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Managing successful online communities

Matt
 

How to deal with negativity and toxicity in your community

The term "flame-wars" was coined way back in the 1970s when computer scientists talking in the first electronic discussion boards noticed that here was "an escalation of critical comments and an increase in the frequency with which people would respond with short negative messages."

For anyone that has ventured into the comment section of Youtube, read Twitter for more than a few minutes or frequented active forums will know that our behaviour hasn't improved.

Sherry Turkle, Ph.D., a psychologist and professor at MIT, conducted hundreds of interviews over 15 years and found that "we allow ourselves behaviours online we never would in person." These interactions aren't just restricted to strangers on social media as Turkle notes that "we do things online that hurt and damage real relationships".

Why is this?

Tom Sander, executive director of the Saguaro Seminar project on civic engagement at the Harvard Kennedy School, explains that having the ability to be anonymous "can be a real attraction if no one knows you have a drinking problem or depression.

The Internet can be useful in allowing people to anonymously 'come out' about their problems and get support. But it is also an Achilles heel. If people don't know who you are, you are much more likely to say things in a nasty or snarky tone.

In general, we invest less in our reputation in online groups because it is easier to exit them and join other groups. In real space, if you don't get along with your neighbour, you're less likely to say something really nasty, because moving out of town is costly."

A lot of toxicity is from those who just like hearing themselves talk, or feel better when they put others down. Some people think they are clever and witty by using sarcasm and pointing out the flaws in another's argument.

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Here's a few ways to manage negativity in your community.

Model your ideal behaviour
The simplest and most effective way to manage negativity in your community is to be the behaviour you seek.

Ensure your replies and friendly and polite. Be fun where appropriate and learn about your regular members. Make sure your team is visible and post regularly so the community feels well run and someone is on hand to deal with issues when they arise.

Your community will follow suit and replicate your behaviour. When your community is positive and helpful, toxicity and negativity find it very hard to get a foothold. Your members will weed it out and correct those members for you.

Have clear guidelines
Socious's Senior Director of Community Management, Katie Bapple advises moderators not to be impulsive when dealing with toxic members.

"Controversial community members should not be dealt with compulsively; have reasonable guidelines and policies in place that draw a clear line, so you know when it's been crossed."

A clear and well-written community guidelines document won't stop trouble from occurring, but it will provide your team with clear boundaries and protocols to follow.

Have a light touch with moderation tools
It's easy to reach for the moderation tools when you see toxic or very harmful posts in a topic. It only takes a few clicks, and you can remove it from view and pretend it didn't happen.

However, much like a child trying to get his parent's attention, the more you try and silence them, the louder and more insistent they will be to get heard. They'll very likely return more inflamed and vitriolic than before.

Unless the content crosses the boundaries you have set for your community; it is often more productive to post a polite reply gently guiding the discussion back on track and thank contributors for their input so far.

If this doesn't de-escalate the situation, then:

Make it private
Open a dialogue with the offender to try and calm the situation. Often this act alone makes the member feel valued and transforms them into a happy and productive member of the community.

Just remind them of the boundaries set out in your community guidelines.

At least you will stop the member from continuing to post in public areas and derailing topics.

Use the appropriate moderation tool
Invision Community is packed with tools to help manage toxicity and negativity. However, reaching right for the ban button may not be the best course of action.

Consider a warning, which the member must acknowledge before posting again. Keep it friendly and polite and to the point. If the behaviour continues, then consider a short term block. Often an enforced 48 hours away from the community is enough to regain some perspective.

Don't assume it'll go away
The truth is people love drama, and most people are drawn towards negativity. We can't help but look when we come across a vehicle accident, and sadly, it's largely the same in a community.

It might be tempting to keep on scrolling and hope that it all sorts itself out. Likely, it won't, and intervention will be required. That might be a polite, friendly reminder to get the topic back on track, or contacting the member in private.

Either way, the best approach is to nip it in the bud with a light touch before it spins out of control, and more forceful action is required.

You can't please everyone
It should be a last resort, but your community may not be a good fit for everyone. If that is the case, then you can consider a permanent ban, or demoting the member into a read-only member group.

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Ultimately though negativity and toxicity are pretty rare in an upbeat and productive community. Most quarrels are fixed quickly, and it's rare to find a troll determined to corrupt your community.

Identify your boundaries and educate your community on what is not acceptable and be proactive when issues arise, and you'll keep sentiment positive.

If you run your own community, I'd love to know what tips you can share on dealing with negativity and toxicity. Let me know below.

Edited by Matt


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I agree with nearly everything, but this:

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A clear and well-written community guidelines document won't stop trouble from occurring, but it will provide your team with clear boundaries and protocols to follow.

In my experience any published rules and guidelines that attempt to set such clear boundaries will only bite you in the longer ter. Rules will inevitably be written in such a way that somebody could and will misinterpret them, whether intentionally or not, and then argue that the rules have not been breached or that they mean something entirely different.

I've opted for a lighter touch using an approach IPS previously suggested:

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If, in our opinion, your post content, private messages, signature, profile image, chat messages, etc., are disruptive and impact our members' enjoyment of our community, we will ask you to refrain from such actions in the future or will revoke your access to this community.

It is very hard to argue with an opinion.

I then provide some explicit examples, but again nothing so explicit that it creates loopholes, and empower my moderators:

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Any posts advocating or instructing how to perform acts of unauthorised accessing, copying or redistribution of intellectual property are strictly forbidden. Such posts will be immediately moderated and your access to this community will be revoked.

Due to the controversial nature of some subjects, including but not limited to political and/or religious views, discussions of these subjects are not permitted on the forum and will be removed. Moderators are free to exercise their discretion in this regard.

Discussing or questioning incidents of moderation in open forum, including but not limited to the forum, status updates, and chat box, is strictly forbidden.

And finally:

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All administrator and moderator decisions are final.

In many years of using this approach I've yet to have an argument over the rules. Members being penalised may argue that they believe they've done nothing wrong, but we simply respond that, in our opinion, they have.

It works very well.

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20 hours ago, The Heff said:

In my experience any published rules and guidelines that attempt to set such clear boundaries will only bite you in the longer ter. Rules will inevitably be written in such a way that somebody could and will misinterpret them, whether intentionally or not, and then argue that the rules have not been breached or that they mean something entirely different.

Based on my 18 years as community admin, I completely disagree. Every busy community needs moderation and moderation needs a foundation in proper rules that members have a chance to know upfront – otherwise people will feel the moderator actions are arbitrary and unfair. And then the smallest action can make people leave the community angrily forever. 

And vague rules are identical to non-existing rules. It’s pointless to state “we reserve the right to delete posts at any time”. I need to know specifically what could cause a deletion. Otherwise I might spend hours crafting elaborate responses and then have them deleted after seconds. Of course I would get very angry with that. 

On my sites, I even take this further. Not only have I specific rules, I even have escalation steps for rule violation. So a user first gets a small warning with a link to the rules. Then if they brake the rules again, it’s clearly their fault. The ball is in their corner and they can’t blame the admin anymore or say “but I didn’t know this rule”. 

I also don’t buy the argument of possibly misreading rules. If that would come up, I would just fix it by clearing up the misunderstanding. And even if that would be impossible, this problem wouldn’t outweigh the benefits of having detailed rules. Just as I wouldn’t say: people something misread traffic signs and that can cause problems. So let’s tear down all traffic signs to avoid that and tell drivers or cops to use their best judgement. That clearly wouldn’t work. 
In addition: I simply prevent arguing over rules and moderation actions by having another rule about that. 😉 I explain that admin decisions are final and that you cannot open a closed topic again or open a topic to complaining about a moderation action. That prevents any such debates. 

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On 8/30/2019 at 12:57 PM, opentype said:

Based on my 18 years as community admin, I completely disagree. Every busy community needs moderation and moderation needs a foundation in proper rules that members have a chance to know upfront – otherwise people will feel the moderator actions are arbitrary and unfair. And then the smallest action can make people leave the community angrily forever. 

I've been doing this for roughly the same time, and stand by my point of view. I have never had the problems you described, so that is either a personal experience or purely conjecture. One approach will doubtless be suitable for every community, and what I've adopted has worked quite well, both with older and younger demographics.

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This is probably the most important area for a large board.... and I always keep this "You can't please everyone" in mind...

I agree that if you want to deal it in a right way, make sure that you have a clear and simple guidelines...

and never forget this

Be fair,

Stay away from double standards,

Judge your members according to rules (guidelines), not your personal view/opinions (You should/must also follow/watch your moderators very closely to ensure that their personal opinions are not involved in decision-making.)

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I have rules, but I'm not heavy-handed with them. It's pretty much anything goes, with a caveat: if you post something that could generally be considered too intense for all audiences (like with swear words and all), then use a content warning in the title. An [R} (like for an R rated movie) is all that I require, but I find that many members will add more like "language" or "religious" in the title line. There have also been members who haven't used the R, and I've had to put it in myself. I'll usually reply to their topics and include that I added the required content warning to the title line. Hopefully they learn from it. Also, in the rules, I specify a few things which are not allowed like porn, political endorsements, advertisements (unless approved by me), and since it is an artistic community, I state clearly that I, in my sole discretion, am the one who determines what constitutes porn, political endorsements, etc. In the words of "W," "I'm the decider!" :laugh:

I generally try to lead by example. My members will often post poems about subjects they feel strongly about, and I always let it ride even when I don't agree. I'll post a reply that addresses the qualities of the poem itself, not so much the content. I did have a member who recently posted a long anti-gun rant (er, poem). I had to clean it up, because he just copied/pasted from another site where he had posted it, and it was riddled with garbage links like [edit], [follow], [472 followers], [830 following], etc. I had to waste my time cleaning that up, so I was already in a bad mood. I happen to like guns, so I used the topic as an excuse to post some opinions of my own under the guise of inciting that member to post more poems. :biggrin: A few days later I posted a provocative piece of my own. 😉 But generally, I have a good group and haven't detected any outright hostility.

Edited by tonyv

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since we are a bunch of old  ET friends playing the same multiplayers  online game  Enemy Territory

had to get rid of some guys from other clans times to times wich ones stollen our  clans ideas and had this other  problem not so long ago a guy just copied/pasted to another site many  stuffs from our  download sections i created during many years from our previous site, of course is the easy way but why dont use google like i did ?

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