Troll Triage: Progressive discipline techniques in an online community

“Joey, stop that.”
“Joey, I really mean it, stop that.”
“Joey, you’re getting a time out if you don’t stop that.”
“Okay, now you’re really in trouble, Joey.”
“We’re leaving if you don’t listen to me right now...”

You can hear this type of conversation happen every day at playgrounds across the country.  Of course, Joey never got a time out, and they didn’t leave the playground, and he proceeded to throw rocks at his little brother for the next hour.

Just like a family, your online community must have some guidelines or rules in place for expected behavior.  However, once you have a rule, you must actually predictably enforce it, or it’s useless.

This post offers some tips on when to warn, moderate, or ban a member who ignores the community guidelines.

Warn: first offense, new member, or minor infraction. Also if it appears unintentional.  Steer them gently toward the rules, and keep your eye on them for a bit.  I usually make the first warning private if possible (of course, in some situations you don’t have a backchannel way of contacting the user).  Group warnings can be effective if an entire thread or comment stream has gotten out of control among several users.  Just a gentle “hey, guys...remember to be respectful...”

Moderate: sometimes you can choose to put a member’s content in a moderation queue for approval, either before it goes live or afterward.  I recommend strongly against pre-moderating content because it tends to drive away members.  Most people crave the instant gratification that comes when posting something.  Save pre-moderation for serious situations that require a temporary lockdown.  If your community is a commented blog and you need to pre-moderate, be sure you are on top of it at all times. 

Another moderation technique is to edit the post; if you have this admin power, use it sparingly.  One example of when it might be necessary is if an otherwise good post/comment contains personal information that might be a security risk.  In that case, I tend to go in and just redact the specific information and put a comment as to why it was edited.  This is also useful in a community that has younger members.

Ban: for third strikes, outrageous or flagrant guideline violations, spammers, or dangerous elements (i.e., threatening other members).  In certain cases, for example someone who is a constant irritant but not actually evil, a temporary ban (like a timeout) can work to bring them in line with the community’s values.  Once someone has been permanently banned, it’s a good practice to keep an eye on new registrations to ensure that the person isn’t trying to return under a different identity (use your location, email, or IP tracking tools to enforce this effectively).

 

The bottom line is that, as a community manager, you must:

  • Be predictable
  • Be transparent
  • Be available
  • Use common sense

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I'd love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, or connect with me on Twitter.

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