Forum Administration

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.

Warnings

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.

Suspensions

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.

Shadow Bans

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!

Chief Operating Officer at a website & app development company, American football & rugby enthusiast, traveler, obsessed with space, run on se...

Lämmchen

Paragon
Community Team
Shadow bans...I heard of that once before but I don't know which forums actually have used it. Is it built into most software or is that an add on?

I know the article is about discipline but there is a way to help the user instead of just reprimanding him...mentoring. If a site truly enjoys having their members around, they want those members to learn what type of posting styles are acceptable and that can be done through private conversations with the member. Now if that member is defiant (and a lot of them are because they don't see they're doing anything wrong) then the discipline action along with mentoring such as putting him on mod queue while maintaining talks can help.

Not everyone realizes that they come off in an unacceptable way. That can be due to culture or just the way the family unit communicated while the member was growing up. When I was growing up no one took responsibility and ALWAYS blamed anything that went wrong on someone else. It takes a long time to get out of those bad habits. Mentoring can help that. Mentoring can help the member to actually see how their posting is not effective and offer up better ways to write what they want to say.

I had a member who was calling other "liars!" and saying "you lie" in almost every post. I asked the member for a definition of liar and do you know it took about 6 pages worth of posts to get the member to actually give me a definition. I had to be patient and hear out all the complaining about other members first...because the member couldn't understand why everyone else was doing wrong to him. In the end my mentoring failed but that isn't always the case. Sometimes I succeed in helping someone to reword what they want to say so that there is more harmony on the site. And that's a nice end goal..harmony.
 
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Ghost

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I agree with a lot of what you wrote! Obviously mentoring can go a long way, as can just simple messages here and there as reminders. These are obviously all for when a consequence of some sort is needed, but they shouldn't be the first reaction of every admin. Lam is right - There are many steps you can take to help a member be a part of your forum before even a warning is needed.

I like what you said about people just being unaware of how they are perceived, or people misunderstanding others on the forum. It's a shame when people need a lot of guidance and hand holding, but it can be worth the time and effort to help someone understand their actions and why people treat them a certain way. Sometimes general awareness can go a long way in not only forums, but in life too. I like to believe that forum owners and staff have the ability to shape some minds on and off the internet, so nobody should ever sacrifice their good human nature & instincts just because a punishment is easier to hand out. Students don't warn, ban, or suspend people from the lunch table and for the most part they survive throughout the year - even with disagreements, falling outs, etc. This should definitely be taken into account... everyone is human and talking it out can often be the best solution.

Shadow bans are usually added in to a forum with a plugin. There have been a few created over the years, but I am not sure if every software has a current up to date plugin available... I just know I have seen it a few times. I don't think I ever experienced it myself, but I have come across a few people who have been shadow banned & then came back under new accounts after realizing they were shadow banned for weeks/months/year+
 
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Lämmchen

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I can see pros and cons of shadow bans. I'd love to hear first hand experience (of being the banner or receiver of these) to learn more because I would want to know if it helped the community in the long run really...or if when other members found out it hurt it because it's a somewhat deceptive practice allowing someone to think that everything is normal when it's not.
 

Ghost

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I can see pros and cons of shadow bans. I'd love to hear first hand experience (of being the banner or receiver of these) to learn more because I would want to know if it helped the community in the long run really...or if when other members found out it hurt it because it's a somewhat deceptive practice allowing someone to think that everything is normal when it's not.
Mmm, yeah you're definitely right that it could spark a negative reaction from some users. The issue is if they log out, they can go see if they are shadow banned. For this reason, many sites most likely do not publicize the fact that they use shadow bans. I still believe it's a good option for users you don't want around, especially if they have evaded bans in the past / have multiple accounts.
 

Lämmchen

Paragon
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Mmm, yeah you're definitely right that it could spark a negative reaction from some users. The issue is if they log out, they can go see if they are shadow banned. For this reason, many sites most likely do not publicize the fact that they use shadow bans. I still believe it's a good option for users you don't want around, especially if they have evaded bans in the past / have multiple accounts.
I often check sites without logging and and like to see if anyone replied to my posts/threads so it's something I would catch right away. I would feel betrayed by the staff on that site.
 
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Ghost

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I often check sites without logging and and like to see if anyone replied to my posts/threads so it's something I would catch right away. I would feel betrayed by the staff on that site.
The more I think about it, the more I am believing that maybe a shadow ban should only be reserved for people who ban-evade. Because you're right, it's one thing to be banned and told what you did wrong so you can grow as a person, and another to be completely ignored (by the system's shadow ban) while you continue doing whatever it is you do.
So, in hindsight perhaps shadow banning shouldn't be on this list specifically. I may remove it or add to it by saying it should be reserved for people who you know will evade the ban. That was the main point anyways, but it also is great for spammers. A lot of times the spam bots will just generate new accounts if they are banned, but shadow banning can let the bot believe it's running as normal so they won't attempt to sign up under a new IP/account.
 

Lämmchen

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The more I think about it, the more I am believing that maybe a shadow ban should only be reserved for people who ban-evade. Because you're right, it's one thing to be banned and told what you did wrong so you can grow as a person, and another to be completely ignored (by the system's shadow ban) while you continue doing whatever it is you do.
So, in hindsight perhaps shadow banning shouldn't be on this list specifically. I may remove it or add to it by saying it should be reserved for people who you know will evade the ban. That was the main point anyways, but it also is great for spammers. A lot of times the spam bots will just generate new accounts if they are banned, but shadow banning can let the bot believe it's running as normal so they won't attempt to sign up under a new IP/account.
I wouldn't remove it from the list...just add the disclaimer. You got me thinking about it though because part of me would love to use it even though that's my evil angel sitting on my left shoulder prodding me to do so hehe.
 
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Ghost

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I wouldn't remove it from the list...just add the disclaimer. You got me thinking about it though because part of me would love to use it even though that's my evil angel sitting on my left shoulder prodding me to do so hehe.
Yes indeed, it is the evil side of ya!
It might be a bit malicious, but it's been done enough to clearly work for some scenarios. Perhaps it could be taken a step further by allowing the public to see the posts/threads, but not allowing logged in members to see them... so if they log out, they can see they have received 0 replies on their public post, but no logged in user can ever see it? Mmm, we might be on to something Lam.

In all seriousness though, I think I will add a disclaimer to it tomorrow. I need to hop off FP for some work things & then Friday evening :)
 
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