It can be all too easy to come down hard on a member who happens to share opinions you disagree with; similarly it can be easy to take action against users who appear to stir up controversy.
You should never forget that your members are your community – if you repress them, you repress your whole community and this can lead to disaster.
Heavy handed moderation means community repression
The most frequent way I see members being repressed in online communities is due to over-zealous enforcement of the site rules.
I am a strong advocate of the laissez-faire approach when it comes to moderation and rule enforcement within online communities.
Rules should be enforced as a last resort – if you come down too hard on your members they will feel hesitant to get involved in any discussions for fear of the consequences. Remember – a community without lively interaction isn’t a community at all.
Very often I see moderators publicly and very sternly telling members that their comments are inappropriate and that they will be punished by way of post or even account deletion if they make a similar comment again in the future.
This is the wrong way of going about ‘reforming’ an individual – not only is this too aggressive an approach to take, the fact it has been made in public has resulted in other members witnessing the wrath of the moderator!
Why you must avoid repressing your members
If your members do not feel comfortable that every single contribution they make is welcome and valued, they will be less inclined to post. You want every single member of your community to love contributing to your online community – you want them to feel obliged to post every thought and comment they have on your forum without hesitation or delay.
If your members hesitate before posting because they fear they’ll be disciplined or humiliated, your community is not in good shape. You should encourage differences of opinion. You should court controversy (within reason!) and you should encourage free and open discussion between your members.
Think about your moderation and rule enforcement practices – are you repressing your members without even realising it?