Creative Commons License photo credit: tompagenet

One thing that some forum members often assume is that when a post or contribution they made to an online community or forum is removed, it is because someone complained to the staff about it or someone reported it.

Of course, that is often not the case. Especially on my sites, where the vast majority of removed posts were reported by no one. Generally speaking, I have to believe that most content that is removed on proactively managed communities is removed without being reported.

There are good reasons for this. Among them:

Members don’t know all of your guidelines. They likely only know a handful by memory and even then, aren’t usually going to be able to point them out. They may be able to point out things that they feel are common sense wrongs, like obvious spam, but when it comes to copyright infringement (such as a member who copies an entire article from another site), those sorts of violations are not likely to be reported by members, most of whom won’t know they are looking at copyright infringement.

They aren’t looking for violations. Members are in discussion and participation mode, not in spot violations mode. So, for many people, when they look at a post, they are really just thinking of whether or not they should reply or whether or not the posts gives them value. Beyond that, they’ll just move on.

They don’t know they can report them. Regardless of how many visual cues you might include on your site, some members just won’t know they can report posts (until you’ve told them). When we have a member who responds to a fairly obvious violation, we drop them a note to ask them to report it in the future.

They just don’t want to. And then there are members who just don’t want to report anything because they feel it is “telling on someone” or, worse, “snitching.” They don’t feel like it is their job and have that “we’re all adults” thing going on.

Generally speaking, I believe that well run communities are proactively managed. As opposed to waiting for people to point something out to you, you and your staff actively read the site and handle any violations that you see, while encouraging reports and dealing with them as they come in. Excepting special cases, if you don’t, you’ll be missing a lot.

Whether or not someone’s post was removed after someone reported it or not, I always make a point to tell people that their post was not removed because someone reported it, it was removed because it was a violation of our guidelines. I believe that helps to center the responsibility for the removal on me, where I want it, rather than on the member who supposedly reported it.