brokering agreements, and advocating for causes. Most of us have done moderation work in our lives, but ‘moderators’ are people who do it regularly, and for whom that work is a big part of their lives. I focus on community moderation, the work done to maintain relationships online, rather than content moderation, the work done by contractors on behalf of social media companies. Content moderation is, by structure, often invisible to members of online communities. Content moderators remove offensive material, but they rarely take on visible roles in the communities they work with. Both types of moderation are valuable and interesting from the perspective of understanding the internet, but they’re also different, and every book has to draw lines somewhere.
What does it mean to participate?
Here are answers to some common questions I’ve gotten from potential interviewees. This list is still evolving, but hopefully it helps.
AM I JOURNALIST FOR THE ATLANTIC?
No. I’m a product manager, which is a whole different team. My bosses are aware I’m doing this project, but it isn’t affiliated with The Atlantic’s editorial team in any way.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THESE INTERVIEWS?
The goal of the book is to understand best practices in online community and brand management, and to provide an insight into who moderates and why. The information I collect is intended to shed light on your work, and, sometimes, to provide interesting information about who you are and how you started as a moderator. Generally, I’m reaching out to people who are doing interesting and unusual things that other people can learn from. I’m not passing judgment on your values, or looking to portray you in a negative light.
CAN INTERVIEWEES BE ANONYMOUS?
Absolutely. A lot of times, being a moderator hinges on taking on a new role in a community, and my goal is not to reveal anyone’s identity or expose them to harm. If you’re concerned about privacy, we’ll work together to find a solution.
WILL I SHARE MY NOTES?
Yes. I can give you copies of any recordings I make or of the notes I take on our conversations.
CAN I CHANGE MY MIND ABOUT PARTICIPATING?
Yes. If you change your mind about wanting to participate in the book at any point prior to me turning in my draft, contact me.
HOW WILL I KEEP MY NOTES SECURE, AND HOW LONG WILL I KEEP THEM?
I’ll encrypt my notes when I store them online, and keep them for at least three years. If you’d specifically like me to destroy notes or records of our conversations, reach out to me.