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I'm a moderator for an IRC channel that has recently devolved into much off-topic chatter. I'd like to guide the focus of the community back to the topic of the channel, but don't want to be harsh to the users who deviate.

At some point, just talking is going to appear frivolous and will eventually degrade my standing as a moderator, especially if nobody listens. However, all of muting, kicking or banning users seems a little excessive granted their worst offence is being off-topic.

Note that these are all friendly, welcome, contributing users.

How should I best guide the community back to its intended topic without pushing users away, or acting unnecessarily harsh or critical against the user base?

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We had this problem on a number of channels. One of the most successful pattern for tackling this, is introducing an #chan-ot channel, and kindly asking participants to continue there, when they go off-topic. In this case, you really need to work on what you consider to be on-, or off-topic, to make this work -and probably enforce it with prejudice.

A better option, if the offtopic tends to gravitate around specific topics -eg. bitcoin- might be forking #chan-bitcoin and behold the deviating users actually taking it up as their next home. This is actually better, than just a general -ot; it waves towards the specific new topic (discussed from the perspective of the original channel), which inherently defines what goes to which #channel.

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In one of the games that I play the Moderators often use a technique they call a "mute slap"

A mute slap is a mute that they immediately remove from the user, letting the user know that they have the ability to set a mute on a user should the need arise.

This can be used in many ways, and sometimes it's more of a "mute-punch-in-the-gut"

  • The Moderator uses this after a couple of warnings to a user that is flying way off topic or bordering on irritating the community as a whole (chatting in Trade chat instead of using it for trade{mutes are for public areas/chat, although I believe that Moderators have the ability to mute everywhere})

All this does is get the users attention, this is usually used for when someone is on a rant and posting more than reading chat, although that is not always the case.

  • Someone Dares the Moderator. A user tells the Moderator or the community that they won't get muted, this usually happens after someone says "you are going to get muted if you keep {insert behavior here}"

The Moderator Mute Slaps the user, letting them know that there is a Moderator paying attention

  • Occasional joking

We all knows how that plays out.

All of these Mute slaps can be as long as called for. Sometimes all it takes is the Moderator showing that they are not afraid to Mute someone.

I think that this method will let people know that the Moderator is serious while showing that they are human and don't want to mute all the users. I think this falls under "guide with the staff you have been given, don't beat the sheep"


In all of these cases there is an "off-topic" chat or a place where the chat is acceptable, except for in cases of bullying, etc.

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    Another variant of this is to auto-voice users and then pull voice but not actually have the channel in +m (or whatever the one that only lets +v's talk, my IRC is a little rusty). It doesn't actually mute them even briefly then, but it demonstrates they are on thin ice. – AJ Henderson Aug 6 '14 at 16:12
  • @AJHenderson I haven't been on IRC in almost 20 years, but the idea is the same. – Malachi Aug 6 '14 at 16:13
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    That's an interesting concept I've never heard of before. The server I use enables the use of quieting users, which seems virtually the same. Good to know. – Tanner Aug 7 '14 at 7:54
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The best bet is to meet the needs of the community. On the one hand, you have a community focused on a particular topic, on the other hand, you have a subset of that community interest in other topics. Both groups are part of your overall community. People get to know each other and enjoy socializing, even if it doesn't fit the bounds of the topic that originally brought them together. Online, there isn't an option for somewhere else to hang out with people unless someone provides one.

If you don't provide it or try to block it, eventually, people will leave to have the socialization they want and that may make them move their original participation in addition to the newly forming community. If you want to avoid this, provide a place for them to be able to have the fledgling community. Create another associated channel. This can be a general off topic or general channel if the users just talk about life or it can be one or more other topical channels if the users frequently talk about the same thing.

This does put a little more burden on moderating the community and it may still take some pushing to get users to use the proper room, but it allows them to continue to participate with their friends in the community the way they want to while allowing them to remain within your overall community.

This is a large part of the reason behind StackExchange chat allowing almost any user to create a new chat room for a discussion that doesn't fit within the main chat, though IRC unfortunately lacks the same room hierarchy features. You might be able to kind of replicate it using naming conventions though. Have users create channels like #communityName-topic, assuming that the IRC network doesn't have a problem with the possible proliferation of channels, particularly if they aren't permanent channels.

If you can get /fjoin permissions, that can be a helpful ability to use for pushing people in to the channel that they should be in, but not all networks are going to give out /f functions to a channel operator.

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