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A new appeals process for the moderation of blogs, message boards and communities

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Paul Wakely Paul Wakely | 14:45 UK time, Monday, 19 July 2010

Most people who leave comments on the BBC's blogs, message boards and communities will never get a comment rejected by the moderators, and many of you that do will understand why. But there are times when you need more information so you better understand the rules, and there are times when the mods do get it wrong. So today we are launching a new appeals process for moderation.

When I ran my moderation 'clinics' last year on the PM and BBC Internet blogs and the Points of View message board, I found that many of the same questions about moderation kept cropping up, and some of you also told me that you rarely got an answer if you replied directly to the moderation emails you were sent. So firstly, we had to make sure that you did get replies when you ought to, and secondly that more FAQs would often help you find that information for yourself.

It's taken far longer than I would have liked, but a few weeks ago we introduced a redesigned help section for the BBC message boards with expanded FAQs about moderation and added more information to the BBC blogs help. And today we are introducing a new appeals process for the times when you feel the moderators have got it seriously wrong.

The old system relied on you responding to a moderation email and was devised when we had half a dozen community sites using the DNA moderation system. However, with nearly 300 different blogs, boards, community sites and comments systems now using DNA, it became impossible to even maintain the folders, let alone ensure that all the teams responsible were responding to your moderation queries. Often, the sheer volume of moderation emails - particularly if someone had gone on the rampage with the alert button - made it very hard for teams to find your mails. In time we'd like to find a more elegant way to inform you that your comment has been removed, but for now we had to continue using email.

As well as all the email folders, people who wanted to complain about moderation would write to radio station and TV programme inboxes, post to the boards, phone BBC information or email the BBC Complaints department (who only handle complaints regarding content produced by the BBC, not by the public as your messages and comments are). This all caused duplication and wasted your licence fee.

So from now on, my team will handle all appeals and complaints in the first instance, asking hosts, bloggers or production teams for more information if necessary. The moderation failure emails are shorter and contain a link to more information about the rule your contribution was deemed to have broken. If you wish to appeal you can contact us via the feedback forms on /blogs and /messageboards. You will get an initial response within 10 working days, and if you are unhappy with the outcome, an opportunity to continue with the appeal procedure. If you have restrictions placed on your account, you can also appeal with the new process.

There are some conditions for appeals and we also ask that you make the basis of your appeal clear - general comments about moderation, the BBC, or the state of Britain today will be read but won't result in the decision about your comment being reviewed.  So please say why you consider your post didn't break the rule that it was failed under. Remember the appeal is about your contribution, so "but he was doing it too!" does not constitute an appeal.

For some of our, um, more regular correspondents, we also now have an expedited complaints policy. Sadly, looking at our inbox it seems I also need to point out that any abusive emails will be ignored and might result in a ban if unpleasant enough.

Nobody likes having their comment removed, or their alert rebuffed by the mods, so moderation will never be the most popular aspect of the BBC website. But I hope these changes will help to make moderation clearer, fairer, and more consistent.

Note: I've generally linked to the help material on /blogs here, but all the appeals info is also on the messageboard help pages.

Paul Wakely is Editor, Moderation Services, BBC Online.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Hopefully a better appeals system will result in moderation being less heavy handed in future.

    One thing I'd like to see is where someone posts an inappropriate link (e.g. they mistype a url) only the url should be removed, not the whole comment. It is possible, as I've seen moderators do it on occasion, but all too often the whole comment is removed.

  • Comment number 2.

    Paul:

    NB: This is a going to be 2 parts

    1)How is the entire idea of "mailing in the complaint to the BBC" going to work and for those of us, that don't hold residence in the United Kingdom; that costs money at the Postal Office...And, you will not received the complaint in time? *From the BBC Annex*

    2)Congrats about you and the moderation team taking over the complaints....process, maybe now things will be more efficient....

    (d)

  • Comment number 3.

    "for the times when
    you feel the moderators have got it seriously wrong."

    a simple thing would be for the moderators to review the referred comment in context, which often seems to be missed.

    -will this system be of any use to those who have many posts referred, but reinstated? in these cases, there will be no email trail to follow, and could allow individuals to target other posters, but without any proper comeback.

    -also, will the new system make it any easier to stop persistent/malicious use of moderation? this has been a big concern recently on POV, especially over weekends.

  • Comment number 4.

    Paul:

    Recently, I have couple of my comments contents (such as email or personal information) that it was in my removal messages from BBC---Although, when I submit comments to any of the BBC Blogs, Message Boards or News Debates; I "review" (preview) the comments before they are submitted...What is the rationale behind that!?

    (d)

  • Comment number 5.

    Paul:

    Just reading thru your blog (this clinic and the previous ones) and, I would like to know about complaints about removal from blogs that are from blog owners example: World Service or from one of the editors e.g. Betsan Powys, what is the policy of appeals to you at Central Communities Team???

    (d)

    (Sorry, for the troubles...)

  • Comment number 6.

    Excellent idea, good that mods are judge, jury and executioner, although never had any problems myself!

  • Comment number 7.

    edit: good that mods are *not* judge, jury and executioner, I mean!

  • Comment number 8.

    Dennis Junior, with regard to the "mail" thing. As I understand it the chance to email, or use an online form, will remain; and that's free. Also, you have "30 days" to make the complaint, which even Royal Mail should be able to deliver in.

  • Comment number 9.


    the part about persistent complainers, does this refer to those overusing the triangle/complain function?

  • Comment number 10.

    We've been quite clear about what is and what isn't allowed to be commented on in these blogs. But for the avoidance of doubt let me give a few examples.

    If a comment suggested, for example, that "The BBC Management are clueless and have been profligate in their waste of public money", your entry would be removed. However, if you were to phrase it slightly differently by saying "The Director General is doing a fantastic job", then that is fine.

    Recently the accidental disappearance of a radio programme which investigated the capping of pensions at a well known media organisation in Britain caused a lot of angry responses on these boards. One comment, unfounded as it turned out, suggested that "the man in charge of this organisation is stifling independent investigative journalism". The comment was rightly removed and replaced with a piece about "the independence and quality of its output".

    Finally, another example of censors.....moderation. Someone alleged that the BBC is "happy to pay hundreds of directors 6 figure sums but hires students on the cheap to produce programmes, badly. Thus causing a loss of pride within the business and very low morale in the workforce." had to be removed because it was a very serious allegation. Let me remind you of the purpose of these blogs. They are here so that BBC Management can give a truthful insight into how the BBC works and what a good job it is doing.

    Let's not spoil the uninteraction we currently enjoy on here.

    Taxi!

  • Comment number 11.

    Andy - if you can point me to the exact places where the examples you quote occurred then we will investigate.

    Comments critising the BBC are acceptable on all the BBC's social media services as long as they do not break the House Rules.

    Thanks

  • Comment number 12.

    Nick i know this is not specefically about the PoV board,but forgive me for mentioning the project your were involved in,to improve the board,because i think it is highly relevant in the context of this blog.

    Looking back now, is there really any point in carrying on with the PoV boards, surely it is time to close them, because they are regulary attracked complaints and it appears house rules are broken regulalry,

    Even with the implementation of these new rules, i dont think things will improve that much,surely the BBC should not spend any more time and money trying to cure the incurable PoV board.

  • Comment number 13.

    A major flaw on these blogs is the power given to ordinary contributors to censor a comment they don't like simply by clicking on Complain about this comment. That used to result in the comment being Referred to the moderators and now it is Referred for further consideration. Problem is, the comment is removed from the board while it is Referred and is usually not dealt with, remaining in this state of limbo as the debate moves on.

    I have appealed a number of times to moderators to make a decision on such comments - either remove them permanently or reinstate them - generally with no luck. I have also seen other people make similar fruitless attempts to bring these comments to the moderators' attention.

    A lengthy appeals process in this instance makes little sense since few, if any, people will go back to read a comment that has been reinstated days after it was posted. By then the debate has either been closed or died down and people have moved on.

    It would be far better to have a system whereby the comment remains on the blog while it is being judged as suitable or not.

    These blogs also need more Reactive Moderation, which has become a rarity.

  • Comment number 14.

    Fedster - I'm no longer responsible for the POV boards but will pass your comment on to the team who are.

    TrueToo - if comments were not hidden then those which were legally unsafe or exposed the BBC to significant editorial risk would remain visible.

    My gut feeling is that amount of reactive moderation on the BBC's social media services has stayed about the same. It certainly hasn't become a rarity on blogs. Many blogs were premoderated when they were set up and remain premoderated (for good reasons).

  • Comment number 15.

    I notice one of the rules is that links must not be to pdfs. Whilst this was fairly understandable at one time they are becoming more and more common a large proportion of users have no problems with pdfs.

    I had a link removed because I had copied a pdf link from one of the BBC blogs. I think the mods should at least allow links that the BBC itself quotes to be repeated.
    (I can see it would be time consuming to check pdf links and that is one good reason to exclude them, but you could maintain a safe list of links the BBC itself posts, or just allow the moderators some discretion)

  • Comment number 16.

    Looking back now, is there really any point in carrying on with the PoV boards, surely it is time to close them, because they are regulary attracked complaints and it appears house rules are broken regulalry,

    Even with the implementation of these new rules, i dont think things will improve that much,surely the BBC should not spend any more time and money trying to cure the incurable PoV board.


    I think the POV boards could be a great asset to the BBC. Or something of their ilk. Maybe Radio and Television boards would be better than a board allied to a seasonal 15 minute TV programme?

    The House Rules are far too rigid on POV. If they were relaxed - like other BBC messageboards - off-topic would not cause so many problems.

    But at least we now have this new appeals system to at least counterbalance the recent bout of sabotage.

  • Comment number 17.

    In reply to message 12 from Fedster.

    To do that, would show what an abject failure the projet and subsequent improvements to the POV boards, have been.

    However, after reading this blog and following the links and comments made, the overall impression I get, is that the moderation problems occur all over the BBC's blogs, message boards and communities.

    What's interesting though, is that it seems to affect those with a more rigid enforcement of the "house rules" than those which are more relaxed.

  • Comment number 18.

    "But at least we now have this new appeals system to at least counterbalance the recent bout of sabotage."

    But will this system help in what has been happening over recent weeks/months? I have read over the new system, but I can't quite place how it will do ANY good in stopping people hitting THAT button as and when they feel like.

  • Comment number 19.

    Sorry, ceider, my last sentence was just an attempt to keep my post on topic!

    But I think by introducing this appeals procedure the PtBs have at least acknowledged there's a problem. And not, as Nippie points out, just on POV.

  • Comment number 20.

    Seems Paul Wakely doesn't really take comment all that seriously, given his quote: - "some of our, um, more regular correspondents" on the new set up. Disappointing.

  • Comment number 21.

    Fedster - I'm no longer responsible for the POV boards but will pass your comment on to the team who are.

    And in the interests of fairness Nick, I hope you also pass on my comment at post 17.

    However, I would hate to see yet another blog degenerate in to a POV v Blogs discussion. You've said yourself that you are no longer responsible for the POV board, so please, let's keep this blog on topic, thanks.

  • Comment number 22.

    Nick Reynolds,

    Thanks for your response. I don't contribute much to BBC POV boards and my experience is mostly limited to the blogs, but goes back many years. A choice between reactive and pre-moderation was always available and can be made by the moderators, I'm fairly sure, at the click of a mouse.

    Reactive moderation on the blogs certainly has become a rarity. Have Your Say in the early days used to have occasional reactive moderation. I haven't seen it for ages on those blogs. Have a look at The World Tonight blog. It used to be reactively moderated, but no more - even though it still has the message All posts are reactively moderated above the comments box:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/worldtonight/2010/07/terrorism_still_with_us.html#comments

    Reactive moderation is also disabled when the moderators are unavailable, as I guess they were when I posted comment 13 late at night since the comment did not appear right after I posted it.

    You wrote, If comments were not hidden then those which were legally unsafe or exposed the BBC to significant editorial risk would remain visible. You are missing the point I was making here - that the power to delete comments should not rest with ordinary contributors to the blogs, such as myself. Why not have a system whereby people can flag comments they find objectionable without deleting them? As it now stands, those comments are often effectively deleted since the moderators fail to come back to them to make a decision on deleting or reinstating them.

    Here's the most recent examples I've found, in comments 431 and 432:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2010/07/bbc_news_website_redesign_5.html#comments

    The author of comment 432 appealed to the moderators in comment 511 to make a decision on his deleted comment:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2010/07/bbc_news_website_redesign_5.html?page=2#comments

    Why wont they do anythihg about it?

  • Comment number 23.

    I was going to contribute some more ideas, but right now I have to say I am annoyed with a particular aspect of the current system. No, this is not an appeal of any kind - yet. Just an observation of a possible flaw.

    Why is it, that my pre-moderated posts can be passed as acceptable yet still be complained about after the event, so I am in effect being moderated twice? What a waste of time for the mods, and myself while the post remains temporarily hidden. I don't mind losing the odd post 'at source' if it breaks the rules, but if it's been OK-ed once, surely there should be some exemption built in to the complaints process so the post can't be 'triangled'?

    - Yes, ambitious thought, I know, but I am not impressed after losing three posts this way last night. I am not prepared to retype them, either, because as far as I am aware they did not break the House Rules in the first place or they would never have seen the light of day!

  • Comment number 24.

    "Seems Paul Wakely doesn' t really take
    comment all that seriously"...and he hasn't come back to answer questions either.

    I have tried to use this new system, and I'm not feeling confident from the off. after submitting my appeal against a refused referral, it said I should receive an automated email. one hour later, nothing. if you can't get this simple process right, how can anyone have confidence that the rest of it works??

  • Comment number 25.

    ceiderduck - Paul is ill. When he's recovered I'm sure he will respond to the comments here.

  • Comment number 26.

    Thank you for letting us know, Nick. My query in 23 is non-applicable now anyway, as I am no longer pre-moderated on the message boards and all of my posts were reinstated, but it can be a 'hold that thought' for another time..

  • Comment number 27.

    #2 Dennis Junior - having to mail the complaints is only for people who have to be moved to the vexatious complaints process, for spamming the inbox, misusing the complaints procedure etc. I'm afraid I don't understand your query in comment 4, could you explain further?

    #20 Jaybee - my euphemistic reference was to people like the gentlemen in Northern Ireland who was submitting several thousand complaints per year about moderation. That's a bit much, and I doubt you think your licence fee should be spent answering him. I hope I'm not being too blunt when I suggest that in a case like that the problems lie less with the moderation of the boards and more with the complainant. You're probably not aware that there are a handful of users who deliberately set out to waste thousands of pounds of licence fees each every year with disruptive behaviour, and until we had agreed a vexatious complaints procedure we would continue having to deal with them every time they wrote to another department, their MP, Mark Thompson etc etc.

    TrueToo - I think the problem you're referring to is where comments referred to bloggers and hosts remain in limbo. A complaint doesn't automatically cause a comment to be hidden, and if a mod can reject an alert there and then then the comment won't get hidden at all. There's been a long-running problem since the blogs moved to DNA where these posts weren't being processed by the teams that ran the blogs - we think we've now solved this in most cases and you should see a lot less of this problem in the future.

    Malyndi - unfortunately there are cases where a complaint can bring more information to light after a post has already been passed by the mods, so we can't make a post 'unalertable' once passed.

    Cheers

    Paul

  • Comment number 28.

    Several *thousand* complaints per year? Sheesh, that's what I'd call obsessional! How sad. Where do these people get the TIME from?

    Right, I sort of understand better now about why pre-modded posts can't be given immunity. Anyway, since being 'free', I had a post removed yesterday (not on POV) but to be honest, although I am a tad miffed at the decision, it doesn't seem worth making a big fuss about. I think when one is a bit of a mouthpiece at times, one has to accept being moderated as an occupational hazard :-D

    One thing that does leave me scratching my head about the current system though is the lack of elaboration when a post fails under the 'liable to provoke, attack, etc' rule. If I knew exactly HOW the post came into that category I could try and ensure not to make others in similar vein, though this is difficult as 'offence taken' is a very subjective thing! With this new appeals system, does the appellant get a full explanation of the decision whether it is overturned or not?

  • Comment number 29.

    Reposting a serious complaint (deleted from current internet blog)

    Very Serious fault discovered in the BBC Bloging user registration system.

    Two users with the same name


    [From Stephanie Flanders blog]

    Reposting problem description

    writingsonthewall

    Re #130 - now U14567762

    It looks like the BBC's blog registration process allowed two posters to register with the same name (see #130 - now U14567762) above - this no longer refers to you (writingsonthewall). But it is worrying that two users could be registered with the same name - I really do wonder at the controls and management of the BBC's blogs if this could have been allowed to happen - It should never have happened!

    Until, they fix the problem someone could register as say U14567762 are make statements that were not their's either.

    We have a right to expect that we are not able to be traduced and have our identity stolen.

    The technical department must assure us that this is now fixed.

    Further this appears to facilitate a serious Data Protection issue. The BBC should admit its error and confess that it permitted Identity Theft that gave rise to one user being traduced by another and so being experiencing damage to the original user's reputation.

  • Comment number 30.

    Hi John

    This was deleted for being off-topic, and isn't relevant here, but I'll answer it to stop you reposting it again.

    There is no fault, nor any stolen identity or data protection problem. Users can choose any display name within the house rules, they do not need to be unique. Usernames - the one you use to sign in - are unique, but the display names aren't. Every commenter has a unique number that you can see if you click on their name to visit their profile page - you can check this if you think that there is some impersonation going on or are worried about misattribution. Impersonation is against the house rules, which is why the user's name was reset to their number.

    If you have a comment or complaint about the BBC blogs, please look at the FAQs:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/about.shtml

    Moderation FAQs:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/moderation.shtml

    or if you can't find the answer contact us via our feedback form:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/contact.shtml

    Paul

  • Comment number 31.

    Paul,

    Thanks for posts 27 and 30. That clears up a few things that had been baffling me for some time - like the sudden transformation of someone's display name into a U-number. If that happens when someone tries to impersonate someone else (and I imagine they would only do that to discredit the other person) that's quick justice - and fair.

    Good to know that ordinary participants in the blogs don't have the power to automatically delete comments by clicking on the "Complain" button. But that of course would mean that the message, This comment has been referred for further consideration, which replaces the hidden comment, would make no sense - unless the moderators are referring the comments on to more senior people.

  • Comment number 32.

    Hi TrueToo

    You will only see that message if the mods have referred it on to one of their supervisors, or the host of board or blog, or my team (which of these will depend on the nature of the comment or complaint and what needs looking at).

    Sometimes comments will legitimately need to sit like that for a while, for example if we need to seek legal advice, but we hope we have reduced the likelihood of them sitting in limbo for long periods.

    Paul

  • Comment number 33.

    Thanks for that response, Paul. I'm hoping the state of limbo can be limited.

  • Comment number 34.

    A reply to the valid query in third paragraph of #28 would be appreciated - TIA!

  • Comment number 35.

    this 'limbo' state, might that explain why an appeal I submitted a week ago appears to have, well, gone nowhere?? I never received an autoresponse at all.

    also, will this new system help in any way against certain individuals who remove all posts from a thread, or comments by people they don't like-especially when the comment is reinstated? this has been happening quite a lot recently

  • Comment number 36.

    Hi Malyndi

    Since you've read plenty of previous discussions about moderation you'll know that we can't routinely offer individual explanations as to why a comment is failed. The appeals process is intended as a way to correct moderation errors in a timely and transparent way. So if you can look at your comment and genuinely have no idea why it has failed for the reason given then you can appeal - if there was nothing at all offensive and it was failed for being offensive then that appeal has a good chance of success. But it wouldn't be considered as an appeal if you had three or four offensive things in your comment and you just wanted to find out which of them failed. Does that distinction make sense?

    Paul

  • Comment number 37.

    Hi Ceiderduck

    Thanks for pointing that out - the auto-response appears to have gone up the wall. We'll try to get it fixed as soon as we can.

    However, it doesn't mean that your appeal has gone nowhere - if it's a valid appeal you should get a response from my team within 10 working days, as explained here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/messageboards/faq/checking_messages.shtml#appeal

    Paul

  • Comment number 38.

    Ceiderduck - "will this new system help in any way against certain individuals who remove all posts from a thread"

    If you mean people who misuse the alert button, then no, it won't. It's an appeals process for decisions made by the moderators. It won't do anything to make members of the public behave differently.

    As you know, we restrict users who abuse the alert system, but due to the nature of the internet and UK law there's a limit as to what we can do about these malicious complaints.

    Paul

  • Comment number 39.

    In reply to Central Communities Team in #36

    Yes, I do understand the distinction, not that I would be so inclined these days to make 'offensive' posts that would fail on several different counts :-) I am quite capable of knowing, for instance, that telling people to sod off in a post is going to result in moderation, and would not be appealing THAT sort of decision, obviously. I know that even under extreme provocation this is not permitted and I accept that now more than I used to and try to defend myself less vigorously, let's say :-D

    - Based on your reply, my most recent failed post would therefore stand a good chance of a successful appeal as I did genuinely do a double-take when it was removed and could not understand how on earth it could have been deemed offensive. It may be because it included a quote from another post that was also modded. However, the thread has long left the front page of the board now, and I have probably left it a little late to start the process, but will bear in mind for the future if a similar post is removed. Cheers!

  • Comment number 40.

    Thanks for that Paul

  • Comment number 41.

    "Sometimes comments will legitimately need to sit like that for a while, for example if we need to seek legal advice, but we hope we have reduced the likelihood of them sitting in limbo for long periods."

    Does this apply to blogs AND messageboards like POV? There are still several posts there, going back to last friday, which are still awaiting a moderation decision. I realise that there was a change over in host on Fri. In these circumstances, would they have been missed, or referred for further consideration like mentioned above?

  • Comment number 42.

    I think the whole appeals pages have now gone up the wall, too! and *just* when I have a valid reason to use it, doh. I keep getting an 'oops' message!

  • Comment number 43.

    up and running again! whatever was happening with the servers, it's sorted now

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 45.

    Having suffered from moderation of web addresses that end in .pdf, why is it that these files are subject to this 'moderation'? I know that it says that addresses should not 'initiate a download', but mine don't, anymore than accessing any website does. The act of 'Save File' is the download and common to [say] File/Save Page As, "a_new_appeals_process_for_blog.html" Please could the difference be explained.
    Many Thanks,
    StuartG

  • Comment number 46.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 47.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 48.

    Why does it take so long for any article or comment that is "Pending Moderation" to actually get dealt with?

    Surely after the comment has come to the attention of the moderators it only needs to be read through and maybe shown to another moderator before a decision is made?

    Why also is there ZERO place to complain anymore?
    You'll undoubtedly claim that http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/moderation.shtml#canappeal is adequate, but this gives no opportunity to actually get a direct response to any questions of whether the rules are being followed or how they are being broken?

    Is the BBC deliberately making it so awkward, just so that people are put off complaining by the sheer dificulty of finding out how to go about it?

  • Comment number 49.

    freddawlanen - thanks for your comment. Could you be more specific about the problem and which board or blog it is happening on?

    When a comment is rejected you should be recieving an email explaining which house rule has been broken. Could you let me know if this is not happening?

    Thanks

  • Comment number 50.

    A year down the line, the appeals process for 'blogs, message boards and communities' seems just as confused, perhaps more so.

  • Comment number 51.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 52.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 53.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 54.

    "A year down the line, the appeals process for 'blogs, message boards and communities' seems just as confused, perhaps more so. "

    Joe, the system has in no way changed since you used it in January and in March of this year, so I can't see why you now find it so confusing. We have no record of any further appeals from you, so if you want to make use of the appeals process, submit an appeal in the way that you have before. Commenting all over the Internet blog that the system is broken is starting to look like you're being deliberately disruptive.

    Paul

 

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