We have a network of 100+ Q&A sites. A user active elsewhere on the network joins a new community and starts posting non-friendly answers and comments. A moderator contacts the user. The user states that the one who does not understand the rules is the moderator, because the user has behaved in this way on other sites all the time without any problems. The moderator does research and it turns out to be true that the user behaves rudely (according to the standards of this community) on other sites as well.

What should moderators do in this context?

2 Answers 2


Clarifying the Problem

The core problem appears to be that the user's understanding of the site in question's conduct standards is unclear.

Emphasis here:

The moderator does research and it turns out to be true that the user behaves rudely (according to the standards of this community)

If the standards of this community are higher, then the user is breaking this site's specific rules and needs to be informed and addressed as such.

It's worthwhile to determine whether the behavior this user is presenting in other sites on the network is, in fact, within the boundaries of that community's conduct standards. If it isn't, then they should contact that site's moderation team and report/flag the problematic user there.

In the event that the behavior is acceptable on other sites in the network, then it becomes important to clarify that this site specifically employs a higher conduct standard.

The comment...

the one who does not understand the rules is the moderator,

should be next to ignored. The moderator in question should be familiar with correct conduct on the site in which they moderate (whether it be because of written rule or community standards), and should be able to speak with authority that the behavior this user is demonstrating isn't welcome on their site per their site's rules, full-stop.

Taking Action

The moderator should ensure that the user is informed of the behavioral standards the community they moderate holds users to, and mention that while other sites may permit it, this site does not.

Tying Up Loose Ends

This problem has the possibility of growing. There's a possibility that other newer users are not made familiar with this site's behavioral standards. Perhaps they should be more clear. The moderator should consider discussing this with their fellow moderators, and enact a plan to inform new users of this site's conduct standards.

An even more systemic discussion could take place across the other sites within the network. If this behavior is considered rude on this site, perhaps it should be addressed in others as well.


Community rules are hierarchical

Think about the diversity of Internet users. Even such a large group has its own fundamental cultural rules. For example, the Internet does not like censorship and encourages the spread of information (preferably with proper attribution). These cultural norms are in the internet’s blood. At the same time, each individual website adds its own rules: restrictions on the topic, format, language of the content, and etc. We can present it as a kind of hierarchical branching: the more focused the community is, the more rules (explicit and implicit) it has.

For example, let us look at Stack Exchange, which is no exception. CoC, ToS and the User Agreement are basic rules for all communities on the platform. All network communities are separated by professional profile: from cooking to photography to programming. The culture of any industry often affects people and the way they interact no less than the culture of the country in which they live. Therefore, community members together create a set of rules, in addition to the basic ones, that help maintain a comfortable inclusive atmosphere on the site.

The rules in different communities may and most likely will vary. As a result If something is allowed in one community, it does not mean that it should be allowed in your one. For example, the issue of respect, as it seems to me, is much more important in the Russian-speaking environment than in the English-speaking one. As a result, at the very beginning of Stack Overflow in Russian, to the addition of the “be-nice” policy, we added “be-friendly”, which is mandatory to follow, regardless of how things are on Stack Overflow in English.

Community rules are the result of a collective effort

When you see a violation of the rules, it is very important to communicate to the troublemaker the legitimacy of your request to stop. Nothing convinces better than a collectively agreed rule, which is located somewhere in a public place.

The Law of the Twelve Tables

In ancient Rome many of the laws were unwritten or unavailable for regular people to see, as a result there was much room for corruption. People eventually made the official writing some laws on stone tablets for everyone to see.

It’s great when abusive content gets deleted from a website, it is even better when regular users take an active part in it. In this case, at least two people (the user who flags a post and and a moderator validating the flag) look at the case. Collective moderation is a feedback-loop: The more a site is moderated by regular users, the more a user feels a sense of belonging. Sense of belonging to the community leads to even more engagement and moderation of the site and a greater sense of belonging...

As it was said, to convince a troublemaker of the counter-productivity of their actions is much easier if the community moderates a site collectively. For example, if a moderator contacts the troublemaker after validating a flag, it is a collective expression of protest against the violation and it is perceived differently:


Members of our community have flagged several of your posts as violating the rules of this site... Here are the rules:

  • { link to a meta post }
  • { link to a meta post }

When you ask, answer or comment on the site please make sure that you are following the rules of this community. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask them on meta or in the response to this message.

Community Moderator Team

Social economics: Bad behavior leads degradation of the community

The knowledge base is the result of the interaction of community members. These interactions and the created sense of belonging define the community and create a so called social economy where the product is the community and the capital is the respect and trust between the users. If a user does something positive to another user of the community, not only the latter, but the whole community will benefit from it: the atmosphere in the community improves, a positive role model is set, and etc. For any such economic model to work it is critical that each user believes in it (and follows the rules).

Ignoring violations leads to "negative social capital", or in other words to insults, and not as much to the author of aggression, but to the whole community (for example, no one says “John Doe is unfriendly”, everyone says “the community is unfriendly”). The main goal of community moderation is to prevent this from happening as much as possible.

We can say that if on a site:

  • Community actively moderates the site
  • Community moderators contact troublemakers when needed and communicate them the problem in a clear way.
  • Community rules available at a public place.

The phrases like “I always have been doing that there” do not work because every community member knows that “there is not here”.

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