Moderation idea: Badge of shame

So I’m involved in a medium sized local forum with around 5k members and >10k pageviews a day. The forum is based on events and goings on in the local area and some members know each other in real-life too. We have a small mod team, and try to operate openly and transparently. For the most part this works well, and many members are happy, particularly with the excellent features and usability of Discourse. It is probably the best forum in the area :grin:

However we have the < 1% of members that seem to enjoy baiting each other and getting into political arguments. We’ve banned political discussion as it’s too emotive and often irrelevant to the forum - there are better places to discuss general and global politics than what we are trying to host.

Often we end up going around a cycle of these members getting flags, posts being hidden or moved out of the topics and warnings issued. Behaviour improves for a while, but then reverts back and many members have learnt how to post just within guidelines while subtly poking at others, and at a rate low enough that it’s often hard to detect. At the same time, some of these members are popular and receive ‘likes’ for the bad behaviour - either deliberately being spurred on by those in on the joke, or by people not realising the subtle needling going on.

Moderating these situations is difficult and draining, and we are looking for ideas for how to deal with these recurring annoyances without appearing or acting unfairly. We’ve tightened up site guidelines to make it easier to point out the unacceptable behaviour, and maybe things might improve, but it’s still draining.

One idea is to make some custom badges and grant them on posts that fall a bit outside the guidelines - a ‘badge of shame’ as it were, like a yellow card in football, or maybe a :poop: emoji or something. If a member gets too many in a timeframe, we would consider it an automatic suspension or site ban. We could potentially make a group for these ‘rotters’ and add a custom flair to the user avatars when they have a few bad badges…

I guess one downside is that others may see someone on their last strike as it were and try harder to bait them to get them ejected, and there are probably other issues too. I’m not sure I’m even entirely comfortable in labelling some members in such a way either.

As our moderators think of ideas to deal with this problem, I was wondering if anyone here has tried similar or has any other ideas or advice for handling low level recurrent needling and subtle bad behaviours in their community?

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Personally I don’t think showing / having bad users on display is a great idea for the community.

Sort of feels like this to me. Hello new users this is our collection of heads on a stick. I think this will deter people from joining as they might fear getting ridiculed when they join.


I think your moderators should be sending official warnings and suspensions to repeat offenders.


Absolutely not, you will just stir up resentment.

If someone needs to be Suspended to cool off, fine, but that should be as ‘silent’ as possible and nothing should be done to humiliate anyone lest you make things worse than they are already.

I would go as far as to say that might verge on ‘bullying’.


I think that it could also make the person angrier.


On our forum we block in two levels these trolls. We write it in our Social Rules.
If someone violate these rules, first we silent them for 3 days and if they continue these behavior second we ban from the forum. These two level banning system works for us.

With this you will not solve the problem because the post still available. Instead of this you just simply write in the Social Rules: If you violate these guidelines we delete post without any notice. And silent the user for x days.

Yes, absolutely!


It’s better to keep such things private. We use the User Notes plugin to share experiences about such users internally.


I guess this is not a good idea. Labeling and making them visible to others. If the user doesn’t understand, he should be limited, but why flaunt him in a bad light in front of other community members. As stated above, this can cause even worse behavior. Nobody will like it when they put such a label on it.

Sometimes I saw on the sites there is even a “wall of shame” where the guilty are placed. IMHO, very bad idea.


We use user notes, and have a good sense of who the trouble makers are and why, but improving the behaviour of those members is the real challenge.

Perhaps improvement isn’t possible and we should just get tougher and move towards suspensions and bans.

One thing about keeping things too private is that other members don’t particularly see the hard work of the moderators, or bad behaviours being picked up. I think our mod team does a great job, and they are all volunteers. But much of the messaging and effort is ‘behind the scenes’ so can look like we don’t do enough.

Of course the other side of the coin is over-moderation…

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Oh yeah the great wall of shame… I think this is a totally useless and disgusting thing. If the user is problematic why still in the community?
Otherwise this is not good for anything else just dishonor and shame those people. It’s a really bad practice. No one has the right to do that.


Whether it’s a good idea is a separate question, but of course they have the “right” to do it. If a person behaves shamefully, it’s perfectly appropriate to shame that person.


I think it’s a very tempting idea and of course you have the right to do it. People who refuse to play by the rules deserve what they get! However… I fear it would, as others have suggested, be counterproductive. You might even get some idiots wearing it as a badge of pride :slight_smile:


This was one of our three, core rules from Day One; for this reason and beyond—it helps keep ME (Admin) from slipping into the madness, too.

Rule 1: No A-holes. Everyone here is cool.
Rule 2: No religion or politics. We’re all gearheads here.
Rule 3: Time well-spent. Waste your own time—not others’.

We’ve even gone so far as to tell people we’ll boot them if we see them being a-holes elsewhere, because we don’t want our community associated with that kind of behavior in any way.

I like the idea of a warning badge, maybe only visible to the user (automated PM, maybe?), but I think creating automated badges would lead to people gaming the system “for the lulz”. Sounds like more work for me.

Here’s to the good, contributing members!


Why not just use the official warning (I assume you did for the user in question in the first quote) instead of a badge? Don’t make someone feel sheepish because they made you annoyed or they will treat it like that and chances are that it will irritate them and it will turn into another situation so maybe don’t do that?

Some good solid rules there though :smiley:


We haven’t had to enforce it yet. (We’re less than 2 years old and still very small.)

Possibly helpful? Our onboarding process sets expectations and looks like this:

  • tl0 has severely limited access
    – read-only in the Rules of Engagement category
    – post/reply permission in the Lobby & Help Desk category
  • tl1 is unlocked when tl0s:
    – spend 15 minutes reading topics (presumably, the Rules)
    – make an introduction post in the Lobby

I should probably revisit this to make sure they have to create a topic to be promoted, but it’s worked well so far. No issues. No concerns, really.

Nice little bonus, when we find ourselves needing to clarify things about the rules, a moderator/admin will reply to that rule’s topic and link to the “precedent”. To date, we’ve qualified the religion rule a bit to confirm our devout members are welcome to reference their faiths and even share resources hosted by their churches so long as neither of those things are proselytizing or judgmental.

All of the above ensures all new members share the same experience, and can see how we collectively determine how the rules are applied in our community.

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Not a fan of this, and I agree with what @ondrej said.

It is a good idea to keep things private, with moderators and not everyone in the website. The moderation actions exist for a reason. Think about it for a second, would you like it if you were in the badge of shame? It’s like a game where if you do something that people don’t like you get banned instantly, with no warning, so people would fear the role, and as a consequence, not wanting to be in the community.

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So it’s pretty clear this is a Bad Idea.

I should clarify that the intent was to grant the badge just to those niggling members that gently corrode discussion and don’t respond to warnings, or who post good stuff but then put in the digs, snarks and political comments every so often, just taking things of topic or irritating others.

The perception of how this badge of shame may look, or be interpreted, is just as important as it’s function though. And here, even among a crowd of Discourse efforts, the idea is viewed very negatively. So I can imagine how unwelcome it would be in the forum itself where many will have no appreciation of the efforts to moderate!


We created a proper category for exactly these kind of posts, because we also see members that are mostly contributing to the discussion, but at times corrode and take an entire conversation off-topic by the way they verbalize their opinion. It has aspects of shaming this behavior, but I feel it really helps in engaging the community to self-moderate better.

So if we see a conversation going off the rails, moderators can move not only the contentious post, but all it’s replies to this dedicated category. We communicate that we will move replies (even if they are perfectly civil) to both clear the original topic for it’s proper conversation again and to allow the discussion of the contentious post to continue in the other category.

On the screenshot below I split 9 posts. I also had an explanatory comment accompanying this split. After some time we remove both the comment and the hide the split notification altogether. We name the new topic just with a timestamp:

The category then looks like this. Only mods can open new topics in it and we keep the topics open for discussion until the last comment is 1 month old. Then they auto-close. We keep these topics from showing up in the general queue of posts with the Hide category from Latest plugin:

Screenshot from 2021-02-13 09-40-26

So this setup requires some attention by moderators. But we had it 6 months running now and moved things 3 times and I have the impression it really helps to tackle this kind of corrosive posting by otherwise helpful members, because they are just a bit shamed while also having to defend their posts not only against mods, but against all other members that are motivated to argue about it.


So you created a gallery of shame by another means? Do any of the shamed stick around? Or have you simply achieved harmony by creating an echo chamber devoid of those who disagree?


Haha, yes one left. But if you care about the gallery impression, you could just remove the topics after a certain time, instead of closing them. The focus is not on shaming, but two important objectives for us:

  • enable contentious discussion to play out, without disrupting the general conversation
  • be very clear that we encourage disagreeing opinions, but don’t give a platform for being rude or offensive. If some people feel that’s too harmonious, they indeed have to look for other communities.

I think it is possible to do this in a “funny” way but you’d have to handle it just right. The odds of it going wrong are… high. Better to stick with the excellent advice of the many posts above mine!