Let's talk Moderation

Hey all,

As we get ever closer to finishing on our 3-year journey to migration our 30 million+ messages board to Discourse from a different software, I’d like to discuss and ask questions about moderation and the kinds of recommended workflows, mental adjustments and such one should take on such this software.

On our previous and current software, we use warning points to cause automated suspensions based on the accumulated total of warning points. Moderators can’t manually cause suspensions. But they can issue the aforementioned warning points.

I noticed the following setting in the admin panel:

Is this used for some sort of automation setting that I haven’t been able to find?

Currently, on our site we do:

1st Warning Point = 24 hour suspend
2nd = 7 Day Ban
3rd = 30.

Then we have 7 and 30 and at your third suspend we discuss permanent bans, opting to leverage and use verbal warnings (no warning points) where, if at all possible, trying to steer people towards being good community members without having to actually warn or punish anyone.

I’d appreciate suggestions, workflows, or anything people do. Do we need to start thinking less in automation and more in manual action (apart from sending warnings?). Can warn points used for any kind of automation for something similar?

We don’t mind up ending everything and learning an entirely new way of thinking about this and what we teach the moderators to do. I’ve gone ahead and read all the moderation guides I could find here on Meta, but I haven’t read anything that addresses thoughts about workflow.


I believe that setting is used to set the default period for silencing or suspending a user when they are manually suspended from their admin page. It fills in the date that is set in the screenshot below, but it can be manually overwritten if you wish:

It would be great to see a moderation guide that gave examples of issues that have arisen on Discourse forums and how they were resolved. Even fabricated scenarios that mirrored what can happen in the real world would be useful. My sense is that the types of issues moderators have to deal with varies greatly, depending on the nature of the forum.


Yeah, seems like automation of this isn’t really possible.


Discourse allows staff members to send a warning message to a user, but there aren’t any automated actions connected to warnings. Staff members can see any warning messages that have been sent to a user by clicking the “warning” link on a user’s profile page. Looking at previous warnings can be useful when trying to decide how to deal with a user.

Another thing to look at is the User Notes plugin. This allows staff to attach notes to a user. These notes can only be seen by other staff users. The big difference between staff notes and warnings is that staff notes don’t cause a message to be sent to the user.

A couple of concepts that may be specific to Discourse are the automated Trust Level system and the community moderation system.

The Trust Level system is outlined here: Understanding Discourse Trust Levels. Essentially, as users spend more time using the forum, they progress from Trust Level 0 to Trust Level 3. Each increase in trust level grants the user more rights on the forum. For example, a Trust Level 0 user cannot flag posts on the site. A Trust Level 1 user can flag posts, but their flags are given less weight than flags cast by Trust Level 3 users.

The community moderation system allows Trust Level 1 and above users to flag posts. Those flags are then handled manually by staff members from the site’s Review Queue. For example, the post in the screenshot below was flagged by a user (in this case me) as being “off topic.” A staff member will need to manually deal with the flag. If they agree that the flag is legitimate, they’re shown a list of options for how to deal with the post and the user.

Depending on the Trust Level of the user(s) who flag the post, it’s possible for flags to automatically hide a post, or silence a user. Even in these cases, I believe that staff members are still given the opportunity to review the hidden post or silenced user from the review queue and override the automatic action.

See What happens when you flag a post for more details about flagging.

Unless I’m missing something, there is still a lack of documentation about how the Review Queue works. For example, it gives staff members access to a “Reviewable Scoring” modal which I believe is used to determine whether or not a post is automatically hidden by community flags:


It would be great if there was some documentation about how the score is calculated and applied.

The Review Queue page’s search functionality could also use some documentation.

I’ve only ever been a moderator on an easy to manage Discourse forum (this one.) Moderation mostly consisted of recategorizing topics, moving posts, etc. It would be great to hear about how some more contentious Discourse sites handle the moderation work flow.


Did you read Discourse Moderation Guide ? I think that is a great start to learn about the moderation features.

Yes, I’ve read them thoroughly, the initial topic was more about asking people how they moderate things and how to transition from the workflow we’ve been doing since 2008, but we’ve had a get-together about it that lasted hours, and we are confident and happy with the changes we will be making to adapt and change to the way Discourse works.

I agree :100:

Although I’ve been using Discourse for ages, it makes no sense to me. The formulas mean nothing to me without some explanation.


Moderating can be important, I’m not a moderator but made it to top trust tier at one forum where there is not a lot of moderation by anyone except the site owner and web developer, they are usually busy with stuff so it’s good that people at the top trust tier can re categorize/rename threads if that is necessary.

I’m a little uneasy about using that feature without anyone even asking me to be a moderator, and if they did ask I’m not sure I’d even want that title. Have recommend there be some more active moderating there, probably by some of the veteran members would be best for that. They used to use a different kind of forum but changed to discourse a few years ago.

Anyway I would say my philosophy is while moderating can be good, it can also go too far, but good to communicate directly with people about if there is a problem with their posting in warnings first unless they are really combative and it’s not possible to communicate reason with them.

Seems like there is a good system here at Meta, one post I wrote was flagged as off-topic and was hidden, but then an automated message said author has the opportunity to edit post and it will reappear, staff won’t need review post unless there is second flag on post after edit (which I didn’t in this case, just deleted post).

Unlisting threads seems like a good feature too if they aren’t useful or relevant to everyone, but they don’t need to be deleted so are just unlisted.


I’ve moderated several often contentious communities, with and without Discourse. My initial experience was with a large and rapidly growing community on (the now defunct) Google Plus. The community had been badly managed for some time, then the owner rage-quit, leaving me in charge of a bunch of angry people. I’ll give you the short-ish version:

  1. Make SIMPLE rules, no more than 5 and no more than one or two sentences each. Make sure they are posted so that anyone can find them easily. You should right out a longer description of how those rules are interpreted and post that too (your mods will need this). Start with rules for Respect and Relevance, as these can be interpreted to cover most offenses. Don’t make rules you cannot enforce. (hint: borrow or steal rules from other boards.)

  2. A fallback rule for all other situations is “Don’t Waste Time”. Moderation decisions can be tough, and might require considerable time and effort, especially when you are trying to be fair. If you find yourself spending more than a few minutes with a problem, then someone else is imposing unfairly on your time, and possibly on the time of everyone reading the offending post. Make the quick decision, and let the other person spend their own time fixing the problem. That’s is very fair.

  3. Find some cool-headed people to be your moderators. They should be thoughtful and open to multiple points of view, but not overly sensitive, as they may have to deal with abuse. It is essential the moderation team communicate so that enforcement of rules is consistent. A Mod should act immediately when there is cause to do so, but discuss the situation later so other can understand why action was taken.

That’s how my team put things back together, moderating a community with thousands of active members with essentially no moderation tools other than deleting post, removing comments, asking nicely, and eventual banning (if all else failed). We got things done, and most of our moderation time was educating members on expected behavior so they could self-moderate.

Discourse gives you lots of great tools, which we would have given anything to have back in my G+ days. You still need simple rules, and to talk to people about expected behavior, but the tools are in place to support whatever you need to do. If a person is being difficult, make sure you have an interpretation of the rules ready to talk with them about it. If there isn’t a rule to cover it, consider that they may be wasting your time and act on that basis.

I haven’t written anything yet about dealing with contentious people, which might be another very long post.* VERY briefly:

  1. There are people who think they should not be subject to any sort of rules; they cannot be helped, invite them to leave as soon as you have had enough.
  2. Contentious issues tend to draw people who enjoy arguing. Let them, but impose some basic rules right away, and set a topic timer to the argument doesn’t last forever. Arguing is a very popular sport for some, and may quickly generate hundreds of comments. It’s great for traffic. but might not be the tone you are trying to set.
  3. Some people won’t argue fairly; they may not give sources, or may quote-mine sources, plagiarize sources as their own, make stuff up as they go or (or recently) use ChatGPT. This is generally disrespectful to all involved, so stomp it out when you find it.
  4. For most other situations I highly recommend this article about Criticizing with Kindness. If you can get both sides of the argument to agree to these rules there should be no moderation issues, but it’s hard to enforce cooperation.

OK, this comment has gone on far too long. Goodnight! :slight_smile:


Awesome advice, Dan. I wholeheartedly concur with everything you say.


No, that was very helpful. Particularly:

On the rare occasion that I’ve seen things go wrong on Meta, that is the rule that’s been broken.

For completeness, I’ll copy Dennett’s rules for critical commentary here:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

Attempting to get back to the OP’s question about Discourse specific moderation techniques, if the above rules were set in a site’s guidelines, I’m guessing the best way of promoting them with community moderation would be to encourage the use of the “I want to talk to this person directly and personally about their post” flag, or to have them escalate the issue by contacting an official moderator with the “Something else” flag.

For context, I’m wanting to promote the use of Discourse as a comment system for news sites. I’m approaching that very cautiously though.


Reading the posts here have been great, we are getting ever closer to finishing our migration to discourse. We’ve all been talking about how the different moderation tools will impact us and how we should adapt and change, which honestly? It encourages a talking mind set and a more inhuman approach anywhere, something we’ve always wanted for our community.

These will be the rules we will be porting over after some revisions: RpNation Community Guidelines | RpNation


Excellent post, Dan!

Two things which you don’t touch on, and which may not be on point for this thread, but which do come up

  • for a new, small, forum, there’s a tension between wanting the best behaviour and discussion on the one hand, and wanting the forum to thrive on the other. It’s difficult to ban or suspend users, or have them quit, or threaten to quit, when it feels like every user is precious.
  • for an inexperienced moderator, there’s a danger of over-moderating, especially when tired or challenged. Dealing with mis-moderation is important here. It’s common for members to feel over-moderated, too, which may or may not be evidence of over-moderation.

In both cases, and I think in all cases, what’s really helped me is having a small mod team of completely trusted, stable, cool-headed people who share the same values and goals. In my case it’s me and two others - not a big team. It can be a challenge to find these people, of course.



I am very bad at this, like Simon I’ve only moderated easy to manage forums. So the occasional bad apple gets under my skin more than it should :smiley:


A fellow moderator coined the word “Numpties” to describe such people, and it immediately caught on. Everyone just seemed to know exactly what it meant from seeing it context the first time. :wink:

And yes they can get under your skin, and you have to shrug it off. Some people can’t do that - it hurts them too much - and they don’t last long as moderators. Me, I guess I’m too thick-headed :laughing:

I’m best suggestion, if a numpty is getting to you, pass them off to another moderator.

Also, if there is any apparent conflict of interest like a nasty dispute erupting in a discussion you are part of, better to pass it off to another mod who is not involved. Share your opinions privately with other mods, but publicly you want to appear impartial.

Finally, when mods have to decide what to do this the numpty, it’s best to deliver a decision “by consensus of the moderators” when to sanction them (Silence/Suspend/Ban).

There is a difficult trade-off here. You don’t want to send anyone away, but one belligerent member can drive away a lot of other good people. Don’t let threats to quit bother you - If they can be happier on some other forum, let them go.

Yes, and the previous owner who rage-quit on me was all of that. He thought every problem could be solved by banning people, and it only made things worse. There were no written rules at that point, so no one understood the expectations. I had one week working under him as a mod, and the first thing I did was to write out some basic rules to be posted. He thought this was great, but then he kept changing the rules without even discussing with anyone.


Thank you @TheDarkWizard for sharing your URL. Your community (and your site) is a thing of beauty.

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Thank you :)!

Here is a screenshot with our current work moving towards Discourse:


that looks fantastic, nice work! :star_struck:

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Just committing web design crimes on @awesomerobot’s spectacular Graceful theme, since we don’t have the time this year to make a fully unique theme. All the credit should go to theme, we are just altering it.


hah i hacked their graceful theme for one of mine as well :grin: it’s a good template theme.