I completely enjoyed joining Lawerence Liu for the Telligent webinar and one of the questions after the webinar really sparked an interest in a longer explanation. The question was:
Q: Have you ever had to censor and/or censure community members? If so, what were the violations and how did you handle the member?
I had previously drafted a blog post that covers some of the answer to this question:
I could almost hear the dragnet theme music when I posted the title to this section. Don’t worry, it is not nearly that bad. As a whole, you will find that community users are a great bunch that rarely break the rules. The rules are important and it is equally important for you to enforce them. Without this enforcement you will promptly find a loss of most of your repeat user base. So we set out the rules in the terms of service… right? Well mostly. Some rules are more of good behavior guidelines. These might include how to ask a question that includes enough information to be answerable. Or perhaps it might explain that being rude is not tolerated. These additional guidelines should be in a prominent position that will ensure they are read and should be referenced when violated.
There are a handfull of enforcement best practices that will get you started. Most importantly DO NOT DELETE ANYTHING. Let me explain. You should remove violations from publically viewable areas, but I never recommend removing them. You might need to review them later if the user continues to be a problem. Many companies use a hidden space to store these removed content items and to keep them in archive status.
If a user violates the rules, they are generally either unaware of the rule, or are actively disregarding the rules. For the first violation, I generally assume most everyone is unaware of the rules. Now I am sure you noticed the “most” everyone in that statement. There will always be someone that comes to your websites and posts something truly over the top. That person does not deserve the nice first warning. Generally the first warning will go like this:
We are glad to have had you as a member for the past 6 months and hope you understand the need for us to maintain a professional site.
Name, Site Moderator
With the second notice, the niceness dials down and you should add a statement about what happens if you violate the terms again. The third time you should send notice that you are deleting the account. In addition, consider blocking the IP address as well. While this is not fool proof, it will slow down some users. These letters should be pseudo form letters and should include the same basic components for all violators. Being able to produce consistent enforcement of clearly published rules will keep you out of most trouble.
Please do note, that this is not a one size fits all process. Some things will of course fall outside of this process and should be considered as one off situations. If for example a continuously high participating and valuable community member gets really mad and posts three curse words in a day, don’t ban the user… call them. Hear them out and diffuse. Find a way to mention that you “do have to take those posts down” because you have to be equal and fair.
The most important components of enforcement are treating all participants equally, using consistent practices and telling them why and what you are doing. In most cases the first couple of responses will stop most people… really.