Rules of the road

A moderation policy is an essential element of any online dialogue, experts say

A moderation policy is an essential element of any online dialogue, experts say. By defining the rules of engagement clearly and visibly, moderators protect themselves from charges of censorship if they need to remove postings.

That is how it worked during the brainstorming phase of the Open Government Dialogue when a group of individuals overwhelmed the site with comments challenging the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency.

The system invited participants to flag entries that did not meet the criteria posted on the Web site. Moderators reviewed and, in some cases, removed the offending posts.

Here is the policy as posted:

This online dialogue allows you the opportunity to fill out custom text fields, which are publicly visible. The site therefore operates a moderation policy to ensure that your comments are appropriate and not harmful to others. Comments which include any of the following may be deleted:

  • Threats or incitements to violence.
  • Obscenity.
  • Duplicate posts.
  • Posts revealing your own or others' sensitive/personal information (e.g., Social Security numbers).
  • Information posted in violation of law, including libel, condoning or encouraging illegal activity, revealing classified information, or comments which might affect the outcome of ongoing legal proceedings.
  • Moreover, while we invite open participation and diverse viewpoints to be shared, the main goal of this dialogue is to answer the overarching question: How can we strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness by making government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative? Moderators therefore reserve the right to remove posts which are not "on topic" or do not address some aspect of that question. Our desire is to remove as few posts as possible while ensuring that a focused, constructive discussion takes place.

About the Author

John S. Monroe is the editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week.

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