If you have not yet read the Catholic Harbor's Future and Mission post, I recommend reading that first.
My friends, this Catholic Harbor Improvement Plan (CHIP) is designed to use our new mission statement (Catholic Harbor exists to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for Seton students to form good Christian friendships and to grow in mind, in virtue, and in their Catholic Faith.) as starting point and compass from which we can chart our course. We have examined all of the aspects of the Catholic Harbor experience to determine how well the current community structure supports this mission. The following are the changes we will be adopting to make the community a more enjoyable experience in the long run and to raise the quality of our discussions and conversations.
The new member experience is of vital interest to the community. Because Seton has new students joining our school all the time and our current students constantly get older and become eligible for membership, we essentially have a perpetual source of new members. It is part of the very nature of Catholic Harbor to be ever new and changing as we welcome new members and older members move on and hopefully graduate with us (of course we want to keep them as part of our growing Alumni community).
We are creating a new staff group called Ambassadors. Their primary task would be to greet new members and make them feel welcome. Secondarily, their job includes helping to build up the community in a way that is consistent with our mission by creating new topics, offering advice to the staff, being a resource if members have questions, and generally trying to make the site more enjoyable for all. The number of Ambassadors will be kept in proportion with the number of Moderators, one Ambassador for every two Moderators. As we hope to have the Moderator staff back up to 8 in the immediate future, we will be appointing 4 Ambassadors at this time.
Ambassadors have a one-year term. So as to stagger the terms and not have them all end at the same time, 2 of the new Ambassadors will serve for 9 months, and the other two will have an extended term of 15 months, but after this, there will be 12 month terms. This will allow more members to participate. Ambassadors are actually chosen by a vote of the Moderators (I have a veto vote of course if I feel I need to use it, but I don't imagine that will ever be the case). The Ambassadors will have a private forum to plan for improvements and offer advice to the Admins and Mods (the Mods have their own private forum as many of you already know).
I think our moderators have done a fantastic job, however, they are only human and there are some aspects of the current site structure that make full moderation coverage nearly impossible. I think when problems go noticed, it sets a bad precedent and the problems fester. It is important to have this site designed in such a way that all of its areas are easy for moderators to watch.
One area that has been a surprisingly frequent place requiring moderation are personal statuses, and given their personal nature, they are almost impossible for our moderators to keep an eye on unless they follow every single member. Having status updates has made the site feel more like a regular social media site as opposed to a true community. We also have many perfectly valid substitutes for it in both the Personal Announcements Forum and in the Blogs. As such, the status feature is being disabled. This should drive more users to the communal forums, improve the overall quality of content, and help ensure consistency in moderation.
This problem of having areas of the site that are not visited often by moderators also pertains to the forums themselves, but I will address those changes altogether in another section. Also for the sake of consistency and making sure members understand what is expected. I will post a list in the Administrative Information Forum of words or phrases we consider offensive or inappropriate on Catholic Harbor, but which some members might not be aware are considered inappropriate. Obviously I will not include the words whose offensive nature should be obvious to everyone. It will only be the more borderline cases that get frequently edited, like referring to a person as "hot". I might even include frequent image problems. This should be helpful for both new and older members and should cut down on the amount of violations.
Moderation Procedure and Notification
Going forward, the moderators are being asked to send a notification to a member every single time there is a rule violation and content needs to be edited by a moderator. The primary purpose of this is educational, to make sure the member is aware that there is a rule and how to post broke the rule. There will be two classes of notifications. A "friendly reminder" would be used if the offense was minor or seemed accidental. An "official warning" however should be taken very seriously. It would be used for more serious violations, repeated violations, or if the violation seemed intentional. For violations that often repeated by the same member or appear intentional, an official warning might come from me as opposed to one of the moderators and include a condition that the member give a written statement saying that they intend to follow the rules in the future. Following the rules of the site is a condition to use the site for all members, and if a member is not willing to agree to that, they are forfeiting their privilege of participating and their account would be deactivated.
All deactivation decisions are made by the Administrators (which usually means me), and not by the Moderators. Such decisions are entirely at my discretion. My intention is to keep the community safe, but I also want to help the student involved. I try to make the first deactivation only temporary as a last attempt to communicate to a member how serious a problem is. If a member receives 3 official warnings from the moderators, I will consider deactivating the account. It is possible that even just one very serious violation could be sufficient for a deactivation, even a permanent deactivation if it is serious enough. If a moderator officially requests that you make some change to your profile like removing a custom rank or avatar, those requested changes need to be complied with immediately. If you have a question about it or want to appeal the request, do so after you make the change.
Some rules are more serious than others, but all rules need to be respected and followed. In order to build respect for the rules, however, it is important not to have unnecessary rules that are commonly broken--like a speeding limit that is set too low and everyone breaks. Turning good citizens into habitual rule-breakers harms the relationship between staff and members. To that end, I am eliminating the one-word spam rule. The spam rule itself is still as important as ever, but if you make a one-word post that is pertinent to the topic at hand, it will no longer be against the rules.
One problem that we have thought about for some time that needs to be addressed is what members refer to as pairing, dating, or shipping (short for relationshipping). Turning back to our mission statement--to help foster good Christian friendships and grow in virtue--it seems counterproductive to allow topics which seem to create fake couples, involve flirting between members, or even discussing romantic relationships (there might be some allowance for this in the Alumni Forum). While some families allow students to date in high school, many do not and would not appreciate the implication that Catholic Harbor was being used to encourage this kind of discussion outside of a debate. Thus, there is a new rule being added to cover it.
Safety is one part of our mission that we had been successful with as far as I know. Because each account is tied with a particular student, there is accountability. However, if an account login information were to be shared with other people (aside from one's parents or guardians), it eliminates this protection from the site. Therefore a rule specifying that sharing account login information is not allowed is being added to avoid any confusion in this regard.
In looking at our mission statement, I don't think our current forum structure fully supports this mission as much as it could. First and foremost, I am not sure the Catholic identity of this site has the pride of place that it should. We will add a new forum called Catholicism and Apologetics. It will technically be a debate forum, but would be suitable for other discussions about the Faith as well. The Spiritual Life forum will be renamed to Prayer Requests (as has been its primary function), but will continue to be the home of the Rosary and Chaplet. Debates will be renamed to General Debates. The Resolution Debate forum will be absorbed into General Debates, but I think that format is great and still want to encourage debaters to use it.
We want to try changing the perception of the site, especially for new members, and perhaps the biggest change is going to be the break up of General Discussions. Currently it is somewhat chaotic and disorganized. We want to separate all of the topics focused purely on getting to know the other members into a new Getting to Know You Forum. Many other topics in General Discussions have to do with hobbies, whether that is art, cooking, coin collecting, or a wide variety of other hobbies. Those will now have their own forum. A new Uncategorized Topics Forum will be created for everything else that does not fit into one of the forums on Catholic Harbor. Perhaps a new forum can be created if we see a large quantity of the same theme in that forum.
The next forum change we have been thinking about for a long time. We have even had several debates about it so that I could hear arguments from the members. I know well that the reaction will be mixed. Since the split off of the topics with at least some substance to Humorous Musings, Spam City is only home to topics that in good conscience I can't argue are wholesome and worthy of our students' time, even as recreation. Our mission is to help our members grow in intellect, virtue, and the Faith, and Spam City seems to detract from that mission. Additionally, Spam City is not read as frequently by Moderators. Therefore, effective immediately, Spam City is closed.
Another forum that poses some difficulty for moderation is the Music Forum. A large part of this forum is just the one topic, what are you listening to now? Without a doubt this topic has been moderated more than any other on the site because of the frequency with which explicit music is mentioned and recommended, which violates our current rules. Unless a moderator is actually familiar with all of the songs, it is hard to tell by the title alone that the song might be from a notorious rapper and contains 20 f-bombs. In theory, the movie forum could have the same issue, but members have been good about not recommending R-rated movies, so it hasn't been a problem. Discussion of music is still perfectly allowed, but future topics will be held in General Discussions as I think having a separate forum encourages more problematic conversations than would otherwise occur.
One area I want to encourage more of is our creative writing and literature discussions. Until now, those two themes have shared the same forum. I will be creating a forum just for creative writing and one just for literature and book discussion. These types of discussions seem perfectly in line with our mission.
Requesting deactivations, whether temporary or permanent has become a significant burden to me personally, but also a significant disruption to the community life on Catholic Harbor. If you don't have time for Catholic Harbor, that is perfectly fine. You can simply not visit. I cannot count the number of times a member requested a short deactivation (like a couple of weeks) and their friends freaked out messaging me about it. Many jump to the conclusion that the member is gone for good, etc. In the future, I will only deactivation an account at a parent's request, for severe violation of the rules, or because they are no longer eligible for membership (i.e. they switched to another school). I will not deactivate accounts at the request of a member.
The changes I have mentioned so far are what we are doing on the administrative side, however, you members as a group have far more influence over the feel of the site than I do. After I posted about some of the problems the site had been experiencing and that this CHIP would be coming, I had several members ask me what they could do to help improve the site. I thus wanted to offer a few practical suggestions for those who want to actively help with improving Catholic Harbor.
1) Model the kind of behavior you want to see other members use.
2) Be kind, supportive, and encouraging with other members. Even if you are in a debate arguing opposing positions, charity is the most important virtue.
3) Create new topics that you think other members will enjoy and find interesting.
4) When other members ask for advice, make sure you are advising them down a virtuous path, and not giving advice that might lead them into a near occasion of sin.
5) If you feel there is content on the site which is in violation of the rules, use the report feature to let the moderators know about it, and if there are larger changes you think would be helpful in improving the site, share your suggestions with me in the Suggestion Box Forum.
I want to thank you all for working to improve Catholic Harbor and being patient as we work to make changes. I want to ask for the intercession of Sts. Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons who were three of the earliest Fathers of the Church. These holy men helped guide and defend the Church as she was just a relatively new community. May their intercession help Catholic Harbor prosper and provide what our members most need from it. May God bless each of you.