5 Disciplinary Actions You Can Take Before Banning Community Members
A community can bring a sense of family, friendship, loyalty, and even love. It's no wonder you may struggle with banning a member from your forum, even if they are acting out of line. Perhaps you still hold hope that the user can improve their behavior and follow the official rules. It's always important to consider alternative consequences to banning, and there's many reasons why. Keep reading to learn how to deal with negative or disruptive community members!
People Can Change
Not everyone matures at the same rate, whether it's biologically or emotionally, so we can't expect every single "bad egg" to suddenly become the best contributor to a forum. However, people are more than capable of changing their ways, so giving warnings and temporary consequences on your forum can be a great way to ensure you have a healthy community. This article discusses several alternatives to banning that can still consequence a member, and hopefully give them a chance to still participate on your website.
Good drivers will tell you that even when they are doing nothing wrong, they drive differently when they are around a police car. It might be nerve-racking or perhaps the driver believes they will be pulled over for the smallest of mistakes. This is not the type of fear you want to instill in your forum members. There should be a healthy cooperation and dialog between members and forum staff that doesn't include an overwhelming fear of being banned or severely punished over anything. Never forget the fear of the cops that the good driver has. They are doing nothing wrong, but past experiences or knowledge of police has them driving strangely. If you are too quick to use "the banhammer", you may find that other, positive members start acting strangely around you and your staff.
Here are five disciplinary actions you can take instead of outright banning a member from your online community.
Giving 1-2 warning points on your forum is a great way to get the attention of a mature user. Occasionally you might come across a member who simply doesn't care, but that's why we have four other punishment options mentioned in this article. For the members who are capable of caring about their conduct, warnings are perfect. Even mature and positive contributors can slip up from time to time. Whether it's a discussion that has quickly spiraled out of hand or low quality posts, even the most intellectual and aware people can let the internet, their sleep deprivation or hunger, or something else affect their posting quality. I recommend writing a personal message to the user so they know it's not just an automated warning system. Make sure you tell them that you value their membership on your forum, and that you are confident in their ability to learn from the mistake. This helps the offender feel less trapped or ashamed, and encourages positive changes.
Post Moderation Queue
The moderation queue is perfect for repeat offenders who sometimes share appropriate content and responses, but occasionally share spam-like, low quality, or other against-the-rules content. The queue forces an administrator or moderator to approve each post the user makes, so it allows the user to participate, but gives staff the ability to filter out the unwanted content before it goes public. This is another perfect solution for a member who is more than capable of being a high quality user, but perhaps has slipped up temporarily or is going through a hard time. You don't want to ban a member who has historically been a positive influence on your forum, or a member who you truly believe can change with some oversight.
For members who have been warned and put into a moderation queue, suspension should be the next step you take if they keep up their bad behaviors. Even suspending a user for just a day can sometimes be enough to kick them into gear and encourage them to behave. However, even a three or seven day ban can be better than permanently banning the user. When you ban someone forever, they may create another account to avoid their ban, or even try to harm you or your community through threats, spam, hacking, or other malicious methods. This is what we would like to avoid, so try suspending a user temporarily before you fully ban them! Make sure you provide a good "reason for suspension" message that the user can read, so they know how to rejoin the community. You can even bring them back with a forced moderation queue for their posts if you think they may have trouble.
Removal of Points, Reputation, or Votes
Many people may disagree with this type of consequence, but I have seen it be successful on several forums. A lot of forums reward their members with points for starting new discussions or participating, while also letting their users rack up Likes, votes, reputation points, etc. It is quite often that members start to feel a sense of pride in these internet numbers. These numbers can represent their hard work and positive influence in the community, so removing those points can definitely seem drastic. However, it can be better than banning - depending on the member. If the user is newer or simply doesn't care about these points then this alternative might not be a good fit, but for everyone else it can definitely get their attention. It should be noted that some users may feel like their months or even years of hard work has been taken away from them, so this truly should be your last option before a permanent ban. I have seen it go well on other forums. The points are removed after multiple warnings or suspensions, and the user can either leave in anger or stay to earn back their precious internet numbers. It's definitely going to depend on your community and members though, so give it some real thought before trying this.
Ah, the feared shadow ban, made famous by Reddit and other sites. A shadow ban is much like a real ban or suspension, but it does not involve notifying the member whatsoever. It is used when you do not want a member participating in the community, but you also do not want to deal with their backlash or the possibility of them signing up with a different username/email. A shadow ban allows a member to continue browsing the forum, creating new discussions, and responding to other members... except nobody can see the content except that single user. It's almost as if every single member on the forum has the shadow banned user on their ignore list - they simply never see their threads or replies. Some people may say a shadow ban is too evil, especially if the user continues to contribute for years, but perhaps that's the best consequence for a specific member.
Try New Things
Whether you are a shy and timid administrator or the next dictator of the internet, you should definitely try some of these alternative consequences if you are using the ban button frequently. For one, these administrative actions can give members a chance to redeem themselves. Secondly, you may find your community is more positive without a banhammer hovering over their head like whack-a-mole.
Let us know what punishments have worked in your community by responding to this article, or tell us what happens when you try out something you have never done before!