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First of all: all the answers may apply to the management of many different types of digital communities, especially those with limited user verification options or sensitive subject matter, but this question pertains specifically to the management of Facebook groups. That may not be the typical community management scenario discussed here, but in my country the majority of Internet users now prefer to join social media site groups as opposed to forum sites. Difference in digital culture, I suppose.

The problem: I am currently the sole active admin of a couple of Facebook groups bringing together and providing a digital "safe space" to socially persecuted and marginalized groups of people. As such, it is of utmost importance to screen all potential new members to protect existing and future members from further harassment, trolling, as well as cyber vigilantes and the possibly life-threatening consequences they pose. At the same time (unsurprisingly) a number of legitimate applicants may and occasionally do request to join using assumed/"fake" identities as a fail-safe, so a fake profile may not necessarily be grounds to dismiss a request. Compounding this is the need to grow the group and reach out to more people in need of a supportive community they may not have access to in their immediate surroundings.

The question: What methods and policies may be implemented to effectively screen new members for a group, especially in such situations? Facebook already verifies its users in two major ways: valid email; age of account. The former is easy to fake and the latter may be misleading. (I'm not sure of the phone verification requirement--it doesn't seem to be implemented with consistency, even though it can also be faked; as for their "real name" policy, so far it only seems to have flagged those of my friends actually using their real names. Perhaps they haven't yet updated whatever database that system relies upon to reflect their multicultural user base.)

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    Welcome to Community Building and thank you for bringing this important question here! – Monica Cellio Jan 15 '15 at 22:25
  • What kind of users are you trying to protect against? Law Enforcement, Persecutors, etc.? or are you trying to keep fake people out, are you allowing people with real profiles? – Malachi Jan 23 '15 at 16:36
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As you get large enough, referrals could be a decent option. In the shorter run, getting more man power to check people out is probably the only effective way to keep things under control. You need a consistent presence that can remove people that are able to fake their way in until you have enough people to be able to expand via personal confirmation.

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    We do have something like that, but that has two disadvantages: legitimate users who are most isolated are disadvantaged even further; existing members don't seem very motivated to follow up with introductions or vouch for new members. At the moments, one of the communities has a backlog of 500 applicants but only 2-3 have come forward to even tell me they added someone. – CodeCharming Jan 16 '15 at 15:49
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What you probably want is two kinds of members: new and established, or unverified and verified, that sort of thing. Facebook doesn't technically allow that, but you can achieve that with two groups. The first can be semi public, and the second completely private. Some announcements and discussions -- those unlikely to expose vulnerable people or attract trolls -- can happen in the first group. More sensitive topics are for the second group only. After some amount of time and interaction in the first group, a person can be invited to the second.

Two tips: first, don't mention the second group much. It's not a super secret, but don't be regularly saying "as we discussed earlier in [second group] or "this should probably continue in [second group]". Second, don't have a mechanical, game-able, published rule for access to the second group. Number of posts, days of membership, anything like that. Every month or so the admins can agree on who to invite to the second group based on their behaviour in the first. Lurking won't get you invited. Arguing in bad faith, namecalling, premise-questioning and so on won't get you invited. Sheer number of "ok" or "thanks" posts won't either.

A group I am in does something similar on Discord with two kinds of channels and it works well. We have over 2000 members and only two have been de-established after being granted the privilege.

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I think the level of sensitivity needs to reflect the level of privacy and disclosure.

There are secret groups that only moderators and people in the group can invite their friends. Otherwise, the group is not visible or searchable in any way. Some groups require you send a picture of your driving license or some form of ID to verify. This level of disclosure to protect the group from fakes and trolls can be important.

Other less intense rules include not accepting profiles that are less than six months or a year old. That profiles need to have their group affiliations and privacy settings off when they apply so you know what sort of posts and groups they join. If your group is for marginalised groups then "leftbook" rules need to be explicit and agreed upon before entering. Making sure you have extensive entry questions that require thoughtful answers before entering reduces the trolls and spammers.

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