Community Disrupted: Dealing with Miscreants!

Posted on 02 August 2010

So, as with just about every web based community you’ll need to deal with the occasional miscreant.  Sometimes these events occur once, sometimes the offender is more persistent but rarely do things go on for more than several days unless you’re dealing with a pro.  Handling these cases can be tricky and must done in an intelligent way.  If the perp is a regular community member I find that personal communication is the best way to resolve the underlying issue.  If the person is a pro and isn’t a regular member I find that swift and decisive action must be taken, not only to reassure the community but to encourage the pro to move on to greener pastures.

I find that there are several different types of offenders.

  • The Jilted Community Member:  This user posts because of hurt feelings, either by an individual or the facilitators of the community due to a perceived injustice.  They’re consistent community members which means they know the ins and outs of the community and the temperament of those that use the community.  These members usually use an alias when posting and are sometimes the least likely characters.  The jilted member can be disruptive and really puts the community through the ringer until he/she is satisfied.  It’s important to note, this person expects plenty of attention and will try to recruit others to the cause.
  • The Link Spammer: Fortunately for most communities these “users,” and I use that term loosely, are interested in getting their link in front of as many eyes as possible.  Removing these posts/groups/creations that contain these spam links should be pretty straightforward but I find removal doesn’t deter these posters.  These spammers ALWAYS take the path of least resistance and will usually move on if they have to take too many steps.  For instance, on Tabblo if you sign up and attempt to create a group without taking any of steps a normal user would you’re challenged.  On Tabblo users sign up, upload photos, fill out their profile, create Tabblos and such.  Things created outside of the ordinary user flow are flagged and I’m notified.  I’ve received email from people complaining, “I couldn’t create a group” and then I ask, “What was the name of your group?”  I usually don’t hear back but when I do I hear things like “Acai Berry Drink,” or “Santa Fe Real Estate.”  SPAMMER!!!!!!!
  • The Testers: I’ve had the misfortune to encounter those rogue groups of QA/Beta testers that choose a site based on it’s functionality and application to whatever they’re testing.  I’ve seen communities ravaged by groups testing software.  My experience has been that these companies reside in foreign countries and rarely leave any clues which would lead to specific company.  This is really disruptive to active communities.  Thankfully these posters are pragmatic and are testing something specific so they don’t test for long periods of  time.
  • The Anarchist: This person lives on the web and exists for attention.  If one of these people decides to lay roots in your community and is able to get even a shred of attention you’re in trouble.  A dedicated miscreant can not only endanger the community but is usually also adept in how communities work, making sure to use things like privacy policies and “terms of service” work in their favor.  The creative ones will cause all sorts of commotion/destruction and then report it to the owners of the web property, claiming not enough is being done.  This may be the most difficult of miscreants to deal with, fun stuff!

There are certainly many other types of people that disrupt online communities.  The important thing, as a community manager, is to have an early warning system, filters to make spamming difficult, a reporting system for community members, a member base that cares about the health of the community and tools to deal with the spammers that get through.  Spend some time with an engineer and investigate ways to keep your community safe.

The BEST way to deal with this is to have a robust reporting system and an intolerant community.  When a community member identifies inappropriate content on an email is sent to my cell phone.  A community manager’s immediate response to an issue imbues the community with the confidence to report inappropriate content.

Until next time. =)


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