Dealing with abusive members

by Martin Reed on 21 April 2007 in Articles

As mentioned in a previous article on the importance of rules, they are vital to have in order to help you deal with any abusive members on your community website. By having site rules, you are able to refer members to them if they are creating tension and problems within your community.

How to deal with abusive members

First of all you need to consider whether the member is indeed being abusive – it is all too easy to become a little over-sensitive when users start to disagree with you or post comments you do not agree with. Remember, you do not want to stifle debate and discussion on your community website – if you are not encouraging and nurturing interaction your community site will fail.

It is OK for members to disagree with you or other members. The line needs to be drawn however, if they become downright abusive or rude – these people can result in you losing your current membership base and discourage new members from joining.

Refer abusive members to your site rules

I would always recommend approaching the member in question privately as first. You do not want to further antagonise them by denouncing their behaviour in public. I would suggest contacting the member via a forum private message or by email detailing the reasons why you are contacting them.

Keep your email professional and friendly – the last thing you want to do is foster a confrontational or argumentative relationship with your user. Provide examples of the posts you are not happy with, and explain the reasons why. Make sure you provide a link to your site rules and explain what rule/s they have broken.

I recommend you encourage them to return to the site after reacquainting themselves with the site rules – make it clear that you still value them as a member, but that they do need to adjust their current behaviour.

In the majority of cases, this should be sufficient. Most people will appreciate your professionalism if you contact them in this way. Indeed, your user may not have even been aware that their posts were breaking your site’s rules.

Only if abuse continues after this point should you consider further action such as deleting or banning your members. Remember that a community site without members is a failure. Disagreements and a little controversy are great for community websites, but ensure you prevent such debates from going too far and losing you new and current members.

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Kathie Thomas April 22, 2007 at 10:50 am

Thanks for this post. Dealing with abusive members can indeed be a trial and somewhat stressful too – especially if they keep pushing their point and ignoring your requests to cease the discussion and take it offlist. Sometimes it means putting everyone in moderation mode till tempers calm down and things get back on an even keel.

Martin Reed April 24, 2007 at 2:34 pm

Hi Kathie – thanks for your post. I have placed my forums on moderator activation for new members temporarily in the past after deleting particularly persistent abusive members – this ensures they do not re-register and post abuse overnight or whilst I or my moderators are away from the forums. This is only ever used on a temporary basis though.

Kathie Thomas April 24, 2007 at 2:53 pm

Yes, I have all new members on moderation till they settle in. In my case it was a member who had been with the group for sometime and they were inciting some of the other (newer) members so that we had a flame war going – I shut the whole thing down by moderating the whole list. Some chose to leave and start their own group up. Things returned to normal a few days later and I was able to put the group back to normal mode.

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