When you read about trolls and negative behavior online, it is generally acknowledged that bad behavior is fairly common. While this is true, I strongly disagree with the point of view that this is the nature of online forums and communities. This is not true. The truth is that the admin of a community, the posting policies and the moderators set the tone and are directly responsible for the tone of the forum. Trolling, petty bickering and bad behavior is a sign of poor community management, not a character flaw in humans. I am not only a moderator at WebmasterWorld, but I am also the owner of a successful forum community. I am going to show you from my experience how to discourage negative behavior on a forum while also encouraging more positive interactions.
I’m a member of a fishing forum that has a LIKE system that works really well. There is no negative equivalent (DISLIKE). I think that’s a positive. Liking encourages community. Having a post LIKED is encouraging. It encourages members to feel positive about another member who praised their post. It creates a way for a member who might not have something to post to at least show their appreciation for the post. It encourages connection, community.
Someone mentioned to me that they like the VOTING functions of a certain forum which allows members to vote down a thread and close it altogether. This is a misguided forum function and if you have this turned on I would urge you to turn it off. I will explain why. First off, moderating a forum is the job of a moderator, not the community. Secondly, anything that causes divisions, and shutting down a discussion is divisive, works against the goal of creating community.
Thirdly, last thing I want to do is to give a troll a vote. On a macro level, the most important reason why not to have a negative voting function is that it’s something that creates divisions. I’m very much against negative forms of interaction in a community, like voting down a thread or tagging a member as an enemy to avoid having their posts displayed for you. Voting down and collapsing a thread is a job for moderators, not a way for members to express their negative opinions of each other.
Forum software (and community rules) should encourage members to come together. The best forums should encourage members to form bonds, whether it’s PM or a LIKES function, these things help the community members get to know each other, form connections. I’m an advocate of gently nudging members out of lurk mode and into forming connections, community.
This is on the same level of NOT allowing members to discuss politics and religion. I saw one forum that actually had an off topic forum just for discussing politics. The idea was to give members a place to get that off their chest without driving other discussions off topic. Guess what? It’s a vile sewer of negativity, racism, Xenophobia and ignorance. I read through that forum and found instances of members vowing never to return to that forum ever again just because of that forum.
Politics and religion divides people. [b]Features and policies that are divisive are corrosive to a forum.[/b] [i]Divisions work against the core purpose of a forum, which is community.[/i] So what is the point of encouraging division? It works against your goals. Being able to cast a negative vote on a thread is clearly a negative form of interaction and has no place in a community that aspires to be troll-free. The best way to handle negative posts, off topic posts, trolling, flames and rule breaking is the Report a Thread.
I’m reworking a new forum and disabling the FOE function and leaving behind just the FRIEND function was one of the things I did. That encourages positive community building.
On forums, free speech is not a right
A common characteristic of trolls is that they feel entitled to say whatever they want to say. Nobody screams louder about their right to free speech than a troll. Surprisingly, many admins agree with them. Nothing can be more harmful to a community. In the real world it is considered bad behavior to be rude to a stranger. It should not be any different online.
My theory about trolls is that they’re common because forum administrators are afraid of losing members. It starts at the beginning with loose moderation when the forum is new, fed by the fear of not growing or else the admin is himself/herself a troll who believes in “free speech.” Once the forum has grown the culture is established and the forum is poisoned.