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I've encountered highly engaged users, people with passion and enthusiasm and who make a massive contribution to their chosen community.

But.

They also end up with personal vendettas or have threads veer off-topic. Or start trying to steer the community to "the right way of doing thing". Which becomes extremely distracting to others in the community and is rather disruptive.

How does one determine if and when such as user should be asked/made to leave? And how should one go about it?

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How does one determine if and when such as user should be asked/made to leave?

When your interactions as a moderator and member of the community with the user occur primarily due to complaints of others, it is time to ask them to take a break from the community.

And how should one go about it?

I think this will depend on the maturity level of the user. Presumably, asking them to take a break isn't the first course of action you are taking. In general though, a three strikes policy for these well meaning, engaged users is a good method. Starting with a simple side conversation discussing how the user comes off to others may be enough to get the user to contribute in a more meaningful manner.

If that doesn't work, another conversation explaining community feedback regarding the user, moderator feedback regarding the user and explaining that a break may be necessary is important. At this point, make it clear that you aren't performing any actions, but that your time as a moderator is being increasingly devoted to interacting with just this person and that is not a positive sign.

Finally, on the third interaction, it falls to your communities policies. Issue a temporary suspension but be sure to talk with the user. Don't make it a public shaming for a couple reasons.

  1. If the user has 'supporters' all this does is open up an official spot to complain. It also starts the conversation with you laying down the law. They will find out eventually, and you should address it when it is brought up, but it is not something that needs to be laid out for the entire world to see.
  2. It embarrasses the user. Assuming they were a contributing member and well respected, all you are doing is pointing at them and saying "this is a bad person".

The conversation with the user should explain the reason for the suspension. It should also explain they'll be welcome to return after the suspension if they can contribute in a more constructive manner. I would also mention your community's policies against repeat offenders. I don't believe the three strikes should start over when they return. It should continue. Strike 4 should have a longer period of suspension, not another side conversation asking them to behave.

One thing that is important for a user to recognize when they return from a suspension, is that the community has moved ahead while they were gone. Rehashing old arguments that may have long been solved in their absence is not constructive.

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We had a similar situation where one of our users (userA) had extremely high participation and also a tendency to make comments that others viewed as vulgar, leading to another of our users (userB) asking for userA to be removed. This situation ended up being not too challenging thankfully because userA was not even aware of how their comments were being received.

The issue was userA made a "joke" involving rape which userB was very uncomfortable with. Our first step was to assure userB we heard them and would follow up with userA. We also explained to userB that we want to encourage debate even if the subject was touchy so we wanted to speak with userA and give them a chance to change their actions.

We spoke with userA and made clear to them our goal for the initial chat was just to hear their version of events. This chat was what we were most concerned with, worrying that userA would feel attacked or defensive. To help mitigate this risk we started the chat with userA by just talking about some of the projects they were working on. We then shared with userA that another user had given us some feedback about them and asked if we could share it with them. Fortunately they said yes, however if they said no the plan was to ask them if we could share it at a later date. If userA would have refused to hear the feedback about them AND continued to to make comments that were not relevant to the discussion and made other users uncomfortable then we planned to remove them. While it would have been a blow to the community it terms of volunteer power, ultimately having all our users feel empowered to participate is a key priority for us and we need our power users to be part of the solution, not the problem.

Again, this situation turned out to be fairly easy. UserA was very apologetic and explained they had no intention to make other people uncomfortable and that they were just vulgar in speech. We told them there was nothing wrong with how they are, but perhaps a discussion about diversity and inclusion was not the ideal place for that type of speech. We spoke to userB and shared how the conversation with userA went and asked them if they felt good about the resolution. They said they were happy to give userA another chance and they were grateful we followed up.

Tl;Dr The thing we needed to figure out was if userA was intentionally creating conflict because they think that is acceptable or because they don't understand how their actions are being received. One of of the main reasons our forum was created was to that there WAS moderation to help the discussion be useful and productive. We feel that it is a non-negotiable for all of our users to respect the other users.

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At what point should a highly valuable but highly disruptive user be asked to leave?

At no point.

Please note that members of a community are the irreplaceable backbone of the community; a community without its members is meaningless. Moreover, each community member can be regarded as an attraction point for the community; he/she can drive people to the community.

Thus, in my opinion, a community should try not to lose any of its members as much as possible.

And how should one go about it?

Instead of insisting on throwing out a disruptive member, let us try to find a better way to improve his/her behavior by considering the following points:

  • It is recommended first to remind the user of the community norms, including the code of conduct, directly, like talking to the user privately and kindly explaining to the user how his/her behavior violate the community norms and disturb others, and indirectly, like speaking to all members in public places like Meta and reminding them of the violated community norms.
  • Please note that many people, whose behaviors may not be acceptable, may be in bad moods or suffer from some non-physical problems. It can be good idea to invite such community members to a private room, talk to them friendly, and ask them to express their opinions about the community norms, especially the related ones. We should assure them that their opinions are valuable to use and that our community needs them and their contributions. We should not forget the miracle of kindness, which is more effective than any other solutions.
  • Facing disruptive behavior from a valuable user, moderators should acknowledge him/her for his/her contribution to the community and kindly explain to him/her that his/her misbehavior may threaten the future of the community. Moderators should try to cause the user to feel a sense of responsibility about the community and its future.
  • It is almost impossible for me to think that regarding the above points in handling such a situation would not solve the problem. However, if the problem still remains, then you, as a moderator, can make some required temporary disciplinary action to the user, according to written community norms, provided that such an action deprives the user from only privileges abused by the user and that moderators are willing to retract the disciplinary action as soon as the user shows remorse for his/her past misbehavior (However, I am personally not in favor of disciplinary actions in such a situation).
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  • While your first three bullet points should, of course, be followed first, they may not stop disruptive behaviour. At that point - nobody is indispensable. You must always have the ultimate sanction of expulsion and be prepared to use it.
    – Chenmunka
    Aug 9 at 17:25

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