Unbiased?

Lady Justice

A Japanese statue of Lady Justice

The accusation of bias is a common occurrence in the life of a moderator. As human beings, we are a product of our life experiences and our biology. Several psychological studies over the past twenty years have asserted that all individuals unconsciously harbor bias, though only a fraction demonstrate it in overtly destructive and abusive ways. Admitting that a decision is potentially biased is a useful starting point for making a fair decision. Analyzing the source of a like or dislike is a useful habit for anyone who finds themselves in a position of authority. Likewise, maintaining an emotional separation from the work at hand is also useful, though difficult to achieve.

The benefit of being unfamiliar with the community before I started at HubPages has allowed me to maintain emotional distance from arguments between hubbers. Despite this, I find myself continually challenged by the ‘spirited’ discussions that occur in contentious threads. As is the case with any other individual, I have many years of life experiences that influence the way I think about situations. When I feel unduly invested in a moderation decision, I review the forum rules and Terms of Service to reassess the flag or request. Sometimes, I walk away from the decision and come back to it with a fresh perspective. If this does not help, I ask for a second opinion before proceeding. No matter what feature or tool we build, hubbers will always be the best feature on HubPages. Community members deserve a fair review of their posts, work, and images before a decision is made.

Rather than ask whether a moderator is unbiased, a much better question is whether a moderator is good at making judgments that are consistent. HubPages has very detailed rules on what is and what is not acceptable, leaving judgement in charge of only a limited set of decisions for a well-informed moderator. Community manager Maddie Ruud has written thorough and detailed hubs that outline our policies on substandard and spam violations that also serve as a resource to moderators. Having clear guidelines does not mean that moderators are automatons, but rather all decisions are based on a framework of thought-out, well-established rules. Based on my experience moderating for social networking sites, clear and consistent rules are the defining factors in the effectiveness of website moderation. Without expectations clearly stated to users and standardized rules for moderators, inconsistencies in moderation decisions foster animosity while the quality of user generated content plummets.

Is it possible to be unbiased? One would have to sacrifice all of one’s learned preferences, traumas, and joys in order to do so. There would be no gray area in any decision, and no judgment would require quiet introspection. Who would want that?

3 thoughts on “Unbiased?

  1. I do believe that a person should strive to be as unbiased as it is possible to be, and I try to work toward that end. However, I think we would probably agree that to be completely free from even the smallest trace of any kind of bias is humanly impossible.

  2. Moderating is a sometimes difficult task, just as writing and sharing worthwhile content is also often un-simple. Online writers and publishers can make uneducated mistakes, an occasionally slip-up, or an obstinate flying in the face of terms of service. All of these come before a moderator for scrutiny and address. In a large writing community, this may be a highest mountain of work.

    I believe that some few may want to write what they want to write, feeling themselves outside boundaries of rules; and these may be the loudest criers of “foul.” Many groups of all sorts have these town criers, some of which may be incurable.

    This article is well placed and an accusation of bias likely a straw man. Seeking second opinions, reviewing rules, walking away to digest – all of these reduce bias as low as it can be cut. Be encouraged.

  3. What a great post – I agree. We can’t be unbiased, and if we don’t acknowledge our own biases, we become the victim of them, as portrayed so beautifully by Agatha Christie writing as Mary Westmacott.

    I cannot for the life of me remember the details, or the title of the book – perhaps it was the tragic romance, The Burden? – but one character finds he/she has to choose which of two drowning people he/she must save.

    Because the person hasn’t acknowledged their love for one of the drowning people, they choose the other one in a reflexive guilty action, then later deeply regrets not being able to make the right choice – i.e., the choice that would have been made had they understood their own guilt/love emotions at the time.

    It’s psychological melodrama, but I think the author hit on a truth about our moral psyche. Recognizing our biases can actually help us make consistent judgement calls and also open our decisions up to scrutiny, thus making us accountable for them and making it clear whether the decision was right or wrong. All of that stuff enables change and improvement to the status quo.

    Denying they exist in the first place, though, tends to lead to getting mired in fuzzy results. Decisions are made that everyone regrets and questions interminably, while nobody can ever agree whether they were right or wrong, including the decision-maker. That’s tragic,. or at least encourages stasis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s