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Harassment Problems Rarely Have Simple Solutions

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

Read this post by Katie and consider what you would do if you were the event organizer.

What do you do if someone (especially someone with a reputation big enough to cause you problems) is harassing another member of the group?

This is an important challenge for all social architects.

The obvious answer, ‘remove the perpetrator’, isn’t as simple as it seems.

First you would need to:

  • Know harassment has taken place (it usually goes unreported).
  • Establish what constitutes harassment? A misjudged advance or repeated series of messages (how many?)
  • Ensure all members know what constitutes harassment (this differs by cultural backgrounds).
  • Provide a safe line for people to report harassment (do you let people do it anonymously? Who gets to see the report?).
  • Ensure the accused did commit harassment (does it need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt? What if this usually comes to s/he said?)
  • Remove the harasser from the group (physically, how does this happen? Are you willing to publicly ask him/her to leave?)
  • Protect the person that made the complaint (how do you protect them from physical or emotional abuse outside of the venue?).
  • Protect your organization from legal repercussions. (What if you have signed contracts with the harasser to speak/sponsor your events?)

I can’t promise this is the best process, but it’s a process.

  • Write detailed rules. What constitutes harassment? Be specific and be clear about the intent of the rules as much as the words themselves. Give specific examples and identify the line between a misunderstanding and harassment.
  • Force people to understand the rules. Anyone participating in the group abides by these rules. Include this in any contract with speakers or agreement with attendees. Don’t include this in a legal block no-one reads, explain it at the beginning of your talk, in a video people have to watch when they join the community, or in a separate list of rules to sign when they attend the event.
  • Anonymous tip & clear person responsible to report harassment. Designate a specific person to report harassment and create an anonymous tip line. Anyone can submit any evidence or observation of harassment at any time. It probably helps if the recipient is a) female b) doesn’t have strong relationships with the major influencers and c) is trained and emotionally ready for the role.
  • One-strike with evidence, two strikes without. If there is evidence, remove the perpetrator immediately. If there isn’t, give a warning – ask for their side of the story, and offer a second chance.
  • Immediate revocation of any credentials/access/ability to attend the event or participate in the community. Do this by phone. Be factual, direct, and not argumentative. Let the individual explain why they can’t attend the event if they’d like to.
  • Ask the harassed what you can do to help protect them (they will know better than you). This step is important and often overlooked. The solution they develop for themselves will be superior to any solution you design for them.
  • Contact your legal team. Seek advice if you like, but give them a clear heads up and understand what you should and shouldn’t do in this situation.

This is the role no-one building any social group wants to perform. Unfortunately for you, there’s on-one else to do it. The temptation will always be to overlook it and hope the problem goes away. But that’s not what you’re going to do.

Twitter discovered you can be as defined by your inactivity on harassment than your activity. Your community can be the same.

p.s. We’re now just 40 days away from our FeverBee SPRINT event. If you want to learn a lot of advanced community skills from 14 world-class experts and ourselves, I hope you will join us at:


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