No abuse? You aren’t an effective online community manager!

by Martin Reed on 14 October 2008 in Articles

online community managers take abuse

Last week Angela Connor spoke about abuse she received from a member of an online community she manages. Angela said:

Am I a little miffed? Somewhat. But, I’m more annoyed than anything. That isn’t something you expect to have to deal with or see, particularly in the workplace. But, life goes on, and I’ll continue to do what I do, and do it well.

Unfortunately, I would suggest that this kind of abuse is something that you should expect to have to deal with and see if you are a community manager. Sure, you may not have had any trouble up to now, but trust me – it’ll come. I am glad to see that this incident didn’t make Angela rethink her role or duties and that she recognises that she is doing her job well. The fact is, if she was doing her job badly, she would never have received this abuse in the first place.

Online community manager, not online community friend

People are only abusive towards people that don’t do as they are told. As an online community manager, you do the telling – you control your community and its members. If you have taken action against someone because they broke your site rules, you may well receive some abuse in return. Don’t get upset by this – abuse simply proves that you are doing your job effectively.

Yes, you should get involved in your online community and share your personality with your members. You shouldn’t aim to be a friend, though. Friends stick around pretty much unconditionally – sometimes as a community manager, you’ll need to dish out some tough love. This may mean taking action against a member that you have been pally with, or who is popular within the community.

The fact you like a member, or the fact they are popular in your community does not give them license to break your site rules. Being scared of a member is not an acceptable option. If you need to take action against a member, then you need to take action. Sometimes this will result in abuse, but so be it.

See abuse as a positive

Of course, you shouldn’t aim to get members so frustrated or upset that they want to become abusive – that should never be your aim. The fact is though, that some people cannot accept the authority of others. You exercise authority over members simply by virtue of the fact you are the community manager. People may not have a problem with this, and you may love your job but this may well change as soon as you need to take action against a member.

If a member becomes abusive, you have proved that they are the kind of person you don’t want as a member of your community. If you ever had any doubt that your decision to moderate or take action against a member was the right one, as soon as a member becomes abusive you know for a fact that you have done the right thing.

I have received some horrific abuse in my years as an online community developer/manager. On more than one occasion I have been told to ‘watch my back’, to ‘listen out for a knock at my door’, that my site will be destroyed. Nothing came of these threats – keyboard warriors are rarely the big tough guys they make themselves out to be.

Be prepared

In an ideal world, members would accept the authority and actions of a fair, professional online community manager. The majority do. However, when you need to take action make sure that you are prepared for any potential consequence. Expect to receive abuse – that way, you’ll be less shocked and upset if you get it. If you don’t, then great. If you do, make sure you don’t accept it.

The bottom line is this: effective online community managers will get abuse hurled at them from time to time. If you have been managing a community for a long period of time and have never received objectionable messages from your members, I would argue that you are either living in cloud cuckoo land, or you are not being an effective community manager.

Your thoughts

Do you think it is possible to be an effective community manager and never receive any abuse in return? Am I wrong when I suggest that you should expect abuse from members from time to time? How do you deal with abuse in your online community? Share your thoughts, opinions and experiences by leaving a comment below.

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Tertius October 14, 2008 at 7:10 pm

I agree with expecting abuse. And if you can get through it, I think the relevance and noted quality of your community will be stronger. Confidence in a community manager is a strong point in keeping members online and happy.

Mr Woc October 14, 2008 at 8:43 pm

Hi there

I agree with a lot of your points, and it just isnt possible to run a community effectively without getting some kind of abuse, unfortunatly people are braver behind a keyboard than they would be face to face, and often threaten all kinds of stupid things.

I have had it also, I will close ur site down, we will find you, we know ur name blah blah blah.

Its nature of the beast im afraid, more people you get on ur site more abuse your likely to receive, its something you have to take with a pinch of salt and learn how to deal with these kind of people.

Learn to stick to your guns and not let people walk over you and as you say in your post if you have rules they are for everyone, dont let any bonds or friendships you have formed via your community effect any of your decisions, as you need to be a strong leader to run an effective community properly !


Angela Connor October 14, 2008 at 9:10 pm

Thanks for the mention and sharing my tale of woe, Martin! As community managers, we should certainly expect abuse and I agree with your take on not being very effective if you don’t receive a fair amount. (Based on the amount I receive, I must be doing a stellar job!)
What I wasn’t expecting was such blatant racism which I’ve received several times after posting my picture, which clearly reveals my race.
No one wants to be called the n-word, for sure. But the person hurling the insult wanted to shut me down. Too bad for them it had the opposite effect of fueling my fire, right? We can’t let it get too personal.

Kali October 14, 2008 at 10:40 pm

Excellent article! I agree that an effective community leader should expect abuse at some point. I’ve been an administrator on a messageboard for 3 years, and I’ve had some nasty things come up. It’s tough to “stick to your guns” sometimes (as someone else said), but you get through it.

Patrick October 14, 2008 at 10:50 pm

You know I agree! :)

Smiley October 15, 2008 at 2:07 am

Oh I know about this all too well. The best way to disarm abuse is to be polite. Don’t react.

Here’s an example of how to deal with abuse (in my opinion, of course, Martin may have a different view) – but this is how I dealt with an e-mail I received yesterday morning. Presumably the person had been banned by one of my staff members, he’s a known troublemaker so it’s hardly surprising. I’ve edited the more ‘personal’ and ‘explicit’ bits out, such as swearing and names. Even troublemakers deserve a level of privacy when using your community.

Username: [[Edited Out]]
Email: [[Edited Out]]
Newsletter: No
Comments: you are making more ******* rules tom than the marie celeste did when it sunk which is exactly what you will do …i hate to tell you that i have around 300 isps and can change and am on as we talk on this message whats your ******* point ….you are so insecure cause you no that you are not and never will be good enough for holly ..your hollys parents will be horrified by the looks of you a neo nazi punk skinhead with pink walllpaper ,looking like a raving poofta ….in your picture ….as i say its no point banning cause we are all doing what i do anyway is change isp at a flick so let your forum run down and holly will go running to a man in london she used to see and still is ..
Related: ForumComplaint

My reply:

Hi, [[Edited Out]].

What is your complaint in regards to? If you could be more specific rather than simply throwing silly insults, perhaps I can give you the answers you’re looking for.

If you require any further assistance or have any more questions, please feel free to e-mail back.

Best regards,
FC Management

I never received an e-mail back, and haven’t seen him on the community since. Completely dis-armed. They do it for a reaction, don’t give them the reaction they want and it will de-fuse them.

I’ve actually received about 8 new regulars this week out of nowhere. Apparently another chat site’s management has gone a bit silly and inconsistent with the rules, I’ve been told even gone as far as stifling their own member’s right to free speech (discouraging criticism) citing it as ‘abuse’.. so have left, one of them found FC and invited all their friends.

So an important thing to do as a community manager is also differentiate abuse from what could be perceived as mere constructive criticism.

If someone is not happy with the way you run things and throws insults of you, instead of going straight for the ban button, why not politely ask them what exactly the problem is? Not only will it dis-arm them, it’ll make them feel like you care about their opinion – and they very well could turn out to be a valued member in the future because you respected their opinion, respect builds loyalty. Fear and repression doesn’t.

Sorry I’ve gone off topic a little. So back on topic and in summary,

As a community owner you will get abused, you’ll have your life threatened, I’ve had my residential address scrolled in other chat sites with messages such as “go to this house and beat up such and such”.. but you’ll always notice nothing ever comes of it. They’re just venting.

Be polite, leave them to it, don’t give them ammo by reacting and you’ll win. Don’t run for the ban button until it becomes persistent abuse and starts disrupting the community as a whole, don’t argue back, just let them throw their tantrum and smile. That’s the responsibility you take on when you become a community manager – this is the lesson I’ve learnt anyway.

But I’m still pretty new to it, so I’m sure Martin will correct me if I’m wrong.

Nicole Price October 15, 2008 at 2:43 am

I think that you are quite right, that if you are getting abuse you are probably doing your job well as a manager. A lot of people simply do not follow direction well.

Angela Connor October 15, 2008 at 4:02 am

@Smiley: I LOVE your response to that e-mail. There’s nothing better than sending back a one-liner that doesn’t even acknowledge their atrocities. That gave me a good chuckle tonight!

Kali October 15, 2008 at 4:33 am

@Angela: I agree!

Smiley, you wrote an excellent response. Funny how some people rant and never say exactly what their complaint is.

Bat October 15, 2008 at 10:45 am

Hey Tommy, that was great response to the email lol. You,ll have to let me know who it was in case I see them at some point. ;)

Yes I too know how it feels to get abuse. When I first joined JC, I had to look up some of the things I was called! Strangly enough, I don,t actually get very much absue any more, simply because I wont tolerate it. If they start getting lippy with me, I tell them to behave or I,ll tear their comics up. ;) If they carry on I silence them and they sit there hurling abuse at themselves, and I,m blissfully unaware of what they are saying. Which I think is funny. Just imagining the gonk sitting there all worked up, hammering away on his keyboard, hurling abuse at me, and I can,t see any of it lol. ;)

All users at some time or other threaten you with “finding out where you live”, or telling you that they already know and they will come and get you. It,s complete and utter garbage.

The thing is, you,ll get some users who beleive it, it scares them. I,ve lost count of the number of pc,s I,ve had from worried users, who tell me that some gonk has told them they know where they live, and they,ll sort them out, or, a classic one, that they know their computers IP address and they are going to hack into their pc.

Another load of garbage. I again have to reasure them that only staff know users IP addys, not some gormless gonk sitting in his grotty bedsit, hammering away on his keyboard.

I think that all they want is for me to reasure them that this can,t happen, and I,m more than happy to oblige. I usually make them laugh by telling them I,ll “deal with” the gonk later when I find them. Always a pleasure to deal with gonks. ;)

And Martin I had no idea you had recieved such abuse. As you say, it,s all hot air and nothing more. These gonks like to think they are tough and scary, but away from their keyboards in the real world, it,s a different story. If you confronted them they,d probably burst into tears. Good job too lol.

At the end of the day, someone has to be in charge, in this case, you. There will be times you will have to either tell someone off, or make a decision that may be unpopular and this in turn may make people moan and throw their toys out of their pram and you,ll get abuse. It,s the same kind of scenario in the chat forums. If I,m the only staff member there, I,m in charge, they don,t like it, tough. If they don,t like it when you tell em off, thats just tough too. They,ll get over it. ;) ;)

Amish October 15, 2008 at 10:50 am

Whether online or offline, once you get to manage or supervise other people, such problems do arise. If they do not, you are not dealing with normal people. This is where the old management saw comes into play. “You are managing, not participating in a popularity contest!”

Smiley October 15, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Thanks for the comments regarding my response. I’ve matured well this past couple of years ;)

Smiley October 15, 2008 at 1:58 pm

Oh it’s no-one you know by the way, Bat. I meant he’s a known troublemaker in FC.

He hates the site but yet I see his IP address lurking under a million different accounts whenever I login. He’s always there, always reading, always trying to re-register….. but he “hates” the site. :D

Dick October 15, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Wow I was so shocked to read this article. Great blog post though! Sorry to hear about your experience Angela!! As of yet I haven’t had any situation that compares even slightly to this, but I’m glad to have read the advice from the article and opinions from other community managers.

Bat October 15, 2008 at 4:14 pm

Thats what makes me laugh Tommy. The way some users go on and on about how much they hate JC, and how awful it all is, the staff don,t care etc, etc, yet some of them go to extraordinary lengths to stay, or to come back if they have been banned.

It,s an awful lot of effort to go to just so you can sit and hurl abuse at someone isn,t it? Some people really need to get lives lol. :)

Sam October 18, 2008 at 4:23 pm

We haven’t had any problems with abuse at our site yet, but I suspect thats a direct reflection on how much traffic we’re getting!

Oh well there’s always a negative side.

Joe Revel October 19, 2008 at 5:06 pm

Oh yeah… you could write a book about all the madness that happens on on-line forums…

But as the writer points out: take abuse as a badge of pride because you know your getting somewhere when the sparks fly…

Smiley October 20, 2008 at 7:28 am

I agree, Joe.

Unfortunately I’m famous at Martin’s site, I’ll never live my wind up days there down, so when setting up my new site and ridding of my various wind up characters to just be myself, a few made it their job to harass my site and cause as much disruption to it as possible.

“FC will never go anywhere”, they stalked, harassed, abused, spammed and even threatened people who used the site. One person even got my residential address from the WHOIS and sent death threats!

..The site was “never going anywhere”, “dying”, “useless”, I’m “rubbish at what I do” and the site “is less than nothing to them”.. yet they spent most of their day stalking myself and my users, reading the forums under aliases using proxy IPs and spied for months, and they kept posting about my site on another forum slagging it off (free advertisement! Wheyhey!)…. hmm???? :D

My initial thought was “wow, I must be doing something right if the site is becoming important enough to take over these people’s lives!” — and it’s true. I was getting all this hassle when I only had a dozen members or so. 8 months later the site is growing strong and is loved by it’s members, because I genuinely care about them and their enjoyment.

They have somewhere they can make friends, meet new people, and still be protected by perverts, and have a friendly customer support team there as often as they can be.

So yes, if you’re getting abuse for your site/forum, then it most likely means you’re on the right road to success.

Jealousy and envy, unfortunately, will cause people to have ruffled feathers – but that’s their problem.

Myron Tay October 21, 2008 at 2:03 pm

I’m a community manager of the company intranet at work. :P Seems like just because everyone has his identity out nobody seems to hurl any abuse around. But then again its a rather dead community. =.=

T Bedard October 22, 2008 at 12:43 pm

I whole heartedly agree with abuse = great community manager but it almost always means that it’s a very much alive community as well. Kind of “all publicity is good publicity”.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 27, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Tertius – I agree. You need to be able to deal with abuse and refuse to be intimidated by it if you want to be a strong online community manager.

Mr Woc – People are definitely braver when they get to enjoy the anonymity of the Web! I think if you expect it, it is less of a shock when it comes. Some abuse can still be pretty awful though, and regardless of how much we should expect it, we should never accept it.

Angela – You have just proved what a strong community manager you are. I like your sentiment – they are trying to intimidate you by throwing abuse around and knowing that fact just makes you stronger and more determined.

Kali – Exactly, you get through it because the last thing you want to happen is for people to see that as soon as they throw abuse at someone, they’ll get their own way. It isn’t happening.

Patrick – I expect no less from you, sir! ;)

Smiley – Thanks for the comprehensive details of how you dealt with an abusive user. Even more important is the fact you remained professional when dealing with them – you didn’t lower yourself to their level and that says a lot about you as a manager.

Nicole – I agree, although there may be some substance behind abusive complaints so maybe you shouldn’t dismiss them entirely…

Bat – It always amazes me how some people that end up throwing their toys out of the pram don’t look back on their behaviour and feel embarrassed. Sometimes I really do feel sorry for them.

Amish – Yes, whenever a group of people come together there is bound to be conflict from time to time and the same is true in an online community environment. Unfortunately the anonymity of the Internet seems to encourage some people to be more abusive than they would be in a real life scenario.

Dick – Thanks for your comment. Be prepared, it’ll come!

Sam – Yup, popularity breeds contempt (normally)!

Joe – A book of abuse community managers have received, eh? Not sure we want to inspire people!

Myron – Amazing how when you remove anonymity, people are far less likely to misbehave!

T Bedard – I wouldn’t want to receive publicity if it meant my online community was given a reputation of being the home of abusive members and an ugly environment. I would rather have a friendly, engaging and less publicised community.

Smiley October 30, 2008 at 4:51 am

Thanks, Martin. Grown up a lot, see ;) Got another chance to do what I always loved doing have to so I do my best.

Smiley October 31, 2008 at 7:48 pm

I really don’t find it that tough to stick to my guns. But abuse is like water off a duck’s back to me, I’ve had it for so many years it just doesn’t get to me at all. I’ve always enjoyed having insults thrown at me, weird I know – but I genuinely enjoy getting abuse; does wonders for my ego.

As I’ve gotten older and more experienced though, one problem I seem to have developed that I’ve never had before is that I’ve gone soft. I accept apologies more, I give people more chances, I’m more tolerant and understanding of people. A couple of years ago that would be unheard of from me.

John Walters November 5, 2008 at 3:30 am

I know exactly what you mean. I have been on some forums where the older, more regular members are getting special treatment from the admins. they get away with posts a newbie would never get away with. I for one do not find this acceptable.

Smiley November 5, 2008 at 2:02 pm

Yes, John – this is why I no longer become friends with my members. I accepted a while back that being a community owner is quite a lonely business. You have to keep a personal distance so you can remain unbiased and treat everyone the same.

In the early days of FC I became friends with regs and it backfired later on. Revolts, backstabbing, falling outs over banning them etc.

Now I keep a distance, but still have a human touch. I chat to everyone on the same, friendly level. I just don’t get personal in private or such.

Susan November 5, 2008 at 6:14 pm

I wonder if those people would say the same thing in the real world?!

Bat November 6, 2008 at 8:23 am

No Susan they wouldn,t. These people are very brave when they are sat behind their keyboards. They can type allsorts of abuse into the room, and make allsorts of threats, that in “reality”, they would never have the nerve to carry out.

We had one such user on Just Chat. He used to say terrible things in the room. He became quite infamous for it in fact. One day some of the regs found out where he lived, (don,t ask me how) and went round to his house to confront him. He was so terrified he hid behind his couch!!

He really wasn,t so scary after all was he? He used to post on the message boards, but he was ridiculed so much that he couldn,t take it and we havn,t seen him since.

These “big tough guys” are nothing of the sort. Their proper name is “coward”. ;)

Smiley November 6, 2008 at 2:29 pm

Ohhh me old mate Dennis Nedry look-a-like, Bat – ha ha ha.

Let’s not forget Mr. Tefal Head, big tough scroller who liked to threaten people. Turned out he was some balding middle aged guy living with his Gran.

But yes Bat is right. I’m always getting threatened, my home address is pretty public. They only need to do a WHOIS on my site. Not sure how to omit it.

But nobody ever turns up.

Bat November 6, 2008 at 5:03 pm

Tefal Head?? Oh do you mean SUBS? Yes I remember his scrolling very well lol. I didn,t realise he lives with his gran?? haha big tough guy lol.

I,d never thought of the resemblance between montana and dennis nedry before lol. haha. :)

There must be some way you can get rid of the WHOIS? Maybe Martin will know.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 17, 2008 at 10:27 pm

Smiley – I love the positive spin you put on abuse, but you are right. People complain and become abusive when they are passionate about something. You know that your community is on the right track when you are raising such emotions.

On the other point you raise; where is your domain name registered? From the online control panel you should be able to use the WHOIS opt-out for a domain name. If not, just email your registrar.

John – Favouritism can be very damaging to an online community. Yes, you will have members that are ‘more important’ than others – that is a simple fact. However when it comes to adhering to the site rules, they should be treated just the same as everyone else.

Susan – No, they wouldn’t! Simple :)

Bat – I agree. Anonymity and a keyboard make some people very brave. Oh, and very stupid!

Armen Shirvanian November 20, 2008 at 9:18 am

Abuse is a required test of the conditions a site or community has in place. When people see something as a problem within a community, or have a bad day that they want to express to others, messages can be sent that don’t have much positive intent. Dealing with these messages quickly and with strength is the way to set the stage for future occurrences. As far as that issue of favoritism, it is fine as long as it is not publicized.

Smiley November 21, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Telivo, I’ve had a gander but can’t seem to see an option to opt it out, but to be honest I’m really not that fussed any more, incredible how immune to abuse you get. As you probably remember I used to have quite the temper :D

Now it’s when someone abuses, threatens or misbehaves I just think “same old, same old”.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 29, 2008 at 1:19 am

Armen – I agree, and you raise an interesting point; how you act now will affect how your members behave in the future. If they see weakness, they will continue to ‘test’ you by making provocative, negative posts. You need to be strong and simply accept that by taking action as a moderator, you will be upsetting some people. However, this hurt for the minority will be beneficial for the majority and therefore your community as a whole.

Smiley – If your registrar won’t change your details to opt-out, simply login to your account at Nominet and do it there. Login information should have been sent to you when you initially registered the domain.

Smiley November 29, 2008 at 9:55 am

Thanks, I’ll look into that. Where would I be without this blog eh?!

Speaking of which I’m interested to know your stance on deleting users on request on forums? I’m really tired of deleting people who are in a strop with another user, or have fallen out with their girlfriend only to have them make up and re-register a week later!

I PM people back and tell them to sleep on it for a few weeks now, and if they still wish it to be deleted I do so several weeks after because I think there’s a law stating you have to delete their account if they request it. Is this true?

Bat November 29, 2008 at 6:58 pm

Tommy I know I know nothing really about this kind of thing, (coz I,m just a Bat, ;) ) but if someone has a strop with someone else on the boards,instead of deleting their accounts, why don,t you add an ignore feature to your message boards? That way if two people really hate each other, they can just ignore each others posts. If only they,d do that in the rooms eh? ;) Just a thought.

Smiley November 30, 2008 at 1:42 am

We do have an ignore feature, and a buddy list feature, and a deny PM feature but that won’t stop people requesting their account to be deleted.

I think I read once that there’s a law stating that if a user requests their information (/account) to be deleted you have to. Something to do with privacy laws.

I’m not too sure though.

There’s this one guy, I’ve deleted his account 3 times on request because he keeps getting a new girlfriend and then falling out so he “leaves the site forever because he’s too heartbroken to stay” – a week later he signs up again and is “inlove” again.

Am I obligated by law to delete accounts on request or not is what I’m wondering.

Michelle November 30, 2008 at 5:03 pm

@Smiley – This discussion is nearing the 7th anniversary on Drupal (the CMS I use) There doesn’t seem to be any clear answer. The policy on is that accounts are never deleted, only blocked. We’ve gotten complaints but so far no one has brought the law or a lawsuit into it.


Smiley December 1, 2008 at 2:14 am

Sure I just made a post.. it’s gone missing.

Oh well here goes again, I found the answer to my question:

“In accordance with article 34 of the data-processing law and freedoms of January 6, 1978, each member of a forum has a right of access, of modification, correction and suppression of the data which relate to it. This is why the administrator cannot refuse to remove an account.”

It’s against the law not to remove an account on a user’s request.

Smiley December 1, 2008 at 5:33 am

Update on site WHOIS details. I clicked on “domain privacy” and got this:

“Domain privacy not available

Unfortunately domain privacy is not available on domain names. This is due to the domain registrar (the people who control domain names) requiring that the domain owner’s contact details show in the WhoIs database.”

Bat December 1, 2008 at 7:55 am

But even though it obviously must include your contact details, surely that shouldn,t include your home address Tommy? An email address sure, but not where you live?! I,ve never heard anything so daft. There must be something you can do. Ask Martin again. This doesn,t seem right to me. *scratches head* ;)

Michelle December 3, 2008 at 7:48 pm

@Smiley – Where is that law? That’s probably going to vary from country to country.

@Bat – I had a discussion with someone (was it Martin? Not sure…) once about whether it was a good idea to fake those details. What it came down to for me is that my registrar has the right to revoke my domain names if I don’t provide accurate information there and I decided it wasn’t worth taking the risk. It does make me nervous having my home address there but at $10 per domain for a proxy that’s way more than I want to be paying. Especially considering a determined person could likely find me in other ways anyway.


Martin Reed - Blog Author December 6, 2008 at 12:24 am

Smiley – I always try to avoid deleting members as it can create a mess on existing threads once you start removing posts. I am honest with members and tell them that we don’t routinely delete accounts because of the problems it can create. I offer them the following alternative:

1) To change their username
2) To remove their profile information
3) To remove their email address
4) To deactivate the account

This as good as deletes them, it just leaves their posts intact. I am sure most would be happy with this. If they really insist on deletion though, you have to comply.

Your registrar sounds like a clown – Nominet offers full opt-out for UK individuals on domain names. If your registrar doesn’t even know that I would recommend you move your domain name to a company that understands domain names. Sheesh!

George March 1, 2009 at 4:47 pm

A manager is called ‘manager’ because he or she is supposed to manage something and someone. So if someone spills the abuse on the manager, what should manage do? The answer is simple: be a manager, manage it. You’re the boss, so do what the wise boss would do. There’s no point to argue on the Internet, so simply take the abuser on and proove that he or she is wrong to behave like that. For example when I complain, I always do that politely. I might switch on fist or two on the street but on the Internet polieteness is a virtue. So should a manager be like. So should all of us.
And if someone doesn’t understand, well, get rid of them, there’ll always be people in the world who appreciate.

Sally March 3, 2009 at 9:56 pm

There are many good points here, but I’m not sure I agree with the overall tone this has taken. Are all members of a forum only the enemy; and so you are only just waiting for something to happen? “All users at some time or another will threaten you….find out where you live” “As a community owner you will get abused, you’ll have your life threatened” In my opinion, these blanket statements are carrying things a little too far. Speaking as someone who has been a member of many online communities in the past, I can tell you I never dreamed of stalking the Admin or simply abusing them or having fifty proxy addresses. You are painting every poster with bad intentions from the start. If I was breaking the forum rules and got told about it, then that was perfectly fine with me. I didn’t get upset about it.

The examples used are not helping matters. If a poster is actually threatening you, then BAN them! Who in the world would disagree with this? If a poster sends you an abusive message and swearing at you then get them off the board. It’s as simple as that.

This discussion is very one-sided. For every troll out there there are four other ‘ordinary’ posters who never mean any harm. For every poster who ‘rebels against authority’ there are six others who agree with that authority and accept it.

This is part of why so many people are giving up on online communities. They come in and find the staff and moderators are so paranoid already that no one is given a fair chance. Unless you are completely quiet and never send in more than two complaints a year you are branded as a troublemaker.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 4, 2009 at 11:16 am

Sally – Sorry you felt my article was overly negative; that wasn’t my intention. Rather, I wanted to get across the point that as a community manager, you WILL receive abuse at some point and it’s best to be prepared for it. Many moderators can be intimidated by the abuse they receive and buckle under it. They may end up giving the abusive member leeway when none is deserved.

I agree that the vast majority of community members are (or should be) well behaved, valued members. However, this won’t always be the case. You make a good point that regardless of our previous experience, members mustn’t consider ever member a potential abuser. Every member has to be considered a mature, friendly and valued contributor unless they prove themselves otherwise. You have been reading my blog for a while, and I think you know that I am not a proponent of heavy-handed moderation.

As for giving out bans – these are not always 100% effective due to the anonymous nature of the internet. What’s more, you may still receive abuse via email or through any other contact information of yours the abusive member has.

Abuse aimed at moderators and community managers should be a rare occurrence, but it can – and will – happen. It’s best to be mentally prepared for this, so that you are ready for it when it comes. You need to stick by your decision and not be intimidated. That was the underlying message of my article – not one stating that members can’t be trusted and should be looked down upon; you’ll never have a thriving community if that’s your perspective!

Sally March 5, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Martin–yes I understand better now what it is you were trying to say. And I agree–don’t ever start to feel intimidated by a poster and just let them carry on. That would be horrible! And you are right about “bans” because sometimes people will just come back in through proxys.

And to be prepared for abuse and don’t let it shake you–yes I agree completely. I never thought of it that way, but’s it’s true.

Sorry if I got a little hot under the collar.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 6, 2009 at 11:48 am

Sally – Not at all; thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify what I was trying to get across :)

Sally March 7, 2009 at 10:39 pm

I think I should clarify here that I have never been an owner of a forum. Therefore, I am limited to the perspective of “the other side” which of that of the poster. I have no actual experience of being part of Admin; that is the weakness you see. (No, there was no deliberate misleading on my part when I came to this site, but nevertheless if Martin misunderstood something he can still kick me out) *fond smile*

I know very well that everyone here tries the best they can to be “fair” to their members. I understand and agree that you can’t help ending up feeling like sitting ducks. Someone registers and you hope they are nice. Maybe most of the time they are. But what if they aren’t? There are a lot of people in RL who are not very charming. They don’t leave that behind when they come into cyberspace. They bring it with them and it even becomes intensified–because of that disconnected, dreamy feeling of being behind a computer and feeling completely safe. Some of them are the vicious trolls that have torn down and undermined the house that belongs to all of us, with predictable results. And the more this kind of thing happens, the more burnt out you start to feel.

But there are others who are also “brave behind the computer” and feel pretty secure. Some of them are the owners themselves and the moderators. They, too come from RL also and can only bring what they are with them. Some are mature and patient and incredible people. Others aren’t. And now in the year 2009 they are somewhat more armed with a lot of new tech tools at their disposal. No one will argue with the terrible need that brought these tools into being. So now some of the actions of the trolls could be mitigated. Now you are not quite so vulnerable. All to the good.

But I have seen some horrible things going on in some online communities. Moderators taking part in things that can only be called abusive and evil. I do not use those words lightly. Some “ordinary” people in charge of their own sites have never had such power before, and they don’t know how to use it. They are not used to it. They are angry and tired of all these endless and unending silly pm’s and everyone complaining about everything. They start to lash back–simply because they can. If they are bullies in RL they will not be changing anytime soon. The whole community degenerates into politics and who are their personal friends. They ban people for no reason. They read private messages and think they can forever hide the knowledge they have about so-and-so. They take away reps–again, not for any stated reasons. They start to mark down who is using the “report button” a little too often–even if it turns out that “report” was justified. They keep a list of who complains too much. They do anything at all that they want, from the ‘admin control panel’ simply because they CAN. Blocking someone’s posts from view. Just for the fun of it. Anything. Keep in mind the particular poster is not breaking the site’s rules–they just happen to be a poster that you can torment and have fun with, because you don’t happen to like that poster.

Who is there to stop you? No one. Maybe someone higher-ranked steps in because they start to see it. Maybe they don’t. Maybe you are the highest ranked. Now only your own conscience is there to stop you.
Sometimes you end up feeling like a martyr. None of this is what you thought it would be.

There’s just no easy answers.

Shawn July 2, 2009 at 10:47 am

Bring the abuse on, I’m easy going and patient. If it’s only a couple of trouble members it won’t ruffle my feathers, as long as they’re not abusing the rest of the community I can brush it off. Annoying? Sure! Headache? Nah!

Chris November 6, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Hmm, I don’t really get abuse per se, but as an Admin, certain site changes, no matter how small sometimes come under criticism.
Our local UK membership body have regular meetings “in the flesh” as it were, so that in itself I suspect tends to deter any what normally would be agressive comments or jibes.
Our site rules aren’t what I would call strict, but on the whole we have a mature mix of people so that helps too.

tricia November 17, 2009 at 2:08 am

Yea! I totally agree on this. Being a Community Manager of an online MMO Game, I have also faced such situations where people act very kiddish and abuse a lot to grab attention from others.

The best option is to be patient and try to understand why that bugger is acting the way he has been. In these cases, private messages help in personalizing the conversation and try our level best to make the person realize that such a nuisance act can spread negativity in the atmosphere and can hence cause trouble to a lot of people around. If it’s a kid online, the community manager can sound emotional and explain him by saying that such a silly behavior will defame him and none of his friends will talk to him ever.

If the kid is not behaving matured enough to understand the reasons given by the community manager and the act still continues, then I think it’s justifiable and reasonable to take further strict action of warnings, temporary suspensions and bans, if necessary.

This kind of counseling from the Community Manager’s end, helps him / her gain more respect and trust from the community members. I feel that’s quite important for a Community Manager to achieve in his/her career. What say??!

Chris November 17, 2009 at 10:58 am

Over the years I’ve seen all kinds of keyboard warriors come and go.
Things change for brief moments when you actually meet them, then they wouldn’t say boo to a goose.
Thereafter, they then become unsung net warriors.
In summary: As an admin, you are in control and, depending on your niche/forum trend, liaise with your moderation team and come to an iron-clad, cornerstone approach on how to handle troublemakers.

Christina March 24, 2010 at 6:47 pm

I agree with your posting. I don’t see how an online community manager could avoid abuse completely. People can have an online persona and say things they would never normally say in person…but he same goes for the manager as well.

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