Spam and trolls are an unfortunate reality for almost any community forum, but the world of competitive gaming seems to have more than its fair share. In fact, some gaming communities have developed such a huge reputation for toxic behavior that it has become a defining characteristic of their game.
The big question is: how do you stop trolls and spammers from harming your community and detracting from the overall reputation of your game?This question isn't as simple as it seems — in fact, for many gaming communities, toxicity is a sort of incurable disease. Just when you think you're doing well and wiping the forum clean, they appear again!
To first understand how you can prevent spam and trolls from wrecking your game forum, we need to first take a look at why people choose to behave this way. From there, we can not only find out how to prevent trolls from being attracted to your forum, but also find the best ways to prevent them from ruining your forum once they find their way in.
Taking a Proactive Approach to Trolls
The terms "trolls" and "spammers," are often used interchangeably in video game communities, but there is an important difference between the two.
While spammers are primarily motivated by financial gain, and much more easy to spot for obvious reasons, forum trolls are a much more complicated and varied bunch.
Don't Provide a Reaction
Trolls work to carry out personal attacks against other players, forum moderators and even the game developers themselves.
Trolls are driven by a multitude of motivations. Although trolls, similar to spammers, employ common spam tactics to create maximum disruption, more nefarious individuals merely seek attention, emotional release or even the thrill of power.
To that end it's important to keep in mind that these individuals are seeking a reaction from you — if you don't provide this reaction, these trolls will likely go somewhere else to find what they're looking for.
Deal With Problems Immediately
Other trolls may have more tangible reasons for trolling, such as the feeling that they’ve been wronged by a developer or community moderator. Oftentimes, these cases start off as legitimate concerns but quickly get out of hand.
In cases like these, it's important to nip them in the bud before they develop into more than just a sore feeling. First, you should always assume good faith and take what they have to say seriously. By having a 1 on 1 conversation with these people about why they feel they've been wronged, you might just prevent the birth of a troll.
Don't Treat Them like a Troll Until You Know They're a Troll
In other cases, spamming and trolling might be less calculated and attributed to temporary frustrations. For example, some may habitually submit their posts quickly without any editing, while others may simply be bad at handling disagreement.
To that end, you want to make sure that you're reading the posts with a neutral tone since often times, text can be misread in a different tone than originally intended. Lastly, again, assume that everyone has good intentions until you can spot an obvious troll; this will help prevent irritating the person in a way that makes them want to become a troll.
Dealing with Spam
When you have a spammer in your forum, there are a number of things that you can do to stop them dead in their tracks.
Using Automation to Eliminate Spam
The overwhelming majority of spammers use fake accounts and spam bots to flood forums with junk posts. Fortunately, this sort of spam is easily eliminated by using automation similar to the type that protects our email accounts.
For example, such techniques may automatically delete posts that contain key words and phrases commonly associated with spam, and automatically ban associated user accounts and IP addresses. Most forum spam prevention systems also provide the ability to manually review suspected spam first.
Other Ways to Eliminate Spam
Some spammers aren’t so easy to stamp out through automated methods alone. While automation will eliminate most forum spam, some spammers use more sophisticated schemes to spread their messages.
Some might manually post spam in the form of irrelevant content that doesn’t bring anything to the discussion. One way to prevent these attempts is to implement a probationary period for new members which limits their ability to open new threads and necessitates moderator approval.
Dealing with Trolls
Once you know that you have a troll in your forum, there are a number of things that you can do to preventing them from wreaking havoc and creating a toxic environment in your gaming community.
Using Community Moderators
Every community needs moderators to effectively police their forums and guide the conversation in the right direction. But it’s important to remember that a moderator is more than just someone who enforces forum rules and locks or deletes offending topics. In other words, getting rid of trolls is a relatively small part of their job; their main purpose is to build a troll-free environment in the first place.
A good moderator must exhibit excellent judgement; ever-wary of being “that” moderator who represses their community and shuts down legitimate debate. They must not see themselves as police officers but rather as community builders. They must be the ones to inspire others and encourage involvement while also enforcing the rules. It's therefore important to choose your community moderators wisely — not everyone can be trusted to be in a position of power.
Some gaming communities make use of ranking systems to reward the best posters without giving them moderation rights, simultaneously maintaining a separate team of moderators as well. A good example is Blizzard Entertainment’s MVP program, which rewards the most valuable forum posters in their community by giving them special recognition. This is a great approach to fostering a troll-free environment.
Reporting and Banning Forum Trolls
While automation can eliminate some of the work involved in dealing with spam and trolling attempts, the latter normally requires manual review. Every community forum should provide the capability for other members to report inappropriate posts and spam. Crowd-sourced reporting is a popular way to get the community to police itself, and can be very effective.
Furthermore, if your community forum allows members to send private messages to one another, you should always allow users to block members they don’t want to hear from.