One of the biggest challenges for publishers during a national election is, without a doubt, keeping conversations around their content civil and preventing misinformation from tarnishing their platforms.
Whether your company plans to run live updates or craft a few blog posts during a significant political event — such as an election in Canada, the U.S. or anywhere else in the world — your moderation team will have their hands full with an extraordinary volume of opinionated comments.
A recent study conducted by the Center for Media Engagement found that moderators who focused on preventing uncivil comments were affected “on a very personal level, leading to emotional exhaustion and less positive work experience.” This means that an effective moderation team needs to protect more than just the domains they’re assigned to monitor — they also need to protect themselves.
To help your moderation team maintain civility and accuracy on your platform while keeping their cool, it’s important to empower them as much as possible well in advance of an election.
We spoke with Leigh Adams, the product manager of Viafoura’s moderation services, to help arm your moderation team with the best practices and tips to make it through the election period. Adams also holds over 10 years of experience moderating and developing guidelines for news commenting forums. Read on to discover her must-know election survival tips.
1. Predict probable misinformation
Before moderators can begin battling misinformation, they first need to have a clear, consistent understanding of the kinds of misinformation that are likely to come up. Moderators can then brainstorm different types of rumors and topics that should not be spread on the domains they’re protecting.
For example, according to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, you can expect to see misinformation that generates “fear, intolerance and misinformation about immigration across Canada” during the upcoming 2019 election period.
“Create a shared document that everyone can print featuring keywords or names to watch for within those categories of misinformation you’ve identified,” Adams says.
This will make it easier for moderators to scan through comments and quickly identify problematic statements.
Viafoura’s moderation team also uses a unique search tool that allows moderators to search comments by specific keywords.
“The quicker you can find and shut down those conversations, the better,” she states.
2. Identify your biases
When was the last time you spoke to a human that was truly neutral towards the political landscape? Everyone has their biases, which can influence their day-to-day actions. Not even moderators are immune.
A study from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania found that “users who consistently express minority viewpoints are more likely to be moderated than users who consistently express majority viewpoints.”
To ensure your moderation team isn’t enforcing any political bias unintentionally, each moderator must understand what their own biases look like in order to avoid censoring opposing viewpoints.
3. Don’t be afraid to ban users
In the digital world, the general belief is that the more eyeballs a piece of content can get, the better. The end goal for media executives is typically to gain and engage more site visitors in order to maximize subscriptions; however, visitor quantity isn’t always better than quality.
“Don’t be afraid to ban users,” says Adams. She goes on to explain that “a lot of newspapers are afraid to ban users because they want the audience, but when you allow trolls and other toxic users to take over, you’re actually scaring away more valuable visitors.”
Fewer quality commenters offer more value to brands than many commenters that destroy the safety and trust between an organization and its loyal followers.
4. Leverage user account history as a moderation resource
User account history is an extremely useful resource for moderators. Access to information like past comments posted by users and account registration date can help moderators prevent spam and make decisions on what to do with questionable comments.
Adams explains that “if a user posts a couple hundred comments within a few days, chances are, they aren’t posting valuable comments.”
5. Create a thorough emergency procedure
Make sure your moderation team has thoroughly outlined a procedure for comment-related emergencies.
“Let’s say someone threatens to be an active shooter at your headquarters. How do you deal with that type of threat?” Adams asks.
There are a few crucial questions you can ask your team to help them prepare for these types of threats:
- Is there a clear chain of command in an emergency?
- When do you alert the police versus the organization you’re protecting?
Adams recommends distinguishing between different types of non-urgent, semi-urgent, general and specific threats, and outlining how moderators should react to each of them.
6. Keep team communication open
Whether your moderation team prefers Slack, Google Hangouts or any other communication tool, it’s best to have a shared chatroom where they can ask each other questions or flag any important information instantly.
“To ensure sanity and consistency, create a shared space where your team can feel supported enough to ask for help,” Adams suggests. “When someone needs to make a judgment call on a comment, having open communication with the rest of the team is very empowering.”
7. Take Breaks
If you need a break as a moderator, you need to ask for one. Don’t feel like you need to power through the rush of comments until the end of your shift. Maintain visibility over everyone’s workload as well so team members can assist one another when needed. That way, your moderation team will be well-equipped to prevent the volume of comments from getting out of control.
Adams elaborates on how this can be accomplished: “We use a moderation tool that was created in-house, which lets other moderators on the team see one another’s workload. It can also alert others when you’re away from the keyboard so that someone else can take over.”
A moderator’s role can be mentally draining, so if you need a break for the sake of your mental health, you owe it to yourself to take one. After all, you need to protect yourself before you can effectively protect others.