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We are a young small community, who is still working on building up a stable user base. Already a few months ago, it happend that a user appeared who is interested in the topic of the site, but he is very self-centered and abuses the community to permanently seek attention and promote personal opinions instead of trying to honestly learn about the topic of the site.

By posting off-topic comments, redirecting discussions in every thread to his personal issues/opinions, and continuously bumping himself to the to of the list of active posts, this user managed to completely dominate the site for more than a month. We have lost many good user upon this unfortunate episode, which I fear can be detrimental to our community if this continues.

The user is still there and plays his games, as we have not been successful in finding a good solution for these problems, because this problem user has managed to split the moderator/administrator team:

Some want to keep this user by all means and are rather tolerant towards his activities, whereas others feel a need of stopping the damage he is doing and are willing to block him if this can not be achieved otherwise.

Also, we strongly rely on community moderation (some people seem to ignore the problem- user and feel not much disturbed by him) and just blocking this user is not feasable, as this would evoke a hurrican and potentially blow the community definitively appart. But fact is also, that the persistant problem user has objectively harmed the community a lot (and he is still doing it) as can be seen when analysing the site statistics for example.

So does anybody have good suggestions about how to proceed in this situation?

How can the community be rescued, after a very harmful problem-user has managed to split the moderator/administrator team?

To me it seems we are somehow stuck with this issue for a too long time now ...

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    Is it feasible to make it so that comments don't bump the post? – Kit Z. Fox Sep 11 '14 at 18:33
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  1. Explain the other admins/moderators why. If you (and the moderators who agree with you) take action without agreement of the others, it will be harder to become one union again, and you'll keep being separated which you don't want. Explain why it is bad, and make your reasons convincing. With unconvincing reasons such as "it is just bad", it will be harder to really convince them if you have a convincing reason.
  2. Talk to the user. After step 1, let the user know that what he does it wrong. If he listens, then you can keep the user (which is what the other group of moderators want), and delete the off-topic comments. Give him a warning that if he continues, he will get suspended for some time.
  3. Suspend the user if he continues. The first time give the suspension a length of 2 days, next time 7 days, third time 14 days... After some time, he will probably learn that he will keep getting banned if he continues.

Step 1 is the most important step. If that one doesn't succeed, you cannot continue with the next steps, because the division will only become stronger.

Try to convince the moderators with these reasons:

  • The user posts a lot of off-topic comments; they are noise because you can hardly follow the real conversation, you always have to filter out the important stuff yourself.
  • By posting these comments, he bumps all questions to the front page, so you cannot see which posts are really updated.
  • Because of the above reasons, we have lost a lot of valuable users. [link to stats here]
  • We don't have to remove them, we can talk to him and if he doesn't listen, a temporary suspension is enough.
  • Thanks @ProgramFOX. We did talk to the user several times, and one weekend the administrators and moderators had intense email discussions. We then came to some kind of an agreement to no longer being tolerant to off-topic contributions and delete them on first sight. But this is often not enough, as the problem-user then starts to play the poor victim who's "human right" to comment is violated, insult administrators, and so on ... – just_curious Sep 7 '14 at 7:18
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    @just_curious "'human right' to comment is violated" Send him this xkcd.com/1357 – Qwertie Sep 7 '14 at 8:55
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    @just_curious Tell him that this has not really something to do with "human right to comment", as he still has the right to comment, just not off-topic comments. That are the rules. If necessary, use the same arguments as you used to convince the other moderators. – ProgramFOX Sep 7 '14 at 8:59
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You appear to be on the side that the user needs to go, based on your description of the situation. You've made a case here on why you think he needs to go. What are the counter arguments to keeping the user around? It seems that both users and administrators want the user to stay. As your site has an aspect of community moderatoration, this is even more striking against your point of view if others are not in agreement with you. Are you biased against this user for some reason? If so, that may be something you need to consider when you attempt to sway others toward your point of view. You mention that some user ignore the "damage" the user has done. Perhaps they see no damage. Something to consider as well: What you consider off topic may not be what others consider off topic. Are on and off topic topics clearly defined? If not, that needs to be discussed either by the administration team or by the community at large.

ProgramFOX makes a very good list of steps in his answer. The point I'd like to reiterate is that you need to communicate with your fellow administrators. But this needs to be done simply from a factual point of view. Leave phrases like "damaged the community" and "plays his games" out of the conversation. Instead, focus the discussion on facts.

You mention the usage of site analytics. If these truly show your point of view, utilize them. However, beware that statistics don't always show the whole picture. Could your site utilization have been lower because of summer vacation or a sports off-season or any other number of things? Think about this, because the other administrators will when you try to use statistics to convince them to remove this user. Could you have lost users for other reasons such as overly strict moderation or a limited topic scope that they feel they have nothing to contribute to any longer?

The discussion with the other administrators should also take the time for the opposing view to be shared as well. Some people want him to stay. Why? Or, even more importantly (more as a precedent setting measure for your community), is your user innocent until proven guilty? Does someone need to defend the user if your argument is not convincing?

If your administrators do come to your point of view and an action needs to be taken, take one. Decide on the action during your discussion. Then implement that decision. It's also important to ensure that your community policies and rules are updated to reflect the reason for the decision so that this type of behavior doesn't occur in the future. If it does reoccur, you can point to the rules and explain exactly what is being violated. These rule and policy changes need to be shared with the community.


In all of this, I'm guessing, your goal is some form of rehabilitation for the user. After the administration discussion occurs, some one from the administration team needs to talk with the user privately. Preferably this will be someone who was relatively neutral in the kick/keep debate. The discussion with the user should cover both sides of the arguments that were made and provide examples of behavior that people deemed inappropritate. "You did bad things", is not helpful. Instead, "In this post, you explicitly changed the topic of whale watching when a user mentioned his Grandmother had been on a trip and saw a whale once. You changed the topic to your grandmother's cookies and how they are the best thing since the sun started burning", is much clearer in what was done inappropriately.

Cover any disciplinary actions that were decided on as well. Explain why the action was taken. Even more importantly, discuss expectations when the user returns. Do you expect them to just lurk or are they allowed to participate again? If they can participate, if they don't hijack any more threads, is there a punishment if they contribute to a large number of topics in a meaningful way or should they limit themselves to only a few topics for the foreseeable future?

  • Thanks Andy for this good advices, seems there are quite some things to consider now for us. The thing is that even the people who want to protect the user in question know (and even say so!) that most of his contributions are off-topic, wrong, and insulting to the targetted audience. Discussing with the community is generally difficult in our small community. Mostly the mods and admins take part in such discussions, whereas the rest of the community stays silent. We have a few very nice and great people who contribute amazing content, but they seem not to be interested in "meta issues". – just_curious Sep 7 '14 at 7:24
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User479 that is a great idea! It would help the problem. However I don't think it will solve the unity issue with the mods/admins. Mods, talk to each other. Why do you want him to stay? Why do you want him to leave? Then discuss the pros and cons of each. I would personally make him leave, though probably not through banning. One forum I am on sort of self-regulates. The actual users do not respond to trolls and other annoying users, and they quickly leave. Signing up also requires emailing the admin and convincing him you're human.

  • The issue is that in particular one administrator keeps on discussing with him and gives therefore positive feedback ... The strange thing I dont understand is that this administrator says himself that most contributions of the problem-user are wrong, off-topic, and at times even insulting ... – just_curious Sep 7 '14 at 7:13
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Make it a technical solution instead of a human one, so everyone can continue without losing face.

If you implement exponential posting time, each time he posts the time until he can post again will increase. Normal users will not notice it, but it will slow down the spammers and trolls and enthusiastic people. Call it an anti-spam feature and nobody will complain.

Example:

  • 0-3 posts in the last 24 hours -> no waiting time
  • 4-5 posts -> 1 minute
  • 6-10 posts -> 5 minutes
  • 11-20 posts -> 1 hour
  • ...

And if you are lucky it will annoy him so much that he will find a new playground.

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    If you are unlucky, though, you'll annoy your good members and drive them to a new playground. I don't think a technical solution is the only solution. It also doesn't force the administration team to talk, which is an important part of the problem's resolution. – Andy Sep 6 '14 at 17:11

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