To moderate or not to moderate

In conversations I’ve had recently about public online communities and social networking sites, the point has been made that if a community is moderated (particularly pre-moderated, that is before publication) then it is closer to a “publishing model” and the owners of the community can be seen as responsible for its content and thus legally liable for any problems – to the extent of being sued.

If a space is unmoderated – an open social network for example, then the owner has some defence against being sued for what goes on there as they have no authority over it.

Somewhere in between is a community that is moderated after the fact as it were – mainly open, but where moderators do keep an eye out for objectionable content and deal with it to some extent. Here the legal issues are complicated and watertight policies about when and how to intervene are essential.

For Kids on the Net for example, I have a policy at the extreme moderated end – nothing reaches the page without being edited first – it is essentially open publishing. I am very aware of the moral, privacy and legal issues surrounding a contributory site for kids. I have this policy for my blogs as well – no comments are published without my say-so.

The learning communities and communities of practice I moderate are moderated “after the fact” and some have ground rules and some don’t, but I am clear in all cases about the extent of my responsibility for what goes on and how I will deal with it. I am a member of Facebook and Second Life, and other social networking sites which are lightly moderated if at all, and I can’t say that I am completely comfortable in such places.

Each community/network is different but the owners and moderators need to be fully aware of their possible liabilities. This is why a professional moderator is worth their hire.