Thomas and Christopher O’Reilly are two young people from Brimbank. They started a Facebook group to connect their local community during lockdown, the 3020 Exchange, which has over 2,400 members. People of all ages and backgrounds in the 3020 postcode can share recommendations, questions and advice.

If you are moderating an online group, it is important to keep everyone feeling safe – and that includes you! It can be hard to log off when you want to respond quickly to any questions or issues. Sometimes this gets tiring, yet it's hard to draw a line if you don't feel like you have alternatives. Thomas and Christopher have come up with good rules and measures for how to make these tasks more manageable.

Choose group discussion topics carefully

The 3020 Exchange allows members to post questions, recommendations and local discoveries in the group. Thomas and Christopher also post regularly about different local matters to keep people updated and engaged. They’ve learned to have some direction about what gets posted to keep things manageable. They recommend:

  • Community-focused matters
  • Topics that are hard to ‘argue’ about
  • Topics you feel comfortable moderating

For example, Thomas and Christopher decided to make a rule against posting about local politics. They set this boundary when they found that these posts quickly become moderator intensive. ‘It is a big burden. You’re often pressured to take sides, and once you let one post through it often becomes a big floodgate.’ Christopher explains. He notes how you don’t have to try to be everything your local demographic wants. In their case, ‘there are other [local] groups that have a more appropriate space for political discussions, and they have the capacity to moderate those groups to their standards.’ The boundary they’ve created balances both their own load as moderators, and the context of what users are able to get elsewhere.

Automate some features

Thomas and Christopher have made good use of Facebook’s features so they're not manually moderating everything. Below are some they use and how.

Moderator alerts for key words. Thomas and Christopher set up notifications for every time certain words are used. These range from ‘council’ and ‘Brimbank’ to offensive language. This helps them prioritise which posts and comments to look at first. It also provides peace of mind – they know that if someone starts using offensive language, they won’t miss it.

Other platforms that provide this feature include Zoom, Discord and Slack.

Turn off the ‘share’ or ‘forward’ features. This prohibits people from sharing posts outside of the group and onto their own Facebook pages. This way, it’s easier to follow what people are saying and also maintains people’s privacy.

Other platforms that allow you to restrict sharing include Google groups, some Microsoft apps and Discord.

Use screening questions and group rules. For the 3020 Exchange, Thomas and Christopher are very clear on the group having a community focus. For this reason, it’s important to them that members either live or work in the local area. They manually check all new members, but also use some screening questions. Their tips include:

  • Ask people to agree to the group rules as a screening question.
  • Have measures for checking if a prospective member fits the group purpose. For example, check if they have mutual friends in the group, or if they have been invited to join by an existing member.

Different platforms have different features for how new member invitations and requests work. Look into the options on the platform you’re using.

Manage disagreements in a way that feels safe for you

Thomas and Christopher have developed a few approaches for when disagreements happen. Sometimes a post has caused some division, or the comments have gone off track, for example. They will start by checking if the post or comments are following the group guidelines. Then they take some of the following actions:

  • Leaving a reminder to stay on track with the group rules. For example, ‘let’s remember to keep this group community-focused’. Thomas says this lets people know the administrators are keeping an eye on this discussion. It also shows they care about keeping the group a safe, inclusive and connected environment.
  • Remove certain comments or even a post.
  • Turning on moderator approval as a requirement for posts for a while.

Christopher describes how sometimes people continue to post despite their interventions. Sometimes they aren’t aware that previous posts have been removed and just need that explained. But at times people respond negatively. They may start posting publicly, or will even message Thomas and Christopher personally. With these people, Christopher explains that they try to limit engagement and redirect them to the group rules again. As a moderator, you should work out where you draw the line for your own capacity. You might like to include your own boundaries in the group rules too.

Create a community culture

Thomas and Christopher describe how group members also gently moderate each other. For example, when someone is offensive, other users often step in. They remind their peers of the group rules or report the post. Several users also show their support of Thomas and Christopher’s visible interventions. This positively affirms them as moderators and makes them feel safe too.

Thomas and Christopher also acknowledge the diversity of their group's social media competency. They understand that as young people they are social media 'natives', but not everyone is in the same boat. Confusion can happen simply when people don’t understand Facebook features. In these cases, they’ve been pleased to see young members helping and teaching others. Encouraging this not only connects users, but also makes the moderation process smoother.

As two nineteen-year-olds with their own personal commitments, Thomas and Christopher appreciate how supportive their community has been. They make clear how for online moderators and facilitators, setting boundaries does more than keep you safe. It also makes your role more sustainable, and sets a positive example to members.

This story is part of our Learning from COVID-19 series, featuring the creativity and adaptions of young people and youth workers. Check out our other stories or share your own.