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The problem I'm dealing with currently is the following: Very young users come in larger numbers to my online community. A lot of them are pretty immature and driving away good solid users that contributed a lot as they don't feel like it is "their" community anymore.

We do have an age limit but a lot of the younger users just use a fake age. I cannot really say how old they are but their posts and comments just seem very immature.

So how can I enforce the limit without knowing the actual age of the users? Are there different ways than forcing them to sign up with Facebook or validating their age somehow?

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Basically, your problem can be separated into two subproblems:

  1. You have an age limit that seems to not work in all situations;
  2. You have a lot of immature users that cannot be banned immediately for not meeting the age requirement because it is not known whether they meet the age requirement.

First, let me say something you may not like: you are likely not going to solve any of those problems without making your site's rules, policies and/or registration procedures more complicated.


Second, let's look at the age limit problem. Of course, if you are legally required to have this age limit, there is no option of simply removing it. Also note that even if the age limit can be modified, it may not be a good idea to do so for the following reasons:

  1. If you reduce (or, which seems worse, remove) the age limit, the community, given the immaturity problem, will probably disapprove that. In addition, some users that used to be underage but will no longer be underage may register again or ask to have their bans removed. (The latter can be resolved, for instance, by adding a clause like "All users banned for not meeting the previous age limit may not have their bans removed before they meet the previous age limit. All new users must only meet the new age limit."). For these reasons, making the age requirement more lax (or worse, removing it altogether) is nearly definitely a bad idea.
  2. If you increase the age limit, you may have the problem of users who no longer meet the age limit. You can of course specify that only new users have to meet the new age limit, but this may be viewed by some users as an overcomplication. Some users may approve of increasing the age limit (because, unfortunately, many consider age and maturity to be bound very closely and think that increasing the age limit increases maturity of the site's users).

Also attempting to validate your age limit by making registration more complicated may cause some theoretically constructive users to not register at all. Needless to say, this in not particularly good.

So I think that the best solution for the first subproblem is as follows: do not change your age limit and don't require users to validate it, but also enforce it whenever a user is underage.


Third, let's talk about user maturity. I think there is a rather simple solution you may not have considered, that is, adding a rule that demands users to behave in a mature manner. Assuming that your moderation team is competent, this is unlikely to cause incidents regarding misuse of this rule. Obviously, since it seems that the maturity problem is severe, you want to ensure that this rule is enforced in a very strict manner (e. g. by a progressive warning/ban system applied to a user at first signs of immature behaviour. I think that users who consider immaturity to be a severe problem are very likely to approve of that rule.


Short version of the answer: I consider the following course of action to be optimal:

  1. Keep your age limit, but don't validate it;
  2. Add a rule requiring that users behave in a mature manner, and be strict when enforcing the rule.

Personal experience: I have more than 2 years of experience being an administrator of a MediaWiki wiki. I have also been regularly visiting several websites with varying approaches to the age/maturity problem.

I am not a native speaker of English. Please correct mistakes in this answer, if any.

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Are there different ways than forcing them to sign up with Facebook or validating their age somehow?

Not really.

Some things you could do are:

  1. As you've already identified you can force users to sign up with Facebook or similar service that does validate their age. Though having said that, I don't think there's anything on Facebook that stops them entering a fake age there either and this might put off some of your target users who might not want to link their involvement in your community to Facebook.
  2. Provide a "Birthdate" field in your profile as optional data. You'd be surprised how many people will enter their real birthdate here and give themselves away.
  3. Be strict and quick when anyone reveals themselves to be underage and remove their accounts immediately. This won't stop anyone just signing up again, but should deter most.
  4. Re-publicise your age requirements and make it more prominent in your T&C's that you show people when they sign up. If you have it as the first or second point and always visible without scrolling no one can day they didn't see it.
  5. Consider adding options so that users can flag inappropriate content (if you don't have such an option already) so that you can remove (some) of the worst posts before you have proof of age.
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