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Chances are that your community has guidelines of some sort and you do your best to read all or a selection (depending on the size of your community) of the posts that are made on your site. The guidelines need to be respected and any post that you are aware of, that fails to do so, receives the appropriate attention from you.

But, even so, sometimes you miss things. It’s only natural and the bigger your community gets, generally speaking, the more likely it is to happen. And, if a member sees a post that has a violation, you probably don’t want them to respond to it and bring more attention to it.

How can you decrease the likelihood of missed violations and members responding to them? By asking your members to help with the cause and encouraging them to report violations to you. Let’s discuss some methods of doing this.

Give Them Visual Cues

I believe that the majority of community software options available in this day and age provide some sort of report posts functionality, usually in the form of an image or link on each post. When clicked, often the member making the report is able to add a message to explain what they think is wrong before they submit the report, which includes all of the relevant information.

It is best that these reports go to a private area accessible to just those who can take action on them. This area should allow them to close the issue or leave it open to further discussion amongst the staff.

Dealing with and Responding to Reports

Unless it is very clear (you’ll know it when you see it) that someone is abusing your report post functionality, I never discourage it’s use. Some people might want to respond to all reports acknowledging them (this is automated in some systems) and some people might not. Right now, if people e-mail or private message me directly, I respond. If it is a standard post report through our software, I generally don’t unless the member was unclear about something or asked a question.

When you view a report, you should not read it assuming there is a violation. You should read it with an open mind, look at the post and the context and make your own determination. Treat the report as a pointer to potentially inappropriate content – not as a cause for action, necessarily.

This is perfectly natural. You want members to feel comfortable enough to report anything that they might believe is a violation, rather than responding to it. But, they are not a moderator or administrator. It is not their responsibility to determine whether or not it is actually a violation. That is your role.

Regardless of the outcome, regardless of whether or not it was a violation, you’re response to the person who reported it, if there is one, should be built around “Thank you” and on encouraging them to report posts in the future. You want to be very careful not to discourage people because if someone is scared they might be wrong or thinks you will endlessly correct them, they probably won’t bother.

Make it a Part of Your Guidelines

In the actual guidelines themselves, include something about reporting posts, how to do so and why it is important. Make it clear that if a member violates your guidelines in response to someone else who did so, it is still a violation and they will still be responsible. Here is an example from one of my communities:

Because of the live nature of the discussions on this community, it is not possible for us to review and/or confirm the accuracy or validity of a message before it is posted. If you believe that someone has violated our User Guidelines or you have spotted content that may otherwise require attention, please click the report post icon (icon) in the upper right part of the post where the violation is located. If the thread has numerous violations in it, you need not report each post; simply report one post and note that you spotted other violations in the thread, as well, in your report before you submit. Include a brief description of what you believe is wrong. After you send your report, forget that the post(s) exists. Do not post “I have reported your post” – do not further reference the post in the thread in any way. If you feel that the report post feature is not appropriate for reporting a certain type of violation, please feel free to send a private message to a staff member or contact me.

Notification is strongly encouraged – we need your help to keep up the quality that KarateForums.com is known for. It is also voluntary and anonymous, but in no case should a user respond to a situation personally, thereby aggravating the situation further. Responding to a violation in an inflammatory manner is a violation in itself and will result in appropriate action.

Tell Them to Do It

When a member on one of my communities responds to what is an obvious, blatant or extreme violation of our guidelines, even if their post itself was not otherwise a violation, we send them a private message. The reason we do this is twofold. First, of course, want them to report it and not respond to it. But, secondly, we also want them to understand that what that member did was not acceptable.

Here is an example of the type of message that we might send to a member (from the “Managing Online Forums” downloadable templates):


Thank you for visiting <<YOUR SITE’S NAME>>.

Unfortunately, I have had to remove your post quoted below as it was in response to a post that had to be removed as it violated our [url=<<LINK TO YOUR USER GUIDELINES>>]User Guidelines[/url].


In the future, if you feel a post may be against our User Guidelines or may otherwise require some sort of attention, you should always report it through [url=<<LINK TO YOUR CONTACT PAGE>>]e-mail[/url] or send me or another member of staff a private message. After you have done so, forget that the post exists (do not reply to it further, even to say that you have reported it). We will then handle it appropriately.

We appreciate when members inform us of violations to our User Guidelines, rather then responding to them and making the situation worse.

Thank you for your time and cooperation.


<<YOUR SITE’S NAME>> Moderator

If a member responds to someone else’s post and tells them that “this might be a violation of the guidelines” or “this is a violation of the guidelines” or something similar, that sort of post is always removed. We don’t want members to moderate each other. We inform that person that they should, instead, report the post and not take on the role of a moderator.

One other instance where we tell a member to report a post is when someone tries to excuse what they did by saying that they have seen other people do it. “I’ve seen this happen everywhere around this community, so that’s why I thought it was OK.” We ask them to report these sorts of posts to us, but impress upon the member that they are responsible for their actions, like anyone else on our community.

“Who Reported Me? I WANT TO KI- Send Them Flowers”

It is my policy that we never reveal who reported a post to us. Not publicly, not to anyone outside of the staff and, especially, not to the member whose post we had to remove.

The primary reason for this is that it would discourage people from reporting posts, if they knew the person who made the post they were reporting would find out and possibly confront (intimidate?) them. Who wants to deal with that?

But, also, I believe it to be unimportant. Most of the time when a member asks this question or complains that their post was removed just because someone reported it, there was no report. A member of staff saw the violation and handled it.

Whether or not there is a report, I always refocus the discussion. I don’t even confirm that it was reported, 100%. The point I drive home is that your post either is a violation or it isn’t and, in this case, it was. Whether or not it was reported has no bearing on that. If they have any questions about the post or if there is anything I can do to help, I am here for that. But, that’s all. I’m not going to say it was reported and who did so because it is irrelevant and doesn’t affect the main issue.

There are plenty of reasons why members don’t report posts, but with these strategies in mind, you should be able to encourage the people who are willing and allow them to help you to more quickly deal with troubling situations on your community.