Usually I write articles for people who manage online communities. However, this is an article for people who don’t. People who enjoy online communities and social spaces. Please feel free to share this article with them, as it will help them to see how things work behind the scenes.

When people are afforded with the opportunity to contribute something online – they are given an area where they can share their thoughts, they are able to participate in discussions with other people, etc. – it is inevitable that some people will abuse this opportunity. They will do things that violate the policies of that community or are otherwise bad or inappropriate.

If you are a member of the community who enjoys it and wants to help it remain a useful outlet, you may wish to report the content. That is great. Many (most?) communities encourage these reports because the staff that the community has cannot possibly review every piece of content. Well meaning members can help to fill the gap and provide extra sets of eyes and ears. I really appreciate when members report something to me, especially if they did so in good faith, as most do.

Many people who make reports, however, do not know how these reports tend to be processed. It may not be clear how the whole system works and that leads to certain behaviors that actually harm the community more than help it. Specifically, I want to discuss the idea that reporting the same thing over and over again is a good idea. It isn’t, but to explain why that is true, let’s run through the reasons that people might consider doing so.

“This is important!”

While the issue that you are reporting may be important to you, there is a fair chance that it isn’t really that important. Spam is not important. Someone calling you names is not important. Profanity is not important. Don’t get me wrong, they all may be bad behaviors within that community and they are annoying, problematic and maybe even hurtful. They should be dealt with if they are not allowed. But they aren’t truly important.

What’s important? Suicide threats, child grooming, people making actual, credible threats against the lives of others. If you choose to report your unimportant (though still important in context) issue many times makes it harder to get to those more important issues. And if you are actually reporting one of those truly important issues, multiple reports don’t help because your issue may not be the only important one.

“They must get a lot of reports, so I need to report it 30 times in order to stand out and get their attention.”

Let’s apply this to you. Do you get a lot of email? You probably do. How would you feel if I sent you 30 emails because I felt it was necessary in order to stand out and get your attention? I’m guessing you’d be displeased. Repetitive reports are like repetitive emails. And if someone gets a lot of emails, the last thing that you want to do is fill their inbox even more.

The same goes for reporting something through a reports system, then sending an email, then a tweet, then posting on a Facebook page. It’s all just more noise. File the report in the most appropriate way.

“No one reads the reports.”

If you are on a community that is any good, I almost certainly guarantee you this is not true. They may deem that action wasn’t necessary, they may not always take the action you want, but it is very likely that someone, somewhere has to view your reports and decide to take action, leave it as is or possibly escalate it up the chain. Filing multiple reports just makes their job harder because they have to spend time reading your duplicate reports, ensuring the issue was already handled, marking the report as read, etc.

Even if you read this and think “well, that may generally be true, but at this one community…,” there is a good chance that you are incorrect and are simply assuming something that isn’t true.

“If we make a lot of noise, they’ll do what we want!”

This might actually work for some people. But it won’t work with me and I suspect it won’t work for most well managed communities. I’m more likely to see you on your way (ban you, in less kind words) for abusing our resources and wasting the limited time that my staff and I have to spend on these matters.

When it comes to managing communities, there are few things I dislike more than members who waste our time in bad faith. We’re here to spend time on these matters, we’re here to help and read reports, whether or not the reports are accurate. I encourage people to make reports when they are suspicious of something. Not when they know a violation has occurred, but when they think we should take a look. In other words, many reports are resolved without action because no violation has occurred. That’s totally fine and I’m grateful that the member took the time to file the report.

But when someone knowing and willingly says “I am going to purposefully abuse you,” that prompts action on my part.

Repetitive Reports Do Not Help Anyone

The bottom line is that repetitive reports don’t help anyone.

They don’t help the people affected by problems being reported. The staff will be aware of the issue, as long as you report it, but if you report it over and over again, they have to specifically read about the same issue repeatedly and make sure it was taken care of. This means that it takes longer to get to actual issues.

They don’t help the community. The community has many issues, at any given time, that need to be addressed. Making the staff sift through multiple reports of the same one is a selfish way of using resources that could go to problems they aren’t yet aware of.

They don’t help the staff. During the time that we are cleaning up your mess of reports, we are getting less done than we usually would.

They don’t help you. Your issue isn’t seen or dealt with any faster. Although staff should never (and will never, hopefully) ignore a report from you, no matter how much they don’t care for you, you are certainly building a reputation and engaging in a bad behavior yourself. This will be documented and could lead to facing some sort of consequence, up to being banned from the community.

This isn’t to scare anyone from reporting, but just to explain how report systems work when it comes to the people who actually have to view the reports. I think I speak for most when I say that we want you to report something if you feel strange about it, but we don’t want you to abuse the system or file multiple reports for the same issue, anymore than you want us to send you 30 emails to ask you one question.