My community has a problem with a particular user. This user is very good at sitting right on the line of good vs bad user. They find themselves in arguments and flame wars frequently. In the context of each particular thread, sometimes they are the instigator and other times they are the target. The issue is, this user is a magnet for these types of problems.

The user has been suspended for periods of time. Each time this occurs, we receive a sudden influx of accounts that are dedicated to starting problems. As soon as the suspension period ends, though, these new accounts vanish. This user is technically savvy and has gotten around technical measures we've implemented in the past.

Thus, my question, I need ideas. Is it better to allow the troll to remain and walk on eggshells around them to prevent escalation or to play whack-a-mole? With the first option, we know exactly who the problem user is. With the second, we have to be suspicious of every new account that is created.

7 Answers 7


I think you need to get tough and enforce your site's rules.

It's no fun for the majority of your site's users if they're "having to walk on eggshells" to avoid antagonising this one problem user. Eventually they are going to get fed up and go somewhere else.

So you need to put some systems in place so you can track users, record the IP addresses they use, the e-mails they use to register etc. Be up front about this. Most people will realise that you do this, but there will always be a few that cry foul if they think they're being scammed in some way. Also put in place a rule that states that accounts created to circumvent system or admin imposed restrictions are not allowed and said accounts will be deleted on discovery.

Once you've got this in place when you issue a suspension or even deletion of the problem users' account you can track any new accounts and if they share characteristics with the banned user, just delete the account. Some people will persist and keep creating new accounts, but you have the upper hand (especially if there are several admins) and can delete the accounts as quickly as he creates them.

Hopefully he'll get bored when he realised that his efforts to disrupt your site are ultimately futile and go somewhere else to troll. Yes, you'll be playing "whack-a-troll" in the short term, but in the longer term you'll have a much more pleasant site that people are happy to visit.

  • 3
    "Hopefully he'll get bored" is crucial. Just act and don't communicate.
    – user732
    Sep 8, 2015 at 10:01
  • 1
    Deleting the trolls posts should annoy him enough.
    – JeffO
    Sep 11, 2015 at 21:06

I don't know how your rules look but usually you have this one tiny paragraph.

Staff members are free to adjust the rules to fit the situation specifically so the community can evolve at its best and without problems. Decisions made in such specific situations are consensus decisions, therefore they are approved actions of the whole staff.

(If you don't have such a paragraph, I can recommend to write one as soon as possible because you just can't cover every aspect with rules, and sometimes out of the box actions are needed.)

This is one case which is legitimated by such a paragraph - your problem user literally lives on the edge, suspended several times but doesn't behave that badly to be banned permanently. Firstly, I would suggest to just talk to him. It's obvious that he has a problem with either you, the staff or the community. Discuss how it can be solved, perhaps he listens and tries to solve the problem with you. It's not very likely but I would always try to communicate first before taking ominous actions as this can backfire (problem user reveals that he's been treated differently by the team, community uproars).

Probably, there's the option of monitoring problem users. So, everytime they're trying to start a thread or reply to one, their text is placed on a list which has to be reviewed by the staff and is exclusively approved by staff. It's a lot of work but you can remove the problem before it actually occurs. If you struggle with too much workload, you can try to implement a privilege system which allows regular users to help out.

You can also try to make rules more strict so off-topic and on-topic is even more separated. This way, your problem user has to actually write something useful because he has to meet the rules more precisely. Of course, this can backfires, as it affects other users.

Most likely, I would go with the waiting list.

Dear community,

recently we've been subject of spam accounts which solely purpose is to annoy us. We, as staff, have discussed this matter thoroughly to achieve the best solution for everyone.

From now on, every newly registered user's post is placed on a waiting list which is reviewed by us to ensure that every single post meets our rules regarding etiquette. After you proved that you read our rules, you, as trusted user, are released from this restriction and your post will show up immediately. There's no amount of approved posts you need to become a trusted user. The decision is consensus and every case will be handled individually.

Please be patient. We will do our best to review the post of newcomers with minimal delay so you can also enjoy our community at its best.

I guess this idea will be work but it still gives you the freedom to decide who's a harm and who's not. By not implementing an amount of approved posts which are needed to become a trusted user, you can mark the spammy users who have absolutely no argument to complain.

Also, you have not suspended any user, so the real problem user hopefully won't create new accounts as they also are placed on the waiting list. I think that you can distinguish between spam users and real ones. So you can approve real ones really fast and let the spam users be spam users. No need to approve anything from them.

It should be noted that I would usually recommend to just do to do an IP-ban but I guess that's not useful if the user is technically savvy. And the most important thing: don't feed the troll. Even if he's a hassle, if you (and your community) don't feed him anything, he should be bored real fast.


One thing I've seen done is to quietly make all of the troll's posts require moderator approval before they are visible to anyone else on the site. If they're logged in, they can see their own posts, so it takes a while for them to figure out that no-one else can see them. Delete the disruptive posts and approve the non-disruptive ones. It's a very harsh measure and should be used sparingly, but it sounds like the situation might merit it.

I've also seen a waiting period for new accounts to be able to have some privileges, although I'm not a fan of that. If someone comes across your community and is excited about participating, waiting periods are really off-putting. An alternative is to require the first post by a brand new account to be reviewed by a moderator before it's visible. That way you will at least slow down the troll's sock-puppet accounts, because they will have to compose something that passes the sniff-test, and if you've been dealing with the same troll for a while, it will be much harder for the troll to thwart a human's heuristics than a computer's rule set.


There's a technical option in some forum software designed for just this problem.

It's called a "stealth ban" or "hellban", and results in the person being able to log in normally, post normally, see his posts appear in the forum at large, and be unaware that they're being hidden from everyone else. To him it looks like everyone suddenly "stopped feeding the troll".


My personal opinion is that "censoring" such a tech savvy (and determined) Troll is probably not the best option.

I believe the people responsible for keeping the Troll in check are not necessarily admins, but users. If users are educated/notified about the fact that said user is a Troll, they will be unlikely to engage. As such, set up some user-level accounts that should be mostly used for regular interaction, but also used for calling out the Troll when he/she is at back at it (Trolling).

Another tactic would be to "deputize" certain users who often find themselves being easily trolled and ask them to help you "police" the site by gleefully pointing out the Troll when he/she trolls and asking them not to take the bait and to simply carry on their conversation as if the Troll hadn't said a word.

Alternately, how about just a direct conversation with said Troll? Clearly the Troll is passionate about whatever is being discussed in your community, and as such probably desperately desires to have a voice -- sometimes those seeking to be heard make loud (and irritating) noises just to be a part of the action. I'm not saying that you should reward the Troll for the trollish behavior, but that its better to aknowledge the fact that the Troll somehow cares. Make use of this my giving the Troll a way to earn a kind of official status, some degree of admin or moderator authority, provided the Troll shows good use of judgment (and instruct the Troll on the judgment considered "good").

Hope that helps!

  • 1
    My experience is that many users can not resist an experienced troll, particularly if the troll is familiar with the community. Leaving it up to the users will likely result in "stop feeding the troll" users getting trolled harder than the the folks in the thread they were trying to end. The only cure for a troll I've ever seen work is starving it of attention.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 13, 2015 at 21:26

I have a stalker in the game IMVU. She was seen to break the TOS and has been banned for a few weeks but has decided to come back on trolling accounts to annoy. Not only does this make a mockery of the TOS, it also invades the security aspect of members who wish to enjoy the game.

When I flagged the accounts seen and told the top members of staff that this person has been banned before, I got a nice reply back saying that the matters been taking in hand and these new accounts don't break their TOS. My suggestion to them was maybe an IP address ban for 2 weeks. Not only would this make the person think twice about their actions, but would also cool the situation down.

My personal info was put up by this person who got hold of it through our company. It seems they only ban people who make black market poses which will hurt the game's reputation with kids on the site, but sadly soon that's all that will be left there - kids and trolls. So I think and IP address ban should be done in these situations.


we have to be suspicious of every new account that is created

So one user is causing the trouble with an act as benign as trolling. Your community seems small and like the integrity of it is important.
New user registration could form a queue and a brief video greeting/interview would be required. So every user is associated with a face and you'll have a list of faces for problem users.
It's not foolproof but it is a deterrent.

  • 9
    I don't think that everyone is up to upload or share his face. A forced facial recognition rule may be a good idea in sensitive communities but not in ordinary one. It could possibly harm site growth as well as reputation. "Hey, this website seems cool!" "Nah, they want you to upload a picture of you. I bet they're storing and selling our data!"
    – Zerotime
    Sep 2, 2015 at 10:15

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