Hey guys, I’ve got a lot of thoughts about the EBF Discord that I’d like to share.
For those of you who don’t know, the EBF Discord is a bunch of chatrooms where you can talk about EBF, gaming, fanart, and almost anything else. I set it up 2 years ago, and since then the number of members has gradually increased to over 11,000. Only a small portion of those users are regularly active, but it’s still a lot of users, and the server is experiencing some growing pains lately.
The server is moderated by volunteers from regular users. They’re people who already spend a lot of time on the server, and I trust them to help keep it clean.
Originally I wanted to have quite relaxed rules: Keep it PG13. You can swear, but not too much. You can poke fun at people, but not too much. You can talk in all caps, but not too much. Etc. Bans would mainly be reserved for obvious trolls and spam bots. Minor offences would be sorted out by the community without mods getting involved. Common sense would prevail, I hoped. And this worked fine while the server was quite small and managable. But enforcing those sort of loose rules became near impossible as the server grew – it’s unfeasible for mods to keep track of which users are breaking a “reasonable” amount of rules, and which ones are going too far.
Context matters, but it’s also a pain to take into account. In normal interactions, friends can trash talk each other without any ill will. They can call each other rude names, and it’s harmless. However, that’s nearly impossible to moderate in a busy chatroom, unless you read a few walls of text of history between the users. So gradually we’ve had to get stricter and cut down on the banter. You can’t trashtalk other users anymore – even mildly – because it’s impossible to tell at a glance if it’s harmless, or if it’s part of a long series of bullying comments.
Additionally, there’s a lot of trouble makers intentionally trying to see how far they can push the rules, which really forces me and the mods to think about where we should draw different lines. And I don’t like drawing lines, because real social interactions don’t work like that. But I guess when you’re managing a large group of people you really have to keep the rules as simple as possible and you can’t leave any grey areas.
One tough question we have is: Questioning the mods’ decisions should be allowed, but how pushy can you be about it before it’s not allowed anymore? When do reasonable disagreements turn into feuds? Into arguments? And it makes things even harder when you consider that different mods have different levels of sensitivity to arguments, and may be stricter on some days than others. Stricter on more annoying users than on well behaved ones. It’s really hard to keep things fair.
I don’t like that Discord currently has no “temporary ban” feature. All bans are permanent unless manually reversed. I believe that temporary bans would be a convenient solution to these “grey area” offences. A user would know they went to far, but also know that they’re still welcome back in a month or so.
At the moment we have some general-purpose channels on the server, where you can talk about just about anything. These obviously cause a lot of problems – because everyone has a different opinion about everything, and some people always have to be right! Keeping the server strictly to discussions about my games would keep things simpler. There would be much less disagreement – if you’re on the server you obviously share that hobby with everyone! But it would be quite restrictive, which is a bit of a shame. And a “you can talk about other things, but not for too long” rule would be really hard to enforce.
The server previously had a “spam” channel, where you could post whatever low quality content you wanted, images included, as long as it’s still PG13. A lot of users liked that, and so did I. But moderating it was too difficult – it moved incredibly fast, and deciding which images should be allowed was a nightmare. Is a dead rat too far? Is flag burning allowed? Can Hitler make an appearance? The spam channel had to go. That amount of fun was a step too far.
I’m a big advocate for freedom of speech online and all that. I grew up on Newgrounds and 4chan. But it’s much easier to avoid things you don’t like on forums and image boards. Everyone’s practically anonymous, and nothing is personal. There’s many different discussion threads to choose from.
A chatroom feels so much more claustrophobic. Everyone is trapped closer together – for months and maybe years! You can’t have a conversation while simply ignoring the people you don’t like. Users get to know each other, and some of them just can’t get along. Personalities clash. And every time they do we have to make the rules stricter to stop it from happening again.
I just can’t figure out a good balance between fun and safety.
It really sucks.
But so that we don’t end on a downer, I’d like to say that the EBF Discord has been great for me interacting with fans and getting feedback on my work. The regular users really appreciate the community, and a lot of cool fan projects have came out of it, such as game mods, translation fixes, and fan art. I guess it’s got those things going for it.
So here’s some questions for you, dear readers:
If you’ve visited the EBF server, what did you think of the level of moderation?
Should we even bother with general-purpose channels, or just keep the server strictly EBF related?
What should a ban review process for lesser offences look like? When should banned users be allowed back?
If you’re part of other Discord servers, what features do they have that you like?