Offense and Intent

Someone has said something offensive online.

You could remove them (or their post).

You could retort, try to offend them back, and get others to join in mocking them?

Or you could drop them a quiet line and explain “although you understand they didn’t mean to offend, some people are upset by what was posted because [reason]”

Which do you think helps the person the most?

This is less a question about the level of offense and more a question about the level of intent.

Did he intend to be offensive?

If the answer is yes, feel free to remove.

If the answer is no, have a quiet word and explain why it was offensive and what they can do to make amends.

Making people aware who unintentionally offend aware of their unintentional offense is a far better response than group bullying.


  1. Mark Schwanke says:

    @richard_millington I like this approach. But do you only use it when you believe they didn’t intend to offend? What if you’re unsure? What do you do then?

    Is the assumption here that you’re the moderator or the Community Manager? If so, they should never mock or offend the person back. The Moderator/Community Manager must always remain professional and stick impartially to the site guidelines. Therefore offending them back or mocking would be highly uncalled for.

    The post shouldn’t be removed in full. And removing them without explanation will likely get them to come back on a second account. Both will call censorship and the site’s credibility into question. It’s not often what you have to say but rather how it is said that is a problem.

    How did you find out about the comment? Reading on your own? Abuse Report? PM from a member? Email from members? If email or private message, encourage the member to officially “report” it so it’s “on the books”.

    1. Only the things that are prohibited or offensive should be edited/removed. This way the community sees that you’re upholding the rules that members accept as part of membership.
    2. Reaching out to the member may be effective but before you do so, check the rest of the topic to see if there is anything that might have sparked the comment.

    The Moderators/Community Manager should be part of the community. They need to be consistent and impartial with their judgments. Established members shouldn’t be able to band together and run other members out of town. And the Community Manager shouldn’t be encouraging it either.

    Take a deep breath. Send a note if you feel it might get the person to alter their comment. If it’s not likely to be productive then editing with a clear note why it was edited should help. Always reference the rule being enforced as well and provide a permalink to the guidelines. It’s better that they read them, even if after the fact. And who knows, maybe they will turn things around and become a constructive part of the community.

    The other approach I have also taken is to get involved in the conversation and understand where the comment came from. Get both sides to work together.

    I also go and look at the person’s history, especially with others involved in the conversation. Sometimes there is a back-history that is going on that finally resulted in a public squabble. Don’t be afraid to moderate that content as well. Sometimes things fly under the wire until something big happens.

    You set the tone for your community… Everything won’t magically pop in the moderation queue for you…


  2. Richard Millington says:

    Hey @MarkSchwanke,

    All of the above are really great points, thanks for contributing.

    Might be worth turning this into a mini-guide actually based around the offense/intent conundrum. I’ve always wanted a simple flow diagram for something like this that could be shared.

    To be clear above, the point was not to mock them or allow others to do so :slight_smile:

    My experience is even explaining to people why you’re removing them doesn’t help, as they still don’t feel they should be removed. It tends to inflame the situation either way. That said, only a small percentage of people tend to create second accounts to continue abusing people.

  3. Mark Schwanke says:

    Thanks. Some valuable years of experience gained at a high tech support community.

    I didn’t think you would suggest mocking people. I guess even mentioning it drew confusion for me on what role in the community you were writing about.

    I think it depends on what community it is. My current community probably wouldn’t have people return but banning people on the previous community would cause them to return, especially without explanation. In some cases asking them to follow the rules worked and banning wasn’t necessary. Others were given second chances but were only able to follow the rules temporarily. By banning with a reason you have something then to reference in the event they do come back and claim 1. they were banned for no reason and without warning or explanation. 2. You’ve officially documented the event and shown that you’re willing to work it out. Only spammers get banned without any explanation. They’re after all not likely to create another account and come back.

    Never underestimate the value of even your angriest customers. They’re passionate. And they probably have some advice that would be valuable. As the community manager it’s your job to uncover the reason for their outburst. What they post in the community may not be the actual problem, in fact it’s often not. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to find out what the true reason is, offer your help and then wait for them to be ready to be helped…

    And if you can turn them from being angry to a contributing member… AWESOME!!! It just takes a little work but is really satisfying when it works out and you’re probably going to solidify a great member to the community. And you might even get lucky and they’ll have a really good story to tell about your company.

    Just my 2 Lincolns…

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