Sometimes, regardless of what you try to do abusive forum members keep coming back and causing trouble. This article will teach you how to take effective action against abusive forum members to prevent them from ruining your online community.
What are your rules?
Online communities need rules. If you don’t have any published rules, how can you expect members to abide by them? It is impossible for anyone to break the rules if there aren’t any in the first place. You will never be able to deal effectively with abusive forum members unless your site has rules, so make sure you have some in place before you try to deal with abusive members.
Editing posts of abusive forum members
If a forum member makes a post that is against the site rules, you may want to edit it. If you edit the post of a member, it is important that you contact them to explain the reasons why you have made the edit. Your message should be professional and constructive: you do not want to alienate your forum members. By remaining friendly and professional, you are showing that you still value them, and want them to remain part of your community. You are also reducing the likelihood of them taking offence at your actions, and therefore preventing a potential escalation of the situation. A good example message would be:
I recently had to edit your post at (insert url of post) because it was in breach of our site rules. Our site rules do not permit (insert rule that was broken here). You can review our site rules in full at (insert url of site rules page). Thanks for your understanding – if you are unsure of anything or wish to discuss this further, please get in touch.
I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future, and thank you for being a valued member of the community.
How tolerant are you going to be?
It is important that you determine how many warnings you are willing to give members who persistently break your site rules before you’ll consider taking further action against them. I would recommend allowing members to make no more than five mistakes per month before taking further action. Regardless of your policy, by the time you contact the member with their second warning you should include the following:
I understand that people make mistakes from time to time, however this is now the (insert number) time I have had to contact you regarding your posts. Unfortunately, if you continue to break the site rules I will be left with no choice but to take further action against you. This could include a suspension of your posting privileges, or in extreme cases the deletion of your account at (site name).
Again, ensure that you come across as professional and keep the lines of communication open. You don’t want to lose this member, you simply want them to abide by your site rules. Keeping the lines of communication open will help clear up any misunderstandings and make it far easier to encourage them to adjust their behaviour compared to other, more rudimentary means.
Deleting posts of abusive forum members
Deleting posts should be reserved for the most serious breaches of your site rules. Remember that if you delete the opening post of a thread, you will be deleting the entire thread, so make sure you only delete content if you are left with no other choice. Again, if you delete a post you should always contact the poster with your reasons.
Suspending abusive forum members
A temporary suspension may give a hot-headed member time to cool off, and should be considered before deleting their account and banning them. Again, make sure you communicate with your member so they know what action you are taking, and why.
Deleting abusive forum members
If you are completely unable to get through to a persistent rule breaker, you may need to bite the bullet and delete their account. You should have warned the member about their conduct on a number of occasions before taking this step – it should never come as a surprise to an abusive member when they arrive at your site to find their account deleted.
If you decide to delete a member’s account, you should do so as discreetly as possible. Don’t make a public announcement about the action you have taken; remain professional, and respect your ex-member’s privacy. If you start posting their username and reasons why you have deleted their account in public, you risk a community backlash and the possibility of the banned member developing a grudge, turning them into a persistent problem.
Banning abusive forum members
You may find that the member you have removed from your online community develops a grudge against you and your site. If this happens, they will try any and all methods possible to cause you problems. They will likely sign up for a new account, use different email addresses and different IP addresses in order to make it more difficult for you to prevent them registering for a new account.
The steps I follow to ban abusive forum members are as follows:
1. Ban the username
2. Ban the email address
3. Ban the IP address(es) commonly associated with the abusive member
As experienced forum moderators and developers will know, these methods are not always successful. If your banned member continues to join the forum under aliases, you should consider temporarily making new accounts inactive until you manually approve them. Very often you will notice patterns to the information the banned member uses to register – they may have a favourite email provider, they may use similar names, they may try to register at certain times of the day. Normally, after a day or so of failed attempts to re-register, the banned member will give up.
Remember that if your banned member does get through from time to time, it is not a problem taking action against them – one click and you have deleted their posts, another click and you have deleted their account. The process is far more time-consuming and inconvenient for the banned member – stick to your guns, and you will always win.
Have you had to deal with persistently abusive forum members? How did you deal with them? Do you avoid warnings and immediately ban those that break your site rules? Do you publicly announce details of members you have banned? Share your thoughts, opinions and experiences by leaving a comment below.