Safe with anonymity

Most people these days are a member of several forums. I myself run at least 2 forums and I am responsible for the safety of my members.

Most recently I had to ban some troublesome members. It seems that on the various forums I travel there are increasing numbers of people who are aggressive, confrontational and damn annoying.

These people seem to think that they can say whatever they want without any adverse reaction. These people hide behind their anonymity as if it were a cloaking device. Our job as a forum admin is made increasingly difficult by these people. Instead of making sure that the technical side of the board is working, we have to be shepherds to the community that we run.

There has been a steady increase with people called trolls or flamers. These people register at a forum, usually with a disposable email address (a free email address) or they use someone else’s without their knowledge. These people then attack members or the admin themselves with little or no regard to the thoughts of the people around them. The emotional damage some people have taken from the trolls and flamers can make the so afraid to even post a message on a forum ever again!

So there’s nothing we can do to prevent trolls or flamers, but we can always make it more difficult for them to access our boards and our community. Trolls and Flamers like to target people who have personal problems or seem an easy target. That person is then victimized in public and the trolls and flamers feel great, even more so when their target bites back. It’s like adding petrol to a fire. These people hide through their anonymity, and they believe that we as admins cannot do anything to them.

Well we can. We can record their IP addresses, ban them using the email addresses, their IP addresses can be banned from the server. Also we can report them to their ISP’s, but most of the time we ban them from our boards and hope they just give up.

Some times it works, other times it doesn’t, all we can do is hope to strike a balance between a police officer and a friend. Trying to be the diplomat is the hardest part of being an admin. With so many internet users it’s hard work maintaining our online communities as a safe place to be.

Usually flaming happens because of a misunderstanding or because one person doesn’t like another. Most of the reasons why it happens are quite trivial. It seems that our forum boards are being turned from the community builders they are, into mass war zones. Some websites close down because of this. The trolls and flamers then move onto their next target and they continue their destructive path through the internet.

There are other ways with which an admin can protect their community. Some of the solutions are quite radical where as others are less obvious.
These are:

The board invite only: This directly allows the admin to control the type of person trying to enter their community.

Admin only validation: Again another direct way the admin can control the type of person entering the community.

Hiding the board: Only allowing certain sections of the board to people, is a way of protecting the community whilst allowing the admin to gain knowledge of the person who wishes to join.

Deleting posts: The most extreme way of dealing with unwanted posts is to delete them.

Banning a person: The banning of a person should stop that person from coming back and attempting to disrupt the board again. Some times the person will create a new account and continue his attack.

IP Banning server/board: Banning the IP address can cause problems if the user has a dynamic IP address. Someone may be unlucky enough to be issued with the banned IP address. If the IP address is banned from the server it will stop the person from viewing the entire site. Banning the IP from the board stops the person from accessing the board.

One day I hope that I’ll never have to ban a member for flaming. Banning members of a community is a difficult decision and can lead to more problems. The best advice I could give is to ignore the person’s flame attempt, but also to chat to the person and ask them what’s wrong and why they do what they do.

I always try to make it clear why I banned a member and that I have a valid reason, which I tell my community. Sometimes you can ask a person not to do something or tell them that the topic is over, but they carry it on in another topic. Warning the member is usually sufficient to stop them. Some are persistent and that leads to banning and possible further revenge attacks. I’ve been on the receiving end of a flame and forum attack. It’s not nice but as long as you don’t take it to heart and don’t worry about it then you’ll be fine.

Thank you for reading and I hope this provides you with some information and help.

Oh 1 last word of advice. Always keep backups. You never know if you’ll need them.