Removal of off-topic comments in "OSM’s 20th Birthday" thread

And I will reiterate what I wrote before:

1 Like

@apm-wa , the issue is that what some people experience as abusive or bullying can be re-interpreted as not that. When others object to tone or phrasing, the person doing it says they are just asking questions or making an observation, and keeps on going.

The gray area lies in when one person is getting “taken to task”, repeatedly about something.
Sometimes a tough question is answered very appropriately, but the person who asked doesn’t like the answer, so they keep asking it again and again in different ways, with opinions mixed in to the querying. To me, that is bullying.

What I wish is that if a person is asked to modulate their tone or desist questioning, the mods could comment and say that they agree. It doesn’t have to be removed, but it might help the person take a step back. It doesn’t work when other people in the thread ask for this, but it might work if a mod said it.

Speaking for myself, I generally am inclined that the community tolerate some level of stuff that feels uncomfortable if it is not directly hostile or inappropriate, because I’m not a person who wants us to overcorrect on the moderation. But, in the case of this thread, I think what happened was several of us have seen a couple of forums where one person was taking a lot of heat, possibly unfairly, and the mods didn’t step in. This, in turn made it really annoying when Brian’s completely harmless post about emoji was immediately removed, possibly because the moderator personally found it annoying. The juxtaposition of these two things, was tough to watch.

I know it’s a tough job to moderate, so I don’t want to pretend that it’s easy.


@coutiney: I agree with Allen on this point: mods can’t read every post themselves. Mods can only comment and intervene if they know that moderator action may be necessary. For mods to know this, a user who notices it has to send a flag to the mods.
Waiting and hoping that mods will stumble across it on their own and proactively intervene can be a futile wait.

If you have reported an inappropriate post and still no mod responds, then your criticism would be justified.

Addendum: in addition to flagging, please send a short message to the moderators explaining what you find disturbing about the reported post. Sometimes even mods have a different view and do not immediately understand the actual problem.


This is helpful - I didn’t know I could do this!


yes, but mods should also weigh in positive reactions, in the case of Brian’s post, there were a lot of approving reactions (“likes”), I think it was a 2 digit number, so even if 2 people (or a few more) objected to it being offtopic, it was not a must-moderate situation, rather one where the mods (presumably) were with the people who thought it was offtopic. You can also see it from the aftermath, some people commented that a little fun should be “allowed” (to paraphrase), others said they think it was offtopic and should have been removed. Personally I agree with Brian that it was on topic, because the question was what should be done for the anniversary and he replied to it.


The Etiquette Guidelines are slightly ambiguous on that score, placing repetition of a point or question under Tips for Effective Communication (" Avoid repeating yourself when making your point on a thread.") rather than outright including such behavior in the list of prohibited behaviors. That said, if you see what you think is bullying, then please by all means flag it for the moderators, which you can do in a private message nobody but you and the moderators will see.

By the same token, going off-topic is covered as well under Tips for Effective Communication (“Start a new thread if you want to introduce a new topic.”) When the moderators see a request from someone to split a thread, we tend to do it if it makes sense to do so. Also, if a member of the forums governance team asks us to delete one or more posts, we will tend to do that since the forums governance team bears overall responsibility for maintaining order on the forum.

Just flag it and address it to mods-general with a description of how it violates the Etiquette Guidelines. We get an email from Discourse that tells us we have work to do.

Two comments in response to your statement, @dieterdreist:

  1. Moderation is not a popularity contest, it is enforcement of the Etiquette Guidelines.
  2. If the mods receive a request to intervene from the forums governance team, the mods will intervene.

As to Brian’s post, whether popcorn is on-topic for any OSM-related discussion is of course open to debate. The mods’ personal opinions on that score are in any case irrelevant. I would direct your attention in this case to the Tips for Effective Communication in the Etiquette Guidelines, to wit:

  • Avoid repeating yourself when making your point on a thread.

As I was taught by my peers in junior high school, “Once is funny, more’s a bore.” Thus, while Brian’s reiteration of a popcorn joke does not necessarily violate the Etiquette Guidelines, it can be judged to be off-topic and thus a distraction from the topic at hand, and therefore ripe for an intervention.

I think we have covered popcorn jokes in the forum far more than the subject deserved. I again remind all that if you see serious violations of the Etiquette Guidelines in the forum, please do not assume that the moderators have seen them and are simply ignoring them. We are volunteers, we have our own lives, we go out mapping, exploring, enjoying life, and do not sit at the computer hour after hour poring over forum channels in search of miscreants. Yesterday my wife and I spent a glorious sunny Saturday roaming antique shops in Northern Virginia, and I went 24 hours without sitting at a computer. Bring issues to our attention and we’ll deal with them. Many thanks in advance for your cooperation.


Don’t disagree with you, Courtiney, but part of the problem there is that, unless they’ve actually posted a full written reply, there’s nothing to say that a mod has reacted.

e.g. your post here has 5 “reactions” (what is the proper word?): 4 x +1 & 1 x heart, but that’s all it shows. If you mouse over them, it shows who left them but that’s all. I happen to know that 2 of these people are mod’s, but there’s nothing to make their reaction any more “important” than anybody (or Someone! :grinning:) else’s.

ok, so you confirm that the post did not have to be removed because it did not necessarily violate the Etiquette Guidelines, and because whether it was “on-topic” is open to debate and because Brian’s contribution was not a repetition on this thread. While moderation is not a popularity contest, the question whether a post should be moderated for being “offtopic” or not, probably can have something to do with its popularity. “Offtopic” is a soft criterion, even more in a discussion that is so openly framed as the thread in question.

In the very same thread, there are other posts which can be clearly seen as off topic as well, and some of which I have flagged now to see whether the mods are constant by keeping the tolerance level at the absolute minimum level, or if they maybe just do not like popcorn.

I reject the idea that the mods’ personal opinions are irrelevant, of course the personal opinions are always inherently relevant, even when we try we cannot completely escape ourselves.

While I’m not a Github fan, the hiding of comments marked with reason is again (after the default emojis) a design that be can be learned from. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem possible yet, nor is there a plugin. Collapse off-topic replies - feature - Discourse Meta


The forums governance team asked that it be deleted. So I deleted it. I agreed with the forums governance team that it was off topic. You are welcome to disagree with those points of view.

I have not seen flags on other posts in that thread. Flags should pop up as a message in my forum inbox but nothing has.

I don’t know what effect they have and whether one flag is enough, I just clicked on the flag icon and then “offtopic” for 2 replies in this thread which were completely offtopic for the question asked.

You are welcome to disagree with those points of view.

I disagree with the post being offtopic, but I don’t think it is important enough to insist and appeal to the board.

That’s because these flags were handled (and rejected) by site moderator @mcliquid.

In my opinion, they should have been left open for the category moderators to deal with. While “site moderators can act as a backup if a category moderator team is falling behind on handling flags”, this was intended to refer to unusual situations where flags are piling up for days or weeks. Under normal circumstances, handling flags is a responsibility of the category moderators.

For those who have the necessary privileges to see flags, these appear to have been @dieterdreist’s flags:

I couldn’t understand why the two posts were missing the point. There was no explanation either, so I assumed it was a mistake, as is often the case with the Like button on mobile devices.
If this was meant seriously, I am very sorry to have misclassified this and would ask for a justification with a short message in the future.

The thread is about how to celebrate OSM’s 20th birthday, initiated by a member of the OSMF CWG. In the first message, an OSMF Board member thanked for the initial post and referred to another OSMF activity. This is an OSMF project, why is it “off topic”?

The second message was about a user posting that he/she would share it with a local Telegram group. What is “off topic” about that?

I’m happy to learn, but to me both posts by long-time OSM members are completely justified. There are far worse posts that go unreported.

I haven’t had the role for very long and would like to reflect on whether my decisions were justified. Would other moderators here react differently and hide, delete or warn the users? Thanks and sorry again!

The thread is about how to celebrate OSM’s 20th birthday, initiated by a member of the OSMF CWG. In the first message, an OSMF Board member thanked for the initial post and referred to another OSMF activity. This is an OSMF project, why is it “off topic”?

it is offtopic because it is not related to the anniversary and doesn’t propose or discuss ideas how to celebrate it.

The second message was about a user posting that he/she would share it with a local Telegram group. What is “off topic” about that?

what is ontopic about it? Isn’t the purpose of the offtopic flagging to remain focused on the topic of the thread? If someone from every country posted a note that they are going to repost it locally, we’d have a lot of announcements which all wouldn’t be contributing to the topic.

(direct link to the message in question)

I think the point that @dieterdreist was trying to make in flagging that post is to point out that it does not in any way answer the question of “how to celebrate OSM’s 20th birthday”. In fact, it links to a totally separate initiative to grow OSMF’s membership. Which, if we’re being pedantic about it, is not all that different from my linking OSM’s 20th birthday to a totally separate initiative about :popcorn: emoji. Really, Arnalie’s serious post was less on-topic than my silly one since I made a direct link to “a way to celebrate.”

If Martin’s point is that, if you’re so strict about moderating on-topic-ness, you end up with absurd results that stifle discussion, then I agree with him.

Actually, I’m surprised that my post with a poem, in response to @ImreSamu’s suggestion as such, survived the on-topic test :grinning:


Okay, it seems I’ve got into a test I didn’t want to get into :test_tube: Nevertheless, as has already been written, the categorisation between on-topic and off-topic is purely subjective and everyone interprets it differently, right? I’m used to a simple question turning into an endless discussion about principles, at least in the German-speaking forum. If one is petty, one would probably have to remove 95% of all posts there. :slight_smile:
Anyway, I have learnt from this that I reacted too hastily and am happy to let my initial enthusiasm rest. Now back to the :popcorn:


I would rather not do that.