Content Moderators: 10 Tips to Manage Stress During COVID-19

Back in 2018, we collaborated with therapist and wellness trainer Carol Brusca on a “Stress, Wellness, and Resilience” training session for Two Hat clients. She also shared her top 10 wellness tips for online moderators and community professionals.

Content moderation and player support are tough jobs on the best of days. Today, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns, most moderators and player support professionals are now working from home. Online platforms are experiencing exponential growth, which means that moderators are busier — and under more stress — than ever.””

“It’s really important to explain to moderators and staff is that we acknowledge that this is a difficult time, and this is why we [as leaders] are playing our part in terms of doing moderation… Moderators are doing a difficult job at the best of times and right now they’re working a lot of hours and it’s extremely important that we communicate with members of staff about how they’re feeling.” Vernon Jones, Head of Safety at MovieStarPlanet

Content Moderation in Challenging Times webinar

Below, we’ve updated Carol’s original tips for managing stress to reflect today’s new reality.


As a community manager or content moderator, you experience the dark side of the internet every day. Whether you are reviewing chat, social media, forum comments, or images, high-risk content can be draining — and you may not even realize the damage it’s doing.

Studies show that community teams on the front lines of chat, image, or video moderation are especially vulnerable to stress-related symptoms including depression, insomnia, vicarious trauma (also known as “compassion fatigue”), and even PTSD. Now, more than ever, it’s critical that you have the right tools and techniques at your disposal to support your mental health.

1. Talk to someone.
Having and using social supports is the number one indicator of resilience. Asking for help from someone who cares about you is a wonderful way to get through a difficult time.

Does your company’s health plan provide access to a mental health professional? Take advantage of it. There’s no shame in talking to a therapist. Sometimes, talking to a stranger can be even more effective than confiding in a loved one.

If you can’t see a therapist in person right now, there are virtual options available.

2. Learn to say no.
If we do not set boundaries with others we can find ourselves feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. If you notice this might be a habit for you, try saying “no” once a day and see if you begin to feel better.

Of course, saying “no” at work isn’t always an option. But if you’re spending too much time reviewing high-risk content, talk to your manager. Ask if you can vary your tasks; instead of spending all of your workday reviewing user reports, break up the day with 15-minute gameplay breaks. Check out our blog post and case study about different moderation techniques you can use to avoid chat moderation burnout.

Setting boundaries is essential when you work from home. You cannot be “on” 24/7. Again, work with your manager to set fair and reasonable expectations.

3. Go easy on yourself.
We are quick to criticize ourselves and what we have done wrong, but not as likely to give ourselves credit for what went right, or all the things we did well.

Remember that you work hard to ensure that your online community is healthy, happy, and safe. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and treat yourself to some self-care.

The last few months have been at times scary, confusing, and deeply uncomfortable. David Kessler, who co-wrote On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, says that the discomfort we are collectively feeling is actually grief. He says that it’s important that we acknowledge our grief and name it:

“We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different… The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

4. Remember, this too will pass.
There are very few situations or events in our lives that are forever. Try repeating this mantra during a stressful time: this struggle will pass. It will make getting through that time a little easier.

(Maybe just repeat it silently in your head. Your co-workers — aka, spouse and pets — will thank you.)

This is especially hard right now, when we’re stuck at home, trying to find a balance between our work life and home life. While we cannot know when there will be a “return to normal”, it’s still important to acknowledge that the added daily stress isn’t permanent.

David Kessler offers these words of wisdom: “This is a temporary state. It helps to say it… This is survivable. We will survive.”

5. Get plenty of sleep.
We need sleep to replenish and rejuvenate. Often when we are feeling stressed, we struggle with sleeping well. If this happens to you, make sure your bedroom is dark and cool; try some gentle music to help you get to sleep, or use an app that plays soothing sounds on a loop. If staying asleep is the problem, try having a notepad and pen by your bed to write down your worries as they come up.

Pro tip: Save the marathon 3:00 am Animal Crossing sessions for the weekend.

6. Have a hobby.
Having a hobby is a great distraction from the stressors of everyday life. If you can do something outside, all the better. For many people being in nature automatically decreases stress. Remember to wear a mask and practice good social distancing!

Or, stick to video games. Playing Tetris has been proven to help people who experience trauma.

7. Drink tea.
A large dose of caffeine causes a short-term spike in blood pressure. It may also cause your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to go into overdrive. Instead of coffee or energy drinks, try green tea.

We know that the smell of a freshly-brewed pot of coffee is like catnip to most moderators… but hear us out. Green tea has less than half the caffeine of coffee and contains healthy antioxidants, as well as theanine, an amino acid that has a calming effect on the nervous system.

8. Laugh it off.
Laughter releases endorphins that improve mood and decrease levels of the stress-causing hormones cortisol and adrenaline. It literally tricks your nervous system into making you happy. Try a comedy movie marathon or a laughter yoga class (this is a real thing; hopefully there’s a virtual version now!).

And hey, a 10-minute meme break never hurt anyone.

9. Exercise.
Getting plenty of exercise will decrease stress hormones and increase endorphins, leaving you feeling more energized and happier.

Ever had a 30-second, impromptu dance party at your desk? (Zoom dance party, anyone?)

No, really!

Often referred to as the “stress hormone,” cortisol is released in our body when we’re under pressure. Excess cortisol can cause you to feel stress, anxiety, and tension. Exercise brings your cortisol levels back down to normal, allowing you to relax and think straight again.

So crank up a classic, stand up… and get down.

10. Try the “3 Good Things” exercise.
Each night, write down three good things that happened during the day. This practice makes you shift your perspective to more positive things in your life — which in turn can shift your mood from stressed to happy, even if the three good things are tacos for lunch, tacos for 2 pm snack, and tacos for 4 pm snack (thank you, SkipTheDishes!). Good things don’t have to be earth-shattering.

Gratitude comes in all sizes, especially now.

So, whether you’re sipping a mug of green tea, talking to a professional, or shaking your groove thing in the name of science and wellness, never forget that a little self-care can go a long way.


For tips on reducing your moderation workload during the pandemic, download our e-book Content Moderation in Challenging Times: Techniques to Moderate Chat & Manage Increased Volumes.

Content Moderation in Challenging Times

As much of the world’s population faces an extended period of staying home, people are spending more time on online platforms. What does this mean for online communities and those who manage them? The increase in traffic volumes in popular games and social networks is spiking sharply.

Chat volumes are soaring during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But volume alone is not the problem:

  • How are the exponential increases in user chats impacting content moderation practices and business workflows?
  • What are the new trends related to COVID-19 and what are online communities experiencing at this time?
  • How can we as an industry provide safe and inclusive spaces for users during and after the crisis?

To help answer these questions, I recently chatted with Vernon Jones, Head of Safety at MovieStarPlanet, and Two Hat’s Amy Vezeau, Manager of Client Integration, who shared with me their views on the state of online communities and content moderation. We focused on three main topics:

  • The scope of the challenge, especially as it relates to a spike in chat volumes
  • How COVID-19 has affected content moderation practices and impacted teams, business, and users
  • Practical tips and actionable approaches to add to your content moderation strategy during this challenging time

I’m so excited to announce that we’ve gathered these insights in a brand-new e-book Content Moderation in Challenging Times: Techniques to Moderate Chat & Manage Increased Volumes that you can download today

I’ve spoken to multiple organizations over the last two months that are looking for guidance, and this is a great piece of content that will help you navigate the changing landscape of content moderation during and after the pandemic. You can find it here.

How to Monitor COVID-19 Chat in Your Online Community

Back in 2017, I hosted a webinar called Preparing for Breaking News & Trending Topics. In it, I spoke about my time moderating large online communities at Disney Interactive, and the importance of staying on top of pop culture and culture-defining events both large and small.

In 2017, I spoke about the tragic events in Charlottesville as a cultural touchstone; an example of platform operators having to make difficult decisions about how to let their users process and discuss the attack. I shared a six-step protocol that Community Managers and Trust & Safety professionals can follow to ensure that their team is prepared to handle breaking news and trending topics.

While the COVID-19 pandemic may not be breaking news, it is an ever-evolving global event, and everyone is talking about it online, regardless of the platform. We’re seeing COVID-19 chat in mobile games, kids’ platforms, teens’ social networks, and MMOs.

With that in mind, I hope you find this six-step protocol to monitor COVID-19 chat on your platform valuable.

1. Compile vocabulary
The first step is to compile a list of words and phrases that you expect to see the community use. We’re going to use the term COVID-19 as a starting point. Obvious examples include:

  • alcohol wipe
  • border closing
  • confirmed case
  • corona
  • coronavirus
  • covid
  • covid19
  • epidemic
  • hand sanitizer
  • outbreak
  • pandemic
  • quarantine
  • social distancing
  • virus
  • WHO
  • world health organization
  • cdc
  • centers of disease control
  • infected

You’ll want to ensure that you’re watching for these words in your community – and in particular, how they’re being used. Is the community simply sharing their experiences with the pandemic, or are they harassing each other and potentially spreading misinformation?

2. Evaluate
The next step is to go beyond assumptions and review how your community is actually chatting.

Are they using words and phrases that you didn’t account for in your original list? Are there common misspellings? On the internet, language can change within a matter of hours. New compound terms including “covidvacay” and “coronacation” have come out of the pandemic and this rapid adoption of languages shows no signs of slowing down.

As you go through this process, it’s critical that you and your moderation team ask yourselves difficult questions, including:

  • Is quoting what could be construed as dangerous/hateful speech (kungflu, Chinese virus, wuflu, etc) acceptable for the purposes of discussing it?
  • When does humor cross the line?
  • How will you handle misinformation and the spread of fake and potentially dangerous news? Do you need to update your content moderation policies?

In a quick, 5 minute sampling of a single hour of chat across a variety of online communities, we saw COVID-19 referenced in a variety of different ways (spelling and grammatical errors included):

  • “what if the coronavirus is fake and its part of the placebo effect”
  • “so dont meme corona”
  • “my grandpa died of Corona rlvirus”
  • “and i have no shifts at work to pay them back cus of corona”
  • “it depends on if its a serious conversation. joking about corona has become an offense. which personally i find ridiculous. who are we without our jokes”
  • “well my mom is staying with me until the covid dies down so i can’t play games during the week until after 10pm -_-“
  • “the whole world got corona not just Italy”
  • “noone was expecting to get covid 19”

Another thing to consider is languages other than English. For example, in the Dutch language diseases are commonly used for bullying. Our Dutch Language & Culture specialist was quick to notice Dutch community members using bullying phrases like “corona child”, “corona loser”, and “corona face”.

Pay special attention to permanent UGC like usernames. You may allow users to discuss COVID-19 in chat, but do you want them to create a display name like CovidVectorGuy2020? Probably not.

3. Adjust
Now that you know how users are chatting, it’s time to adjust your chat filter to account for these new words and phrases.

Before you make any changes, consider:

  • How often was an expression used? One time in 1 million lines of chat? 20 times?
  • If you adjust a rule, what’s the impact?
  • Have you inadvertently created chat rules that are too strict? For example, “corona” is a kind of beer, and also refers to the circle of light around the sun or moon.

This is where using a sophisticated chat filter that recognizes context is critical.

4. Validate
Now that you’ve adjusted your filter, monitor your changes to ensure that you’ve avoided creating false positives and false negatives.

For example, you don’t want a phrase like “Corona means crown in Spanish” to trigger an action, whereas you would likely want “I hope you get corona” to result in moderation action (or a false send; whatever works for your community).

Tools that give you a live view of community chat can be very helpful here.

5. Analyze stats and trends
In the Two Hat content moderation platform, clients can run reports to view all chat within a specific time period, or to identify trends and common words.

Whatever reports are at your disposal, we recommend that you compile a regular report of trends and word count for all relevant stakeholders.


  • How is sentiment trending? Positive or negative?
  • After you’ve identified a new trending word or phrase, how often is it used? Is there an upward or downward trend?
  • How many warning messages, mutes, or suspensions did you have to issue daily, weekly, and/or monthly to users who are using the topic to harass others, target someone due to their nationality, or spread misinformation?

6. Review regularly
New trends will arise. The term “social distancing” is common now, but it wasn’t two months ago.

Just today, “China’s Chernobyl” began trending on Twitter. By the time this blog is published, there will be a new trending term that you should be aware of.

At times like this, staying on top of chat trends is critical. With increased volumes as more people are in lockdown and spend more time online, it’s important to safeguard all users and ensure a positive and productive experience in your platform.

To that end, I’m currently offering free community consultations. We can use the time to discuss your content moderation approaches and policies and see if there are any opportunities to update and adapt it in this dynamic online landscape.

Request a consultation using the form below.