How Do You Deal With The Difficult Different?
August 4, 2010 7:31 PM   Subscribe

Say you run a website that has a relatively self-maintaining and friendly (if tough and playful) community of commenters. How do you best manage a new commenter who shows up and clearly enjoys stinking up the room?

This is not a forum site, and not a moderated and self-managed community like Metafilter. Comments are open for anyone to register, however.

I've obviously had a few issues with folks before, and most have mellowed and been respectful after being confronted by email when they've gotten out of line (by my standards, which are the standards that count).

Recently a new and extremely vigorous commenter has joined up and this person is... well, on the bright side, s/he's not threatening violence or mayhem. Also s/he is possibly a misunderstood or just very different smart person. That being said, overall s/he is extremely disruptive, off-topic, difficult to understand, extremely self-referential, and prone to thread hijacking and is really offputting to some others.

I haven't emailed this person directly because s/he seems itching for a fight constantly, and I'm totally uninterested in being a target on this person's blog (which is intelligible if slightly unhinged, but that's what personal blogs are for) for the next three months/three years.

I was also sort of hoping this person would burn out and get distracted by some other site but so far, no luck.


1. Ignore it.

2. Regularly and gently confront in the comments about appropriate behavior. (Added benefit: lets the community know moderators are paying attention.)

3. Email directly, in a friendly manner, and request some "toning down" and see what happens.

4. A public (or private?) one-time-only warning followed by the banhammer.

5. A public post about community guidelines, coupled with any of the above, followed by any of the above.

I always believe that people will want to get along and be willing to try to do so. I'm not always proven right, but even seemingly really "off" people sometimes are just different communicators.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Teresa Nielsen Hayden's 'virtual panel participation' is still a fount of wisdom, I think.
posted by holgate at 7:36 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

If we're voting, I would go for (3), possibly followed by (5). If this person is determined to stir up shit, they're going to do it whether you kill their login or not. OTOH, if they just have boundary problems, they might be very willing to cool it if asked in a private and friendly manner.
posted by Gilbert at 7:46 PM on August 4, 2010

I like disemvoweling. I like the word. I like the act. If I were rolling my own, I'd probably take out all the spaces as well as the vowels.
posted by Bruce H. at 7:49 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would call out the person publicly for sometimes. Because if it's done privately, you are giving too much credit to the person. Another option is to let your members do the work for you. Sometimes they themselves will keep the person in check. You are the mysterious boss. So set up rules of what goes down on your site and make sure every visitor gets to read it. Any form of abuse will ultimately get the user banned without their consent and knowledge. Be firm. If they want to continue to be jackasses, they will make up another name but most others will recognize the idiots who came back. Play it cool. Ban as you see fit but put up rules on how topics will be engaged. And if the person doesn't stick to them... handle it.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 7:49 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is there a way to make this person's posts invisible to all other posters? I've heard of this being a very effective way of controlling jackasses.

If there aren't rules already posted, I'd post them, refer the offender to them and if they continue to offend ban their email/IP address.

BTW, can anyone see this post?
posted by TheBones at 7:51 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Ugh. Let us simply say that there are many people who would disagree with holgate and Bruce. If there were an anti-favorite I would give it to Bruce H about disemvoweling. So please don't take TNH's post as gospel; it is just one method of hosting a community which works, for some values of "works", but is not necessarily the best or even a good way to go about things depending on what you are trying to accomplish.

I would certainly contact the person directly and privately before giving him a public warning. Give him a chance to change his behavior without losing face, which is tough to do if you immediately hit him with a public warning. How do people generally react to getting called out on Metatalk? Not so well regardless of the merit of the callout.

I think private friendly suggestion couple with a public generalized post on community guidelines-->private warning-->public warning-->BANHAMMER is the best way to do things.
posted by Justinian at 7:57 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'd go with 3) then 5)
posted by mathowie at 7:58 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Well, this is working for me at one site:

1. Does everyone know the guidelines? Are they published? Have you called attention to them recently? Make sure everyone knows where the walls of the playpen are before you hold them accountable for staying within them. It's not fair to people to insist they follow guidelines that they don't know about, or to assume that everyone knows the rules when they've never been explicitly written down.

2. If guidelines are well established, then send the friendly, direct email saying "Hey, welcome, saw you getting started and just wanted to be sure you were aware of these guidelines so that you can have a good experience here."

3. If problem continues, refer to the guidelines in the active threads to try to derail a problem before it arises.

4. if problem still arises, get in direct contact with a pretty clear "this is out of bounds, please stop now, here is the relevant section of the guidelines and here are the consequences that are about to happen if we can't curtail the madness" message.

"Self-managing" is great, but at the end of the day, the buck has to stop somewhere. Even MeFi has mods, and I can only imagine what this place would be like without the bumpers they provide. Don't feel bad about being the one to demarcate the participation agreement.
posted by Miko at 8:13 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

If it were me:
- Confront in comments. Then...
- Email privately. If that fails...
- It's your site. Ban the person and be done with it.

"I always believe that people will want to get along and be willing to try to do so."

Sadly, I must disagree. What you need to consider are the motivations of an ass. Why would someone behave that way? What need is being fulfilled? Could it be that there's something inherently wrong with the person? Maybe his daddy didn't love him enough. Maybe the other kids at school made him feel dumb, so now he must prove his genius to anyone who will pay attention. Maybe he's a classic example of Little Man/Big Internet.

I don't understand the mentality of a troll, but I know that they rarely have a want or willingness to get along, and yours is certainly not the only website your troll is trolling.

Good luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 8:14 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd respond first with a friendly email spelling out the rules/guidelines. Make it clear that the person's behaviour has been unacceptable and if it continues it will result in a time out for a (3 to 5) number of days. If it escalates after a time out, respond with a longer time out (a week or month). If it happens a third time make it a permanent ban.

I used to be a forum mod and this is what we did and it worked well. It should scale to a website without a problem.
posted by deborah at 8:57 PM on August 4, 2010

If it's "your" site--i.e. you are clearly the one in charge, and everyone is cool with this--then just ban 'em right now. Who has time for that shit?

If the site is more about the community, then respond to this person publicly, politely asking them to follow certain guidelines. Don't call them out in a new thread; that might be feeding a troll--do it in an existing thread, but a high-profile one, so lots of other members can see and react. Gauge the community's opinion; if they want this person gone, then ban 'em next time they break the guidelines you posted. If the community doesn't want a banning, then let things lie for now, and maybe repeat the same process in a couple months.
posted by equalpants at 9:00 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

This sounds exactly like someone that frequented the forums for the site I used to work for, right down to the weird blog.

Number 5 is your winner.

I'd opt for a public and general reminder where they are posting about what the expectations are in the community. I wouldn't direct it at them specifically, just issue a general statement. they continue, lose them.

If they are unhinged, as you suspect, there is no point in drawing out the situation and giving them more fuel for their crazy conspiracy fire.
posted by Edubya at 9:10 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ban hammer. This is why God gave us firewalls.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:33 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

> I'd probably take out all the spaces as well as the vowels.

Just because nobody's said this yet, this idea would have terrible formatting consequences for web pages.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 11:50 PM on August 4, 2010

I'm part of a community forum where we get a lot of trolls. The mod doesn't have time to weed out the idiots in private. That's why I say don't set yourself up for doing this. 'Cause eventually you will encounter so many, you just have to ban as you see fit.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 4:31 AM on August 5, 2010

I'm a mod on a Mac forum. We'd handle the situation similarly to option 4. Private message the offender, telling them they are on a short leash. If they continue, then they get the banhammer.

We also have a system of infraction points that are awarded at the discretion of the mods. If you accumulate enough points, your account goes into automatic temporary ban. Sort of an automatic "go sit in the corner and take a time-out".
posted by Thorzdad at 5:21 AM on August 5, 2010

"Comments are open for anyone to register, however"

Well, when a forum is open to anyone, you will get a mix of people all the time.

I belong to a forum that has been running for 10 years now - and while it isn't open to anyone - we have our share of ridiculous people. Myself included sometimes.
We have the person who can't spell, we have the airhead, we have the person who things they know everything (well, we have a few), the person who only talks about themselves, the person who references video games in every thread, the person who is nasty to everyone.

I like it like that, to be honest.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:34 AM on August 5, 2010

I see that it's nto a forum... but my opinion still stands.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:36 AM on August 5, 2010

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