How do you deal with off-site harassment?

On a gaming-related Discourse forum I frequent (“Forum X”), there are some users (“Bob” and “Dave”) who visit Forum X from another forum (“Forum Y”). “Bob” and “Dave” are moderators of Forum Y.

Forum X has a basically reasonable code of conduct based on the Discourse template; Forum Y has, uh, the opposite of that. On Forum Y, pretty much anything goes. Bob and Dave, in their role as community leaders on Forum Y, are in the habit of screencapping posts from X and posting them to Y in order to mock people, frequently using homophobic slurs, and encouraging others to do so. (You may be familiar with the gamerspeak habit of using homophobic slurs “ironically.”)

If Bob and Dave were to post that stuff on X, they’d be banned right away, but they know better than that, so they post their stuff on Y, and when they do post on X, they’re careful not to violate any forum rules.

Some of the folks on X (particularly some LGBTQ folks) have called for Bob and Dave to be banned from X, or for the moderators of X to at least do something to mitigate the abuse.

Others have feared that this will just encourage Bob and Dave to kick their harassment into high gear. (Forum X is publicly visible; you don’t have to be logged in to read posts and screencap them.) Even just forcing Bob and Dave down to TL0 on X doesn’t seem like it’ll do any good, since Bob and Dave are careful not to violate any rules on X.

For those of you who moderate a forum, have y’all dealt with cases like this before? What works and what doesn’t, in your experience? Does your forum have a policy against off-site harassment? (The stock Discourse FAQ does not have a clear policy on this, IMO.) Have any of you successfully mitigated off-site harassment? Or attempted to mitigate it, only to cause a backfire?

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That sounds super tough and I’m sorry to hear it. I don’t have any directly comparable experience but if it were me I’d have a frank discussion with the owners of Forum X about the concerns (show them the screen caps) in the hope that they are called out.

I’d also have a discussion with the owners of Forum Y (assuming that Bob and Dave are mods rather than the owners).

I have moderated many forums and I would be banning these guys immediately. That kind of culture is toxic.

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I agree with @hawk that someone will need to reach out to the admins/owners.

These type of people are toxic for both forums, regardless if they follow the rules on one but not the other.

Just having these two on their forum makes them also guilty by association of these 2 users.

a moderator is the face of an forum and their actions on any other platform reflects good or bad on any other medium.

I will immediately remove these types of people as their actions are questionable.

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I’m in touch with the admins of X, but it’s not clear what to do about it. (The admin of Y seems to condone or at least ignore the behavior of the moderators.)

Is the answer just to ban Bob and Dave on X? (But how will that help if they just continue their bad behavior on Y?)

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Don’t worry about the things you can not control. Karma is a B#$%#

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I would call taking screenshots (screencapping?) from forum X and posting them on another (forum Y to mock people a violation of the forum X’s CoC. They are definitely making forum X appear “bad”. The Admin or a Mod from forum X should PM both “Bob” and “Dave” and explain what they are doing is harmful to forum X and tell them to stop immediately. They should be told if they continue with their “uncivilized” behavior, they will be banned from form X… no ifs, ands or buts. Forum X does not condone that type of behavior. The hard part of this is they are doing this on another forum. Still, by using posts from the first forum, they are ruining that forum’s name and reputation. That is unacceptable.

Since forum X is “open to the public” - anyone can view and take screenshots of posts - I’m curious as to what is being posted on forum X that can be used in such a derogatory way on the forum Y. Are they twisting words and meanings to suit their hate?

I agree with @HAWK that the owner/Admin of forum Y should be contacted and made aware of these “moderators.” Off-site behavior is awful tough to police. Hopefully, the Admin of forum Y isn’t tolerant of this type of behavior (regardless of the CoC) and will deal with them swiftly. Good luck to you and the users on forum Y.

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Yes, because it sends a message to the users of Forum X that “Bob” and “Dave” are in the out-group for attacking the users of Forum X in such a way, and that this behavior is to be shunned instead of encouraged.

Theoretically (I do not forsee this happening under the current English-speaking political climate, but let’s go into hypotheticals for a bit) disgruntled users of Forum X targetted by Bob and Dave could start using the same tactic of screenshot dunking on a sympathetic Forum Z. Now you have two copies of bad behavior, and Forum X is caught in the crossfire. Potential new users of the forum see these screenshot dunks, and think, “wow, Forum X is full of bad people huh”, and avoid joining. Now you’ve depressed your flow of new users, even though none of this activity is taking place on Forum X itself.

If your flow of new users is being depressed from an undesirable source, well, that makes perfect sense, huh? Community member selection working just fine. If “Bob” and “Dave” remain members of your community, then people who see this screenshot dunking may think “seems fun, I’ll join in too!”.

You should prepare a public statement regarding the bans before they are carried out, as it sounds like there is already significant awareness of this incident among your forum members.

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I haven’t dealt with this kind of thing exactly, but we generally have a “if you are a nasty human, you get banned”. So we have banned people for a variety of off-site reasons, as well as those who “anonymously” admit to heinous things. The first that comes to mind is somebody admitting to being a sexual blackmailer. Another user was stalking their ex (on site and off site).

I advise you suspend them immediately as others have suggested, contacting the other forum staff to let them know that this has happened.

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I think you need to act to protect forum X.

I once was a mod on old redundant site that had two long standing members who for years had a tit for tat behaviour. Both valuable, but both at each others throats. We turned a blind eye, told them both to act like adults. In the end the bickering (over years) caused us to ban them both.

What didn’t appreciate at the time was that it had strayed into online abuse. PMs, sharing personal details etc. One came back (as a new user) and was using the other person’s personal photos as his avatar (unknown to us). It became apparent he knew the poster and had turned a lot more sinister.

As a forum moderator I felt I had a personal responsibility to protect my members and had let down one (telling him to grow up, and turning blind eye). I had failed to prevent cyber bullying. It was simply so far from anything I had ever experienced or bizarre behaviour I had ever dealt with, that I never accounted for the risk.

I would state forum X does not condone intolerance of any kind. I would state openly that you have a zero tolerance policy against online harassment. Mocking other users on other sites constitutes such abuse. Such behaviour is not welcome here.

Failure to act now that you know it’s occuring at best is abstaining from responsibility or at worst turning a blind eye or condoning such behaviour.

Whilst it seems beyond remit as happening on another site. You also have a responsibility to protect your users.

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@dfabulich, I am so sorry; that’s a really tricky spot…but there are some missing details here.

  1. Is FY also publicly viewable, as FX is?

  2. And are the users targeted (not just offended) by the FY mods on both FX and FY (i.e., FX+FY)?

  3. Do you have proof that the same two individuals are in fact the same two users?

If FY is also publicly viewable, if the users targeted by the FY mods are FX+FY (i.e., a part of both forum communities), and if you have indisputable proof that it is indeed the same Bob and Dave on both forums who are actually behaving as accused, then I think that you are clear to sanction the FY mods on FX (after a warning) as long as you have publicly documented proof that this is happening as alleged.

Otherwise, the FX+FY users who are affected by the FY mods on FY must either convince the FY admin to take action OR convince FX to become private. :woman_shrugging:

You have to be careful that you have all of the actual facts and are not assuming facts not in direct evidence.

And that the FX info discussed on FY is publicly available on FX is something to be considered; Bob and Dave are not in the wrong for merely screenshotting and posting what anyone can find. :grimacing:

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They are if they are using it to publicly ridicule someone.

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The problem is the commentary they’re making about those screenshots.

Bob and Dave both habitually post on Forum Y including screenshots of conversations that they had with people on Forum X. “Look at what this ***** said to me on Forum X. (screenshot included)”

The ***** is usually a homophobic slur, though sometimes they get creative and use other slurs that would be in direct violation of any sensible Code of Conduct, and other non-moderators on Y often pile on to add to the “fun.”

Very rarely, their invective includes suggestions about what form of violence (including sexual violence) ought to be perpetrated on their targets. They are probably “just kidding around” when they say this, but that doesn’t make it OK.

As for proof… “Bob” and “Dave” use the same user names on X and Y. There’s no reason to doubt that Bob on X is the same as Bob on Y; “Bob” has said on Y that it’s him. (I’ve changed their names to retell the story here; their actual usernames are not just ordinary first names.)

Yes.

The targeted users use Forum X. They regard Forum Y as a cesspool and would never post there.

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I completely agree, as that is certainly beyond merely.

To be clear, I agree that this is unprofessional behavior at best, I don’t like it at all, and I don’t agree with it–but I’m not sure that it is necessarily harassment UNLESS, as you say, the *** is a slur that violates FX or FY guidelines re: obscenities, hate speech, bullying expressions, an actual harassment policy, etc.

This type of thing happens every day on reddit, Twitter, Facebook. Again, that does not make it ok, but it does not make it an FX violation, either.

I think that you could make a case for sanctions (including banning) on FX if EITHER…

  1. FX has community guidelines that prohibit reposting (via quotes or screenshots) and commenting on FX content on other publicly viewable sites (e.g., FY),
    OR
  2. FX has community guidelines that extend to off-site commentary regarding FX content (e.g., if you can’t say *** on FX, then you also can’t say it anywhere else if discussing FX content),
    OR
  3. BOTH.

:flushed: This is definitely harrassment and should be handled not only on FX, but also FY and possibly with local authorities.

Sigh…people who don’t like Bob might go pretty far to make things difficult for him. It’s a thing, sadly, and difficult to suss out due to online anonymity.

Again, mimicking another person online is a thing. :woman_shrugging:


@dfabulich, again, this is such a tricky situation, partly because there are data gaps where additional facts or circumstances might hide, and partly because it is really going to be an admin’s gut call.

(If it was me, I would investigate via direct contact with all parties involved on both FX and FY, set and communicate specific behavioral boundaries and expectations, and ban immediately at the next whisper of misconduct…but I would not expect this to stop the behavior and would even be prepared that it might escalate.)

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I’ve read all the replies so far and I agree with @papyrophilia 's last post:

(emphasis mine)

You have their email addresses and IP addresses and they’ve confessed they’re the same users on both forums:

  • Look up their Country, Province/State, city/town, ISP
  • Compile a report worthy of sending to the local police department.
  • Send this report to them privately, warning them that they’re just one click of a button away of being reported to their ISP and local police department.
  • Emphasize that this is going beyond simple cyberbullying and that this is a group effort, thus cybermobbing
  • Tell them that they should take down all and any copies of content from forum X on forum Y in a reasonable amount of time (24, 48, whatever hours. You know how much it’d take you to do the same)
    • depending on the license you use for content creation on your forum / country you/they reside in you can threaten with the DMCA.

And if they continue their behaviour, update your report with the warning you sent and their new infractions and report them to their ISP and their local police department.

As you run a gaming site, and they don’t seem to be very mature individuals, that’ll probably frighten the **** out of them and they’ll cease and desist immediately.
If not, out of your hands, up to the :policeman::policewoman:

:man_shrugging:

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“Names changed to protect the guilty”, and all that!

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Speaking from experience, no way would the police get involved in a case of forum messages saying “haha I hope she gets *****ed.”

I said earlier that they were “just kidding around,” and I think they are “just kidding around.” Metaphorically, their intent is just to play around with matches; they might accidentally start a fire, but they have no plan to commit arson. (“Can’t you take a joke?”)

That’s still not OK, and, as I said, a message like that would be in direct violation of any reasonable Code of Conduct, but the police absolutely won’t help in this case.

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This is the Internet and :earth_americas: and laws differ by country / region.

I could just go to the police and file a complaint for moral harassment, cyberbullying and mobbing where I am…

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Hi.
I thought you would ask the question - “Is there a complete certainty that under the same names on different forums the same people?”

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A Forum X original series :sweat_smile:

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In the US, that is a form of Hate Crime. The FBI would investigate that, especially if this has been going on for a while. They’d rather put a stop to this before someone decides to do what is being suggested.

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