Dealing with disapproval

Confessions of a moderator

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As the admin of Overheard at UC Berkeley and Confessions from UC Berkeley, I am responsible for any post that is judged as subpar, offensive or “clickbait.” All you really have to do to moderate Overheard is keep an eye out for off-topic posts and advertisements. On the other hand, the content of Confessions has to be carefully curated by a moderator every single day, and it is truly intensive work.

In the first semester of Confessions, I polled the followers to get their opinions on different posting frequencies and decided to start the schedule the page has followed ever since. Ten per day, once every 90 minutes, starting 8 a.m. and ending 9:30 p.m. This results in a posting “acceptance” rate of about 30%, so if you’ve ever gotten a submission posted, you should be proud!

I can only select some of the submissions to be posted, so I often receive criticism from individuals whose confessions I chose not to post. I usually try to get past the hurt feelings by just laughing at it all, but it’s difficult when I receive comments that read: “F— you Spencer, you c—-. … Your selection of admits is subjective to your agenda. If you choose this, it is only to your agenda. S—–.” 

One time, though, the criticism got to me. Confessions had been getting a lot of comments from a particular student who was complaining about the content of the page. He accused me of censoring conservative-leaning submissions due to my own political biases. 

Although I can’t post every single thing that Confessions receives, I certainly don’t intend to be biased with the posts that do make it. I have, in fact, posted a good number of conservative ones in the past. If anything, I have censored more liberal submissions than conservative, simply due to the much larger amount of liberal submissions the page receives. His accusation also struck a nerve with me because I have been criticized by the public, sometimes very harshly, for allowing controversial conservative posts. The lack of acknowledgment of that made me angry, and for the first time since starting the page, I tried to use my admin power to strike a deal.

I privately messaged the student and gave him an offer: If he pointed out a confession that he had submitted, and I had rejected, I would both tell him the reason why it hadn’t been posted in the first place and post it anyway. “The point of my filtering process is to find diverse posts that perform well, so if the post performs worse than the average Confessions post, I would consider my point proven,” I said to him. In exchange, he would have to stop posting about my biases.

His answer surprised me:  He told me he actually hadn’t personally submitted any confessions, so the deal was impossible. He insisted that I hadn’t shown my open-mindedness, that I still couldn’t prove that I had not silenced conservatives. Then he threatened to make me look bad by telling the public of the deal I had offered him — unless I made him a moderator of the page. We had quite an argument after that, and eventually, I left him on read and went to go calm down.

Afterward, though, he messaged me to apologize. He admitted he’d pushed my buttons, and said he actually did respect my offer. He asked to modify the offer: Instead of posting a submission from him, he wanted the page to post a message in support of free speech, making it explicit that both liberal and conservative submissions are welcome. I agree with that message entirely, and I happily made the post. 

Looking back on it, I regret how harsh and controlling I had been in that situation, but I’m glad we could end on good terms. Since then, when I’ve seen others criticize the page online, I’ve talked to them nicely and asked them how I can improve. Almost always, they change their tune and say they’re thankful for the work I’ve done; that’s all I can really ask for.

Although I invest so much time in selecting confessions for the page, and it’s pretty hard for me not to take criticism of the selections personally, I do my best to be understanding of my critics’ viewpoints and not get discouraged. I’ve spent hundreds of hours reviewing literally thousands of submissions one by one, and I can honestly say that I’ve tried very hard to both select the best of the best submissions and avoid furthering any one agenda through my selections. Nobody is entirely free of bias, but I feel I do my best.

I don’t want to seem as though I’m complaining. Being admin of such a huge and vibrant page is a privilege, and I couldn’t hold my position without the daily efforts of all my submitters. But I do hope that people can understand the ways in which the job is difficult and frustrating at times and remember that I am only a student like them. I’m OK with having some haters, though. You aren’t really famous until you have haters.

Spencer Hill writes the Friday column on being a moderator of Overheard at UC Berkeley and Confessions from UC Berkeley. Contact him at [email protected].