Forum Moderation and the Problem User

David Churbuck’s posted here and here on the subject of lurkers and forum engagement in online communities, as did J.P. Rangaswami on his ConfusedofCalcutta.com blog.  David suggested that I post on my experiences in working with him on the Reel-Time.com forum since 1995 or so.

Here’s the critical stat from J.P.’s post:

“I’ve always believed in a simple rule-of-thumb about opensource communities:

* For every 1000 people who join a community:
* 920 are lurkers, passive observers
* 60 are watchers, active observers capable and willing to kibitz
* 15 are activists, actually doing something
* …and 5 are hyperactive, passionate about what they’re doing, almost to a point of obsession”

My point as commented on both blogs is that they’ve missed a small user group – the 2 out of 1000 users who will need to have their head stuck on a pike as a warning to others.

The truth is that to properly moderate a forum, from time to time, the users must be reminded, firmly, who is in charge.  When someone really steps out of line, a public execution is in order.

But there are other options to deal with problem users.  One of my favorites is the “Tachy Goes To Coventry” punishment, now a built in feature of the vBulletin system, but one which in the old days, we accomplished by a little database trickery.

As David refers to it, it is also known as the “In space, no one can hear you scream” punishment.  It’s a tremendous tool for dealing with the obsessive PITA who feels the need to post volumes of crap all the time.  One notable offender was a commercial fishing advocate who used to routinely take everyone to task, with no real interest in discussion, only in pontificating.

Bring on Tachy! What the punishment does is add an entry (which can’t be seen by the other users) in everyone’s “ignore” list so they won’t see his posts.  The only person that sees the offender’s posts is the admin and the offender himself.  He goes on posting, but the stream of replies suddenly dries up.  Inevitably the offending user gets more and more offensive in an attempt to provoke a response, at which point I turn around, remove the Tachy punishment, and ban the user permanently for violation of forum rules, with a public notice of the banning, citing the causes, and redirecting all users to re-read our forum rules.  From there, if needed a post clarifying to all how to do it right, like this.

In fact, the forum rules themselves are quite a piece of work, having evolved over the years as David and I sorted out how communities are best managed.

Reel-Time has been around since 1995 and we’ve learned a thing or two about how to run an efficient forum.  These rules are set up to ensure a smooth running and friendly site for all who visit.

1. Remember that there are youngsters amongst us.  Keep it clean.
2. Flaming, trolling, baiting, taunting, personal attacks and slander, or anything we judge to be of the same ilk, are not allowed and will result in deletion of the post and/or banning of the offending party, and this will be done with or without notice at our discretion.
3. Commercial posts are not allowed from anyone but Reel-Time Sponsors.  If you have a commercial message, contact us for the appropriate means to convey that to our readers.  Offenders will be treated as those in item #2.
4. Links to commercial websites, competitors, or anyone else we don’t like, are not allowed.  These too will be removed, and repeated violation will be subject to punishment as per item #2.
5. Cross-posting (posting material on forums across the Internet), copying copyrighted material from other sites, padding your posts with extraneous reams of textbook-like material to make it seem like you know what your talking about will not be tolerated and will be subject to punishment as per item #2.
6. Be nice or be gone.  Period.  There are places on the Internet you can go to be a jerk.  This is not one of them. 

Remember, we have put a lot of time and effort into making this your top fly fishing destination on the net.  We intend to keep it that way.  Too that end, we reserve the right to cancel, delete, alter, reuse, fold, spindle or mutilate anything you post here.  Seriously, our word is the final say on our site. 

Sit up straight and eat your peas…

Please read item #6 again.  It is the most important thing you should know about Reel-Time.  Now, let’s talk about Saltwater Fly Fishing.

Summary: If you tolerate abusive users, you’re in for trouble.  An offense in a well run community should cause everyone to drawback a breath, waiting for the inevitable response, just like my daughters do when one has clearly stepped over the line.  It’s the only way to maintain order.  And frankly, if you do it right, the forum starts to self-moderate.

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