It's not enough to simply ban abusers when their victim comes forward, because abusers never (and I mean NEVER) have only one victim, and the one who comes forward is never (and I mean NEVER) the first.
You can't be reactive about abusers. You have to create an environment in which:
1. Victims are likely to recognize abuse when it's happening to them;
2. Victims feel empowered to come forward with a report and they know they'll be taken seriously;
3. Abusers are wary of abusing.
And this is HARD. And there's not really a thing (apart from having a guide to common abuse/manipulation tactics right there on your site) that I can recommend to every online community, they're all different.
One tip: make very clear that men, specifically, will be believed if they come forward with a report. Most progressive/leftist spaces take "Believe women" as a matter of policy, and that's great, but men are even less likely to report abuse and they really do need it spelled out.
Make it very clear that you're aware that anybody, regardless of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their socioeconomic class, or really anything else about them, can end up in an abusive relationship or situation, and that you're there to help.
Seriously, if you're doing a Spring Clean of creeps and you even IMPLY that you're aware that men get abused too, men will come forward with their own stories about the creeps you're already investigating. This happened on my community.
After you ban someone for being an abusive creep, you need to let the community know you've banned them for being an abusive creep. If you don't, then they'll contact other members off-site and continue the abuse. When you do, you'll get many more reports as people now feel empowered to come forward, and you'll feel like crap because you didn't know this person was doing these awful things.
You'll also get lots of angry messages of disbelief because abusers are always funny and charming.
So now, for a lot of folks, you're the evil admin who banned a beloved community member. And to some others, you should've known they were a creep sooner.
Remember, you have power. These people sending you horrible messages are punching up.
Don't get into this game unless you've got a thick skin. Don't get into this game unless you can put yourself in others' shoes and understand why they might act the way they do. Don't get into this game if you expect people to *always* be understandable.
In your ban announcement, tell people that feedback they have about the ban should go directly to you, and if you see them bitching about it in the public channels there'll be consequences, because right now someone's thinking about coming forward with a report about another creep (there's never just one) and if they see someone being vocally disbelieving then future creeps will run around unchecked and the cycle will repeat.
This came up in the thread: we all know the story of the bartender who kicked out the nice, polite, respectful nazi because he knew if he didn't then the nazi would go tell his friends and then the bartender would be running a nazi pub.
Those bans are STILL easy. You won't receive ANY blowback, because everyone knows nazis are bad. It takes seconds and you don't even need to announce a ban like that, any more than you need to announce bans of robo-spammers, nazis are just noise.
Seriously, nazis of any description are not a problem at all on any well-run website. We ban a few every month, it's nothing, they're easy to spot, they don't even register as an issue, I've instance-blocked a few here on Fedi just while writing this thread.
As a community manager, you don't need to worry about nazis unless you're managing a nazi website, and if you are then you're probably not reading this thread.
Abusers are hard to spot and hard to ban. Nazis are easy.
Here are a few people who are harder to ban than nazis:
* Abusers who are clever enough to fly under the radar until a lot of people like them.
* Creeps who, when they suspect they're under investigation but before they get banned, post criticism of mod policy so as to make the ban look retaliatory.
* Serial abusers who don't fit the model of what people think when they hear "serial abuser" - not necessarily straight, cis, white, rich or male.
* Abusers who are themselves victims of abuse.
* Neurodiverse abusers who are not aware of the abuse they inflict on others, or who claim they are not aware.
* Wealthy abusers who pay a significant proportion of the site's hosting bill, without whom the site is in financial trouble.
Banning any of these people is EXHAUSTING and will make you and others feel TERRIBLE.
Banning nazis is morally uncomplicated and only other nazis or American journalists will have anything to say about it.
There's really only a few websites that let you be a nazi, reddit, twitter, stormfront, facebook, 4chan are the only big ones that come to mind, every other website treats them like spam and bans them without even thinking about it.
If someone tells you that it's difficult and morally complicated to ban nazis, you're not talking to a community manager, you're talking to a nazi who runs a nazi website.
Some of the bannings I've done were like trolley problems, nazis aren't.
How about this one: someone on your site who hints that they might hurt themselves unless other members talk to them. They're an emotional vampire, burning out members left and right, and you really really wish they could get some help, but they live in some godawful hellscape where mental healthcare costs lots of money and they're poor.
Do you ban this poor, obviously hurting person, who's inflicting a lot of hurt on your community?
Do you try to help them, knowing you're not the first and you won't succeed and you won't be the last, investing dozens of hours that you could be spending making cool things for your other members?
Do you ban them? There's a small but non-zero risk that they might literally kill themselves if you do that.
Taking no action is tempting, and would be the worst decision you could make.
I've been in this position more than once.
THAT'S a hard decision. It's NOT a hard decision to ban a nazi.
If you make the wrong decision at any point, it'll follow you around for years. Even many of the correct decisions you make will get you vilified.
It takes a decade of first hand experience, minimum, to get good at this, but the expectation from users is that you'll be perfect from the getgo.
The job requires empathy and ruthlessness at once.
Yikes this thread went from "Here's how to run an online community" into "Here's why not to run an online community" huh :P
This whole big long thing, and I'm gonna have a lil break from it but I'm probably not done, is why when people bang on about Eugen's latest screwup I'm more inclined to give the guy a break than a lot of other folks.
It's also why, when someone asks for a feature and says I can probably code it up in a day or two, I'm inclined to dance around them pointing and laughing and holding my belly
Oh haha I'm not done at all, if your community is successful enough to stick around for a decade (hardly any do) then the world will change around it and the dumbass jokes you made ten years ago will have aged badly. So you just rewrite them or remove them, right? You gotta keep up with the times.
Someone will notice and shout at you for being overly PC. I mean fair enough, that's better than being shouted at for being insensitive - oh no now everyone's talking about what it used to say 😬
You said dumb shit when you were younger, come on. We all did. We're different people now. Remember when I said make it easy for folks to let go of their pasts? Remember when I said that was impossible for celebrities who put their real name on their tweets or whatever? To the members of your online community, you're a celebrity. HAHA WELCOME TO THE SHIT CLUB
Some community members will suck up to you because they're the sort of little goody twoshoes who always told the teacher when someone was pulling funny faces while they were writing on the blackboard.
Some will have a go at you just because you hold some piffling amount of power over one particular thing they do in their free time, they hate authority of even the tiniest and most half-arsed sort and they want everyone to know it.
Vanishingly few will interact with you like NORMAL BLOODY PEOPLE
Someone downthread said they wish this thread would get picked up by tech blogs.
(if it sounds like I don't like programmers, you're right, I am one)
I'd better say some nice things in case people think it's all doom and hard decisions and big consequences.
The best part of my job is when someone emails me to say they've gotten married after meeting someone on the game, and this has happened a lot and will likely happen in any moderate to large online community. It's a lovely feeling, that this wonderful thing has happened that you weren't even trying for.
We've been really lucky and we've actually had more marriages than bans. That's partially down to the site being designed to deliberately put off a good chunk of its potential audience by, like, being text-based, having a big wall right at the start (hi hypothetical tech blogs, I see you sputtering there, yes this is the opposite of what y'all do and I do it on purpose), and partially down to the general culture and atmosphere kinda guiding people towards non-dickery.
(and that's a thing. Your mods steer the site's culture like steering an old, mouldy boat - try it if you ever get the chance, you make a tiny correction and then ten seconds later you see the shift, it's not like steering a bike or a car where you see instant results, at least unless you're being really heavy-handed. If you get the culture and atmosphere straight enough then the members set the tone and things tick over with much less direct intervention necessary)
(the physical design of your site, the colours, the layout, set the tone for how people behave on it, moreso than you think.)
Anyway we used to mention that in the site rules, the more-people-married-than-banned thing - it's still true, but we took it out because having it there could give people - maybe people trying to work up the nerve to report an abuser - the impression that we don't ban enough people. Or that we want to preserve this ratio by not banning people who need banned.
This is a very roundabout thread but I see I've got people reading it and this bit's important so I'm just gonna whack it in there: people generally don't report abusers.
This isn't because your site has an atmosphere where people are afraid to talk to the mods and you suck. Well, I mean, you might, but that's besides the point, even if you didn't suck people still wouldn't report their abusers for ALL SORTS OF REASONS.
These are known among certain circles as Barriers To Reporting.
People might not report their abusers because their abusers are well liked (they always are, that's how they get away with it) or because they're not sure they're being abused or if it's all in their head (they're being gaslit) or because the abuser's got dirt on them and might retaliate, or for all sorts of other reasons. These are all barriers to reporting.
NAME THEM AND TALK ABOUT THEM ON YOUR SITE. Then people will notice that they have their own barriers and that helps to dismantle them.
Here's the MotD on my site where we started operation stair repair. This names lots of barriers to reporting:
This and the followup MotD are linked to from the Code of Conduct (linked a few times in the thread).
Naming the barriers to reporting is as important as naming and dissecting the tactics of abusers. This helps create an environment where abusers don't have it so easy. I call this "manipulation inoculation."
(oh man I wanna circle back to that boat thing real quick in case you get the wrong idea and think I'm posh - it's not my boat, it's my father's boat.
wait that's even worse. Okay so my dad bought an air compressor for fifty quid off this bloke in the 90's and he was umming and ahhing and getting ready to offer him thirty but the guy said oh go on I'll chuck in this boat. That's how fancy it is. It smells & is filled with men drinking lager from cans. It's a floating dumpster and we love it.)
(what I love about it most especially is that the river, the fancy yachting club downstream on the way to the pub, the water in general is filled with middle class people and we float right through it all in this noisy smelly belching rotting hulk and we see all these posh people with their upper lips doing that thing and we tip our cans of lager at them and give them a cheery wink. It's not a middle class boat and I'm not middle class. /boat)
Oh yeah, herding cats. Trying not to end up in a situation where I have to live with the idea that a thing I spent thousands of hours building might be making someone's life measurably worse.
You don't HAVE to have a bunch of neuroses to do this job, but if you don't, you will.
Right I'm actually gonna try and write some code for a minute haha
Tonight I'm making a new Monthly Memento, that's a thing you get if you give me a tenner, and it's different every month. This month it's a rainbow torch (flashlight to you americans) and I would've done it last night but I had an absolutely banging migraine so right now the item's in the game but the description reads "This'll do something tomorrow, tonight I have a banging migraine thx 4 patience"
THIS ALSO HELPS REMIND YOUR COMMUNITY MEMBERS THAT THEIR ADMIN IS A REAL ACTUAL PERSON
Talk about your day a bit. Tread a real fine line between being absolutely robotic customer service person and letting a bunch of Internet People know too much about you.
Oh and don't talk like a customer service person. If you talk like customer service then people will treat you like customer service and christ you've seen how people treat customer service
Online community management thread continued, back to talking about the decline phase:
I touched on this earlier, but members leave websites because... well, they're websites, and staying on one website for a decade is WEIRD. Nobody does that, really.
I had a good furtle around in a "state of the site" thread on a big, old website currently stuck in Heartbreak Mode (I won't name the site) and to read that thread you'd think the only people left on the site are people who shouldn't be.
State of the Site updates where everyone freaks out about declining numbers are a characteristic of Heartbreak Mode, and in threads like this, the reason why everyone left the site is, obviously, the reason you personally are unhappy being on the site.
Everyone in this thread is unhappy for a different reason and this is a GREAT thing to fight over because no side ever gets proven wrong.
A thread like this can spin its wheels into hundreds of extremely unhelpful comments and the mods won't shut it down because to do so would be a Bad Look, given that the thread is full of complaints about the site and heartfelt pleas to have $yourParticularIssue taken seriously because the admin's failure to properly address it is *obviously* the reason numbers are dropping.
Also, these threads do, occasionally, provide a nugget of semi-helpful advice, if one is willing to fish around for it.
Anyway the arguing about why people left. There are parallels here with people arguing about where your "you" goes when you die.
1. You can't ever know. You can't ask someone, because they're not here. If you email someone and ask, then you'll be emailing someone who was well known enough on the site to have their otherly-online identities known, and they leave for different reasons.
2. The actual reason people leave (it's JUST a WEBSITE) is emotionally unsatisfying and we want an alternative!
Say you're throwing a party, and it's a good one. When it's time for someone to leave, do you say "Cheers for stopping by, it's been really fun!" or do you say "No, please don't go, I'll pull out the futon, we have to keep this going..."
You do the first one because you're not a BLOODY CRAZY PERSON. Or a website.
Let people leave your website!
Pulling the sort of crap that modern websites pull, the little FOMO nags or notifications or emails about "Please don't leave we're desperate and you're really cool" or whatever, is a great way of filling your site with people who don't actually want to be there, and that's a one-way ticket to a dysfunctional, unhealthy community.
Hold people GENTLY. When it's time for them to go, wish them well and let them go, don't try to stop them or lure them or entice them back.
Internet Greybeard Community Management Thread Continued!
Some more required reading for anyone thinking of setting up any kind of geeky/nerdy community, and how it can all go wrong. Forewarned is forearmed!
FIVE GEEK SOCIAL FALLACIES
THE WRATH OF CAT PISS MAN
FF7 FANDOM MADHOUSE
THE MISSING STAIR
RPGNET ON BANNING TRUMP SUPPORTERS
(the whole thread is a good read)
Internet Greymuzzle Community Management Thread part eleventy: this thread spun off earlier into a little kinda subthread where I had a semiprivate convo with someone for whom the wounds inflicted by an online community implosion were still tender, and I think it was a good and illuminating convo and a thing came up that caught my attention and I realised I hadn't talked about it yet: who "owes" who, in an online community.
Does the admin "owe" the users, for their participation or donations? Do the users "owe" the admin and mods, for their labour and money invested into keeping the site online?
TBQH I wanna completely sidestep that question and give the unsatisfying non-answer of "If you're thinking in terms of who owes who then things are already shaky and you need to sort that out."
Nobody owes anybody a damn thing. As site admin you make a bet that the advertising money you spend on getting a new user will pay off with a donation. Sometimes you win, most of the time you lose, but if even 10% of your users love the place enough to kick in a fiver or a tenner and you're spending a nickel per new user, you're doing alright.
Yes, it comes down to money. Of COURSE it comes down to money. Web hosting costs money. Hosting a big community costs big money.
The money subject can be a whole nother aspect for another day, 'cause I'm talking about who owes who and I've gotta take the cat to the vet in a few minutes...
Your users shouldn't feel like they owe you anything. You made a bet that enough of them would pay their way for this to shake out well, and that bet is between you and your wallet.
You don't owe your users anything, save for your responsibility to keep them safe. You made this huge thing and let them on it for free.
If your users feel like they're owed something from you, or like they owe you something, that's an obligation that can keep them on the site after they're no longer having fun.
You don't want that. You want your users to feel free to come and go as they please. Hold them too tightly and you're headed to Heartbreak City.
Furthermore, allowing a sense of entitlement to arise among your users will really heck things up. Every improvement you make to the site will be met with cries of anguish (from the 0.1% of users who shout the loudest), either that the improvement is Bad Actually or that you should be working on $theirParticularIssue instead.
It probably goes without saying that your relationship with your users shouldn't be an antagonistic one!
If you have to ban a big donator for being a creep (and at some point you will), do it publicly. This helps remind folks that you're willing to put your money where your mouth is and make financial sacrifices for user safety - and it also cools down the entitled users a bit, 'cause if they see how swiftly you banned someone who contributes a lot more than they do, they might think twice about being quite so loudmouthed.
(it's very important to remove exhausting users. I've said before that you'll spend 20% of your time coding, max, but you do have to get that 20% done at some point, and if one or two users are taking up the whole 80% then there's other (nicer!) people having problems that need attention too. Allowing a handful of awful users to monopolize your time and attention and energy isn't fair to you, and it's even more unfair to all your other users.)
Is it time to talk about money? Aye sure Internet Community Catherding Part 7, GRUBBY CASH
I should start by asking, do you actually wanna make money off a website?
'cause on the one hand, if this is just a hobby and you start having to deal with the sort of thing I've talked about in this thread, damn right you're gonna want paid to put up with that. On the other, if this is a hobby that you enjoy and you turn it into work, you're gonna need a new hobby.
Note: money changes how you, your users and the site interact.
Donating makes your users feel invested in the thing you're doing, and lets them express that they like it and want it to succeed. It doesn't breed a sense of entitlement like you might expect, that's only a thing that happens with users who were gonna end up feeling entitled anyway - if there weren't a donations link they'd feel entitled to your attention just for, like, looking at the site.
Not all of this is applicable to paying the bills for other online communities, but here's a couple things we've tried on Improbable Island.
1. Adverts! We used to have banner ads across the top of the site. If I earned a buck a day with a banner ad, that was a good day. It's not 1999 anymore, adverts don't earn money unless you're doing the creepy spyware stuff that right from the start I knew I never wanted to do.
2. Optional adverts! If you paid a fiver you could get rid of them.
Opt-out ads earned even less money, and if you're bothered enough to pay 5c to remove ads you'll just block them, never mind $5.
3. Opt IN adverts! Ads were off by default and if you wanted to support the site you could turn them on! We really did this! Yes! Yes we did! It failed! People VASTLY overestimate how much you can make from running ads, and instead of giving a fiver they'd earn us 0.05c in advertising revenue.
The problem with running adverts on any basis is that the people who were inclined to donate money to keep the site running, the people who think about how much it must cost and what must go into it and go "Hmm, I like this place, wonder how I can help," will just disable their adblocker and earn you a couple pennies, when they'd happily give you a fiver.
When we cut off all ads, even the opt-in ones, donations tripled. It was like people suddenly remembered that clicking doesn't do anything.
Don't do merchandise. Don't do merchandise even if people are begging you to do merchandise. For every twenty people who say they'll buy a T-shirt, one will, and for their tenner you'll get a dollar in profit. Their motivation for buying a T-shirt was to give you twelve dollars, they've already got T-shirts, they don't *really* want the T-shirt, just let them give you the tenner.
Even logistics and inventory aside, it gets worse...
@ifixcoinops *Your* whole thread is a good read. But it was quite difficult to do so on Mastodon, using either interface. And I'd like to share it.
Would you be willing to dump it all to a blog post somewhere? Or would you mind if I did so?
@varx I might pop it up somewhere at some point, but I'm not done yet. :) Also this is the kind of thing where I'll know I'm done once it's been like a month and I haven't thought of anything more to say. At that point it'll be a really long ramble with all sorts of looping around and coming back to earlier points and it'll probably need to be changed if it's gonna be moved from this context. So I appreciate the offer but pls hold off on copying it to other places.
@varx (and thanks for asking! I already had to block one guy who was scraping it up to put on his own site)
@ifixcoinops flashbacks again to publicly banhammering a handful of the more truly odious sparkfun customers.
it's petty, but at least there's some real joy to be found in the anguished cries of "you can't voluntarily free yourself of my attentions! i have given you thousands of dollars! you're _obligated_ to take my abuse!"
@ifixcoinops wait, greymuzzle? i'm assuming you're not a furry and the term is also used elsewhere, then?
also i haven't been interacting with these posts but i have been reading them all, and as someone with goals of making an art site at some point - it's a fascinating insight into things i never knew i needed to know
@snailerotica Not a furry but there are lots of furries on the game and I find the term evocative :) And thanks!
@ifixcoinops ...all these pieces just got bookmarked, and a new file got born. *I NEED TO KNOW THIS, OR NOT*
@ifixcoinops ...THE WRATH OF CAT PISS MAN has just rocketed up the charts to #1 on my list of favorites. Paul T. Riddell is still my favorite "fandom writer", and I still hold a copy of SQUASHED ARMADILLOCON to my dart heart. Thank you for letting me see this.
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