The internet abounds with the best and worst of human nature and reliably brings out instances of both in high relief. But today we’re discussing one of the darker aspects of forum frequenters: the tendency to hide behind screens.
What exactly do we mean by that? All forum members use screens, right?
Yes, but not everyone hides behind their screen. We’re referring specifically to individuals who behave in ways they ordinarily wouldn’t simply because they have digital anonymity on their side. It might be emotional outbursts or the intentional alienation of others with whom they disagree. But the reality is the presence of these individuals on a forum is practically guaranteed.
Are you doing everything you can to reduce the numbers of such individuals on your forum? If not, here are three suggestions to get you going.
1. Keep your Niche in Mind
This is an incredibly important point to consider if you’re trying to keep conversations amicable on your forum. It’s just a fact of life: some topics generate more heated conversations and emotional outbursts than others. Have you stumbled onto such a topic by accident or perhaps even selected it intentionally for one reason or another?
Either scenario is fine, but you need to operate differently depending on which camp you fall into. If you’ve selected an emotionally charged niche without meaning to, do your best to pivot to a more neutral location through thread and topic creations. Or in extreme cases, you may just opt to shut down the forum and create another, in a more self-reflective manner.
But if you’ve purposely selected a high-conflict niche, you need to operate with finesse: your aim should be to make both sides of your member base feel valued and heard. This requires more depth of thought on your part, since you need to unify your members with threads and strategic questions.
2. Watch your Demographics
Just as some topics reliably breed more emotion than others, certain demographic distributions in your membership will reliably lead to more emotional friction among your members. Before going any further, note that we’re strictly referring to demographics contextually.
For instance, imagine you run a forum on issues related to social security funding and pensions. You would expect your membership to be in the age range of 45 all the way to members in their 70’s and even 80’s. But a massive political shift has just taken place, and individuals over 70 have taken a huge hit on their monthly payments.
You would then expect (correctly) that forum members in the affected demographic to be more prone to emotional outbursts and behavior. Accordingly, you’d want to watch threads relevant to that demographic carefully, and monitor any untoward behavior.
Go the extra mile, though. Instead of just monitoring potential outbursts among that demographic, proactively create threads that are meant to stimulate conversations instead of conflicts.
3. Set a Limit
So far the tactics we’ve recommended have all been geared at creating your forum around conflict avoidance. Alternatively, you could simply accept the fact that you’re in a high-conflict zone. This could be due to any number of reasons: your topic, your demographics or factors like political events completely outside your control.
If you want to cut the conflict off quickly at its source, you could always set a limit on outbursts that result in moderator intervention. Three is the traditional limit in such situations, playing on the familiar “3 strikes” motif. But if you want to convey that you’re serious about conflict prevention and avoidance, limit potential offenders to two strikes.
You also need to plan how to handle the affair afterward. Is it going to be a one-off matter, where reaching your strike threshold results in permanent barring from the forum and its activities? Or will the offending member only get kicked out of the party for a set period, say a week or a month?
Limiting conflict and emotional outbursts is one of the most important aspects of forum ownership and moderation.
To accomplish this, you need a keen sense of self-awareness around your chosen niche and the potential conflicts brewing within it. Ditto for your forum demographics.
But you also need skill in the way you handle offenders, by dealing with them personally and discouraging similar outbursts. It may sound like a lot, but investing the time and thought will reward you richly down the line.