Protect Your Community from A**holes

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Protect Your Community

Building a house requires hard work and dedication. The end result is a place of comfort and security where your family can live and grow. If someone started shouting obscenities from your driveway for 30 minutes every morning, would you ignore them, or would you take action to protect your family?

Building a community requires hard work and dedication too. It takes time to build trust and loyalty from community members. As its manager, you have a responsibility to protect your community from anything that threatens the culture of trust that took months or years to establish. So when someone says or does something inappropriate that threatens your community, what should you do?

Some people would say “just ignore them.” That’s a perfectly good course of action (or inaction, rather) for first-time offenses. Ignoring can be the quickest way to mute someone – someone who probably just wants attention anyway. Ignoring them also makes it less likely that their words or actions will be seen by your members (if you respond, members will see your response and trace it back to the bad actor’s original comment). The issue may just disappear on it’s own.

But what about repeat offenders? What if ignoring doesn’t work?

At some point, ignoring repeat offenders will do more damage to your community than taking action. Your community members depend on you to maintain a positive culture of trust. Addressing the issue is actually an opportunity in disguise – an opportunity to demonstrate that you are committed to your role as community manager. Missing too many of these opportunities can eventually destroy loyalty and your personal credibility. Unless you enjoy sitting on the sidelines counting the number of people that leave your community, you have to step up and do something.

1. Always assume the best. If the bad actor is using inappropriate language, name-calling or acting aggressively, assume that it’s a product of a some personal issue they’re dealing with. Reach out to them privately, ask them kindly not to repeat the behavior, and ask if there’s an issue you can help them resolve. They may be responding to something you or another community member did that they were unhappy about.

2. Let your community handle it. Sometimes other communities might handle the issue for you. They might call out the bad actor publicly or privately. If your community tackles the issue before you do, do not engage. Let the community speak for itself. But monitor the conversation and make sure that the “good members” are acting appropriately too. If you do have to step in, don’t embarrass anyone and don’t take a side. Speak as if you are a completely neutral party and you are simply stepping in to enforce the rules of the community.

3. Delete their comments. If the bad actor posted inappropriate comments to your online community, your Facebook wall, a forum, or other medium that you control, simply remove their comments and send them a note saying “I removed your comment today because it was flagged as inappropriate. Please do not [use inappropriate language / call other members hurtful names / whatever] in future posts.” Giving them a heads up is respectful and is all that’s need to resolve the problem in most cases.

4. Kindly ask them to leave. If a bad actor continues to exhibit inappropriate behavior after you’ve asked them to stop, it might be time to ask them to voluntarily leave the community. Doing this rather than kicking them out forcefully is more likely to lead to a less emotional departure. When someone is rejected forcefully, they are more likely to say bad things about your community to the outside world which damages your reputation and prevents prospective members from joining your community. Everyone has a megaphone these days.

5. Put them on notice. If a bad actor refuses to stop inappropriate behavior or leave the community, warn them that they will be ejected from the community unless they cooperate.

6. Eject. At this point, it has to be done. Your community will thank you.

Eject the A**holes

7. What’s next? This is a question I’m personally struggling to answer right now. If a bad actor, after leaving or being ejected from the community, takes the bad behavior offline to mediums you cannot control (twitter, other communities, email, in-person at events), what can you do to mute them? Should you start by ignoring their first offense? If it persists, should you try to move the conversation offline into a private email or phone call? What if that doesn’t work? What if they are hating on your community (or even on you personally) in a public setting and refuse to acknowledge your calm, professional requests to stop? Should you ask for help from key community members? Should you expose them somehow and make an example out of them? Should you egg their house? If you’ve seen this situation handled correctly (or incorrectly) or if you’ve personally dealt with a repeat bad actor, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Finally, a note on SPAM: Ignore all the above when it comes to spam. If someone posts spam to your community, eject them immediately without asking questions. Spam is by far the most intolerable thing to do in online communities these days. Your members are constantly inundated with spam everywhere they go. Your community should be a spam-free, comfortable place to hang out and communicate with real people. Have no mercy.

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