I have a user on a StackExchange site. He is well-intentioned, enthusiastic about the site, and his contributions to the site are improving gradually after a rough start.

His participation is mainly with edits, meta posts and comments, and comments on questions to help new users. These are all things users are encouraged to do.

Most of his participation is good or neutral, but let's say 20% of the time they are a little... off.

For example,

  • Edits: Many of these are retags, about 20% of which need fixing because he adds an objectively incorrect tag. Many others are matters of editing style to match his personal preference, which is different from the style we've had on the site until now. I feel like I need to check up on all his edits after the fact, since a non-trivial portion of them need fixing.
  • Comments on posts by new users, advising them on how best to use the site: Sometimes his advice is bad ("You should also post this on Workplace" without mentioning that cross posting is not allowed) or comes across condescending (unintentionally).
  • Meta: He argues on and on in comments until the person he's talking to just gives up. He also wants moderators to spend a lot of time talking to him in chat to explain site policy on various matters.

All of this is behavior that is generally tolerated on our site, as long as more of a user's behavior is neutral or good (as his is). He's not malicious or in violation of site rules.

If he participated a normal amount, he'd just be an average, maybe slightly annoying, user. But he spends a LOT of time on the site. So the non-trivial minority of incorrect or annoying behavior has an outsize effect. (If you participate as much as he does on the site, you had better be 99.9% perfect or you'll have a negative impact.)

This is a huge drain on moderator time. I've easily spent more time on him than all other individuals on the site, put together.

It doesn't seem like he should be banned. He's definitely well-intentioned, and his contributions are improving (albeit slowly) - 20% bad edits is a lot better than what he used to be.

I also can't ignore him - the minority of bad contributions need correcting, or they'll have a negative impact on the site.

I don't think it would be possible to tell him (tactfully) that he should spend about 500% less time on the site. Historically, he has taken criticism very, very, badly.

As a moderator, what can I do to reduce the degree to which this user consumes moderator resources, without letting him have a negative impact on the site?

  • 1
    Does your site ToS or mechanics prevent users from negatively affecting your site? Or are all the user's action within how the community is designed to work, even if they have a negative impact overall?
    – enderland
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 1:14
  • 1
    @Happy I edited - hope that clarifies. And sorry, I didn't mean to write a chameleon post - I guess I did not express the fundamental problem well, before.
    – FraidyCat
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 1:56
  • I think you should try to approach him little by little. Mention how much you appreciate his contribution and point out some of the issues you have noticed, let him know you realize it was a mistake and that he doesn't need to do anything. About his editing, ask him to put himself in the poster position. Explain how others can find that offensive. And ask him to be extra careful with the comments, something to take into account is to be polite because there are non-native english speakers that can take things wrong. Shift the weight of your comments onto other people instead of him.
    – Sky
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 1:41
  • 1
    Related - communitybuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/596/…
    – ChrisF
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 9:44

3 Answers 3


As a moderator, what can I do to reduce the degree to which this user consumes moderator resources, without letting him have a negative impact on the site?

The answer to this depends, essentially, on two questions.

  • How willing and capable is the user to learn how to better fit your community guidelines?
  • Will the user ever be a productive member and can your community help them get there?

Not willing to change / never be productive

Some people will want their way no matter what. Some people will never receive any feedback well. Some people are, quite frankly, going to be a drain on your site.

There are a few ways to deal with this.

The easiest is to simply engage them less. Whether this is through less chat/messaging, posting, commenting, etc, you can engage less and often this eventually will cause these sorts of people to leave. Most new community members are unwilling to continue to "work" if no one really responds or acknowledges their work (well this is generalizable to all of life...).

Depending on your community, you may be able to be clear on what the site expectations are and what the consequences of not following are. Lay out how your community works. Explain what your expectations as a moderator are and what the consequences of not following are. Ideally you have some sorts of terms/service or forum guidelines to reference for this. Then, if the user does not respect them, you can engage them in disciplinary action (up to removing the user from the site). This requires a clear process - don't randomly do this out of the blue.

But it's important to realize - some users will not actually be assets for your site and may be overall negatives.

Willing to learn/change and a benefit

If the user shows promise in wanting to fit your site better, then you want a different approach.

Start with engaging them educationally about how the site works. Take care to explain why any time you need to correct the user. If they are actively trying to learn your community culture, this will be greatly beneficial in the long and short term.

Remember - you are coaching and mentoring at this point. If your team can't handle this, push the user up into the above category. Period. Don't feel bad about it. You are a moderator, not a babysitter. Don't be a babysitter. Your job is to maintain and help the community. Sometimes your efforts are beneficial in coaching others. Sometimes you might not have time. That's ok.

Chat is a great place for this sort of discussion. Don't get burdened in constantly chatting, though, and make sure you don't accidentally set this expectation.

Make sure to point out beneficial things the user does for the site. Reward good behavior in this sense, even if only by complementing. A few "hey thanks for those edits! I/we appreciate it!" or "nice work on all the (work doing something)" can go a long way towards making someone feel both valued and desire inclusion. This is also a great protip for anyone wishing to maintain any relationship with anyone, be it friends or significant others or coworkers... Minimal concentrated acknowledgement of benefit is quite meaningful to almost everyone.

Remember, you want a community. In most cases you want people to take ownership of the site/community (especially on SE, but this is often true). So helping people feel included/valued goes a long way.

As this process continues, you will either deepen your level of discussion or find out the user really falls in the above category.

  • I don't know if this really helps. Suppose a user is too much for the team, and we push him into the "writeoff" category. Now what? We can't ban him - he's not violating rules, and the majority of his contributions are neutral or positive. We can't ignore him entirely - if we don't fix a large minority of his contributions they'll have a negative impact on the site. I think this is good advice in general for "iffy" users, but doesn't help much for users who most of all need more rate-limiting.
    – FraidyCat
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 0:36
  • 1
    @FraidyCat if your site rules allow a user to consistently be a negative impact on the site, you should consider and potentially lobby for revising your site rules. Otherwise you have no reason to complain. A site which basically says "do whatever you want" basically invalidates this entire question, which presupposes there is some desired action. If the site community and technical mechanisms aren't setup for this you are going to have significant problems.
    – enderland
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 0:57

This answer covers some important points based on an assessment of the user's ability to learn. This answer is intended as a supplement to that one.

It sounds like you still consider the user to be valuable, aside from this disruptive behavior. That is, you'd rather have him than not. It's important to note that if that ever stops being true, you need to step back and re-assess. If a user's net contribution shifts too far to the negative, you might need to restrict his access despite the positive parts. (Just make sure you're following your site's rules in that case.)

The problem you describe is that he, basically, sprinkles crappy edits (and comments, which I'll come back to) all over your site and you, the moderator(s), have to clean that up. But if he can edit, then so can other users -- and the only way to keep up with the scale of his edits is to get other users to help. This needn't, and shouldn't, be your job as a moderator; you have other things to worry about, things that only moderators can do, and that's where you need to focus. You can't do all the site maintenance yourself or you'll burn out. You need to push maintenance that other users can do to those users.

On Stack Exchange, an edit produces two effects: it bumps the post to the front page, and it leaves a record in the user's activity log. Publicly you don't want to focus on him (you've said he doesn't take criticism well), but you can ask the community to pay more attention to edits in general. Review your editing guidelines, e.g. that style-preference edits aren't accepted and what your definition of "too minor" is. Ask people to improve or roll back edits that hit the front page that don't comply with those guidelines. Make it abundantly clear that anybody with the privilege is welcome to edit, even if that means editing a previous edit.

Privately, you can check in on his edits to see if either they are improving or the community is handling them. Don't use his edit log as a jumping-off point for you to fix all the things; that'll suck you down a rat hole. I wouldn't even look at the most-recent ones, say the current and previous days. Review the stuff that the community has had time to deal with. If they're dealing with it, great! Drop an encouraging comment on your meta or in chat thanking people for the good work (speaking generally, of course). If they're not dealing with it, try again to engage them (meta, chat).

As for comments, it sounds like you might need to be more ruthless. If his -- and anybody else's -- comments are not serving their purpose, if they're non-constructive or tangential or brewing arguments -- then nuke them. He may complain to you about that, but if he's harming the mood of the community or driving away other users, that has to take priority.


From your words, the problem user you have seems to have good intentions, and seems to learn, but slowly. He/she is not the one to whom a "No Asshole Rule" should apply. But something has to be done. What?

  1. Never let their junk stay. Make the problem edits rolled backed with a short description why is this kind of edits not OK. Delete the problem comments. If you don't have a policy about something that is problematic, make one using Meta. Don't target the user specifically if you are not interested in a flame war, just make a general policy.
  2. Explain how do things work, but don't invest too much of your time in it. Use copy-paste answers, especially if their mistakes are the same over and over.
  3. Do not invest too much of your time here. Moderators on SE aren't supposed to do all the work by themselves. Have other members join the coaching process. It really helps when you see everyone telling you the same thing, not just one big evil moderator.
  4. Discipline the user if they cross the line. Don't be afraid of it. Use short-term suspensions: you are not isolating them from the community to reduce harm, you are disciplining. Give chances to get back and change.
  5. If you understand that the user stopped to learn, or learns way too slowly, or starts to otherwise have a negative influence on your community, and short-term suspensions don't work, nor do any explanations... it's time for the user to go. Give the user an official warning and state that it's too much, that they have a set period of time (around two weeks) to change, and if they don't, they are removed from the community. Monitor their activity during that time. If they change -- well, enjoy the miracle. If they don't, which is more likely in such a situation, send privately a final notice that you are suspending the user permanently because their behavior didn't (use past tense!) fit the community well. Make it clear that there is currently no way back, that it's final, and make it final. Tell when will the user be OK to write an unban appeal, as after some really long time the user might change and rejoin the community, and you will really not understand how could a rational and reasonable user behave that bad in the past. "Long time" means "long time", 12 months. You can also just use a long suspension and see what happens. If the user is problematic after those 12 months -- simply tell that the user was problematic again, and apply another 12 months ban.

Do not let the problem user actually create problems.

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