Saturday, December 10, 2011

ICUC Moderation - How To Make $40,000 A Year As Professional Forum Moderator

“GO F- -K YOUR SELF A- -HOLE, You are making me hate this site!!! F-G!”

If this comment is not enough to make anyone squirm, then they should work for ICUC Moderation. Chuck Dueck, a professional online moderator for the company, eats comments like these for breakfast everyday.

And he does more than eat it straight out of the can. With the mental poise of a Zen master, Dueck carefully deletes these comments and gives the commenters a bit of scolding on the forum. He even does it through email.

It doesn’t work all the time, though. There are occasions where he had to ban the accounts of repeat offenders, all the while deleting the cusses and swears of spammers, trolls, and haters alike. This goes on for hours; and after a day of careful pruning, Dueck has temporarily managed to restore civility among the volatile users of the Internet. That is, before he gets another comment from someone intent on annihilating the human species.

Free discussion and commenting have always been one of the main reasons why a lot of people are seduced by the Internet. But freedom of expression isn’t always served with good intentions. Online discussion can be a lethal combination, a concoction of anonymity, privacy, and safety from a secluded area of the world that brings out the repulsive natures of human beings—hence, the increasing need for moderators to act as online mediators and censors in the comment boards.

Dueck is among one of the 200 comment moderators employed by ICUC Moderation, a brainchild of Keith Bilous. He started the company in 2002 as a business that broadcasted text messages onto nightclub screens. The business expanded, and a year ago, ICUC cleaned up the comments on the Twitter and Facebook pages of the Boston Globe, Starbucks, and Chevron, earning them around $10 million in revenue.

Not bad for a company who makes a living out of raging hormones, bad hair d ays, and “colorful” obscenities.

Moderators, or "mods", typically earn from $40,000 to $80,000 every year—an acceptable figure to compensate for working with the vile and the obscene. Personal threats are not uncommon, as well as extreme bigotry, racism, and pedophilia. Even Bilous is not immune to them. There are moments he feels like he needs to spend two hours in the shower because the comments can be so disgusting.

And he’s not the only one who shares this sentiment. Many of his staff feels the same way, and there are some who finds it just one BIG pain-in-the-ass. In fact, a significant number of newly-hired employees with ICUC last for only about two weeks; and so to keep them longer, the company has devised a strategy where moderators work on sites in short shifts, alternating between malicious forums to light and fun ones.

At the end of the day, however, it all comes down to the person who’s moderating the site. Commen t moderation is not just about mediation, conflict-resolution, and sensitivity, but also a unique detachment from everything and everyone. It also requires good common sense. It takes a special kind of person to do all of that—and the faint-hearted ones need not apply. Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr and a former community manager for numerous online comment forums sums it up in one sentence: “It’s art, not science.”

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