I'm not sure how inspirational this will be but I would consider it a warts-and-all account of what being a moderator can be like. I'm certain many people consider it a cushy title with super-powers where we get to boss people around and delete bad content... But it's actually a very involving job that puts demands on your time-management, your patience and your willing to listen.
I wouldn't be so graphic if I didn't think there were people putting their names up for the wrong reasons. I'd urge people to try to understand the responsibilities of being a moderator before they jump head-first into something they might later regret.
It takes a while to reach a balance.
I used to be the guy who answered everything. As soon as I become a moderator, I wanted to be the guy that kept us at zero flags. In my mind, keeping the site clean was the most important thing and I spent all my time doing it. Is that a real question? Is that on topic? Should this be an answer, a comment or nothing?
I burnt out. It actually took me about a year to realise that flagging and closing and deleting things doesn't help people with problems. All things equal, cleaning the site should be secondary to answering things.
And I fear that's something it'll take the current heavy-reviewers some time to appreciate. There's no limit on how much you can do as a moderator. You will over-stretch yourself. You will question your existence on the site. You will burn out.
Having a ♦ doesn't mean what you think it does.
People often point to the diamond as something to fear when becoming a moderator. "All your decisions are binding". So what? I still think before I act, but if I make a mistake, I can reverse it instantly on my own. Some people think the diamond should limit a moderator's opinion; I'm saying that removes value from the system.
But I do think that when I became a mod, I expected to have a little more policy control than I have… which is very little. I've always been okay at getting a point across but I'm used to talking to our community. When I've gone out to Meta.StackOverflow to request subtle changes, my diamond counts for nothing. There have been victories but they pale in comparison to dozens of strangers telling you you're an idiot for wanting to improve your community.
I often feel powerless.
It's not just that having a ♦ doesn't grant you that many powers, it's that it makes you accountable for other people's actions. If another moderator acts too hastily, we're responsible for having a word with them and walking things back, just as we would defend them if we agreed.
And that sort of mediation that has I've found most exhausting. It's not enough to lay down the law every time somebody has a problem with a decision, you have to account for all sides of the problem and weigh up the issues. Diplomatically talking with three or four warring parties while actively getting them to all agree with you is not easy.
You learn how people tick and you learn when they break.
We have to deal with users who lie to avoid being caught doing bad things. The trick is by the time we're actually talking to them, we've usually got a pile of evidence. They don't know it but they've been caught. It's up to moderators to deal with them.
You have a couple of choices here.
- You can ban them and send out the pre-fabricated message. This usually results in a ragequit or pointless retaliation... Or,
- You can engage with them and subtly let them know you suspect there of being a problem. It's up to them to either admit to the problem (at which point you can chat with them about putting things right) or they cascade the lie with excuses and more lies.
I usually opt for the second. I actively enjoy the chase because at the end of it, you've either rehabilitated somebody or you've got them to the point where you have no problem banning them until 2026.
Conversing with people as their authority is something you'll learn. It won't be something you naturally step into unless you're already something like a teacher or a police officer.
So as far as war stories go, I'd like to cite the handful of people who have been through this process and came out the other side as productive users. I can't be explicit about who or how but it's a good feeling... And even when it doesn't work, there's a good chance you're about to see some truly hilarious excuses.
You reap own rewards as a moderator.
Being a mod is hard work. It's unpaid and as I've hinted, outside of our community, nobody gives a damn. It doesn't get you more reputation and in most cases it is an extremely good reputation-arrester. You'll stop answering and you'll spend 90% of your time writing long answers on meta and digging through various over-strict flags.
And thanks to the flag-handling statistics tool on the moderator homepage, you will always feel like you're not giving enough. There is always pressure to do better, to give more than you can actually afford.
I think there's also an expectation from the community that I should be doing better when things are kicking off. I'm sure most people are very happy with what we do, but being a mod puts you into a pastoral position. When we do let crap through, I feel like we're failing you. That's not a good feeling.
If you want to become a moderator so you can fix one thing (the tags, the titles, the spam, the quality of meta, etc) you're doing it wrong and you'll burn out. If you think becoming a mod means everybody will just listen to you, you're plain incorrect. If you think it'll help you get more reputation, you're so wrong. Being a moderator is a tough and never-ending job. You might understand the words but you honestly won't truly understand their meaning until you've been doing it for a few months.
But when things work and people get the help they need and the site isn't in utter chaos with a thousand flags in the queue... Well I think the last verse of If by Kipling covers all of this:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!