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I have seen it happen a few times: a user is contacted and suspended for rude or offensive behavior and they respond to the moderator message with even more rude or offensive language. Example:

Mod message:

Hello,

I'm writing to explain that your account has been suspended for 1 week for rude behavior. Please refrain from engaging with users in a hostile tone in the future.

Regards,
JohnB

Response:

You're a worthless piece of garbage and don't know the first thing about moderating. I've moderated many sites before and you don't know diddly squat about how to handle a community. I hope you're proud of yourself for satisfying your Napoleon complex. Delete my account if you want I don't care, this place stinks!

Use your imagination for actual offensive language.

This seems to be a very common pattern when these types of mod messages are sent out. Should I just ignore these types of messages or should they be compounded into further punishment?

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  • 3
    Don't feel guilty for your decision.
    – user166
    Jul 30, 2014 at 18:31
  • 3
    Note while escalating the punishment for "the same crime" (here: rude behavior) should not be "recursive", it's a different matter if the user was punished for a different "crime". Say, user's voting right is suspended due to voting system abuse, and then the user reacts to this with obscenities, applying a separate measure for the rude behavior should be okay. It's not like being punished for one violation makes you immune against punishments for all other kinds of violations.
    – SF.
    Jul 31, 2014 at 9:18

4 Answers 4

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No, punishment should not be recursive. You're moderating on behalf of the community and the user's participation in the community, not based on what venom they spew at you in private.

How you handle them should be based on their public content. Whether or not they incur additional action should depend on how they choose to behave after their suspension is up. What they spew at you in private doesn't really need to factor in much. Also as a general rule communiques between moderators and members that were intended to be private should stay that way. The only real exception is if the user chooses to make some of it public. Sometimes this will be done out of context and you'll need to set the record straight for the benefit of the rest of the community. You can either prompt them to make the full communique public or make at least your end of it public yourself.

As Bill said, just ignore messages like that and wait to see how they behave when their time is up.

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    "How you handle them should be based on their public content." Mods need to be prepared to step in and address abuse that takes place privately. This recent incident on SO is worth mentioning. I have seen far worse in other communities, including death threats and suicide threats.
    – Air
    Jul 30, 2014 at 17:55
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    @AirThomas I fas spacifically refering to the response to mod notice things between a mod and a user. Of course private things between users (on systems that allow such or offsite contact) should be haken into consideration. My point is in the scenario in the question the best thing for the mod to do is just eat it and take one for the team. Adding punishment for feedback to a punishmelt is usually not going to improve the situation or the increase the likelyhood of a sumeccful rehabilitation of the user.
    – Caleb
    Jul 30, 2014 at 18:10
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I usually ignore these kinds of messages, as they are written in the heat of the moment. A user's response at the beginning of a suspension isn't as important as their response at the end. If they come back and have addressed their problem behavior I'll welcome them back. If they haven't learned anything, the next suspension can be longer.

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Generally, this kind of behavior is intending a response to feel justified. Most people, when called out for violating a rule, do understand that they were out of line, however, people also do not like to be wrong. They want to be able to believe it is personal, so some have a tendency to become angry at whoever is pointing out their fault and yell at them, either intentionally or subconsciously hoping to get a response that confirms that it isn't just their behavior, but rather that the moderator does have it out for them.

Responding to them with further punishment primarily just ends up confirming this bias to them and makes them actually more likely to be a problem in the future. If a user responds negatively, either ignore it or respond as kindly as possible to it. If you do respond, the emphasis should be on trying to diffuse their anger (without backing away from the need for the original consequences) and to make sure they understand why the action was needed.

Overall, don't read too much in to it. How often have you been frustrated with the actions of some politician you didn't like? It is natural for people to respond with frustration when upset with the actions of others, some handle it better than others. Just soak it up as a normal part of the job. With practice, it shouldn't really impact you that much when you understand why it happens and that they are just venting.

When it does become a problem is if it results in negative behavior towards you that continues beyond the initial confrontation. If, after the penalty is served, they return to the community and then start continuing to try to make your life difficult in an on-going manner after the incident, it may become necessary to take further action, but ideally, that action should be taken by another moderator who is neutral to the situation, thus avoiding the appearance of it being a personal issue.

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Problem

In a community, a moderator felt that a user had violated a community norm, and so the moderator suspended the user. The user strongly disagreed with the moderator decision and furiously vented his/her anger over it. Should the user be punished again for the venting?

What the moderator may do

This depends on the established rule/norms of the community. If there is a community rule explicitly asking members not to offend others anywhere within the community and moderator communication takes place within the community, then the moderator could take additional disciplinary actions (such as suspension) specified in the written rules for such a code of conduct violation. In this case it is recommended to explain to the user why and according to what rule such a decision is made.

But, if there is no rule required for dealing with such a situation, it is recommended not to take additional disciplinary actions not endorsed by any established rule.

What the moderator should do

Instead of prescribing a remedy for the problem, I mention the following points so that regarding them would be helpful when dealing with such a situation.

First, seeing that the user strongly disagreed with the disciplinary action, should the moderator not think that there could be a (faint) possibility that the decision was wrong? So it should not be a bad idea to reconsider the decision; reconsideration should be done by other moderators (if any), and/or it could be done by the community if need be and the user's approval of revealing required information be given.

There will be two cases. If the decision turns out to be wrong, it should be retracted, and the moderator should apologize to the user for it. On the other hand, if the decision turns out to be right, it will become more justified, which would help the user become calm and confident.

Second, unlike some people believing that the moderator should overlook such a venting expression, I think that ignoring a user who is very furious over a moderator decision does not seem constructive.

The user in question claimed that he/she already moderated many communities and so was well aware of how to make proper moderation decisions. In order to make the decision more justified to the user, the moderator could ask the user to explain how he/she as a moderator of a community would handle such a situation. So after a constructive talk about the matter, common points between the moderator and the user would likely be found so that the tension becomes less severe.

Third, the last but not the least, to answer the question of the OP from another point of view, let me begin with asking some questions. What is the purpose of (recursively) punishing the user? Does the moderator really expect that after the suspension the user would come back to the community expressing remorse for his/her past behavior like "I feel sorry. I should not have done that. I promise you to behave properly"?

Unfortunately, many community moderators are too impetuous and willing to punish bad members. Even regarding correct, justifiable disciplinary actions, I think that most of them can be avoided. In my opinion, moderation is more an art than a science. Moderators must have and use authoritative privileges to manage their communities well, but a wise moderator will not put their effectiveness easily by overusing them; "the ideal moderator does as little as possible."

So, let me conclude this answer by this comment: You could punish and repunish the user; however, please keep in mind that in almost all cases there tends to be an inverse relationship between using power privileges and the value of what is gained.

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