Burnout Behind Screens: Online Moderating and Burnout

With the pandemic seeing more and more people flock to new forms of online communication to stay in touch, the need for more online moderation of such spaces. As people are now using the internet to learn and to talk – whether in private or publicly – there are some rather divided discussions on topics such as politics, social issues and history stoking fires.

But it’s also seen a increase of people dealing with some serious issues where they might not have training or experience to deal with.

I am one of those people who have begun to volunteer in moderating online communities during the year; some are fan-run communities, small groupings of less than a thousand people who love the same video game franchise, or online comic, or dungeons and dragons campaign. Another is an official Discord partner site, with (now) over 25,000 members and one of the social media sites for a company I hope to work with one day.

I enjoy what I do, even if it’s unpaid. It’s great experience for a possible job doing the same in the future – but unlike a career position, there is this lack of cemented hours. I could work past the 9-5 hours and even into the small hours past midnight if I really wanted to, but those employees can just log off when they’ve hit their quota.

But while doing this I feel some sort of pressure to be avaliable 24/7, to have to answer everything perfectly.

And it’s a damaging thought process.

It’s taxing, to feel like that I have to prove I’m online everyday (and even during lectures and meals I have the tab open on my laptop just in case) and I sign off feeling irritable and drained and wanting to sleep for a decade. It’s also not the first time I’ve suffered from burnout this year either.

There’s been a signififcant rise in reports of burnout for moderators of sites like YouTube, Discord, and Twitch during the past 9 months, as they deal with all corners of a world turned upside down. Sites where people spent their free time have now seen a rise in people using it as their escape, venting frustrations and mental health worries and the rare few who decide to exploit the increased people to spam hate and hurtful images and words.

All of which we are to deal with. I got some training being on committee for some societies at university, but I am not qualified to talk to someone about their mental health.

Burnout is a very real risk, and though I have only been a moderator for three months, in one site I have already seen eleven come and go – some who only lasted a few days before admitting it was all too much for them.

And Reddit has an infamous reputation for being a boiling point of increased tensions and divided opinions, somewhere even I refuse to tread. I have the utmost respect to the redditors who moderate there.

So give the moderators and teams a thought every now and then. We’re also human, we’re also trying to deal with this new normal. Many of us don’t get paid for this – unless Community Manager is our job title, we don’t really see the official recognition. (Although I have been mistaken as an employee of the company once or twice… one day, perhaps. If everything goes right).

After all, if we are the team you can rant to or seek a comfort or tell to deal with the spamming bots or highly inappropriate language, who do we go to when we want to escape?

If you are the one in charge of a team on social media – check up on them from time to time. How are they doing? Make them feel valued, and try and see what more can be done so everyone feels comfortable.

People will not just turn away from the internet once the lockdowns and pandemic end. Several long-standing changes may be made so that contact can be done remotely. In an ideal world, this is perfect as you can contact anyone across the world whenever you need to. But respect needs to be handed to those who need to turn away for a time.

We love what we do, that’s why we’re doing it! But I know I am coming away from this volunteering changed, and I’m sure others can say the same. And not all of it is a change for the better.

Image courtesy of Kiyun Lee.

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