This is tough topic, amongst the one that users also start to PM others forcing solutions and answers. Most of them are well known community members, and they are literally spammed by impolite users.
This becomes hard to analyse when you’re not connected to those members, or they fear to tell you in the first place. This really needs well-written guidelines and actions taken in a reasonable, explaining way. Sometimes you also need to use the hammer, and tell users that they have crossed a line.
On the old Wolflab platform, users could also send emails to others. One who doesn’t have that much experience tries to help, and the other one abuses such. There were also user walls, where the conversation was going on further, hidden from the public audience. This really annoyed community members, and I literally needed to watch and monitor this activity. There was no point to stop this, rather to entire disable this alternative communication way.
Speaking for myself, I use to know many things, and I am not always in the good mood to explain everything to users. I for example expect basic Linux knowledge when someone installs a monitoring software I do support. Some users tend to think that this gets in the personal level, and that I am better than them. This clearly is a cultural thing, I mostly have seen this in the European region.
In the past, I was used to ignore such things. At some point I had users which started to attack other users in a thread. Including myself. The solution, to explain in a civil manner how things work, and stopping others to join my side by locking the topic, wasn’t really satisfying.
The tipping point was one who registered an account to just create a topic and write many things not very civilized. This included many personal attacks. Leaving this thread public for Google and as bad example for others, well, actually I do not want to have such bad karma around.
After I while I’ve deleted locked threads (7 in a year, not that much, but still alarming), and started to issue warnings and bans. That’s the regions I don’t want to go again.
One thing I am actively doing is to write many helpful things and explanations into the FAQ, and also linking that more prominent in the header. I’ve taken the default from Discourse, which already is very civil and good, and added some, let’s say, “triggering emotions” points into it. That way new users get to know that we are all human beings where just one little word can hurt our feelings.
I am also happy to have a small group of staff members who have grown out of this community, and they care a lot, and encourage others. Right on, they get used to the user trust levels, and enforcing forum rules.
The platform was previously a mix of German and English, as it was founded 2003 where it only was German. The Discourse platform breaks with that habit, and “enforces” English as inclusive community language. There are some users who ignore the announcement banner, and the FAQ and still post in German. We’ve agreed on locking these threads with a gentle reply to ask to create one in English.
TL;DR - there really isn’t the best way to handle such aggressive, problematic behaviours. Things to keep in mind
- always be friendly, use emojis even when the other one is an “asshole”.
- don’t respond immediately to threats. the other side then recognizes that you don’t care much about them.
- tell users when they’ve crossed the line. Tell them that they’ve hurt someone’s feelings. This is mostly the point where they get touched from my experience.
- enforce strict conversation rules. lock topics, warn/ban users, don’t give them your platform
- listen and encourage the other users involved in this “situation”. Ask them how you can proceed with help, if e.g. their question was locked down.
- don’t take sides in a discussion. be a civilized moderator and listen to everyone, still pointing out wrong behaviour.
- some trolls will come again and again. Ignore them, and do nothing except for maybe moving topics into a category which is listed at the bottom (“anything else”).
The golden rule is to always be friendly and don’t let others down. Depending on the culture on your platform, I would encourage other well known community members to step up, and be more regulative. Grant them trust level 3 and explain the problem, ask them to take care. Sometimes users also tend to work against the admin/mod team, just because they have the shield icon.