As a moderator, we get to see patterns of behavior from user(s) that start to spread to others in the community. Whether it is snarky or rude comments, we want to nip it in the bud as soon as possible.

How do we discourage this type of behavior without calling out specific users?

4 Answers 4


As a moderator on Stack Exchange I've used both of the following approaches. (Your site, of course, might not have the same feature set as Stack Exchange, but with luck you have some analogues.)

  • General discussion in an "informal" corner of the site, like (on SE) the associated chat room. As a moderator or as a user you can say something like "I'm starting to see some comments that are a little more snarky than I'm comfortable with; could we try to be more careful about that?" You can talk about why this makes you uncomfortable, e.g. that you fear it's keeping the experts you need away. Get people talking about it in general ways.

  • Specific, targeted communication: sometimes there are one or two clear "leaders" in the community, people who are doing this and are well-enough regarded that others are starting to follow their lead. In those cases I try to take the person aside (private chat, email, whatever works for your site) to talk about it. I start with praise about the person's participation, then ask for help, then explain the problem I see -- that I'm (say) concerned about the site taking on a more snarky tone. Sometimes asking the person for help encouraging others to be more polite is enough; sometimes you need to actually talk about the example the person is setting. But the key is that you are asking this person to be a partner for change; you're not smacking him.


You don't have to call them publicity. If you don't want to draw attention, just don't call the wolves. Inform the users of the specific behavior without giving examples, and make sure they understand that the behavior is bad and they shouldn't do it.

If the behavior is spread enough, some exemplary and swift punishment may be warranted.


Private messages are critically important in pushing back this kind of behavior.

It is an appropriate use of private communications to indicate that a user is starting a behavior which the site would rather not see. If there is normally a stigma associated with receiving private communications, you may want to make it clear that this isn't a serious offence, but rather a future warning to cut back on a behavioral pattern.

In this way, you avoid drawing the broader community's attention to the issue, while asking specific users to step back from their potentially caustic behavior.

It is true that caustic behavior spreads in a community - however, it is important to note that caustic behavior generally does not maintain itself, and will die down if the major propagators stop propagating. For instance, if a major user consistently leaves snarky comments, other users will grab onto this as proper community behavior. Ask the major user to stop, and the use of this behavior will generally die down.

If it becomes a serious problem, it may be a good idea to inform the community as a whole that it is an issue, as you want people to recognize that it will be taken more seriously from this point forward.


In my opinion, we should consider the following points in such a situation:

  • we should first be sure that our written community norms are well-defined enough that one can easily judge that such a behavior is unacceptable according to them.

    In such a situation we can bring related community norms, which are violated by such a behavior, up on the meta-like place of our community and ask others to state their opinions about them; especially, we can ask users committing such a behavior implicitly (indirectly) to participate in the discussion. Such an engagement can help such users to correct their behaviors and prevent others from committing them.
  • The best way to discourage a behavior is to encourage its opposite.
  • Please note that many people, whose behaviors may not be acceptable, may be in bad moods or suffer from some non-physical problems. It can be good idea to invite such community members to a private room, talk to them friendly, and ask them to express their opinions about the community norms, especially the related ones. We should assure them that their opinions are valuable to use and that our community needs them and their contributions. We should not forget the miracle of kindness, which is more effective than any other solutions.

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