All over the Internet, there are many websites that generate content from users. These are called User-Generated Content Websites. We’re talking about anything from picture upload websites to mini blogs or online forums. Regardless of the form they take, all these websites have one thing in common: The users create the content themselves. If this sounds familiar, it should. It’s very similar to Facebook.
On Facebook, users themselves create content and also traffic, because they pull in their friends, relatives and co-workers to look at their posts, and these people who got pulled in do the same. For websites other than Facebook, however, the content being published is broadcast to the whole world. This is going to be a problem. What if the content is hateful? What if it harms people? What if it breaks the law?
There are certain types of content that you cannot legally post online without paying a fine, going to jail, or both. Things like bestiality, child pornography, instructions on how to kill people, instructions on how to make drugs. That kind of stuff. It can be a cesspool out there. It’s not pretty. In fact, some websites specialize in this kind of thing, that they have intentionally hid from Google and the everyday Internet user. They hide in a place called The Dark Web.
But even in the regular web, there are websites that are susceptible to this kind of illegal, distasteful, and nasty stuff. This is where you come in. Many websites that attract a lot of user-generated content are in desperate need of moderators. The people who run these websites do not have the time, or Manpower to police their websites themselves. Even a simple forum is prone to all sorts of garbage.
Aren’t all forum moderators volunteers?
One common misconception about policing user-generated content is the idea that the moderators are unpaid volunteers. This might work for a fairly small forum with a limited following, but this is completely unworkable if you’re dealing with a forum that is so big and attracts so much traffic that policing it would be a full-time job. Increasingly, forums and other types of websites that deal with a tremendous amount of user-generated content are paying people to moderate them. This is a money-making opportunity for you.
What do User-generated Content Moderators do?
If you’re interested in moderating forums or any other platform where people post content they created or curated, you have to be able to do the following:
This is a minimum list. Please understand that the actual list of tasks and duties assigned to you might actually be different. In most cases, it’s probably going to be longer. It really all depends on the platform, its features and how people actually use the platform to publish content. Still, by looking at the list of tasks below, you can get a general idea of what the most basic moderation tasks are.
Watch out for spam
The most common task that you’re going to be assigned if you apply for and are hired as a content moderator, is to be on the lookout for spam. Since these platforms attract users, and they automatically publish their content, you can imagine that a lot of people trying to make money through affiliate links or through blog traffic is naturally drawn to these types of websites.
In fact, there is a specialized spam software called Xrumer, that is built to just look for online forums that can easily be spammed. There are tens of thousands of people using this software, and it’s no surprise that a lot of badly-managed or completely un-moderated forums quickly fill up with spam.
If you get hired as a forum moderator, your first duty is to approve discussion threads and check out the profile of new users. You’re also going to have to look at their posts. Your job is simple, actually. You’re supposed to look for promotional links. If you see it, you can either delete the post or delete the account that made the post.
Police abusive behavior
Spam is actually pretty straightforward. In fact, I would argue that it’s black and white. Either somebody is selling something or they’re not. Either somebody is posting a link that is promotional in nature, or they’re not. We enter a gray area when we talk about abusive behavior. Some people are very thick skinned. You can accuse them all sorts of things, and they take it like a sport. They just laugh it off. In many cases, they give you a dose of your own medicine. If you can dish it out, you better know how to take it.
Unfortunately, these people are few and far between. There are lots of snowflakes out there. These are people who are very fragile. You may be saying something that is a little bit edgy but generally acceptable, and they will start crying a river. They would carry on and make such a big fuss that it would seem that you just killed their mother.
This is where moderators really have to walk a tightrope. On the one hand, you don’t want to bring the hammer down so hard that it chills participation. If people think that they’re going to get banned just for saying something that is halfway controversial, what do you think they’ll do? That’s right, they’ll shut up. This is not a good thing. These websites that depend on user-generated content will die almost immediately if people just shut up because they’re not posting content.
On the other hand, you don’t want to be so relaxed with your standards that pretty much anything goes. When that happens, your website will start to die, because only people with the thickest skin or people with an agenda would post stuff. This may not necessarily mean that your website will no longer attract traffic, but you can bet that people who are sensitive will no longer post content. They’ll use the content and enjoyed the content, but they’re not going to participate because they don’t want to be slammed, humiliated or trolled.
They don’t want to be so hardcore and gung-ho about their duties that they ban pretty much everybody. That’s the kiss of death. On the other hand, you don’t want to turn your website into a cesspool that could lead to bad consequences as well, especially if people post racist, sexist, homophobic and other objectionable and offensive material on your platform.
I wish there was a quick and easy black-and-white answer. There is none. The problem with “abusive content” is not the black-and-white examples. It’s the grey area. The reason why there’s a lot of grey area is because a lot of content can be offensive or perfectly understandable depending on the context. Sadly, on the Internet things are always out of context.
The previous two types of content that online content moderators police are pretty straightforward. It’s relatively easy to wrap your mind around the two concepts of spam and abusive content. The problem is, when people use any kind of platform to upload content, they can behave in an obnoxious way without necessarily breaking content rules.
Stalking or other inappropriate behavior
The problem with stalking is that one persons “stalker” is another persons’ super fan. How can you tell the difference? A lot of people are very sensitive, so they think that somebody saying, “hello, how are you this morning?” may easily get offended or threatened. Others think that this is the greatest thing since sliced bread, because they feel validation. Other people think following somebody on a social media platform or user content generated platform is creepy. Others think that it’s an expression of loyalty. Where do you draw the line?
I wish I knew the answer. The terms and conditions of the website would be a good place to start, but unfortunately, a lot of this behavior is really a judgment call. If you noticed that somebody is following somebody and constantly commenting on their content, it’s probably a good idea to read their comments. If the comment is encouraging, positive or maybe challenging to the poster to step up their game, then chances are the person posting that stuff is not a creeper, a stalker or some bad person.
On the other hand, if it’s filled with sexual, double meanings, or are borderline offensive but hides behind ambiguity, then you may have a problem on your hands. At this point, you need to go beyond the content and look for quantity. Does this person do it again and again? Does this person seem to have an agenda? Is this person posting misleading information intentionally? Again, there is no black-and-white answer here because this is all contextual.
What kind of skills do you need to become a Forum Moderator or User-generated Content Moderator?
The problem with this type of work is that it seems like everybody can easily feel that they know what they could do. It’s easy for them to get the impression that as long as they have used a website where people post user-generated content, that they would do a halfway decent job moderating it. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. That’s like saying you like watching movies so this automatically means that you probably would be a good actor. Not even close. Seriously.
Here are just some of the skills that you would need. The actual list really depends on the specific website that you’re applying to.
Excellent English reading skills
The first thing that you need is solid English reading and comprehension skills. This should go without saying, you’re looking to get paid to moderate content. It goes without saying that you should be able to read and understand that content so you can make the necessary judgment calls.
If you are a lousy reader, or you are very lazy when it comes to comprehension and putting the things together, you probably would do a lousy job as a moderator. You don’t get to see the big picture. You don’t get to understand the context, and you end up making the wrong decision time and time again.
Reading and comprehension are fundamental. You have to love to read because you’re going to have to process a tremendous amount of information. How much information are we talking about? Well, according to one estimate, we’re talking about 2 million pieces of new information posted to the Internet every single day. Of course, not all of those new pieces of information will be posted on the specific platform you’re on, but what I’m sharing with you is data just to give a clear idea of just how much content users are able to generate every single day.
Be ready for that volume. You have to read very quickly. You have to understand very quickly, and you have to process a tremendous amount of information in a very short period of time.
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Clear English communication skills
Don’t get me wrong. You don’t need to be the second coming of William Shakespeare to get an online content moderation job. You don’t have to write like a lawyer, but you have to write clearly enough so the offending parties, as well as the community in general on the platform you are moderating understand what the rules are. That’s the bottom line.
If you just take action without explaining, or you explain yourself in a very ham-fisted and vague way, you’re probably going to create more problems than you’re solving. So do yourself a big favor. Brush up on your writing skills. As long as you are clearly understood and there is no space for misunderstanding or “truth-bending,” then you’re good to go.
You must have the time
You might think that moderating content is very easy because people post stuff all the time, so you just jump in. You delete some posts or you change some posts, or you ban some users, and then you jump out. If only things were that easy. Please understand that there are many busy platforms on the Internet that get thousands upon thousands of posts every hour. You have to have the time for this. If you don’t, it’s going to show in your work.
It only takes a few offensive posts going online for your boss to get the clue that you really do not have the time or competence to do this kind of work. What do you think will happen next? Well, it should not be a mystery. Do yourself a big favor. Only apply for this type of job if you have the time for it.
Subject Matter Proficiency
A lot of platforms on the Internet that publish user-generated content actually focus on a very narrow set of topics. These are forums that focus on niche topics. You can go to bodybuilding.com, and what kind of posts do you think you should expect? Again, this is not rocket science. You should expect body building, weight lifting and gym and fitness types of topics. Similarly if you are looking for recipes, you could go to a recipe forum, and what do you think will happen? That’s right. You will see recipe after recipe.
I raised these examples because moderators have to know enough about the subject matter of the platforms they are moderating for them to do a halfway decent job. For example, if you moderate a Chihuahua forum, and you can’t tell the difference between a Chihuahua, a St. Bernard, and a pit bull, you probably don’t deserve that job. You probably would be better off doing something else because, guess what happens? You might mess up moderating the forum, and people do not get the value that they’re looking for.
Pretty soon, people will start to complain. Worse yet, the website itself starts to lose business because it’s no longer credible. People posting all sorts of stuff about St. Bernards and pit bulls, and visitors are wondering why they ended up there in the first place, after all, they went to Google looking for a Chihuahua forum. So they go to that website, and they’re expecting Chihuahuas all day, every day, but here you are badly moderating, and all sorts of posts get through. Do you see what’s wrong with this picture?
Niche proficiency is crucial. The good news is, you can pick this up fairly quickly. If you are a good reader, and you read a lot of materials, you should be broadly familiar enough with the topic of the forum for you to do a halfway decent job, but don’t stop there. Once you’re moderating, you will start to pick up information. Once you’re reading all the threads and discussions, you slowly become an expert, because that’s the only thing that you read, day after day. Eventually, you become a Subject Matter Expert. But the key here is you cannot start completely clueless about the subject matter of the platforms that you’re going to be moderating.
Efficient and powerful time management skills
When you’re moderating a lot of threads or a lot of channels, it’s very easy to do things sequentially. It’s very easy to start with one, then two, then three. That’s the most logic approach after all. Unfortunately, it’s also inefficient. Once you get the hang of policing the different channels of the platform, you start detecting patterns. You start noticing that some channels don’t get all that much traffic, so you can probably get away with moderating them less frequently.
On the other hand, you can focus most of your fire power and attention on the high-traffic areas of the platform. This is a simple case of efficiency. Eventually, as you do your job, things will fall into place. Otherwise, your boss will have a talk with you, and you better learn to do this quickly, otherwise you’re going to be out of a job soon enough.
The ability to detect patterns
One of the most annoying things about online moderation jobs is the fact that people post under aliases. These are people who got banned for one reason or other, and instead of just going away, they keep coming back, but they used different names, they use different avatars, they look completely different, and they do the same stuff. They might even change their writing style. This is what makes it so frustrating.
You really can’t quite put your finger on it and say, “Hey, stop it. Cut it out. Quit using different names. I know you’re the same person.” You can’t do that. This is where pattern recognition skills come in. You will see that abusive people tend to do the same things but in different ways. Even though they’re trying to cover their tracks or pretend to be somebody else, you will see a pattern.
So do yourself a big favor. You need to brush up on your pattern recognition skills. The best way to do this of course, is to simply do your job. You will quickly notice that some people just can’t help but post a certain way. It doesn’t matter what username they use. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. It doesn’t matter how they try to throw you off their trail. Eventually, they end up giving themselves away. It all boils down to patterns, timing, and external circumstances.
The more you do your job, the more these factors will fall together, and you will start seeing the big picture. You start seeing all these posts in context, and you are going to be able to make better judgment calls. Unfortunately, when you start, it’s probably not going to go easy for you, because a lot of these people probably slip through. You ban somebody and they come back, and you don’t know that they come back, but eventually you will get the hang of it, and either they go away permanently or they just their act together and start behaving the way they should.
How to find Online Content Moderation jobs
Now that you know what kind of job this is and what its tasks involve, and the skills you need to land this type of online job, here are the places you need to go to find such opportunities.
The forums themselves
The first thing that you could do is to just hang out at your favorite forums. If you have a favorite Facebook group or Facebook page, just hang there. If you are in any way, shape or form credible as well as passionate about the subject matter, the moderator or the owner of the platform will know. If you become a super fan, they can start looking at you as somebody who is trustworthy. In fact, I know a lot of people who just hang out at Facebook groups, and before I knew it, they became moderators.
They were able to do this because they would go beyond the call of duty. They wouldn’t just share highly useful information for the rest of the group to benefit from. Let’s face it. A lot of people already do that. They go beyond. They report problematic stuff. They help the existing moderators with their job. They seem like they genuinely care, so before you know it, they get promoted.
Well, the sad news is that a vast majority of Facebook groups don’t pay. Okay? A lot of them are basically just sideline operations, and a lot of them are badly managed. There’s usually no monetization. The only winner really, is Facebook, because Facebook runs ads. Still, I shared this example because you can easily apply that to forums. You start with Facebook groups, get promoted, and then apply what you learned to forums specializing the same type of content as those Facebook groups you are now a moderator of.
Do you see the connection? Good. Do the same. A little bit of passion goes a long way. When people know that you truly care, that’s when they want to step you up and make you part of their operations, because as I have mentioned above, policing any kind of platform with a tremendous amount of user-generated content is a headache. There’s just so much, so they’re always looking for good people. Be one of those good people by being passionate and being involved. Make it clear that you really care about the community.
Upwork is the worlds’ largest freelance platform. Employers would post moderation jobs and people like you then check out the listing and apply. Very straightforward, right? Well, here’s the problem. If you live in the United States, the United Kingdom, or possibly Western Europe, Canada, Autralia and New Zealand, you probably would have an easier time getting a job off Upwork. The problem is, for moderation jobs, the pay isn’t all that great. In fact, in many cases the pay is really just nominal or is token pay, because they’re basically just giving you some extra dollars here and there to pursue your passion.
The best candidates for this type of work are people who live outside the United States. These are countries where millions of people speak English as a second language. I’m talking about India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, Nigeria, Kenya and similar countries. What makes these really problematic is the fact that many employers on Upwork scream against non-US or non-Tier one country residents. Talk about pathetic.
Basically, the most qualified college educated, passionate niche-specific experts who happen to live outside the United States are barred from the work that they are more than qualified to do at very good rates to them because of simple misconceptions. Thankfully, there are forum and user-content platform owners and administrators who recognize the value of international labor.
Do yourself a big favor. When you’re looking at these listings, zero in on location restrictions. If the position is open to international freelancers, go for it. If not, don’t waste your time.
Virtual Assistance Platforms
You’re probably thinking that given the expertise needed by this type of work, content moderation can no way be considered virtual assistance. I’m with you 100%. The problem is prospective employers and website operators don’t see it that way. They just look at moderation as just one of the things they need to do to grow their business. Accordingly, freelancers who help them here and there with the things that they need to do to scale up are “virtual assistants”.
The solution? Don’t get hung up on the title. Just make sure that you are getting paid the proper amount, and make sure that your paths are well-defined, and at the end of the day, the person sending you money can call you whenever they want, as long as the money is there, and as long as they treat you with respect, they can call you whatever title, and it shouldn’t matter. The key is to get all the experience that you need to level up your game.
The final word on User-generated Content Moderation
This is one online money-making method that is actually a lot of fun. If you are passionate about the topic of the platform that people post user-generated content to, seriously look into this type of opportunity. If you like reading about fantasy novels, for example, and a forum specializing in fantasy novels wants to hire you as a moderator, that could be a dream job come true. Of course, in most cases it’s a part-time job, but it is still a job. You still get paid to consume and police content that you are personally passionate about.
To find out about 25 other ways to make money from the Internet, check out this blog post.