How Simple Moderation Rules Can Create Worse Communities

Making the case for more specific guidelines and justifying the extra effort to define them

Carter Gibson
8 min readSep 2, 2020


This post will explain, by deconstructing examples I’ve seen throughout my career, why simplicity can be the enemy of welcoming communities.

Community Managers (CMs) are often on the receiving end of feedback describing how guidelines or rules are unclear or unfair. A reasonable solution could be, “Well then let’s simplify.” Sometimes that works in cases where guidelines are overly dense. But there’s fallacy that simple moderation rules are a better default.

What users actually want is for guidelines to be understandable and clear. There isn’t always a cute, three-word tagline to accomplish that. Effective, enforceable guidelines doesn’t mean painting behaviors as black-and-white or being as succinct as humanly possible. When we oversimplify, we can inadvertently create much more confusion. Overly vague guidelines can cause big problems down the road — especially when it comes to enforcing these rules fairly.

What CMs and our communities really want is for guidelines to be thorough and nuanced without being overly complex. Specificity takes effort, but can result in stronger comprehension.

This post will largely be about justifying why it makes sense to work harder defining exactly what your guidelines should be. It will make a case for nuanced moderation and curation beyond what most communities do today. By sharing what’s wrong with a few overused moderation rules, the hope is that CMs reading this can find at least one way to help their community by more clearly defining community guidelines.

Join me as we explore some real life examples of well-meaning, but overly-simple guidelines. I’ll explain how they could be made both more actionable and understandable.

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Carter Gibson

Community Management strategist & Program Manager | Internal Community Programs Lead @ Google | Excitable Geek | Lover of spectacle | I write about my passions