One of the most important tools which an administrator or moderator has at their disposal is the proverbial "ban hammer"; the ability to suspend a user's account from the forum for a specific period or indefinitely. Using this tool frequently can cause people to leave a forum and that is not including just those who have been suspended. Using it infrequently can cause a forum to have a negative environment which can also result in people leaving. The aim of this article is to discuss when an administrator should ban users; for what offenses and after how many warnings.
The Three Tools a Moderator Has: Warnings, Suspensions, and Bans.
A moderator has three tools at their disposal. The first is the warning. A warning puts a user on notice and tells them that they need to improve their attitude on a forum or be removed. A Suspension is a more harsh measure. It is similar to a warning, in that it sends a message, but it is more severe in that it temporarily prevents the user from posting. The third tool is a ban, or a permanent suspension, in which the user is never allowed to return to the forum. A ban is a last-resort measure which removes a member from the community forever.
Why Use These Tools?
In general, there is only one reason to issue a warning, suspension, or ban. That reason is to prevent a user from doing further harm to the forum. It is important to realize that none of these tools can repair damage that has already been done. If a user was insulted on your forum, and the offensive user dealt with, the effected user will remain offended. They may continue to use the forum but they will be wary of it. For that reason administrators should focus on whether their actions improve the forum's future situation or not. Banning a user soley for emotional reasons is not a good idea because it removes someone from the community who could contribute to it in the future.
When Should Warnings be Issued?
A warning is a message sent to a user which informs them of the consequences of continuing along a particular path. A warning should be issued in one of two situations.
One would be if the user has made a mistake which you do not want them to accidentally make again. An example of this would be posting a topic twice or in the wrong forum. For very minor instances it is sometimes sufficient to post a reply to the topic in question but make sure when doing so to make it a very friendly reply. If you embarrass a user in public you may end up turning a misguided user into an angry user. In this case, make sure to word your warnings very politely, even if sent in private.
The second scenario in which a warning is useful is to scare a user into following the rules. This applies when someone has broken the rules repeatedly and most certainly not by accident. Examples would be continually posting rude comments (a single rude comment can be viewed as an accident) or attempting to scam users. Note that a warning of this sort only works if a user has value in the forum and their account. If they are using a throw-away account or if they are a spammer a warning will not work. If the user has little dedication to the forum itself, and has no reason to continue using it, a warning will not work. Make sure that the people that you warn have some tie to the forum and a reason continue using it otherwise you are wasting your time.
If a user needs a stronger warning, or a temporary break, a suspension becomes necessary.
When Should Suspensions be Issued?
The purpose of a suspension is two fold: to send a strong message to the user (it is impossible to suspend someone without sending a message) and to also give them a break from using the forum. A suspension should be used in two circumstances. The first is if the user is ignoring warnings and needs a stronger message. Generally, one warning is sufficient basis to suspend a user, although a user should only be suspended after being given a warning, except in the most extreme circumstances. A suspension can be issued for any time period which the administrator likes. If a user appears to be uncharacteristically angry then a 72 hour suspension is sufficient. It is possible that the user is drunk, high, or had a recent personal tragedy. Three days is usually enough to clear up such things. Make sure in your suspension notice to include a sentence about how the user can still contribute to the community in a valuable way. If a user continues to offend, issue a longer term suspension each time, to give the user an indication that his action are becoming progressively more serious.
In some instances a longer term ban is needed. If a user displays disgust towards the website in general a portion of a month may be advisable. Such a ban can allow the user to cool off in a longer term and still give them a prospect of returning as a valuable member of the website.
When Should Bans be Issued?
A user should only be banned if the moderator has determined that the affected user has no reason to further contribute to the website in a positive way; and is likely to contribute to the website in a negative way in the future. An example would be a scammer: someone who has already scammed members on a forum has a terrible reputation. Such a user as in the example have no reason to use the forum at all so a permanent ban is not a bad idea. Also, if someone shows disgust for the forum, and for some reason continues to use it after continual suspensions, then that warrants a permanent ban.
A moderator has at his or her disposal three tools: warning, suspension, and banning. Warnings are used when a user still may contribute in a valuable way to a forum but needs guidance. Suspensions are a jolt of reality which can also serve as a break from the forum. Bans are a tool to prevent a user from using the website ever again; because the forum's management has decided that that user is not worth the effort of a continued chance. When moderating a forum it is vital that a moderator understand these three tools, and use them with, above all else, with consistency.