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When members attack

What to do when members turn their attentions to YOU!

     
3:43 pm on Sep 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

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We have a forum tacked onto a lively site. People hate change of any kind as you probably know. We're happy to allow even the most bitter criticism of the site to take place on the forums as long as it is polite. We feel it's better to get people's feelings out in the open.

But what would you do if your most well-known members starting turning on you, personally, for your moderating decisions and the decisions you've made on the site?

We've already removed several posts that criticise us personally for what we are doing, and this has caused bitter resentment and accusations of dictatorship etc. Now we're facing a rebellion from some very high profile members.

PS: We always remember there are more important things in the world than our little forum, but we do like to do the best we can so we're taking the situation seriously.

6:06 pm on Sept 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Just curious about your statement that "People hate change of any kind." Have you made some substantive changes to the forum or the moderating style lately? If so, you need to be sure that the changes and the reasons for them are very clearly spelled out, and not in a dictatorial manner. Allowing people to respond to your reasons may keep them from attacking you so personally. And you may find out that the "other side" didn't understand what you're trying to accomplish, or maybe even that they have some reasoning that you haven't understood.

We've already removed several posts that criticise us personally for what we are doing, and this has caused bitter resentment and accusations of dictatorship etc. Now we're facing a rebellion from some very high profile members.

Is there a difference between criticizing the site (which you happily allow) and criticizing the decisions you're making about how the site is run? If you're the one making the decisions, that could be an awfully difficult line to draw, for both you and the members posting the complaints.

My comments are colored by the fact that I've seen a healthy community demolished by a situation like this, so I may feel more strongly about it than is warranted. In the case I experienced, the exodus wasn't caused by the changes the forum owner made but by the dictatorial attitude that people felt he had. Whether that attitude was really present or not, he did come across that way; possibly a matter of poor communication skills. Removing critical posts won't help to change that perception (as you've already found out).

I'd suggest trying not to remove the critical posts except as a last resort, that is, if a specific post is truly abusive or inflammatory. Even if you by policy remove all posts that personally criticize another forum member, it's a different matter (IMVHO) when the forum owner is the subject of the criticism, because you do have power that the rest don't. If you go into the reasons you made the decisions that some members are unhappy about, it may open up some dialogue. It actually says something positive about the forum that members care so strongly about it.

9:33 pm on Sept 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I have found, in my short experience, that forum members forget and move on quickly. A hot topic one day is old news the next.

As a long term solution, do your best to stay in the shadows and let your members work out whatever the current problem may be. Just staying quiet until everything works itself out has worked for me.

9:51 pm on Sept 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Just like on Webmaster World, discussion of moderation decisions should not be allowed on the public forum - only in private messages or email. I copied this policy from WW and it has saved me no end of trouble. Also, I remove any off-topic or abusive posts and replace them with a brief notice saying why they were removed. I put these policies on a TOS page and it's worked so far.
12:09 am on Sept 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Let your members know they are more than welcome to ask about moderation decisions... but not in the public forum. Public debates about whether a mod action was justified never produce a benefit, and you'll lose your mods if this is allowed.

Best bets:
- Clear and specific TOS to define what's allowed and what isn't.
- Consistent and friendly moderation, always pointing out the TOS reason.

A good TOS (and consistently holding people to the TOS) takes the focus off the people doing the moderation. If someone has a problem, they will have it with the TOS, not the person. This keeps thing from getting emotional, and the people who don't like the rules will end up going elsewhere.

12:57 am on Sept 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

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And if that fails, bring them all rallying behind you when you apologise for your 'recent moderation mishaps' due to your lack of sleep thanks to a new baby girl who has bright blue eyes and long golden hair. As long as you have a new young baby girl, of course.
5:50 am on Sept 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

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As said above: "Just like on Webmaster World, discussion of moderation decisions should not be allowed on the public forum - only in private messages or email. I copied this policy from WW and it has saved me no end of trouble."

This works a treat for me!

7:48 pm on Sept 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

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It seems that there are two, almost opposite, approaches to moderation, both with their merits.

One is to stay in the background and moderate silently. When questions are raised about moderation decisions, a cut-and-paste response is given.

The other is to be a "personality" on the site, and take the flak personally. Great if you're the kind of person who take the abuse, because you can be the focus of users' bile.

For the record, I have tried both approaches, and problems mostly occur when the two are mixed or a weak, mid-position moderation stance is taken.

2:43 pm on Sept 13, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I've been at the same situation where members start turning on you for decisions...and it can get truly horrible, and can come back to bite you again months later. Clear rules that you can point to are indeed extremely important but even then, greyness or different opinions on whether rules were signficantly broken can occur. In the end, the only thing that saved my forum was making it clear that the decisions were absolutely final, and just telling those who were continuing to argue and cause trouble to find another forum elsewhere if they didn't like the decisions and continued to try to cause problems on mine. Continued wrecking ended in a number of bans until it finally ceased. Watch out for the problem members trying to siphon off others elsewhere, or trying to turn people who don't know the facts against you, which is what happened to me to quite some degree.

All in all I probably lost a half of the active members either by them leaving, being siphoned off or being banned (although I'd estimate the bans were probably only about a dozen in number, maybe less) in the two rounds of problems I had (the second round coming about 9 months after the first, and all about the same things) but it's better to have numerous bans due to wrecking attempts than have the whole forum destroyed.

[edited by: futuresky at 2:59 pm (utc) on Sep. 13, 2005]

2:59 pm on Sept 13, 2005 (gmt 0)

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We allow personal attacks on site administrators (but not moderators), as long as those attacks don't violate other site rules.

It tends to clear the air a bit, and allows to me to respond to direct accusations, referencing TOS.

A blog is also a good place to address these sorts of comments - in our experience, our blog is only read by the real super users of the site, so the site drama doesn't clutter things up for new users.

What I've found is that some of the most heated input will occur in the comments section of the blog, which all things considered, isn't a bad place for it, as it's a couple steps removed from the site itself.

One final bit of advice - don't respond or correspond with angry users when YOU'RE angry. Don't hit send, don't hit submit, as nothing good can come of it.

And let the really outrageous accusations go unanswered - if you've run a "rule of law" site for a while, you've hopefully built up some good will with the majority of your user base.

3:37 pm on Sept 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Sometimes, in order to "quiet the kids", people choose language that is ambiguous, words intended to slake [google.com] their "entitlement mentality".

I've seen this in operation and I've seen this fail again and again.

Sometimes, when you don't draw a line clearly, the line keeps getting pushed and moved around. This tends to breed new expectations, expectations that are increasingly difficult to manage. This breeds more discontent. Line pushing also can embolden the pusher(s) and next you have a battle for control, fractionalism, splinter groups starting a new forum, etc.

The process you describe may be natural evolution, especially if the group is fairly youthful.

The process you describe may also reflect a failure to manage expectations.

11:13 pm on Sept 19, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Really depends on the community and how it has been managed to-date. If you are providing them a free service and take responsiblity for the discourse on the forums, then it can and might often should be a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. While it is fine to solicit and use feedback from forum users, there has to be a final authority.

Forums rarely work in a democracy format, so if you decide that something is detrimental to the usefulness of the forum, then you should remove it. If someone thinks it is censorship or dictatorial attitude so be it. It is your perrogative. You will not make everyone happy. Some people love the very strict rules webmaster world has.. Others don't...

You need to do what makes you happy and creates the environment that you want. If some users get uppity and don't agree with you, so be it. Explain your reasons for doing what you did and move on.

4:58 am on Sept 21, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Disagreement itself is fine and dandy. But personal attacks are not. You don't need it, and the other members do not need it. Forums are all about community and members who launch personal attacks are of no use to anybody.

I run several forums where the rules are very lax in comparison to most others. IOW off-topic discussions are allowed, commercial posts are generally not deleted as spam so long as they are relevant to the subject at hand, etc, etc, etc. But if somebody gets unfriendly toward another member, they get banned with no warning, no explanation, and no remorse. Maintaining a peaceful and friendly environment is easy this way.

2:50 pm on Oct 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

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What do you do when you have members (mods) who are unhappy about not having certian things their way, then leave and start their own forum and try to take other members with them? The thing is, ultimately the owner has to make the decision who they give forum rights to and trust with. These mods do not understand this and now have their own site and are taking members. How does someone "professionally" handle this situation with the members and mods and keep the community active?
4:11 pm on Oct 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Make 'em disappear, filter any new site references, and be vigilant for solicitations.

More importantly, stay involved in the daily life of your forum. If you have a strong community, it won't be that easy for someone to pirate your members.

4:24 pm on Oct 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Make 'em disappear, filter any new site references, and be vigilant for solicitations.

I disagree with this to be honest - been there before and it just fuels the flames and drives more of your own community away.

The worst thing an admin can be is to try and control the flow of information - it's a petty act that will be enough to push even borderline users to "the other side".

Of course it depends on the reason for the dispute and exodus, but at the end of the day you pick your admin/mods for a reason - their skills, experience and contribution to your community - if you shun that then you look like you are in the wrong.

There's no reason why in this situation you couldn't simply smile and wish them all the best. You're not going to stop people going to their new forum - but you will suffer if you let it bug you or encourage them to "fight back".

Take the high road always - it may not be as gratifying as sweet, sweet revenge, but it is the better move for your community.

Members can rarely be "poached" by other sites. But they can easily be driven away by negative attitudes and petulance.

6:09 pm on Oct 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Take the high road always - it may not be as gratifying as sweet, sweet revenge, but it is the better move for your community.

You are right in a lot of ways and our members will ultimately see that. It is disconcerting to see those you thought you trusted do this. Yes, you do wish them the best and it should all wash out, I guess!

2:25 am on Oct 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

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An interesting solution to the 'attacking members' challenge is to not allow free memberships. Nope, doesn't mean you have to charge anything, but instead, get them to invest themselves into the community.

For me, that's meant having members 'apply' for membership by filling out a rather lengthy application. Yeah, we've probably 'lost' about 60% of the people who've created their accounts and just never filled out the form, but that's ok. The rest have been absolutely incredible people who've invested themselves and become a part of the community and as time goes on, the community becomes a part of them.

You just don't attack something you care about and when you do, its constructive. If its not? The rest of the community takes care of it :).

We've had almost ZERO trouble with spam since the community started over a year ago and the quality of members who've 'made it through' has been exceptional. Now all we have to do is make sure that we take good care of them :).

So, that's all well and good but mostly ideas for implementation in the beginning or while a community is still young.

For me, if my strongest members turned on me and began 'attacking' me now, I'd go spend time and very calmly and quietly talk with them. Figure out what they're challenges and frustrations are and do my best to work with them. Take your most challenging members and bring them to your side :).

-Jonathan Wold

7:16 pm on Oct 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I agree that "having a word" with a few key forum members who feel disgruntled is an excellent way to feed your side of the story to the whole community. The key members, once back in the fold, will go to even greater to lengths to extol the virtues of the forum and mods once they have been shown that you love them.
9:27 pm on Oct 16, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Yes, any forum experiences these kind of growing pains. It's a bit like that stage where your children turn into teenagers and resent their parents for no real reason.

The only way to avoid the public debacle they tend to turn into (as people love watching drama and taking sides) is to have a policy that all problems should be politely emailed to the admin staff, rather than being posted in public. Noone can accuse you of ignoring their opinion if someone chose to ignore a rule that explicitly states how to get the admin staff's attention.