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First, some perspective: I was a member of a community about 5 years ago. At that time, I violated community rules and was issued a permanent ban. When this occurred, it took some time to get over, but I eventually moved on. A few months ago, I had a bout of nostalgia and visited the community again. Several of the members I was closer to were still members. I decided to see if "permanent" was "permanent". In this case, I was still banned.

I approached the moderation team, off site. There are only a few moderators that I recognize. Most are "new" since my original ban. I plead my case to be allowed back. My argument boiled down to "It was 5 years ago and I have changed. I understand the rules and will not violate them again." After a few days, I was told that my ban would not be lifted because it was "permanent". When I asked if there was any recourse, the moderator I was talking with said that there wasn't because they didn't have a record of what had happened, but their policy was that "permanent was permanent".

So, my question to leaders of communities, does a permanent ban get you any benefits? From my point of view, five years is quiet a long time and I feel that plenty could have changed in that time period. Is there a risk to allowing a ban to expire after a "long" period of time instead of lasting forever?

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    If there is no documentation of why the ban happened, it cannot be proved that it wasn't an admin abusing their power or a simple misconfiguration in their databse. Which a weak point for them – Hagen von Eitzen Oct 13 '14 at 15:31
  • @HagenvonEitzen I am not currently aware of the process behind getting permanently banned, but I think if there is possibility of abuse by moderators then there is an issue with the process of being banned. Once it is decided as a permanent ban, it should stay permanent. That would suggest there is no need for documentation. (though I wouldn't be surprised if it still exists, but isn't available to see even for moderators) – DoubleDouble Oct 13 '14 at 21:28
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    Personally I have always felt that permanent banning is wrong. Theoretically you could break some site's policies and commit a murder, complete your, say 20-year, sentence and come out of prison, only to be banned on that site still... To me one of the basic rules of society is that people should have a chance of bettering themselves in almost all cases. Murder is an extreme example, but in most countries even the sentence for murder isn't 'life'. E.G. even murder does not get you a permanent ban from society, so why should websites be so harsh?? – Stijn de Witt Oct 14 '14 at 14:47
  • @StijndeWitt, "Murder doesn't not get you a permanent ban from society"...yes it does. That is what life sentences are. – Andy Oct 14 '14 at 15:36
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    @StijndeWitt A permanent ban doesn't mean you can't create a new account and start fresh. If someone wants to better themselves SO wouldn't even be able to tell its the same person behind both accounts. All you really lose is your account name and your reputation score. I'm sure murderers would "kill" for that chance to change their name and start over after being convicted. – DoubleDouble Oct 14 '14 at 16:27
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I won't speak to your own particular situation; there's not enough information to make any kind of judgement on whether the moderators are right or not. But as a general rule, I can think of at least one situation where a permanent ban is indeed the right thing to do. In the case of harassment, allowing a harasser back onto the site will often make the victim feel unsafe again. The victim doesn't know for sure whether the perpetrator has changed or has simply learned to say the right things to con the moderators into thinking that they have done so.

There's also the simple issue that if the moderators don't hold by the rules for one person, you'll get others complaining that, "if X was let back in, why shouldn't Y be?" regardless of how similar the situations may or may not be. It opens up a can of worms that the moderators may not want to deal with.

I do agree with Chris F that any site with moderation should keep a record of moderation decisions.

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    +1 for covering that the fact that the banned user's mere presence can be threatening to individual users and thereby harmful to the site regardless of whether the user "has changed". – R.. Oct 13 '14 at 20:22
  • If you let them in again there should be a general rule and not an exception for specific users like @StillBanned said with the question Is there a risk to allowing a ban to expire after a "long" period of time instead of lasting forever?. And for the case of serious harassment. This sounds for me like a lot of criminal energy, why do you think those individuals won't simply create a fake identity? – EverythingRightPlace Oct 13 '14 at 20:58
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    @StijndeWitt Apples and oranges. Nobody is saying "a previous harasser should not be allowed anywhere" - we're saying that "if their presence in this one space is hurting the person they victimized, they don't have a right to get back into that same space that they were kicked out of". The perpetrator is free to go play somewhere else. – Jenny D Oct 14 '14 at 16:22
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    @JordonBiondo Thanks for your edit, I'd missed de-gendering in one place and you were right to catch it. Thanks! – Jenny D Oct 14 '14 at 18:32
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    @StijndeWitt And being banned from an online forum is a lot less serious than being banned from an offline one, so there goes that counter-argument... – Jenny D Oct 16 '14 at 12:17
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Ultimately bans, permanent or otherwise, are there to send a message to the users of the site. The length of the ban indicates the seriousness of the offence, so a permanent ban says "this person did something so bad we don't want them around any more". It, hopefully, reminds other users to behave themselves.

Unless the developers/administrators of the site go to a lot of effort it is possible to get round any ban by creating new accounts, using proxies etc. However, you may well find yourself in much more trouble if you try to circumvent the ban and get caught. This isn't to say that bans are useless - the initial shock of being denied access may just be what the user needs to mend their ways.

A permanent or long term ban is only useful to the site if they keep a record of why the ban was put in place in the first place. Without that information a multi-year ban isn't helpful to anyone. As a moderator you can't review the ban if or when new evidence comes to light and you can't say "sorry, because of what you did you're still banned".

Given that no one can remember why you were banned in the first place and there are no records I say that you should be given a second chance. However, if I were moderating the site I would be keeping an eye on your behaviour to make sure that you had learnt your lesson and were now behaving.

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    However, you may well find yourself in much more trouble if you try to circumvent the ban and get caught. Well, not true in case the ban was permanent: really nothing to lose. (surely they won't escalate it to a real tribunal "just because he came back": either they did it anyway, or they won't do it now) – o0'. Oct 13 '14 at 14:51
  • Also, it's the Internet! There is no way you can effectively ban someone for years, except if you would only let people open accounts after seeing legal documents from them. Otherwise you can only stop them from using that username again. – Josef Oct 15 '14 at 10:03
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There are a few different reason why permanent bans can make sense and it depends on the situation and community. The first thing to figure out is what kind of permanent ban is being talked about. Is it a ban on your account or a ban on your person?

A permanent ban on an account is a penalty issued against an account that takes time and effort to build up. Banning against such an account can be a disciplinary measure to take away the result of that effort for a serious offense or series of offenses. In such a case, the individual behind the account may be allowed back, even immediately, but they have to start from scratch and re-establish themselves as a valuable member of the community.

A permanent ban on an individual only really makes sense if if is a community where it is possible to show that they are a permanent problem. Examples of this can include many things such as severe harassment or attempting to harm the community in some serious way. The exact reasons that make sense depend on the site, but generally, if it is something behavioral that could legitimately change and not leave a lasting bad taste in the community, then a permanent ban is probably overkill.

A permanent ban may also be issued with criteria for review. They can make sense when the user shows no sign of becoming a valuable member of the community, however there is room for them to prove they should be allowed back after some unknown period of time.

Either way, it is a really good idea to take note of why a permanent ban was issued. Even in the relatively rare cases where it is extreme enough to merit a true permanent removal of the user, it is worth knowing why that was in the future and it shouldn't be that hard to keep record of as they shouldn't be getting handed out like candy.

  • Thank you for your response. I agree that harassment, stalking, etc would justify a permanent ban. I realized I didn't state it, but that is not what I was banned for. My sin was collusion during some community forum game that game me and a couple other members an unfair advantage. I do remember that it was against the rules so I can't argue that point. – StillBanned Oct 14 '14 at 3:39
  • Haraasment and stalking don't get you a life sentence in the real world... Why would you get a permanent ban for it online? – Stijn de Witt Oct 14 '14 at 14:53
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    @StijndeWitt - they may get you a "stay away from the victim" for life though. There is a difference between saying "you can't join any community that has to do with topic X" vs "you can't join OUR community because you have victimized someone in it." – AJ Henderson Oct 14 '14 at 15:04
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If you allow people to come back after a time that produces extra work for you. You have to create a policy for that purpose and have to argue with people who want to come back.

On the other hand there are also benefits. If you allow people to request being unbanned they might use that channel instead of registering a new account. You can put the unbanned account under extra scrutiny which you can't with a random newly registered account.

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When it comes to permanent bans, it's more about banning your persona rather than banning the real you. They can ban your account, but unless they do something ridiculous like verify everyone's government ID, they can never ban the real you. You can never come back under that username again (and if you came back as ThatName#2 you'd probably just get re-banned), but you could come back under a new name to get a fresh start.

And I think that fresh start is the purpose of permanent bans. Coming back as the same persona would bring back old feuds, and would probably end up in another banning situation.

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    Welcome to Mod.SE! Can you focus more on the moderational side of this than how to get unbanned? (However, the switching details thing is an interesting point that could be cultivated...) Thanks! – Anonymous Penguin Oct 13 '14 at 22:12
  • Best answer as far as I'm concerned. The 'fresh start' thing is an interesting perspective. – Stijn de Witt Oct 14 '14 at 14:54
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    "unless they do something ridiculous like verify everyone's government ID, they can never ban the real you" - That depends on the community you're moderating. For eg. video game servers (or the sites they're tied to), a banned user can't just create a new account. They'd have to buy a whole new copy of the game. Some sites (like steamtrades.com, which requires a Steam account with >$100 worth of games) can cost even more than that. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Oct 14 '14 at 23:12
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It depends on the moderator who bans you, really.

Sometimes it's a very good thing to ban someone permanently, but that depends on: what did you do? Sometimes it's a very bad thing to ban someone permanently, because the user may be a valuable user or become one in the community.

So, advantages:

  • If the user was annoying you won't have to deal with him again

Disadvantages:

  • The user may be or become a valuable user in the community

But most important of all, it's about the character of the moderator. Does he give people new chances? Or is he very strict?

Nobody can say for sure if permanent banning is the right solution...

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One use of a permanent ban is to require users who do come back to create a new account. This can be done openly or secretly. Doing it secretly avoids people who were affected by the ban immediately recognizing that the banned person has returned, giving them a chance to start fresh.

Of course it won't work if the forum involves things like posting photos or information that would identify the banned person.

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