What should be done about threats of physical violence?

Should moderators report serious threats to law enforcement? If so, will they care?

  • 2
    Similar but not a duplicate: What should be done about posts that threaten suicide on our forums?
    – Andy
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 19:10
  • 3
    This feels broad, but maybe that's ok. Credible threats versus any? Public posts versus private communication? User identities (or even just source IPs) known or unknown? Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 19:53
  • 1
    @MonicaCellio: That sounds like the beginning of an answer. ;) Thank you for your feedback!
    – Jim G.
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 14:50

3 Answers 3


First and foremost you should remove the threats (after keeping a record of them in some way should they be needed.) Whether or not the threat is credible or "real" enough to involve law enforcement, repeatedly reading such a thing is upsetting not only to the target but to other members of the community.

Second, you should let the community know that you've removed the threats, in order to help them feel cared for and looked after. You don't need to let the community know if you have disciplined the user or involved the authorities.

Third, you should consider getting the authorities involved and letting them determine whether the threats are "real" or "credible" - that's their job and they're quite good at it in most cases - generally better than a volunteer site moderator, anyway. Your terms of service should make it clear whether you'll release real identify information to authorities in the event of an investigation - most TOS do allow for this.

If you think about a type-1 type-2 error analysis, there are two possibilities: the person really did feel malicious and angry enough to cause physical hurt, or the person was just "blowing off steam" or wanted to cause emotional hurt. Involving the authorities is obviously the right choice in the first case, and may often be the right choice in the second case too, since the offender will learn that threatening physical violence in public is not a consequence-free option.


First of all, you need to figure out if it's a real threat. If the two users don't seem to know each other or there's some obvious fact (if one mentioned they lived in the UK while another is in Australia, it's probably not credible), it probably isn't a valid threat and it should, depending on your policies, be treated as one user insulting another one badly. If there's anyone above you, you may want to contact them to see if you/the site has any legal obligations.

It's worth a shot to at least email legal authorities to see if they care. There's probably no need to call 911 right away (if you're in the US, of course). If the threat's very specific (i.e. listing the time/place/what will happen) and you can figure out who the person behind the threat is easily, they might be able to do something about it. Note that most of the time authorities cannot act against someone in a different country.

tl;dr: Ultimately you can't do a ton about this except bans. Figure out if the threat is real, and if it is, the best you can do is shoot a quick email/have a quick call to authorities to see if they can do anything about it so you're not legally liable.


If you wish to deter such behaviour, the terms of use should state that threats against members are not tolerated. There are jurisdictions where such behaviour is illegal, state that you will cooperate with law enforcement where applicable.

from Making Threats / Law Breaking:

It is wrong and illegal to threaten, intimidate, or harass other people regardless of whether those threats are delivered in person, on the phone, via the mail, or over the Internet. It can be especially harmful to deliver such threats in a public area such as a Web site, chat room, or bulletin board. If you or your child receive serious and frightening threats online, contact law enforcement.

Parents should talk with their children about the proper way to behave online and with other people and stress that threatening other people is not only wrong but can get the child into trouble at home, at school, or with the law.

The applicability of this depends on the specific location of the community and it's members and also of the specific nature of the threats that have been exchanged.

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.