We all know that moderating online communities is difficult. It’s very difficult.
As an administrator (thought NOT a moderator) at the by-invitation only Stellar Parthenon BBS, I have had a bird’s eye view of how tough this in a community that only numbers a few dozen active users.
Well, this essay by the “Tax Collector Man” has a good starting point, “Literally Just Ban Bigots,” where he argues that disruptive trolls are overwhelmingly bigots, and bigots are without exception disruptive trolls.
Based on my experience, I agree:
If you’re reading this, you might be a community owner, aspiring to be one, or are just plain curious. This advice might not necessarily be targeted at you, and may even read as pointlessly obvious, but believe me when I say that some well-meaning people need it. It is a point of frustration me and many others have endured time and time again, and now that I can confidently say that I run a large-scale community in a way that I always wanted to find in the wild, I feel at the very least confident to say these things not just as a frustrated community member, but as a community owner.
So he poses the question, how does one create and maintain a “good” community online, he’s managed groups with memberships in the mid 5 figures, and his first step is a VERY simple one: Ban bigots. Do it as soon as you discover them, because if you get yourself tied up in knots with process, they will poison your community:
Good community management isn’t about numbers and charts no matter what someone tells you. Good community management is about good communities. Happy people who like being in the spaces you’ve built. If you focus on Growing The Community, you’ll inevitably miss the trees for the forest and end up with a big community that nobody wants to be in. The following advice might grow your community. It might shrink it, too. It might make your server more active! It might make it less active, too. The bottom line? This isn’t about numbers. It’s about people, and the numbers are something you consider when the people part is settled.
So let’s talk about the core thing you need to be a good community manager. I mentioned that this stuff is a lot of common sense, but this one is really, really deceptive. It’s common sense at surface level, but in practice, misconceptions about what this means are devastating. Bear with me here:
Ban bigots. “Bigot” is a far-reaching term, of course. That includes racists, homophobes, transphobes, and essentially anything that would infringe on the existence of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people. And I mean ban them for anything. I don’t care how minor or insignificant it might seem. The idea that bigotry only manifests itself at an immediate or “present” scale (active antagonization, slurs, etc) has been largely detrimental to the understanding of where intolerance often germinates within a community. Obviously, people screaming hate greatly apply under the previously stated “Ban Bigots” rule, but you hopefully don’t need me to tell you to remove those people. Instead, I’m gonna advocate for a more proactive response that makes your community a thing that both lacks and shields itself away from intolerance.
’m here to tell you that all bigotry is bannable bigotry. Someone might say or do something less clear-cut and hard to deconstruct, say, a message that reads “immigration is ruining my country.” It would be easy to ignore this and let it get drowned out by other messages and forgotten, since it might not seem as easy to deal with as a slur, but I’m here to tell you to ban this person. First of all, this is right-wing populism. Political education is also outside the scope of this article (I’m not an expert, and I’m sure even in my curt descriptions I’ll get something wrong), but we’ll let this be a catch-all example for now. A quick Google search on anti-immigration beliefs will bring you to a general understanding about what right-wing populism encompasses. In short, nationalism (which requires no explanation), social conservatism (respect for traditional social forms, usually in the form of pushing out anything not considered “the norm” in society), and a whole bunch of other things you’ll find if you do more research. Donald Trump ran his 2016 campaign with a platform that embodied a lot of right-wing populist beliefs. According to the words of sociologist Jens Rydgren, as quoted on Wikipedia, right-wing populists work to “mobilize on xenophobic and racist public opinions without being stigmatized as racists.”
Banning is harsh! Why not talk to the person instead? The situation seems complicated, and it seems like the most logical course of action is to simply ask the person to explain what they meant. The takeaway from this article is “Ban Bigots,” not “Ask Bigots to Expound on Their Opinion And Then Decide Whether or Not to Ban Bigots,” and I’ll tell you why in four, simple words: It gets f%$#ing exhausting.
He explains that engaging these people challenging their beliefs simply does not work, because they are not interested in this. Their goals are to disrupt and recruit.
He notes that civility rules don’t work with these folks. They consciously target the people who are the objects of their bigotry, and when THOSE people lose it, and you are forced to discipline THEM, you are taking the side of the bigots.
He punctuates this with a great real world analogy from a bar.
A server I once casually moderated awhile ago which disincentivized and disallowed political discussion opened a channel at the height of Pride Month and the Black Lives Matter protests to discuss an impromptu donation the server owner had made to a bail fund designed to help release protesters who had been targeted by the police. This was one such “apolitical” server, where the server owner had political views (good ones!) but was stifling their community from sharing their own. Now (as they inevitably are), politics were unavoidably a Thing. So, for the first time in years, the userbase of the server got to discuss politics.
The result was pure, unfiltered vitriol on a scale so large that I still struggle to believe it. Racist, transphobic, and even anti-semitic rhetoric and hate raged for days. These were normal users; regulars and even people with special roles. It was impossible to address, especially with a moderation team largely sourced with no concern for politics (some staff members sided with people upset about the fact that the server had become Political, and plenty of others were completely unable to recognize the hate symbols like triple parenthesis being thrown around). It was a horrible display, but also a deeply embarrassing one. The communities you manage reflect you, whether you want them to or not. Imagine doing something publicly in alignment with your views and the group of people you’re fundamentally connected to also disagreeing with it publicly.
He further notes that banning political discussions won’t fix this, because political discussions are the best way to identify the bigots.
Just ban them. They have no interest in the community as community, and they are toxic.