Recently, on an innocent thread on a community that I manage, two members got into it and exchanged comments that violated our User Guidelines as inflammatory.

Both made one post that violated our guidelines. Both posts were removed. Both members were contacted to make them aware of the violation, in an effort to limit the probability of it happening again.

That’s all pretty normal.

However, what was interesting is that each member reacted in a similar way. They didn’t like it. Which isn’t a big deal, but they turned that dislike into condescending remarks directed at a member of my staff.

One member feels like he’s being targeted and that we’re operating with bias against him. The other expressed that he was “justified” in making the post that violated our guidelines. Funnily enough, they both feel like not enough posts were removed from the thread, specifically not enough posts made by the other person were removed. Member #1 wants another post by member #2 removed. Member #2 wants the same, except for a post by member #1.

To convey this point, they both made ultimatum like statements. #1: If you remove my post, you need to remove his. #2: Either remove his or add mine back.

It was funny how similarly they reacted. They both wanted the same thing. The other member to receive a greater consequence than they did and to feel justified in their action because “he did it, too.” Which, besides being immature, is just a shirking of any responsibility.

At this point, it’s time for the bad guy (that’s me) to step in and get everything straightened out. I evaluated the actions that were taken and the thread as it remained. Appropriate action was taken and no further posts should be removed. With that in mind, I went ahead and contacted both members.

I explained that the action taken was appropriate and that no further posts would be removed from the thread at this time. They both are individually responsible for their own actions and whether or not someone else did something is not justification for further violation of our guidelines.

Next, it is inappropriate to speak to a member of staff in a condescending fashion and it should not happen again. In general, I have a really low tolerance for that, so when I say it shouldn’t happen again, I definitely mean it. I impressed upon both members the importance of never commanding a member of staff to do something or issuing an ultimatum. We’re always happy to listen to suggestions, but it isn’t appropriate to order a staff member to do something.

I examined member #1’s claim of bias. Without getting into specific numbers, let’s just say that we have given this member many opportunities and removed many violations. He hasn’t been banned because they have occurred over a long period of time, he has made some solid contributions and because he has demonstrated to us that he is making an effort. If we were out to get him, he would have simply been banned, rather than us expending all of the effort required to remove his posts and work with him on what is and isn’t alright.

With member #2, I was definitely taken aback by his use of the word “justified,” applied to how he felt about making a post that violated our guidelines, after the fact. Nothing ever justifies a member to violate our guidelines. To say that demonstrates that you don’t care to follow our guidelines and if you don’t care, then you aren’t participating in good faith. We’re very understanding and flexible on honest mistakes. But when you say it is justified, that means it isn’t honest any longer, it is intentional. When people intentionally violate our guidelines, that’ll bring about the end of their participation on our community.

I was very direct with both members, while also being respectful. I don’t know how they’ll take it, but my aim in being direct is to create an opportunity for them to continue to participate in the future. The alternative, if they were to continue to act in this manner, is that they would end up banned. I want to avoid that, hence my directness. It is hard to know how someone will respond. Sometimes, I have very favorable responses. I’ve even had at least one turn into a great staff member (it took years for them to undo the damage and receive the level of respect warranted). And then, with others, they continue down that path.

The key is that whether or not you like me, you will know where we stand. There isn’t any ambiguity or doubt. I’m honest and I find that, often, members appreciate that I level with them.

Two members, similar violations, similar perspectives. Separated only by a disagreement over who was responsible.