Running a discussion forum requires some judgement and diplomacy.

As an administrator or moderator, your priority is to make your discussion forum useful for all of your visitors. As well as encouraging and supporting the people taking part in your forum, you will also need to monitor the messages posted to it and take action if any are unacceptable.

You may find it helpful to add some rules or guidelines to your forum outlining what you consider be acceptable behaviour on your forum and also what people should do if they have concerns (suggesting that they send you an email with the details is a good idea).

The guidelines below should give you some ideas about how to manage your discussion forum on a day-to-day basis. For more advice about running or moderating a forum, search online for "forum moderator guidelines".


General guidelines for moderators

  • Be visible, positive and friendly. It may seem obvious, but forums run by friendly, positive moderators will be more successful and better used. Take part in the discussions by welcoming, encouraging and helping the participants. If they are familiar with you and if you have been a positive influence in the forum, it will make it much easier later on if you have to take action on something unacceptable.
  • Be fair and consistent.  Treat all users and messages the same way. If a message from one person is unacceptable then the same message from someone else has to be unacceptable as well.
  • Be polite but firm: If you have to justify your decisions to remove or edit a message or warn users about their online behaviour, be polite but firm. Don't be tempted to respond to any personal attacks - it only makes things worse.
  • Don't take sides. Remaining neutral is important particularly if the discussion is about contentious subjects. If you appear biased towards a particular point of view, this can make it more difficult for your decisions as a moderator to seem fair.  You shouldn't edit or remove messages just because you personally disagree with them.
  • Comment on content rather than people. if you have to comment on a message, focus on its content rather than the person who wrote it. Commenting on individuals can cause offence and be taken as a personal attack - it is an easy way to escalate tensions and make your job as a moderator more difficult.


What messages are unacceptable?

There are some messages that are definitely unacceptable - those containing illegal content, that harass other members or that break the terms and conditions of using You must take action on these messages.

Whether other messages are unacceptable may depend on you and your users and will be a matter for your judgement - some groups will find some messages more (or less) acceptable than others. 

Reasons why messages are likely to be unacceptable include:

  • illegal content: The same laws apply on discussion forums as in everyday life. Messages that are libellous, threatening, discriminatory, breach copyright etc are likely to be illegal. 
  • content that attacks other forum users: Encourage your users to debate their points of view but you should stop them from personal attacks on other people. So, for example, it can be acceptable to say that Fred's point of view is ill-considered. It wouldn't be acceptable to say that Fred is an idiot. Harassment of other forum users should not be tolerated.
  • offensive content: This may depend on the tone of your forum - something that may be acceptable in some discussions may be unacceptable in others. Keep in mind that it can be more difficult in a discussion forum to tell when someone is joking or teasing and not all of your users will have the same sense of humour.
  • incorrect or misleading content: Messages that include incorrect information may need to be clarified or edited to prevent confusing people.
  • irrelevant content: If people post messages that are nothing to do with your discussion you may want to remove them in order to make the discussion easier to read. It is not unusual on busy forums for people to mistakenly post a message to the wrong discussion in which case you may need to move it to the correct one.


Handling unacceptable messages

If you consider a message is unacceptable, you will have to take appropriate action.

The action you take will depend on the message. You could:

  • Post a message with a correction or comment: If someone has posted something that is incorrect or that needs clarification, the simplest solution may be to add a message to the discussion putting the record straight. Similarly, if a thread starts to get heated, you may be able to calm things down by posting a reply
  • Move the message: If you have several discussions running, people can post messages to the wrong one (either because they misunderstood what the discussion was about or they simply clicked on the wrong discussion). This can mean something irrelevant appearing in the middle of a discussion.  In this case, you may want to move the message to a more appropriate forum (you may also want to let the person know that you have done this so they know where to find their message).
  • Edit the message: You could edit a message to remove unacceptable content. It isn't advisable to edit the message without making it clear that you have done so (as this could make it look like the original poster has said something that they haven't). If you edit a message, consider adding a line to it to explain the changes that you have made and why.
  • Remove the message: In general, you should probably reserve this action as a last resort or for extreme cases (for example, messages with illegal content). Once removed, you cannot restore the message back to the discussion so be sure that you do want to remove it. You may be accused of censorship (but don't let this stop you from removing the message if that is what needs to be done) so be prepared to justify your decision if necessary.
  • Contact the person: If someone is repeatedly posting messages that are unacceptable, you should contact them to explain the problem. If you are unable to reach an agreement, you may have to remove them as a member from your site.