Dealing with a toxic user on our Discourse forum


(Drew) #1

Before I mention anything about this user, let me clarify that the moderators/admins on the Discourse forum I use are very lenient. The forum is manual approval only (every member is handpicked from the parent site), and the staff have said that they want us to not feel shackled and to express our minds (i.e. profanity is allowed on the Discourse forum while it isn’t on the parent site). Unless someone is indisputably in the black, they won’t punish that person – people who tread the grey area on a regular basis are never dealt with. With that out of the way, onto the user:

This particular person is anti-change. Every time a new feature on the parent site or Discourse is released, he hates it from the get-go, and if the feature isn’t so wonderfully awesome that it’s impossible not to love it, he calls for it to be reverted. Even if a feature introduces good stuff and has one or a few downsides, he acts like it’s the worst thing in the world.

Discourse is a perfect example. Before our forum switched to Discourse, we were using Kunena. It was pretty outdated in terms of both functionality and appearances, so by far Discourse is astoundingly better. Someone posted a topic saying they had finally adjusted to Discourse and now saw it as a huge improvement from what we were using before, and this toxic person posts on the thread saying “Kunena was so much better. We don’t have Kunena spoiler tags, can’t edit the sizes of pictures, can’t change text size, and can’t change text color. Discourse also takes longer to load than Kunena and Discourse is terrible because it slides you around the page to advertise features.” We can create Kunena-like spoilers with <details>, we can change image sizes with width and height in <img> tags, can create headers by putting three dashes under text (not really any other reason to increase text size), and boo hoo no font color – all people did on Kunena with it was hide invisible white text and make important text red (which can be accomplished with bold / italics). Discourse does not slide you around every which way either – it only skips down to the latest unread post. He didn’t know about any of this because he shuts himself in his own anti-change box and refuses to try to figure out how to adjust, but what’s even worse is that he wanted us to revert to Kunena because “[he] shouldn’t have to look these things up”.

He does this on close to every thread regarding a feature, and there are absolutely 0 constructive posts to balance them out. The parent site is in the process of revamping year-old pages, and on every bloody topic announcing a new overhaul he complains that the old design is better, even if the new design hasn’t been displayed/created yet. He also finds ways to insult features on other threads if they’re even mentioned once. Someone had posted a topic suggesting a “Add to profile” button be added to one of the pages that was due for a rework, and I posted a conceptual design of the page (that I was working on to hone my web design skills – I don’t own the site and am not part of the redesign process) that had already included this “Add to profile” functionality and asked if that was what the OP meant. The toxic person in question then comes in and starts a rant of how the page shouldn’t be overhauled (even though he was well aware I’m not one of the parent company’s employees and that the concept I posted wasn’t official), and took his time to complain, again, about every single nook and cranny of what the parent site had changed in the past year. He literally complained about a couple pixel’s worth of padding too.

The staff won’t do anything about him. We could flag him as a community and get him booted from the site, but everyone’s probably thinking “oh someone else will flag his posts” or are afraid to flag his posts since he’s not breaking any rule other than “be respectful”. If I try to go around asking people “Hey let’s start flagging this guy’s bad posts to get rid of him”, I’ll seem like a minimod/tyrant/etc trying to control who’s able to access the site, and if I put it nicely, I’ll likely end up with the “oh someone else will help out flagging his posts” problem again. Even if we do start managing to get his posts hidden, he can just edit them and regain the trust points he lost. He may be anti-change, but he’s not outright stupid – I imagine he would be careful with his words in that one post so it wouldn’t get flagged again, but would go right back to his normal behavior with other posts. This is his way of thinking and his way of life, so it’s not something we can condition him out of. I guess we could condition him out of it, but it’s not worth it given the effort and time it would take for someone so rooted into that anti-change position. The best option for our community is just for him to not be a part of it.

How should the community stop or get rid of him since the staff won’t do anything about it? Do any of you have any similar experiences where a forum’s community managed to band together and get rid of a guy like this? How did the community manage to do it? This person is a serious bane to the forums, so something needs to be done about him.


(Rafael dos Santos Silva) #2

This looks like @codinghorror blogged about here:

https://blog.codinghorror.com/your-community-door/

You should message the moderators / admin about this, and if nothing is done, you follow this and create your own better community*.

* with hookers and blackjack optional


(Joshua Rosenfeld) #3

I would second that. If this user is as disruptive as you describe (and I have no reason to doubt that) a nicely composed message to the moderator (or admin) team would be my suggestion as well. I would suggest explaining why you feel the user’s posts are disruptive and do your best to avoid attacking the user too much. (I am assuming here that you do not know the user as a person, just through their posts).

Edit: Also, there isn’t any big harm in flagging the user’s posts, if they do violate the guidelines in some way. You have no idea who else is flagging the, so they could be auto-hidden if others are feeling the same way as you. This would likely also help ensure the moderators are seeing (clearly) this user’s posts. As a moderator, while I do read every single post made on my Discourse, I definitely read flagged posts just that much more closely.


(Drew) #4

Are site administrators able to view a list of posts that have less than three flags? I had always thought the site wouldn’t bother them until it got three flags to ensure administrators didn’t have to deal with false positives.


(Joshua Rosenfeld) #5

Any flag cast shows up in the admin/moderator queue. How an individual site deals with flags, I don’t know. Over at my Discourse, we do not wait for multiple flags to take action. I am not sure any post has ever reached 3 flags before action was taken by a mod (if we agree with the flag). In fact, there are times that we (the mods) flag the posts ourselves before any users get a chance to.


(Jeff Atwood) #6

It is rare for a post to get three flags in general. Across all Discourse sites. It has to be quite bad indeed to get three flags “naturally”.


#7

Hi there,
Ugh. That sounds awful. Unfortunately the chances of turning someone like that around are zero to none. Trolling is likely their primary (if not only) motivating force for being a part of the community.

This post will likely be an interesting read. Michael’s video is especially good.

This thread (on my own community) might also be helpful.

Bottom line (in my opinion) is that for the ongoing health of the community, the member needs to be removed. A lynch mob approach is less likely to work than a frank conversation with management.


(Stephen) #8

I’m just going to leave this here:

Even if they aren’t a paying customer, I’d say the principle still applies.

Rami is pretty polarising, but Vlambeer’s attitude towards customer vs customers is regarded as pretty forward thinking, at least within our industry.


#9

I have questions. I *smell* some things here.

  1. Is this person regarded as a veteran user? Old hat? A fixture?

  2. Are they known previously for original content, or driving the community forward in some form?

  3. Is it known if this user hangs with others, perhaps they are in a specific group? Not named, per se, but a group many may point out (how some users are seen with each other; that particular “posse”).


(Jeff Atwood) #10

Ultimately you need a moderator to intervene privately with this user.

As I covered in my empathy blog post under “Persistent Negativity”:

If Fred doesn’t have anything positive to contribute, what exactly is the purpose of his participation in that community? What does he hope to achieve? Criticism is welcome, but that shouldn’t be the sum total of everything Fred contributes, and he should be reasonably constructive in his criticism. People join communities to build things and celebrate the enjoyment of those things, not have other people dump all over it and constantly describe how much they suck and disappoint them. If there isn’t any silver lining in Fred’s cloud, and he can’t be encouraged to find one, he should be asked to find other places to haunt.

If no moderators are willing to intervene privately with that user, you might be in trouble. That’s a split the community type event…


(Drew) #11

I don’t think this person is a troll. From reading his posts, it appears he actually believes what he’s saying.

He’s been there for a while, but I don’t think anyone sees him as a fixture that’s valuable to have. He may be a veteran, but he’s never once been a benefit to the community as far as I can tell.

No

No

Truth be told, I don’t think he’d even make the cut for manual approval if he wasn’t already a member and applied to be part of the forum. He hasn’t made anything special and isn’t a figurehead on the main site, and from what I can gather, few people on our Discourse forum like him.

I’ll try to find a way to show the moderators that this person is indisputably a bane to the community. Now that I know single flags are actually visible to the them, I’ll start with flagging all of his bad posts from now on so when I do end up PMing moderators about him, they’ve already seen what he does on a regular basis, even outside of the forums they check.


#12

Think of all that lost energy.

Can’t you channel this person’s energies elsewhere or prevent him commenting on these by posting updates etc in a category that is off limits to him?


(Drew) #13

He’d still interject when the features were just mentioned in other categories. For example, in the OP I mentioned I had posted a mockup overhaul of a particular page (for self benefit – it wasn’t official, and he knew that), but he started to rant about how the page should never be updated, how the updates to every single other page were a step backwards, etc. Official feature announcement threads aren’t posted that frequently, so the biggest problem is him ranting about it on other threads. Barring him from Public Announcements wouldn’t do much, I think.


#14

I be gettin’ the feels this user thinks as their time there increases, their priority does too. (AKA, unwarranted self-importance; I say that with zero judgement as always.)

Is this the first time they acted up like this?

My ten year old community was vetted through and through.

Only three times did they all unanimously agree they did not want someone there.

I get it, it feels “cliquish” and makes the staff look shallow.

A clique is a smaller group in a larger group-construct. And if the group-construct really does not value a user’s presence–up to where the user is now a negative impact on the main community–then it is time to do some action.

This is where a “read-only” feature would be very beneficial.

I let the user read. They were no longer able to post.

Aye, this was decided carefully. I looked at the ‘now’ situation, and their entire history before it. I do not like doing this either, but, I follow what th’ Spock guy said: “the needs of many outweigh the needs of few”.

I do not suggest you–sans staff help–“out” this user (as mentioned in the OP). Not only would it bring possible pain down the line for the community…it makes the community look hostile to future users.

But a benevolent “read-only” speaks a complete polar opposite to passive aggressive tactics now forever-archived for all and future to read.

And it does not have to be permanent. Months, even years. Or never again; it becomes permanent.

I have been “outed” before. I made original content, I was a charismatic figure. I invoked the Kool-aid point, and some vets did not like the sudden social power I had. And that I fought back.

That fight back. That may or may-not be in this user’s personality to do so. And to what degree.

Besides…it is unprofessional. Double that when the one outed reverse engineers the whole thing. *smirk*

Also, this whole thing reminds me of the Five Geek Social Fallacies. Check out #1. I feel it is relevant in this context.

(I am not condoning this user’s behavior. If I am defending anything, it be the fact he is Human. And, despite appearances I think Humans 'aight.)