Do not feed the sock puppets
Creative Commons License photo credit: dichohecho

Banning gets a bad rap. Yes, I just said that.

Most people have never seriously managed a structured online community (e.g. forums) and so, most people don’t understand the importance of banning to a well moderated online community. Any type of control exerted by anyone in authority is often criticized unfairly by the general public, many of whom are not aware of the context or the responsibility of the position that one is placed in.

Some people will criticize banning, talk about how it is ineffective (“they can just come back”), talk about how you should find another way. I always shake my head (privately) when someone says “I manage a community and I’ve never banned anyone!” Really? No disrespect, but are you sure that you’re managing a structured online community? Or is it a free-for-all? Or is it just you on there?

Here’s the deal: if you manage a community for any measurable amount of time, a community that has guidelines, you will have to ban people. Why? Because people will make you do it.

Most of the people you will ban are probably spammers. And then you’ll have the people who repeatedly violate your guidelines, have no interest in listening to you and treat you, your staff, community and guidelines with no respect.

Banning comes in because you have come to an important choice, early on in the management of your community: do your guidelines mean anything? Do you and your staff mean anything, in the context of the community? Does your word anything? If yes, you ban people. If no, you don’t. It actually is that simple. I’m sure some people will disagree with me and that’s cool. But, if there is no ultimate consequence for violating your guidelines, some people will simply spit in your face and go on their abusive path.

This post was inspired by a well-written and reasoned post by Shayne Tilley. The point of his post? Banning isn’t something you should take lightly. I agree with that notion wholeheartedly. When it comes to banning veteran members on my communities, it is always stressful, always something I agonize over. So, please don’t confuse “banning is an important tool that we need,” which is the point of this post, with “I love to ban people! Yay!”

But, it occurred to me that banning does get bashed. Yes, it can and certainly is abused by some. But, there is a catch to that. The level at which it is appropriate to ban is not a universal thing. It is an individual thing that is down to the individual and the atmosphere they are sculpting. My sweet spot might be your “that’s abusive!” and that does not mean that I am doing anything incorrect. There is no one way.

And there is just as much damage to be done by not banning when people deserve it, as there is to do with banning too easily. Extremes are usually not a good thing. You need to guard against them and find the right spot in line with your goals.

My point is that banning isn’t a bad thing, it’s not something to be demonized. It is an important, worthwhile tool that can be used in good and bad ways, like many tools, and is something that any community with guidelines will need to take advantage of, in some form. Just a tool. Don’t discount it and don’t misrepresent it.