How to deal with unwelcome people in your community?


(Valts) #1

Continuing the discussion from Crazy idea: give users limited moderator rights in their own topics:

Since my previous suggestion was declined, I’m now left with no ideas. Perhaps someone more experienced around here will have a solution (@EvilTrout?)

The question is - how do you deal with forum members who are not doing anything against the rules (so you can’t do legal action), yet are still annoying to everyone. Perhaps they are being dicks, perhaps they are writing too much offtopic, or perhaps they are so dumb/inexperienced/childish, that their constant nonsense just pisses everyone off.

Another case I’ve seen is in a community based around a certain webcomic. Most people (including the authors of the webcomic) get along just fine, but there are a few who always whine how everything is bad, the story sucks, the other community members don’t see things right, etc. Nothing rude - just lots of negativity. This in turn reflects both on the authors and other community members, and everybody suffers.

At any rate, as a moderator you could maybe suspend or ban such people - but there would be no good reason for it short of “I don’t like you”. And since moderators are supposed to be the embodiments of law and virtue in the forum, that would cause outrage every time (this is what we’re trying to do in another forum, but it’s not working very well).

So… what can you do in these cases?


Annoy user mode
(Sam Saffron) #2

We talked about adding a “mute” feature in the past (and even a follow feature)

Essentially you would mute the users you hate which would cause all posts by them to be collapsed by default to a minimal size. It gets weird cause some people may reply to them and muting chains is both complicated and confusing (especially with quote reply)

It is on the backburner, nothing we are working on in the immediate future AND a feature that needs quite a lot of specification to get right.


(Azareal) #3

If it’s someone whining that something is bad and generally trying to provoke a response then, you could always slam them with trolling which is a fair enough thing to punish over.


(Bill Ayakatubby) #4

Can’t one flag posts specifically for most of those cases? Just let the mods take care of it. I do think there should be personal mute lists and personal friend lists, but those are completely separate features from moderating someone else’s activities.


(Valts) #5

I am a moderator on those forums. And in both cases, I’m at a loss what to do. Trolling? It’s not trolling. It’s having a loud and obnoxious opinion. Or in some cases - outright stupidity. But you can’t punish people for being stupid or having opinions, right?


(Bill Ayakatubby) #6

That’s where a personal mute list would come in. If you don’t like reading somebody’s posts, you could mute them.

However, since you are a moderator, I’d assert that it’s your responsibility to read each post, in its entirety, whether you like it or not. You’ve been entrusted with the power of being a moderator (whether you granted it to yourself or not is irrelevant), and it’s your responsibility to wield it appropriately, efficiently, and effectively. If they aren’t violating the site’s policies, just read it without taking it personally and move on.


(Robin Ward) #7

I agree with @sam that the mute feature is probably what you want. Although if you are a moderator, it seems dangerous to me as @BhaelOchon pointed out to mute anyone as you probably need to see it.

I do believe that if people are constantly negative and hurting discussion, that can be solved as a community issue by contacting them directly. It sounds like you disagree with banning people who aren’t strictly breaking rules, but I argue that keeping the quality of discussion high on a forum sometimes means pruning people who everyone else is constantly at odds with. Muting them is not a great long term solution.


(Dave McClure) #8

How about including in your TOS for the forum that the community may also flag Obnoxious or Excessively Negative posts under the “Inappropriate” flag… as in Inappropriate for this forum… You may have to word this carefully to say that you aren’t trying to quell all criticism or different opinions, but that this is part of keeping the discourse ‘civil’.

As a moderator, you can then evaluate what posts people actually flag, and in some cases, you may tell the flagger, that no, in fact that post is fine and they are being too sensitive. But if everyone is always flagging the same person, then perhaps that is reason for you to PM them with a warning or eventually a ban.

Edit: This expands only slightly on what @BhaelOchon said above (which I somehow skimmed past before I wrote my response below)

But that’s evidence of two of us reaching the same conclusion independently. Seems like it fits best with how Discourse is designed:


(F. Randall Farmer) #9

Agreed. The use-case described here isn’t a good reason to implement mute (from someone who has implemented it several times, and always regretted it and rolled it back…) What you really want is community feedback for behavior modification, like this:

No community has to tolerate unproductive members. The default FAQ (Community Guidelines) clearly state:

Improve the Discussion

Help us make this a great place for discussion by always working to
improve the discussion in some way, however small. If you are not sure
your post adds to the discussion or might detract from its usefulness,
think over what you want to say and try again later.

The topics discussed here matter to us, and we want you to act as if
they matter to you, too. Be respectful of the topics and the people
discussing them, even if you disagree with some of what is being said.

If that’s not strong enough, toughen it. “Don’t Be A Dick!” can be a hard and fast rule. See:
The Universal Rules of Civilized Discourse and especially
The Rules! — Penny Arcade

Add new categories to your flagging, the users will get system warnings that their peers are reporting them. They will reform, leave, or you’ll kick them out - their choice.


(Adam Davis) #10

The first line of defense is the community itself and the moderators. If they are a constant source of irritation they should be thrown out. They may fight the bans, and others may try to defend them, but they are poisoning discussion, and if they are nonconstructive they should be told, given a short period of probation to see if they improve, then booted.

It may be that the system which tracks user levels and ability can be turned to this end. A lower tier can be created for users on probation. New users immediately enter this, and if their contributions are consistently good they’ll progress.

Limitations for those in such bins may be fewer permitted posts per day. Additional moderator scrutiny (ie their posts show up in a queue to be specifically reviewed by moderators). Inability to PM other users, only moderators (that way they can’t stir stuff up behind the scenes). inability to post in certain portions of the forum. In most cases users will probably jump out of that state within a week or a dozen good posts or so - advanced automatically by the system, or prematurely by moderators in some cases.

The system doesn’t have negative ratings, but a sequence of flags from many others on posts could push someone into that state automatically. I expect this will occur most often due to moderators, though. From here they can be banned if they don’t improve significantly. On the other hand, they might simply go away of their own accord if they can only post a few times an hour, and only create one new topic a day, for instance.


(Jeff Atwood) #11

Absolutely you can, it’s your house. If someone came into your house and starting yelling at you and constantly arguing with you, wouldn’t you ask them to please leave?

Unless you’re married to that person of course.


(Chris Hanel) #12

There is a very large online gaming community that I know of that spans across multiple games, discussion forums, and other platforms-- and despite its constantly growing userbase, they have managed to somehow continue to foster a fun, safe, inclusive atmosphere.

The secret to that success, as far as I can tell, was the very early decision to not have any hard rules, and instead communicate agreed-upon policies for the community’s leadership to interpret and enforce. Therefore, there is no hard line for trolls to tiptoe right up to and then stay there, flicking off the admins as they remain powerless to punish the twerp until they screw up in some way.

No community should ever be held hostage by their own regulations for membership. When someone is being destructive, it’s time for them to go.


(Ides) #13

The rules are written to prevent moderators from having to constantly redefine the rules which eventually skew and become difficult for both members and moderators to track. The few websites that I helped moderate for a number of years made it clear that the rules are to help members enjoy themselves and provide a healthy experience. Sometimes that means taking actions that aren’t caused by someone breaking the rules.

I suggest speaking with the user in question and try to sort things out in a level headed manner. Most of the time you will get it sorted out within a few weeks. Other times they opt to be dramatic and unwilling, this may force your hand into taking action. In this case, you need to think about what will be the most beneficial for the user and the community. Only as a last resort do you want to simply remove a member from the community.

While I believe @codinghorror is completely correct, I suggest to not punish a member based on their opinion but instead based on how they present it. Personally insulting another member or being hypercritical constantly while trying to get their opinion across would be a poor way to represent their opinions. It may be noteworthy to let them know that they might be intending to help or provide their opinions, they may be taken in the wrong way and causing problems (in this case they have).


(Valts) #14

We’ve tried the “moderator is always right, so shut up” approach - but more often than not it backfires and the (more vocal) members of the community start crying in outrage about the horrible moderators who ban people on a whim.


(Jacob) #15

That doesn’t sound like a good approach, I can see why it didn’t go over well. Instead of a totalitarian system where moderators can’t be questioned maybe involve the community when banning members. No one wants to be in a community run by control freaks. Destructive members should be dealt with, but there should also be some sort of explanation to inquiring members besides, “moderators are always right, shut up”.


(Valts) #16

We don’t try to be control freaks, and we do explain, but that doesn’t stop people from feeling that we’re unjust. Some even side with the borderline-trolls. :expressionless:


(Nicholas Smith) #17

Can’t get to the site from work (all personal blog sites are banned), so this might be the wrong chapter. But this somewhat ancient book from Philip Greenspun had some good ideas on handling trouble users.

http://philip.greenspun.com/seia/user-registration-and-management

One point I liked was instead of banning users (because they’ll just re-register under a new name), flag them and have the system make their experience so bad they’ll just get annoyed and leave. (They get “Service Is Busy” or “Connection Timed Out” responses when trying to post).


(Jeff Atwood) #18

Not a new idea, but also not a good idea:

http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2011/06/suspension-ban-or-hellban.html


(Luke Larris) #19

I really like the hellbanning concept, I have several users that would just come back under a different account if I outright banned them. The problem is, you can’t let anyone know that you use hellbanning on your forum, otherwise the hellbanned users might realize they’re hellbanned and make another account.

However, I personally don’t mind if those users come back under another account if they behave themselves. They now know I will take action on them if they disrupt things.


(F. Randall Farmer) #20

This is not a technical problem - it is a social one. You don’t need to hellban bad users, you need to extinguish bad behavior (specifically antisocial content.)

Hellbanning is a terrible idea - it is a technique valid for spammers for DOS attacks - not to change user behavior within a forum.

We have the skills to do something more effective, such as Case Study: Yahoo! Answers Community Content Moderation [Building Web Reputation Systems] where we nuked trolls on Yahoo! Answers in 2 weeks by letting the community immediately remove their offensive content.

Discourse’s flagging practice is a simplified version of this model - it has room to evolve, but it is a good start.

This is all rooted in “broken windows theory” - which seems to have stronger correlation online than in crime enforcement: