Remember waaaay back when I became a mod, how I said I was totally going to review the rules and write up a revised version for us all to review?
I keep my promises, in time.
Disclaimer: The following Proposal does not represent any plan, commitment, or prior discussion - past or present - by the ACS Staff to change ACS rules and regulations, precedents, or protocol. The following Proposal does not reflect the opinions of any other ACS Staff or Member except Nemo KB, and was created explicitly without their prior knowledge. Any discussion herewithin or following is completely non-binding until it is officially announced and enacted otherwise by an ACS Site Administrator. The changes outlined in this Proposal are not intended to be effected verbatim, but only after review. Caveat lector.
I could write something pretty overblown here, but the fact of the matter is, ACS works kinda-okay-I-guess right now. Compared to some governments in the world, the stability and satisfaction rate here is miraculous! Our userbase is generally sedate, and nothing really worth noting from a governance perspective happens more than once a month or so. However, since ACS will only be growing more busy with ACI set to release in America shortly, now is probably a good time to iron out the kinks. No harm in reviewing what we've got, right?
We are also lucky, because the problems we do have are problems we can solve. Or at least, ameliorate. Our major problem is currently the lack of faith in the current mod staff. Some say the problem is with the rules, some with the people who enforce them, but I think a good deal of what's broken in our current system can be explained by one thing: a lack of accountability and an "old west sheriff" mentality.
For one, the lines of communication are fuzzy. The system as it is has members coming to individual mods with a problem, and that mod trying to solve it themselves without any communication with other moderators. The only way we would know of mass dissatisfaction is if one of us happened to speak often with members outside of the forums. We have to pool our information. And even then, there is no incentive for us to try and solve it, because we can simply suspend people who give us trouble. While there is no practical problem with this, it's hardly desirable that we should let things get to that stage. There must be a system in place to force us to deal with these things properly and peaceably before we have to go and get out the ban hammer.
Further, because mods think they need to solve their own problems, even when these problems are too complicated for any one mod to see the big picture, it leads to rash actions. There is no incentive for any moderator to check their plans with other moderators to make sure there is nothing they might've missed. Moreover, it is the nature of this website that often moderators are involved in the situation themselves and may not always act with a clear head. Simply put, there's no system to make us look before we leap, and that's something very sorely needed.
Lastly, and this is the most important part, there is absolutely no accountability. None.
Let's face it, if for some reason one of us went rogue, we could ban every single active member and run before another mod noticed, and there's not a thing any of you guys could do about it besides simply not come. Clearly that's not gonna happen, but what does happen repeatedly is one of us doing something ill-considered, and the only complaints we actually have to deal with are from the rest of the staff who don't want their jobs made any harder.
Simply put, there's no reason for any of ACS to trust us. No, let's not play games, ACS either doesn't trust us, or doesn't know us yet. They have no reason to.
Think of it this way. When we mess up, we mess up immensely and publicly. We mess up in a way that upsets forum stability for up to a week, or weeks, and we ferment dissent. We are, in essence, just as potentially disruptive as any troll can ever hope to be. I'm looking at the logs right now: almost every single forum incident that's resulted in someone getting suspended since September has been the result of one of our own screwing up in some way, not because the member in question was purposefully causing trouble. That is why we need a way to hold ourselves accountable for our own actions the same way we hold members who mess up accountable for theirs.
This isn't a question about whether we're trustworthy, and it's not a recrimination. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but I think the staff we have can do the job perfectly well. Nor is this me trying to bind our hands. I don't want it make it harder for us to do what we need to do, in fact, I want to make it easier in the long term. The only binding I want is binding that keeps us from shooting ourselves in the foot.
No, this is about finally taking responsibility for our own actions and giving the userbase a reason to trust us again.
So. Where do we start?
ACS’ nominal guidelines are determined by three documents. The first is the Forum Rules, which everyone can see. The other two are the Staff Agreement, and the Guidelines for Warnings. These last two documents are not public knowledge, but for us to proceed, they must be brought to light. Here they are in full.
Current Staff Agreement:
^Pretty admirable, actually.
Current Guidelines for Warnings:
It doesn't do to have vital information dispersed like this. I've calmed quite a few irate members just by disclosing to them information from one or the other. Just from that alone, the utility of having our protocols public should be clear. Though of course, we should have them public for the sake of accountability and trust as well.
And, one more problem reveals itself. There's currently a lot of use of suspensions and warnings, but nothing explicit for moderator preview. In fact, the rule on the book says that all punishments are to be followed by mod preview, but we don't actually enforce that (thankfully, because that's a terrible idea). However, Panda admits there's way too much banning in the list, but it hasn't been updated since 2010. More pragmatic measures need to be put in place.
I believe that to solve these problems, a new document, open to the public, which combines all three existing documents and fixes them, should be enacted.
And here's what I propose.
Posting on ACS.com:
General Rule to Post By: Stay cool, alright? Don't do anything that you wouldn't want done to you, but also keep in mind that what you consider normal for the internet may not come off the same way to others. Not everyone's so cozy with net culture.
Keep posts informative / useful: Posting with the sole intent to increase your post count is a waste of everyone's time. Please do not do it. Don't make useless posts in conversations you consider dumb either. Yeah, we know it's funny sometimes, but don't do it for its own sake, okay?
Sub-forums: There are many sub-forums that have been designed to help organize this website. Changes to these sub-forums is an ongoing process. Please try to make your threads in the appropriate sections. This will help to keep the website organized and will promote traffic to all of the areas. If stuff gets out of line, it will not represent too much an issue unless the process is ongoing.
General Disagreements: ACS sure has a lot of dumb opinions, huh? One nice thing about a forum is that if you do not like the discussion, or your feelings are being hurt, then you have the choice to leave the thread and move on. Rule of thumb: when you're in an argument, ask yourself, "what does anyone stand to gain by my posting this?" If you have to think about it for more than five seconds, don't do it. Just don't. Nothing good will come of it. If you are able to make this decision and carry this out, your enjoyment of ACS will most assuredly increase!
Continued harassment of another member will result in a warning and a message. Refusal to comply will result in at least one other mod reviewing your situation and giving consent, followed immediately by your posts being placed under moderator preview and/or a one week suspension.
Hate Speech: You've probably got less of a handle on what's offensive and what's not than you think you do. So when in doubt, don't do it. Don't make that post. Because if you so much as make one comment harassing a member about race, disability, or religion, you will be suspended for a month. Continuing will result in a ban. Appeals can be made, and forum conduct will be considered, but until such time after a formal appeal from a deliberation of administration, you're gonna get the boot.
Negatively Posting (aka Bashing): Excessive bashing based on race, sex, sexual preferences, etc. will not be tolerated. Bashing of ACS members will not be tolerated. Competitive smack talk is fine, so long as it is kept at a reasonable level. What is reasonable / excessive is, again, up to interpretation by staff of ACS. It should be clear to a majority of ACS members, that a person is repeatedly and excessively bashing another member by the time that ACS staff become involved and has to provide disciplinary action. This will usually be brought to the attention of the poster by a staff member in the form of a PM warning. If the behavior continues, then disciplinary action will be taken, probably in the form moderator preview.
Continued Disregard for the Rules: If a moderator notices that you continually disregard the rules, he or she will send you a message letting you know of the situation. If further action must be taken, the mod will report this to the rest of the staff and request confirmation. This request must be approved by one other moderator, after which you will be suspended for one month. If a mod notices you continuing even after this, he or she must write a full report detailing past offenses and arguing for your immediate ban. This report must be approved by at least two mod staff, and cannot be disputed by more than two others on the staff. When the report is approved, you will be banned.
Other Circumstances: Sometimes people do really stupid things in the heat of the moment that they later regret. In situations where a member is breaking the rules because they are emotionally compromised in some way, we will enact moderator preview instead of suspension.
Usage of the ACS Forums:
Announcements / Stickies: Read them for each section. Specific rules for each subforum will be located in these threads at the top of each section. Failure to read / understand these subforum specific rules, is not an excuse for breaking them. If the rules are unclear, please PM a moderator or admin about them for clarification.
Account / Computer Usage: You are responsible for your account and should be the only person to ever sign on with it. Usage of another person’s user name / account is strictly prohibited. This also extends to your computer / IP address. Choose who uses your computer / IP address carefully. If they are found to be in violation of the rules in a severe enough manner to warrant an IP ban, you will be banned from ACS as well.
Avatars / Signatures: Must not contain inappropriate and/or offensive content. Signatures must be limited to text and/or small images and may not include embedded videos. Animated .gifs are permitted, but may not exceed 2mb in size. These are subject to removal without warning, at any time, as deemed necessary by ACS staff. If they are replaced, disciplinary action will be taken. We don't really have limits, but if they are too big, at our discretion, we will remove the signature and then ask you to resize. Sig sizes are not strictly enforced and Avatar settings are automatically re-rendered. We do ask that signatures are not to have wallpaper images, and do not stretch the page horizontally when viewed at 1024*768 resolution.
Offsite Representation: If you represent another forum, webcomic or other For-Profit organization, we ask that you contact administration for permission to post your links. Sponsorship is open of course, but single lines of text in sigs are allowed.
Private Messages (PM): In general, private messages should remain private. It betrays the confidence of others, when you publicly post their private correspondence to you. An obvious exception to this would be when someone is violating the general rules of posting. Then their PM(s) should be forwarded to an ACS staff member.
Alternate Accounts: Alternate Accounts are not allowed. If you create an alternate account because you have forgotten your old password or log in name, the admin will change it and email the log in information to the email address used to register the respective account. If you are using an alternate account to get around a suspension (seriously, do you think we wouldn't notice?), you will receive an additional warning on your main account.
Forum Invasions: Do not use ACS to formulate your plans to invade, annoy, or cause any harm to websites / forums. If we find out a plan is set towards this forum, there will be immediate perma-bans.
Besides, forum invasions went out of style in, like, 2004.
Illegal Software / Programs / Files: Simply put, no warez. Do not discuss illegally obtaining any copyrighted materials. This includes, but is not limited to: programs, CD-keys, key generators, cracks, or music files (.mp3, .wav, etc). Do not post any links, or even discuss ways to obtain these copyrighted works. This rule is less strictly enforced for things which are impossible or incredibly difficult to obtain in your own nation, but don't push it.
Attempts to Circumvent Rules: Please note that these are the general guidelines, but are not an all inclusive set of rules. This is intentional on our part, as we do not want a rigid set of rules that every post must be governed by. These rules are flexible. This is done with the best interests of the posters in mind. So please try to focus on following all of the above guidelines, as opposed to finding ways around them.
ACS Staff Protocol
Staff Availability: The admins and moderators of ACS are here to help keep the forums running as smoothly as possible. We will be happy to handle any problems you have, and it is our job to be available to do so. If an admin or moderator asks you to do something, please comply with their request. If you do not agree with what they are asking, please do as they ask and then contact another moderator or admin, in an attempt to obtain resolution to your complaint(s) or issue(s).
Staff Conduct: The staff are not guardians, the staff are not parents. The are not police, they are not sheriffs, and they are not paladins. Some of us have this position because of site politics, some of us have them because we own the servers, some of have them because we filled a hole. None of that matters. We are moderators, and we have a job: to moderate. We solve problems. We do not make them worse. We look before we leap, we cover all the angles, and we try to resolve situations peaceably. We do not let our ties and personal hangups cloud our judgement as to the most effective course of action. There is always a solution. It is our job to find it.
Moderators are beholden to the same rules of conduct as everyone else, and we must be very vigorous in calling each other out for self-defeating or unseemly behavior. Our power gives us significant responsibility. Our responsibility is this: to make ACS a pleasant website. This is what is mean when we say we are not police. We as a staff should never forget that our duty is to the members, not the rules or personal ethics. It is all to easy to loose the trust of the members. Be wary. Be smart. Be fair. Be a moderator.
Staff Activity: In order to do their jobs, staff must have the right to move, merge, split, edit or delete any thread / post / signature / avatar that they deem necessary. The fluidity of the rules mean that sometimes these actions may not strictly cohere with written rules. A mod who does this must send a message to the affected member explaining why. The mod must report this action and release this message to other mods. Failure to do so will result in a warning.
Do NOT attempt to retaliate against an admin or moderator by making threads about it with negative comments about them or what they have done. If any user has a problem with an action taken by the staff, please contact another mod and explain your situation.
Mods who receive such complaints are required to share them with the rest of the staff within a week. If more than three people come forward with complaints about the same action from the same moderator, this moderator is forbidden to do do this action until it is approved by at least two other mods, and not disputed by more than two. Disregarding this procedure will result in a warning and possible temporary suspension of moderator powers.
Warnings: Moderators are required to report all messages and warnings - including full text - they issue. Any warning issued for something not specified by punishment in the rules must be approved by one other staff member. Not doing so will be met with a message first, then if it happens again, a warning. Continued disregard is possible grounds for a one month suspension and/or suspension of moderator powers.
Transparency: Often in the course of their jobs, moderators set precedents for their actions that are not in the rules. Any such precedent set behind closed doors must be made public within one week in the ACS News subforum. If it's discovered that we've been doing something without letting people know what's going on, it's grounds for public inquiry, at which point all pertinent discussion must be made public.
In regards to complaints sent to any staff member, while they are generally required to share them with the rest of the team, some exceptions may be made if the content is sufficiently personal. Discretion must be used by the reporting mod, in these cases.
It is part of an effective staff that we make sure members have easy access to all the information they need to not transgress, and that when we use punitive measures, they understand why. Not only must punishment be understood if it is to be an effective deterrent, it's only fair to the member in question.
Usage of ACS by Individual Squadrons: For Squadron Specific Rules, Please Refer to the Squadron Forum Rules Thread.
Remember, membership is a privilege, and power demands responsibility.
So, am I insane, or what?