Help us deal with our black sheep Meetup member
August 16, 2010 8:02 AM   Subscribe

What to do about Meetup member that ruins everything?

Asking for a friend: I run a meetup group that is increasingly popular. One of the earliest and most loyal members is a young man named Dymtrus. Back when the group was first starting out he attended meetups that were otherwise not so well attended. Dymtrus was very awkward and said some offensive things sometimes, but I and the other organizers felt he was well-meaning and sometimes even helpful. Besides, I am a little awkward and sometimes unintentionally insensitive myself thanks to an unusual upbringing and feel it's good to be give other awkward people the benefit of the doubt.

Flash forward a year and the Meetup is famous and popular! Reporters come to the meetups. Dymtrus keeps coming to the Meetups, but his antics are increasingly less awkward and more just plain old offensive. He says insensitive things to nice new members, makes sexist/racist jokes, and talks about how he wants to do things that most people find morally reprehensible (latest thing was that he wants to eat a live sheep). To make things worse, the reporters sometimes talk to him and quote his inane ideas in their articles or include him saying crap in videos. Other members have told me that he has offended them, so it's not just us.

We are grateful for the things he has helped with, but fed up. We would like to find a graceful way to not include him, but Meetup.com's site features won't let us fulfill out passive aggressive fantasies. It's becoming clear that we are going to have to tell him and I've not sure how since he has a bad temper and some of the things he says...are scary. I'm looking for decent strategies for dealing with this.

Should we tell him what has offended us? Should we block him from the group? Anyone else have a similar experience? How did you resolve it?
posted by idle to Human Relations (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Draft some rules that all members must adhere to and enforce them, rather than singling him out.
posted by sanko at 8:04 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


what kind of a rule would work? I mean, what does it make our Meetup look like if our rules are:
1. no sexist jokes
2. no talking about tearing live sheep apart limb by limb and gnawing on them
3. no making other meetup members feel fat
4. no telling meetup members that they will be "manlier" if they take X stupid quackery supplement

I'm not sure rules would work...
posted by idle at 8:07 AM on August 16, 2010


It sounds like your group is fairly well organized. Perhaps you could work to create additional structure that would include written rules of order and participation. Have existing members sign the pledge/rule/bylaw/whatever it is, and future members as well. Disallow participation if the agreement is not signed.
posted by odinsdream at 8:07 AM on August 16, 2010


I'm not sure rules would work...

Rules by themselves aren't going to just work. You need to include methods of enforcing them, such as giving notice to members who violate rules, and then a commitment to follow through with disallowing participation. It would be simple to create a list of members who have agreed to the rules and abide by them. This would solve your media problem because you could simply point to the membership list and indicate that those not listed are not speaking for your group.
posted by odinsdream at 8:10 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Instead of having such specific rules, go for things like "Respect for all the members," which pretty much covers everything you've mentioned.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:10 AM on August 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


We are well organized in that we have cool events, but it's not based around a cohesive ideology, so it's tough to have rules. We have over 500 members and no other member has been like this. In fact, I've never met anyone who acted like this. I'd hate to have to make people sign an agreement not to make sexist jokes to attend a tasting event...
posted by idle at 8:10 AM on August 16, 2010


And if we confronted him about violating a "no sexism" rule for example, he would become angry and say that what he said was true and not sexist at all.
posted by idle at 8:12 AM on August 16, 2010


State in the invite/rules that by showing up to an event you're agreeing to abide by them. No need to make everyone sign it. When he acts up, explain to him that he'll need to behave in the same courteous manner that you expect from everyone or he will have to leave. Immediately. Recruit someone who is strong (physically and personality wise) to be the enforcer.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:13 AM on August 16, 2010


If he complains and says it's not sexist or whatever, that's why you have a "respect the members" rule. Because it doesn't matter if it's "true" it matters whether what he said was respectful.

Listen, I get it. It sucks to be the person who is going to have to deal with this guy. And it is going to be messy and hard. There's not some clean way to get rid of him without a confrontation. You've just got to gird your loins for battle and do it. Telling him he's not welcome is going to be hard and it's going to suck. But then he will be gone and everyone will be happier.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:15 AM on August 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Someone (you?) needs to really just pull him aside and let him know that some of his jokes/comments/behavior are making people uncomfortable, and changing the way the group as a whole is perceived. Be prepared to back this up with examples like you did here. Let him know that you appreciate his support as the group has evolved and found its legs, but that because of the sheer amount of other people involved now, respectful behavior is more important than ever, and that you'd hate to have to stop inviting him to participate in your events. Make sure one other member is present.
posted by hermitosis at 8:17 AM on August 16, 2010 [12 favorites]


This sounds like pretty classic attention-seeking behavior. Is there any way you could give this guy some sort of special, highly structured role that'd give him importance and visibility without allowing much leeway for him to do anything embarrassing?

Alternatively, could you have a talk where you try to create more of a group identity ("We've been getting a lot of publicity lately, and I think that's wonderful! We should be proud to be members of X group! Yay us!") and then emphasize that everybody needs to help preserve the group reputation by staying positive, upbeat and focused when cameras and reporters are around? That might help keep his mind off the (bizarre) individual identity he's trying to create, and get him thinking more about the group's collective persona.
posted by Bardolph at 8:17 AM on August 16, 2010


Is there any way you could give this guy some sort of special, highly structured role that'd give him importance and visibility without allowing much leeway for him to do anything embarrassing?


We did that. We let him organize his own event. Dude is a sociopath. Unfortunately, I'm a firebrand and I'm pretty much ready to throw down the gauntlet and just send him an email telling him he can come as long as he abides with rules I ain't posting on the meetup page because no normal human would think to violate them.
posted by idle at 8:24 AM on August 16, 2010


Have you heard of the geek social fallacies? You may be a carrier of #1.

It is OK to exclude someone who ruins events. You do it by telling them they're not welcome.

You are right that making rules won't work. You are right that making people sign a pledge won't work.
posted by fritley at 8:25 AM on August 16, 2010 [19 favorites]


"Other members have told me that he has offended them, so it's not just us. ... It's becoming clear that we are going to have to tell him and I've not sure how since he has a bad temper and some of the things he says...are scary. I'm looking for decent strategies for dealing with this."

You need to talk to this person when things happen that are out of line. It's not fair to go from silence to banning him without at least somebody having the guts and the maturity to say "whoa dude that's out of line" when he says something out of line! From what you've written, it sounds like there's been a lot of talk about this guy but little if any talk with him. Direct communication is scary and can become confrontational at times but it's the only fair way to address problems.

At this point you probably have a long list of offensive things he has said over time. Talk to him about them and let him know you're concerns. Then if/when it happens again, talk to him immediately about it. Letting these kinds of things go unaddressed is a mistake.

"Meetup.com's site features won't let us fulfill out passive aggressive fantasies."

That's a feature, not a bug. Talk to the guy.
posted by headnsouth at 8:28 AM on August 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


Well Meetup has rules and if you violate those rules you can get banned permanently from the site. The rules are pretty broad to cover offensive or harrasing behavior. If you want to be nice you might give him one warning and then if still continues report his behavior to meetup.
posted by bananafish at 8:34 AM on August 16, 2010


Here's what that email you've been itching to write needs to say:
Dymtrus,

As the organizer of XYZ-ABC Meetup Group, some things have come to my attention.

1) Your comments about women, about eating live sheep, and about black people are unacceptable.

2) Your behavior towards new members, such as (example), are unacceptable.

3) Your behavior in speaking to reporters and allowing yourself to be the perceived spokesperson for XYZ-ABC Meetup is unacceptable.

Your behavior has made it difficult to attract and retain new members, and also for all members to enjoy their time at XYZ-ABC Meetups. You are the only member whose behavior has been repeatedly singled out as unacceptable, and it is.

If you continue to act in the above ways, you will be banned from our Meetups. We will not hesitate to block your entrance and proactively tell members why your membership has been barred.

Please consider this your only warning.

Sincerely,

Idle
This outlines exactly what behaviors are unacceptable, tells him why the behaviors are unacceptable (aside from common decency), and outlines the consequences if he does not change these behaviors. It also nips in the bud his inclination to seek attention from other members.
posted by juniperesque at 8:37 AM on August 16, 2010 [14 favorites]


Just a thought or two...

Apply social pressure. Make sure he knows what is good behavior and why. Reward good behavior. Sanction bad behavior by progressively intense confrontation. Repeat until you are tired of it, or he is, or he changes.

Perhaps he has a closer friend than you in the group? Have that person be the carrier of the general message.

Good luck. (I HATE that kind of drama. Ick.)
posted by FauxScot at 8:43 AM on August 16, 2010


Some great ideas so far, I hesitate to list specific incidents because members told me about them privately and I worry he might try to contact them...
posted by idle at 8:45 AM on August 16, 2010


An idea: rather than saying his behavior is "unacceptable" or makes the group "look bad", try to get at the heart of the issue: people come to events to have a happy, fun time, and bringing up images of death or pain, drawing attention to peoples' appearances or potential as a sexual object, or saying things that can be interpreted as insulting or hurtful not only lessens the fun, it can make people tense, angry, sad, or self-conscious. It's not weakness in them, it's just the way people are made - we are able to be affected and hurt by others. That's what makes organizing fun events so great. People can escape the stress of their everyday lives and just have a nice time together. By interfering with that, he's thwarting the mission of the group.

In other words, other people being nice and enjoying themselves is part of the mission of the group. Words or actions that interfere with that are likely to invalidate all the work that goes into organizing events and bringing the people together.
posted by amtho at 9:13 AM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, assuming he might be super logical: it's important to escape stressors periodically because it makes us better able to solve problems and be sensitive to others the rest of the time.
posted by amtho at 9:15 AM on August 16, 2010


I think the real problem here is that you are afraid of this fellow!

You've bought into the persona he's created - bizarre, possibly violent, and unpredictable.

You've allowed him to set the rules concerning how you deal with him.

Take back the control. Give him one warning, then kick him out.

Be firm and fair. Stop compromising.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 9:47 AM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's been said and said, but has anyone actually talked to the guy about his behaviour previously? Hermitosis has a good script.

The things he's saying are not ok, obviously, but if he's been getting away with this stuff for ages with no blowback, it would seem he could logically conclude his behaviour is (if not warmly received) at least tolerated by the group. It also seems plausible that there could be some psychological problems at play, rather than just an asshole behaving assholishly.

Ideally, I think you or someone else would pull him aside -- with another person present -- and explain the situation. Tell him he's a valued part of the group, and you want it to stay that way, but refraining from X and Y and Z is really important because it's making other members uncomfortable. (This is assuming nobody's done so previously.) Don't name names or situations, generalize where possible.

Then if he continues, pull him aside again and remind him that this is not acceptable in the group, and that he can't continue to be part of the group if he won't respect all of the members. Any next straw is the last one. Report to MeetUp.

Dealing with this sort of thing directly isn't fun, but (IMHO) making rules and trying to find workarounds will complicate rather than resolve the situation.(A general "respect all members" policy is a good idea, though, and less complicated.) Sometimes throwing down the gauntlet is necessary, but if nobody's ever raised this issue with him before, sending a You're Out letter will likely come out of nowhere and make him angrier than if he'd been talked to first.

It would also be great if the other members could make a point of telling Dymtrus when he says something they find offensive, rather than clamming up and telling you later. "I'm sorry, I want to continue this conversation with you, but that comment makes me really uncomfortable." Said respectfully but firmly, the way you would if a valued friend suddenly came out with something totally out of line. It's easier to just ignore these things and gripe about them later, but that's just reenforcing the antisocial behaviour.
posted by nicoleincanada at 9:48 AM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is there anyone in the group who would agree to mentor him? Give him feedback about how to behave appropriately. If he's willing to learn, it would be a compassionate thing to do. Tolerating his bad behavior will only make it worse.

Tell him that genuinely anti-social comments, and any harassment based on race or color, sex, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, religion, age, ancestry or national origin will not be tolerated. Examples include:
* Unwelcome sexual advances, gestures, comments, or contact;
* Threats or behavior that appears threatening;
* Offensive jokes;
* Ridicule, slurs, or derogatory actions

Tell him that if he engages in this behavior, he will be asked to leave, and potentially asked to leave permanently. Don't argue. I took the verbiage above from a state human rights site. Three are lots of gray areas, but tell him that he has generated a lot of complaints, has shown poor judgment, and therefore must use a great deal of caution with sensitive topics.
posted by theora55 at 10:01 AM on August 16, 2010


We had this woman who came to our meetups for awhile and she was rude and obnoxious (her main failing, ironically enough, was loudly and repeatedly berating other people for being rude to her in some obscure way). We tried to reason with her, and ask her to please be nice, and pointed out specific behaviours that we found untenable, but she insisted that she was allowed to behave that way.

So we kicked her out. And she sent me one nasty email after that, and then went away.

It's not just about having written rules and being fair. Some people are just not a good fit for what you're trying to do, and if they can't learn to adjust to the dynamic of the group, then they can't be in the group.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of one crazy-ass bitch.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:21 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


As nicoleincanada and others have said, you need to speak with the guy. In person. You can have someone else with you if you feel it's necessary. Start generic, have specific examples ready with top down storytelling: "I saw you" "I heard you", so you're not foisting off the complaints on the person he attacked/belittled.

It's part of being a leader. It has nothing to do with this particular guy, it has everything to do with how a successful group can exist. (Tragedy Of The Commons, and this guy is ruining the field for everyone.)

Do *not* have a big strong person in obvious attendance when you talk to this guy. This is not about intimidation, or he'll think he's "winning". This is totally about deflating bad behavior without attacking or insulting him. If you do it right, he'll tone it down and become one of your biggest supporters.

Yes, it can be scary. But you'll be amazed how much leadership you'll have learned.
posted by lothar at 10:32 AM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


This sounds like pretty classic attention-seeking behavior.

You've bought into the persona he's created - bizarre, possibly violent, and unpredictable.


These are fair assessments and may be right on the mark. However, being a moderator of a large group myself, I've learned that the inescapable truth is this: sociopathy happens. Sometimes they're not attention-starved shlemiels, or egotistic douches -- they're misfits because they have a pathology. It sucks, and I'm sorry you're having to deal with this, especially if what I describe turns out to be the case.

Let's assume, though, you're dealing with a person that actually cares about being excluded from the group. What works for us is a disciplinary system that goes along with the guidelines we established. I've often seen behavior improve greatly after a disciplinary step was taken.

What we use is as follows. These take place each time a group guideline is broken.

1 - Verbal or written warning. You can use a 3-strike system for warnings before you move onto the next step. Or not.
2 - Light punitive measure - person is excluded from one meeting.
3 - Person cannot come to meetings for a month. Or for however many consecutive meetings.
4 - /kick. Permanent exclusion.

Important when communicating a disciplinary measure:

- Be as factual as possible, linking a specific behavior to a specific rule that forbids said behavior.
- Be confident in exercising authority. Listen to appeals if you want to, but remember this is not a democracy. The group made the rules; group members abide. Period.
- If the behavior worsens in retaliation, and stepping up the disciplinary measures makes it worse, do not hesitate in taking it beyond the realm of the group. Assess the situation as sensibly as possible. Then, call the cops, get a restraining order, etc. I hope it never come to this! But, you know, sometimes it does. =(
- You can be the sole authority, or you can have a board. In your case, however, putting together a permanent board may be tricky, as he'll likely want to be on it. A good alternative would be to have the rules say you need to consult with x amount of members before a disciplinary step is taken.

Good luck. Be bold, and be brave. And please, don't be afraid to kick him out permanently. Some people are just not worth having around.

It's not just about having written rules and being fair. Some people are just not a good fit for what you're trying to do, and if they can't learn to adjust to the dynamic of the group, then they can't be in the group.
posted by Opal at 11:23 AM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


However, being a moderator of a large group myself, I've learned that the inescapable truth is this: sociopathy happens.

Indeed. At the point at which you are using up a ton of your resources dealing with someone who is a poor group member in the first place, you need to find systems that will assist you in doing the job you're supposed to be doing. We deal with this occasionally on MeFi [different from IRL meetups but I have no idea if this maybe is using a complicated metaphor for online meetups to make them seem real life] and here is what works for us.

1. "things have changed" It's important to note that as the site has gotten bigger certain things that worked in a smaller site no longer work. On this site, we've seen it with casual racist comments. When people all knew each other comments that weren't that cool along these lines-- the sort of "I am going to mock ignorant people my making a racist remark in the voice of an ignorant person and you will all know that I am kidding" activity--are now actively not okay. However, this is a shift and people who got used to the old way now need to know that there is a new way. We say "the site is bigger, casual comments are less distinguishable from actual racism/sexism in this larger group so you will have to tone it down"
2. "this is what we need" Sometimes people have a hard time getting cues, or they think that they are keeping it real by constantly being a thorn in the side of people that they perceive as having a problem. We need to clearly outline what is not okay and what will happen. So "Do not use the word cunt as a casual slur against women. If you do, your comment will be removed. If you do it frequently, we may ban you from the site."
3. "this is why we are needing to talk to you" The whole "this guy is being quoted as representing the group" is a real pain in the ass but something you can act on. This is hurting the group and it's your job to help that stop. So you can do something in stages and basically tell the guy to quit hopping into the spotlight with his crazy talk and take a more passive role or stop coming altogether.
4. Make sure you emphasize this is about specific behavior and not that you think he's a bad person. Jay Smooth has the classic video about how to tell people that what they're doing is not okay but not accusing them of being a thought criminal. Emphasize that you've appreciated his help, that he seems to have a lot to contribute but that things have changed and you need things to go a certain way or he needs to remove himself from the situation because what is going on now is not working.

Decide in advance if the leaders are going to go with a "we'll give you some chances to work this out" option or it's just "we've tried, you haven't, goodbye" I always favor the former option though I know it can be tough sometimes. Best of luck, I know it's not easy.
posted by jessamyn at 11:36 AM on August 16, 2010 [11 favorites]


Ask yourself: Do you want him to continue with the group if he changes his behavior? Your initial answer will probably be the politically correct answer. Throw it away and answer the question again, brutally honestly :)

Let your answer be your guide to using the excellent advice others are giving you here.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:28 PM on August 16, 2010


Should we tell him what has offended us?

Yes. This.

And if he doesn't like it, he needs to not be part of your group.
posted by Decani at 1:45 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


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