We have pretty loose rules about the language in our community, there usually is a moderate amount of profanity in our chat. Some of the users in our community abuse profanity, though, they insult other users and they think they can get away with it, since our rules allow profanity.

When warned, the users say that we have no right to punish them as profanity is allowed or just simply ignore us.

How should we approach users who abuse profanity in our community?

How should we better word the rules to make people use profanity in a less abusive manner?

  • 1
    users say that we have no right to punish - which begs the question... What are you allowed to punish for? Bad words don't merit punishment... what does? How much power do you have to adjust rules or are you drumming up ideas for a community you are simply a part of?
    – WernerCD
    Oct 19, 2014 at 3:53
  • 1
    Do you or do you not have the right? If not, then what does such a moderator 'moderate'? What are the definitions here? What purpose is served by having moderators at the site? Oct 19, 2014 at 13:13
  • I have moderator status and access to moderation tools. I was chosen as one of the head moderators in our community. I can moderate, but I don't want people to think that I abuse my moderator priviledges because I punish users without the right to do so. The point of this question is enforcing rules without breaking our own rules. I was a user in a community where moderators were abusive and I left that community. I don't want users to think negatively about our community for any reason.
    – Mateon1
    Oct 19, 2014 at 13:35

6 Answers 6


I often see this described as profanity being allowed, but politeness being required. Basically, for purposes of the chat, you define that profanity itself isn't offensive for profanities sake, but it can still be used offensively.

If I say "Jimmy is stupid", it is offensive and wouldn't be allowed under a politeness rule. Just because profanity is allowed doesn't mean that saying "Jimmy is an ass" suddenly isn't offensive. It isn't against the rules because of the word ass, it's against the rules because it is being impolite to Jimmy.

It's far trickier if it goes beyond just targeting people, but rather just overuse of vulgarity. In that case, it's really hard to define how much is too much other than to have the rules give your moderators the authority to tell someone when it is too much using their own judgement. This could be phrased something along the lines of "while swearing is allowed, please keep it to a reasonable amount. Excessive swearing will result in being asked to tone it down. Failure to do so will result in disciplinary action."


Having allowed some profanity means it's difficult to regulate it. It's much easier to handle if you have a strict "no profanity" rule.

Having said that, what you could try is to make sure that the profanity isn't directed at anyone in particular, so that something like:

Visual Studio is crap and an a pain in arse

would be OK (any not particularly vulgar, but there you go), while:

Jimmy is an arsehole

would not be OK as it's directed at Jimmy.

So - if you can change your rules so that insults and swearing at or about other users is not allowed. You can then moderate that without stepping on peoples "rights" to swear if they want to.


When warned, the users say that we have no right to punish them as profanity is allowed or just simply ignore us.

"You have no right" to punish them? That's not entirely true. You have every right to punish however them by restricting the use of your site that you pay the bills for. You might just want to say that punishment is the sole discretion of you and your staff.

It doesn't seem like the issue here is the users. The issue is the ambiguity with the rules. Rules are implemented for a reason.

I kinda like the approach of telling people to be nice, use common sense, and that you reserve all rights to punish any user if you feel it is just to do so. If you want something more cut and dry, perhaps say that you can only use profanity when referring to an object or using it ambiguously.

And since I couldn't resist :P - http://xkcd.com/1357/

  • site that you pay the bills for, you and your staff - that depends on whether or not we are talking to the "owner", a "staff member" or simply "one of many moderators". You can get permission to moderate without being staff/owner. Stick around here long enough, get enough points and you can moderate here (or other SE sites). The unknown parts - specifically how much power the original questioner REALLY has - plays a large part in this question.
    – WernerCD
    Oct 19, 2014 at 3:56
  • @WernerCD the question implies that either they are the owner or the owner gave them explicit permission to moderate however they feel for (pf course, with restrictions). If they didn't have any powers over the rules, that would make the question entirely different. Oct 19, 2014 at 4:00
  • parts of the question imply that the OP has no authority (the users say that we have no right to punish them). The owner of a site would have plenty of rights to punish, as would staff or others in official status. I think the wording of the question leaves ambiguity as to the exact role the OP holds.
    – WernerCD
    Oct 19, 2014 at 4:04
  • @WernerCD the users claim that they cannot punish since the rules don't allow, so that's moot. In fact, they are asking how they should punish them and/or change the rules (last two lines) so they do have authority. Oct 19, 2014 at 4:09

In the case where profanity is being used in a manner a reasonable person could take offense to (particularly direct insults) then other rules of social conduct (those commonly observed in life and any specifically stated in your rules) are in play. You are not trying to stop them using expletives you are stopping them cause offense - they could cause the same offense without the expletives (though swearing is the easy/efficient way). In these cases profanity is the transport not the message and it is the message that you have a problem problem with.

In the more general case perhaps rather than simply saying not to overuse profanity you could explain why it is a bad thing. The obvious one is "it just looks childish and brings down the apparent tone of the group as seen by both members and outsiders who might consider joining" but you need to be careful how you word that because a sensity person will read "this particular behaviour looks childish" as "you are completely immature" and take offense themselves (which seems to be happening already given that they are feeling "punished" when you question their use of language).

Another tack you could try is to point out how overusing expletives and other profanity diminishes its power. Profanity when used sparingly is a very powerful way of expressing extreme emotion and serious reactions but when used all the time it just becomes the norm so when used to express an extreme this simply isn't noticed. For example: if you don't normally call someone a "c" but do in reaction to something they've said they and any spectators know they've gone to far in your view (and pushed you to go somewhere linguistically that you are normally not to tread), but if you call them a "c" all the time that difference no longer exists for anyone to notice. At that point we are no longer able to make use of the expressive power profanity offers and it simply becomes filler: wasted words. As the point of a discussion forum is generally to put across thoughts/reactions/ideas efficiently and concisely (because such concisesness often aids understanding in the reader) poinless filler, in this case overly regular profanity, should be frowned upon. That came out a lot more long winded than I intended, breaking my own conciseness rule, but perhaps you can base a more efficient explanation/rule based on it!

When warned, the users say that we have no right to punish them as profanity is allowed

You have every right, such right is granted to you be being awarded (by yourself or others) moderator status, so you can legitimately tell them they are wrong there. If they don't like the rules of your forum the democratising power of current technology allows them to create their own where they can interact with like minded people while not bothering you.

Even if it is a punishment it is not a cruel and unusual one: you are enforcing accepted standards, possibly standards stated in a terms of use they agreed to when joining. And of course you always have the option of saying "if you keep this up, we will ban profanity completely - use the privelege wisely or lose it".

Their "freedom of speech" does not invalidate your freedom to chose not to put up with them!

or just simply ignore us.

This should be covered by your terms of use too. The path here is usually something like:

  1. Warn politely
  2. Warn more sternly
  3. Final warning
  4. Ban

You might make the process more detailed by adding in temporary bans or forcing people read-only rather than a complete ban, and so forth - what works best varies from community to community. Again point out clearly that if they don't like the rules of your forum they are perfectly free to start their own and invite people into it.


It's all about context. If I call you an effing idiot, it's as much of an ad hominem as just idiot, and as a mod, I'd not let it stand. If someone says our tax code is effed up, that it makes no sense at times, I might just clean that up, but with no warning.

In the end, I think that each community needs to decide what they'll permit. For my community I prefer it to remain family friendly, and there's little that can be better expressed with profanity than without.


I think that the problem here is not profanity itself but the people who are getting offended with the profanity. Learning from Facebook, there are two ways that you can to some extent reduce the offensive nature of the profanities :

  1. Make it community moderated. Let people report abuse and let people manage the reported abused. Maybe creating some threshold and rules for managing this could be set in place.

  2. Make people accountable by making sure that they are entering their real world information in there. The reason people don't post porn on Facebook is because they use their real names on the website.

You can also ..

  1. Create some sort of respect badge for people, where if someone speaks something offensive they get negative points and all these negative points stay permanently with the user. So if they post something in the future, you can display these negative points next to their name. This is somewhat similar to the real world where people are afraid to commit a crime as it would be permanently on their record and it would be a shame for them to have it on their record.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.