Someone who isn't a moderator, but attempts to enforce rules without the power of the platform. An example of a problem user is one who tells members how to post, or that they should not post, as though they were an official moderator. The person doing this is inherently abusive or dismissive and not constructive to community building. They may mean well but they often don't understand the community in the first place, so moderation for them is a power-trip, and not something they are effective at. Alternately, they may try to drive the community to move in a way that was not the original intent of the community, thus making it more hostile to new members than how things began.

On reddit, you can remove comments or posts, as well as mark users as spam (so the system learns to reject their posts), but you can also indicate the seat of privilege by marking the post as from an authoritative user in the subreddit. On Stack Exchange there are many tools for moderation, but moderators are denoted by a diamond next to their name.

What is the best approach to reigning this member in, so they are more active but not "abusive" to the community?

  • I don't understand the question. The second paragraph indicates that community moderation is encouraged. The third paragraph implies that engaging in community moderation is intrinsically abusive. Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 21:27
  • Some backseat moderating persons will cease writing altogether and only concentrate on moderating when you grant them actual power, so it may play adversely. Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 17:00

3 Answers 3


Fundamentally, such a situation is no different from any other abusive user, moderator or not. If the user is being respectful in their actions, there is no problem and they may even be a decent candidate for a moderator in the future if they continue in being a help to the community.

If, however, they are handling situations crassly or rudely, it becomes a problem. This can happen with both users and moderators. In either case, the key is to stop the abuse. Insulting people is just as much a problem when it is talking about their failure to follow guidelines as it would be if it was about their intelligence.

Stop the bad behavior. Explain why it is a negative impact on the community. Explain how it can be done properly, in a constructive manner. Ensure that the user understands you value their assistance, but that it needs to be done in a way that boosts community.

If the problem continues after coaching the user in how to properly behave, take the normal disciplinary action you would for any other abusive behavior.

  • In this case, for clarity, the individual is not a moderator by given/granted power, just by self-declaration
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 18:39
  • Do you have any suggestions on how to beset coach the user to behave properly?
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 18:39
  • 2
    @jcolebrand - it would really depend on exactly how they are not conforming to the community's standards. If they are making up their own rules, it would involve explaining why those things are allowed. If it involves being too rude, it would be explaining the importance of being polite and that they are actually breaking the rules themselves. There isn't a one size fits all solution in terms of why the behavior is destructive, but making sure they know a) why it is destructive and b) how to be constructive, is key.
    – AJ Henderson
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 19:04

Hire them!

The best way to deal with that, is if the system allows for a position of a 'sub-moderator', something that lies between fully-featured moderators and common users. A moderator-in-training, or something like this. If that's not a system thing, make it still a statute thing.

Don't leave them much of a choice about that too. Either they take up the position, or they cease to try to act the position without taking it.

That way their actions receive the system's legitimacy - and the full burden of responsibility behind them. As a common user the back-seat moderator might be dismissed 'your posts have no legal bearing" and as result silencing them is "violation of freedom of speech". Given the position they no longer represent just themselves - they represent the site and are held accountable for their actions.

Then watch them closely. At that point - as their superior - do hold them accountable for their actions, guide, correct, teach, rescind their erroneous actions, reprimand, and of course acknowledge correct behavior and praise for resolving issues. Do not hesitate to issue bans for violation of the rules, demand upholding standards higher than expected from a common user.

It's a lot of work but it pays in the long run. Finding a good active moderator is difficult. It's much easier to turn a bad active moderator into a good one, than to pick a person who'd make a good moderator but simply lacks the energy, and motivating them.

I can say on one forum where I'm in the moderator staff, we've managed to convert one very notorious troll into a valuable member of the moderator crew that way.


Let me state several general points which can be considered when facing situations discussed in the OP:

  • We should always try to encourage community members to participate more in meta issues. Having different opinions and (deep) disagreements are natural and helpful for thriving communities.

    If we see that a community member has opinions we dislike, let us not prevent them from expressing their opinions; we can also express our own opposing opinions, and let the community itself select the best ones. Expressing opinions is the least privilege that any community member should have.
  • By having well-defined guidelines for our community, we can reduce the number and the effects of such unpleasant situations; for example, we can emphasize in our guidelines that community members should not impose their opinions on other members, or community members do not have to conform with other regular community members' opinions.
  • (The most important point) Unfortunately, in such situations many people attack such a member unfairly by considering them a troll or a spammer, and many community managers are not patient enough and take severe disciplinary actions very soon.

    When many people see that a person having some physical problem needs help, they are willing to help them; however, in the case of a person having some non-physical problem, such people are inclined to treat them unfairly, for example, by scoring or rejecting them, and such misbehavior is much worse in the virtual world.

    If we see that a community member trolls or does something we dislike, why do we not think that they may be in a bad mood or have some non-physical problem? Why do we not interested to help them, instead of attacking or scorning them? Why do we not apply the miracle of kindness in such situations? By kindness we can turn a badly-behaved community member into a helpful one; this is the art of community management.

    It is worth noting that rash disciplinary actions may result in negative (and opposite) things; there is always time for taking such actions.
  • Taking disciplinary actions must be the last step in handling such situations. However, please note that such actions can be taken only if a community member obviously violates written community norms; no member should be punished because of violating some non-written norm.

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