Handling an Intellectual Bully

Well yeah because otherwise there is no enforcement! Asking nicely has its limits, eventually you must take action.


I think this is the crux of the issue with this user. (I’m assuming they’re just a user and not a moderator or admin.) Circumstances never warrant speaking harshly to people on a software forum, in my opinion. This is sometimes a hard rule to live by, I break it myself on occasion … and do my best to apologize when I do without covering it up. Even corrective actions such as warnings and bannings should be delivered with respect and care, even if it isn’t deserved in some people’s opinion.

Only a moderator or admin should be making the decision of who should go and who should stay … and only then when they are calmly, logically and consciously making the decision. Not some general member of the community who likes abusing people. Because that is what is happening, this member of your community is deciding that they will abuse people until they leave or conform to their rules, not the forum’s rules. In ten years, you’ve most likely lost at least a few people that could have replaced this troublemaker’s expertise and not had to use your forum as an outlet for their frustrations and pent-up rage.

I’m currently crafting a conference talk on my experiences as a moderator on a software forum. One of the headings is “The Community is More Important Than You” (meaning the moderator). That goes for any single member of a forum as well. If a forum member, no matter their status or privilege, is damaging the community, they need to go.


Wow THANK YOU ALL!! This is such a great community, I knew I would get great feedback coming here!

I really appreciate it, I will keep you updated but I think I am going to try a warning first, and then see what happens. I am wondering if I should tell him I will ban him for a week after the warning and then indefinitely if he continues? Or do I just do it?

Seriously, again, many thanks! :smiley:


I’d phrase it as a “cool off period” that will last X days (then you suspend his account for that number of days).

A ban is more permanent and has major negative connotations. Use that as a last resort if you want to try and reform this individual.


I would like to see that talk! Be sure to share it hear. Thanks so much, your post was very helpful.


This is what I posted: (I combined a lot of your feedback)

Hey G…,

I have had multiple people consistently reach out to me on the forums (and even offline), as well as leave and express that they will be leaving the forum because of you.

Due to circumstances, I am going to give you a “Cool Off” period that will last until Monday 5/11. You have great information to share, but the way you sometimes share it is causing people to leave. I would rather not, and I think the community/forum would rather not loose you, but I hope you take this time and think about how you would like to be seen on the forum.

I am going straight to the “Cool Off” stage because the earlier gentle “warning conversation” we had was not embraced by you:

[quote=", post:1, topic:10833, full:true"]
“Often times you are not in the wrong, and have valid points, but I want to stress that tone and positive, constructive feedback goes SO much further. I just hate to see people get “turned off” by you because of a few ill-placed words or remarks, because you have a lot of great things to say.” [/quote]

I will “Cool Off” your account by the end of the day today until Monday 5/11.

Thanks G…, I look forward to having you back soon as a great member of the Community!


Some consider me an intellectual bully.

But here’s the thing: I know when I need to slow my roll and settle down because of the “holier-than-thou” aggression. I don’t need someone to temp-ban me. I’ll do the right thing and excuse myself, say apologies and get out the door. Or if I think they are attempting to silence me because they know I’m right and I’ve already apologized after the fact, then I bail and never come back (I got better stuff to do).

I can give you some insight from someone who may understand what this user is thinking.

First, this is pure aggression. Aggression is an emotion tied to similar reactions such as anger and frustration. In short, it’s a by-product of motivation. You said this user posts a ton of great content and is very helpful? I am the exact same, and it mostly applies on other communities I frequent (at Meta I’m listening more than talking). And I can tell you point blank the aggression I get is from a combination of “these people don’t get it” and “I just want to suddenly gain psionic powers and manipulate their mouse cursor via bandwidth”.


It is a desire to help. Or he wouldn’t be there. But at the same time he probably sees everyone else as stupid. I’ve had this before and after being mindful of it I stop myself and apologize.

It’s when his internalized ideals become THE ideals and everyone else is wrong, beyond the scope of your community’s subject. Since everyone already sees him as a guru that only proved his intuition on the matter, he’s furthering it and now enjoying the responses. I like to call it “poking the animals in the cage”.

Your response is good, by the way. Overall, my personal suggestion would be to explain how you truly appreciate his contributions. You want to help him so his character and outward appearance on the forum matches the quality of his content.

[quote=“AlexAB, post:1, topic:28313, full:true”]
I have seen time and again when your intelligence level was challenged that you resort to name calling and abuse. If anything happens to be outside your comfort zone, you rule it to be trivial.[/quote]

If that is an accurate description of his behavior then that is a very big warning sign of insecurity. Those who assume they know best have their own personal problems. I know I’ve got mine related to mental health issues but I have therapy for them and that allows me to swallow my ego and say I did wrong. Whatever those issues are for this user, they aren’t your problem. As others have mentioned above, you truly have to weigh the pros and cons of keeping him if he is abrasive despite the content he gives.

If this guy really thinks you are all numbskulls and he’s got better stuff to do with his time than lay down this great information for free to those who aren’t grateful then he would have left already on his own accord (and I’ve done that many times). Him staying shows that insecurity.

But he still is a person. If you tone your replies so it sounds like you want to help him (and you do for his sake and your own!) then he might at least cooperate. No one is perfect. Knowing when you did wrong, apologizing and stepping away from the situation is knowing ‘the imperfect’ and working around it for that civilized Discourse.


I am trying to hard to help him recognize his value enough to want to tone it down a bit. But I can’t hold his hand, because it is a time and energy suck.

I can only state things as clearly and gently as I can, and I feel the rest is up to him at this point. I really appreciate your response. I try to make sure he knows that I like/appreciate his positive and constructive contributions by “liking” posts that are appropriate and helpful.

I am absolutely positive that he feels like that guy in the video clip :slight_smile: haha Great find!!

Thanks for your feedback on my response. I am never sure how to word things, and then when you communicate behind a screen and with text only…well, that increases complexity and intentions can be misconstrued.

Thanks again, I hope it turns into a positive experience for both of us! I will keep you updated and may seek your advice again :slight_smile:


You shouldn’t have to. And he shouldn’t have to either.

What it all boils down is that he needs you as much as you need him. If you push aside all the nouns and make the verbs a bit more vague, it rolls into something like “You want his expertise and he wants to feel like he’s contributing and he means something somewhere to someone.” At some point his ego was stroked to validate the inner voice that Does No Wrong and now he truly feels that you all need him and he can do whatever he wants. The entire thing about him not caring is completely bunk because if he didn’t then he wouldn’t have to say it. He’d just leave and go on his own way.

If you remind him that if he truly does feel liberated by acting as he wishes, then why doesn’t he just do his own thing and leave the community? That questions the motives of his true reason for staying. “Why the hell am I here if I am unhappy enough to prod people like animals in a cage and get flack for it? Like they don’t appreciate what I’ve done the past ten years?”

Do that and he might just leave on his own without a word. If he stays then you have to tell him that the community doesn’t revolve around him, as @lee-dohm mentioned. If he truly wants to help others then he has to do it because he cares about the users and the community, not because he thinks he’s saving them from themselves and he’s the gift for you all. By that kind of basic logic his ‘liberating behavior’ is countering his attempts to help, if he truly is there to help. Again, by talking to him at this angle you force his ego to question itself and must react based on its own personal values and morals. This is the exact same self-talk I give myself when I feel the same as he probably does. Nowadays I don’t last ten years. I last a couple of months before suddenly disappearing as if I was never there in the first place.

Also, sometimes the holier-than-thou intellectual talk is natural. I know when I do it I truly am not attempting to downplay with big 5-dollar words and intricate, eloquent writing style. I have written constant stories (in RP) since 2001 and by now I’ve proofread dissertations. I’ve had the same situation as your user there where I get highly-positive comments on my writing ability and my constant outpouring of help for those who want to reach that level. I could have gone the route of your user there, if I allowed all that ego-stroking to become validation for who and what I am. But I didn’t, because I knew deep down people would suddenly look at me like you do to that user, in massive droves. My donated help and stories would be rendered moot. I might as well stop the attempt to go into communities or even make comments on the internet if I felt every single person was incapable of meeting my level of integrity and quality.

Sorry for the sudden text wall but this guy reminds me of myself if I went completely to the dark side, as it were. Nowadays the claims of ‘grandiosity’ and ‘intellect-throwing’ go in one ear and out the other for me because I have the ability to walk away before it turns into what you’re dealing with.


My esteemed colleague Donnie has a great talk he likes to give that sums up this problem quite well, and uses data:


That is one of the most useful and insightful posts that I have read in recent times. Thanks for sharing your feelings and motivations so honestly.


Wow, See this is why I brought this up! I knew there was someone like G who I have been dealing with and I desperately needed and wanted that perspective.

Now how do I let him know what you were insinuating? When I “lift” the ban on Monday, perhaps I can send him a message and bring up some points you mentioned?

I know he cares about our community, probably too much :wink: I really want to figure this out for him so he can continue to be a part of our community.

Maybe I should just show him this thread and say - SEE! You are Valued! Let’s figure this out.

You’ve reached out and he said he isn’t going to stop. That is very telling.

I recently bought a site with a forum and it was notorious for bullies and trolls. I stopped using it for a while because of all of the fighting. It started to get cleaned up but there is still a troll population.

After much internal debate, advice from others, etc. I came to the conclusion 98% of the people coming to the site aren’t looking for a debate/fight/sparring contest. If I privately reach out to give a troll a warning and they tell me off or say they don’t have to change and they have a history of negativity and I’ve received complaints about them, I ban them. End of subject. It’s not going to get better.

Believe or not, the other trolls are reforming and behaving better because of the new approach. The rest of the members are super happy they are coming to a more supportive and helpful environment without fear of being told off for a typo or if they are inexperienced. If you don’t take care of the trolls, you will lose a large audience over time. Don’t protect your trolls. They aren’t worth it no matter how loyal they are.


That is in direct correlation to @codinghorror’s 98% vs 2% on his blog. In fact, I mentioned this to someone when discussing a very similar subject:


I have a further question for you if that’s cool.

What do you think would happen if members felt enabled/empowered to confront [people that behave in the ways that you describe]? What if one or several members banded together – perhaps organized by the community manager – to do this? Do you think that a community uprising would be effective, or just cause more antagonism?

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The best thing to do is write down (either mentally or transcribed on paper or keyboard to screen) what outcome you want. And your user? Ask him the same. Meet each other half-way. Seriously write something down, don’t broach it with a fluid train of thought. Taking the time to do this shows your want to be an equal on that fundamental level (even though you are the admin and he’s a user). You are responsible for the site so obviously any of his outcomes that relate to his continued abuse are right out.

Here’s some points to mentally keep note on:

A. If the user falls back into his habits but immediately steps away, that shows he is attempting to truly be mindful of what he’s doing. That shows he does care. Don’t see mistakes as bad. Mistakes mean he tripped but he standing back up. The same as a kid learning to ride a bike without the training wheels. It takes a few times and that’s normal.

B. Please tell him if he cannot willfully back away from a heated conflict then you will have to suspend him for a few hours to days or a week. It’s not only for your benefit but his too. And it is. Because I can tell you this this is stressful for him. Like a dog needing to be in that fight and he has to be forcibly removed because this is his nature (at least right now). Honestly? It’s an addiction. When I realize that I drop the conflict like a hot pan and I will about-face just as swift.

C. Give a kinda-fuzzy date on when you think he should truly show signs of improvement. It’s gradual and it’s difficult to truly quantify. This requires intuition. Thankfully for Discourse it’s easier because you have the likes and flags, ect. Agree on a fuzzy date with your user. It’s like a “regroup”. Come back after to this fuzzy time and reassess everything. This sounds like a lot of work but it truly isn’t. It’s doing as it was before but now words have been exchanged, things laid out, communication paramount and to the forefront. There’s no uncertainty or passive aggressiveness able to shine. You and he lay it all out. Because if one of you doesn’t then from my personal perspective there’s not much willfulness to truly make things work. Nothing with Human nature is easy but being able to do these little extra bits and pieces makes a world of difference. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And this “group and regroup” can be applied to any serious problem user who has accumulated a lot of flags and complaints.

If you treat this guy as a fundamental equal then he should turn around a little. Patronization is a deep trigger of mine. If I feel someone thinks of me as a mediocre pleb, I will drop everything and leave. It’s not running away. This is me knowing my personal value and worth and that they don’t see it at the core, despite whatever the conflict is there. Deep down and through all the so-called “intellectual clap-trap” I am a person who truly likes to be treated as an adult and I will give that in like kind easily. It’s like getting that ‘Faith in humanity restored’ feels.

If he continues to escalate even though you tone yourself to humility first to lower his proverbial hackles, then I think that is the cue he needs an extended leave effective immediately. He has to sort himself out then. That’s not your problem, concern or profession.


No worries! Asking questions means you resonate on this. I am no professional, I have just lived with this for so long, both online and off. (That’s my disclaimer of ‘take my words as you wish and I take no responsibility after the fact’. Heh.)

What you describe happened to me recently. It depends on the individual that the community wishes to drive out. Any kind of community uprising not publicly (as in, some kind of announcement, even if temporarily posted) sanctioned by the community owner (and an owner that treated the dissident with some kind of compassion that was the drive to remove them) will cause so much strife down the line that the community probably gave itself its own death sentence. It also depends if the user has a polarizing personality. I am this to the core and I have been told this many times by different people (either friends or third parties that have no empathetic connection to me). For communities I was heavily involved in and helped, my sudden leave from a community (where an upheaval happened from a group that despised me) leaves a kind of buzz in the air. It’s jarring. It makes some wonder “huh, maybe something is going on here…” and that sticks somewhere in the recesses of their mind. It becomes the hindsight they exclaim when something big happens that directly relates to why I left in the first place.

People like me will either write things against that community elsewhere (like a blog or writing into other sites as editorials). I always say “they may have won that battle, but I will win this war”. Or they may do other highly nefarious things if they are not to a level of self-moderating maturity such as myself. Like cracking and Denial of Service attacks. If there’s a will? Oh yes. People like me find a way. I consider myself a benevolent psychopath in an attempt to describe what kind of mental problems I face. Of course, my views and thoughts cannot be taken as a constant and applied to every scenario. As before: Human nature is so varied and that depends on levels of extremism percolating under someone’s placid surface. I would like to think I am on the right track based on my life experiences.


Thanks. So taking that further – how do you think it would go down if the community did it of its own accord? ie not a sanctioned move, but something organic that happened if one person of standing in the community had clearly had enough and expressed that, which caused others to jump on board?

Lots of underground rumor mongering. Rhetoric becomes a weapon to gain more into a group so that jarring effect is lessened. After I left one place, I found out I was the talk of the entire community the entire time I was there (when I suddenly became a ‘somebody’ with my outpouring of help and confidence). If the group that hates me is at a higher social standing than myself (like a kind of fiat) then it makes it much easier to use technical rules to out someone like me since the staff is more inclined to listen to the old hats. Or, they can use my sense of wanting to help against me. That plays into rhetoric. Pick any fallacy from that particular toolbox and now you have a kind of ‘groupthink army’ that wills itself to be quiet to push me out.

There’s two ingredients to a good non-sanctioned out: followers and restrictions. Get more people to think I am an asshole despite my help. Then, find technical ways (either by rules or anything else) to silence me, stunt my ability to speak on the community or have any power to do my original intention: help.

That is a very potent cocktail.


Didn’t see this until now. There’s never ‘too much’. It’s only ‘the wrong kind’. Someone who is so passionate about my project or words to go lengths to help like I do? Like a diamond in the rough. But there’s different kinds and different people. They have the energy, passion and tenacity. But it’s misguided for different reasons. Again, the 98%. If they are having their own personal problems, that’s just how life is. The 2% are the ones you truly should be worried about with ‘too much’ because 99% of the time it’s always ‘the wrong kind’.

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