Dealing with user mentions

I am a mod at a growing discourse forum.

We’re running into an issue where some members mention users (@Curtis_Kephart for example) a bit too often.

The mentioning-user is clearly trying to call in people they think will be helpful in answering their question. They are just being a little aggressive for some in our communities taste.

Mentioned-users will usually be great participants. People that watch the forum frequently and don’t need to be called on in the first place. People who I’d love to keep happy and engaged, and not annoyed or burnt out with too many notifications.
There’s a worry that the person mentioned might not answer for any number of reasons, but then maybe their non-responsiveness will give the forum a reputation of non-responsiveness. It also puts focus on individuals and away from the community.
But also, it’s a free country and the ability to mention people is just a useful feature.

We have mixed feelings about this behavior and are curious if you’ve experienced it yourself, and if you have advice for handling it.

Is there perhaps a feature we missed? where we might limit the number of mentions a specific-user is able to make over some period of time?


From my experience I can say that the active users you describe as “mentioned users” usually get notifications for almost all new posts anyway and it won’t make a big difference to them if they get the notification “xy replied to …” or “xy mentioned you in …”.
But if some users over/misuse the mentioning function I would just send them PMs to let them know that simply posting in the right category with a descriptive title usually gets their requests more attention than mentioning a bunch of users and that they should please stop over-using this function. I believe that works better than setting limits that then apply for all users (or all of a certain trust level).


The happens on Meta occasionally, and typically, a team member replies in public. I’d try that first – as long as it’s just a friendly notice, I don’t see a reason to hide it, and showing it will help educating the other users too :slight_smile:

Of course, if a member continues doing this, I’m all in favor of sending them a PM to follow up.


I’ve experienced this in several communities, incl this one.

The most effective way of tackling it seems to be to change the behaviour by calling it out publicly. i.e. respond to the question and follow up with something like “no need to tag me, I check in here regularly and prefer not to clog my inbox with notifications”.

It takes a few goes with some of the more persistent offenders, but it eventually works and others get the message at the same time.

If it’s rife and that’s not working you could write a pinned policy post which you link to in a PM for serial offenders.


Yeah, nothing wrong with going in and editing users’ posts once in a while (and leaving an edit note) to enforce this.


We’ve got some high-frequency members who use mentions excessively. They invite others to participate in threads & mention the admin / mod staff personally when it’s not necessary. They also use it instead of flagging posts.

This causes staff to get extra alerts and slows down responsiveness for real flags or valid mentions. Plus other members see this behaviour and think it’s appropriate.

If I could disable an individuals ability to post mentions, I would immediately do so for a small group of members.

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Right – so this is why it’s super important to publicly change the behaviour (by warning and modelling).


True - but you can only mention it so many times.

If you have a forum with a younger membership base, they’re prone to misusing forum features like this. Posting a message asking them to behave a particular way simply doesn’t resolve the issue. And as a growing forum, new arriving young members do likewise. It’s not feasible (or desirable) to “warn and model” forever, whereas, it would be absolute bliss to stop the worst offenders with a single checkbox tick. absolute bliss.


In conclusion I’d say:

  • Send a PM if it doesn’t happen often/is just one user and you don’t want to post something off-topic.
  • Make a public statement if it starts to happen more often and other users seem to think that’s how it’s done.
  • Edit the posts and remove the mentions if it happens so often that every new user seems to get influenced by it
  • Flag and hide posts from users who won’t stop even after multiple pleas.

Not sure I agree TBH. I think that long term behaviour change can almost always be effected if you create a culture of the behaviour you want. If incoming members are taught the expected behaviour by other members then it becomes self-perpetuating. Social proof in action.

That said, I’m not arguing that a setting wouldn’t be easier, but so is putting fences around trees so that kids don’t climb them. I’d prefer to teach my kids to make sensible decisions.


I would not be opposed to a new restriction that TL0 users can’t do @name mentions at all, then the offending users could be locked to TL0.


I think that would need to be a setting though. There legit use cases for TL0s to be able to @name mention.


Wouldn’t TL0 put them in ‘newuser’ status and thus the following setting, newuser max mentions per post, applies?


True, which you could the set to 0 and the problem is solved.

I still feel like this approach is hamstringing an entire community because a few people do bad things.


Sure, but on the plus, it usually only takes 20 minutes to get out of TL0 for a new login. It isn’t like you have to be a proven member to get out of the sandbox. You don’t even have to post anything, IIRC, you just have to read two separate topics (I think, maybe 20 minutes of reading…).


Based on experience with 2 forums, one I moderate and one I am a member of, I think people overuse @name for 3 primary reasons:

  1. people sometimes have long, and/or unfamiliar usernames that are not easy to remember (and embarrassing/potentially offensive to misspell), so it’s simpler to type @ and the first few letters and let the system fill it in correctly

  2. most of us are so used to drop-down auto-complete that to prevent people using what simply appears to be that goes against years of what users have been conditioned to do

  3. reluctance to “talk about someone behind their back” by mentioning them but not making them aware of this.

(Further to #1, I actually do this when posting about someone in Staff and remove the @ symbol after the system has completed the name - people do have some very peculiar names, and basic desire for accuracy aside, when using Search it’s important that they’re spelled correctly.)

Whether it’s possible to derive a solution from my amateur psychology here, and translate that into deterring people where there also exists an attention-grabbing element, is another matter.

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I don’t think I can agree with your 3 primary reasons. They all assume that it’s necessary to mention a name at all, but from my experience and OP’s comments users who overuse this function don’t mention someone to be polite, but to draw their attentions to their posts (usually for selfish reasons).
I don’t think that mentioning someones name is necessary in online forums often at all. Usually it’s pretty clear who you are replying to anyway (if it’s not the last poster use the reply button under the post you are replying to - if you are replying to more than one post at a time use the quote function).


Agreed ↑

There are obviously valid use cases (e.g. if I wanted to call a colleague into this topic or talk about something specific in relation to someone that would require their response) but this discussion is about people who either don’t understand the purpose and ramifications of tagging, or they think they can fast track a support response by doing so.

My initial opinion on process still stands. Publicly call out the behaviour, remove the mentions, encourage other community members to publicly call out the behaviour, then start warning repeat offenders.


Thanks for your feedback. If you’re curious how we handled it, we added the following to our Guidelines/FAQ page.

This content is more directed at active users and moderators, hopefully guiding norms.

I should also note that we’re not necessarily set on sticking to this policy if there’s a better one, or if it leads to greater problems, or unfriendly interactions.