This post is meant to be a general discussion on best practices when it comes to banning. With regards to what has happened on Redstate recently: Most of what I read is on the front page. I am neither a regular poster, nor do I know all that has occurred. But from previous experiences in other forums I believe the best thing the Redstate community can do moving forward is to advocate to the moderators best practices to be used in the future.
There different kinds of behavior that may lead to a banning. Immediate banning may be warranted for obvious trolls and the like, but the ban stick should be used with discretion with regard to regular and longtime posters. A moderator should make clear to them that bans are not final and binding, but may be longer or shorter depending upon the situation.
In the event of a single thread flaming out of control the solution may be to lock the thread and/or give a temporary ban (between an hour and 24 hours depending) to various principles in the flame war regardless of which side they were on.
More serious in the long run is the situation where regular contributers who offer decent content may be sliding into bad posting habits. If a poster is being a problem then the first step is to talk to them. Maybe the situation can be resolved with a short chat. If trying to engage the person fails then give the poster a short ban. Ban them for a day, three days, or a week and then let the poster back into the pool.
If the poster comes back guns blazing then they may deserve an instant ban of greater duration. More likely the posters' behavior might be good for a little while before the the person reverts. The moderator should again try to talk to the poster and give them a warning. If this fails ban the offender for a greater period of time. Ban them for ten days, two weeks, or three weeks and then let the poster back into the pool.
Rinse and repeat with greater bans until the poster reforms, leaves, or is permanently banned.
A significant downgrade in the overall tone of the forum in theory can be avoided with such regular moderating, but even with the best of intentions and mindfulness of their duties moderators may find the tone gradually slipping and they may feel the need to mass ban in order to regain control of the situation. In doing so, however, they risk making the forum even worse in the short term and they risk becoming perceived as arbitrary or ham-fisted. For those reasons mass bans should be generally avoided.
To reestablish a better tone it is a good idea for moderator to start a thread specifically to let the community know that he feels the forum quality is declining, what steps he is considering to resolve the issues, and for input from the community before he proceeds. This puts the community on notice and tests the wind to see if the community will consider legitimate the steps the moderator may take.
The moderator should also make it known for individuals to contact him privately about potential offenders whether it be themselves or others. If posters bring to raise such questions within the thread the moderator should email them privately and tell them publicly to check their mailbox. This serves as the start of dialogue with various offenders and with active good posters. It also allows posters to enter the mysterious process of one on one communication with the moderator to come out unscathed. They will come to the defense of the moderator and his practices. It doing this the moderator heightens the possibility of defusing drama.
The moderator should also make clear that he is not certain for how long the review of the forum will take whether days, weeks, or whatever. If the moderator comes out ban guns blazing then he has created an event, a spectacle, drama. Everyone stops to look at a good wreck. If the moderator bans a number of posters and announces a time frame then the spectacle he is creating will last as long as that time frame. An event, a spectacle, drama, needs fixed points in time in order to occur. The lack of public dates at either the beginning or the end the bannings means less drama.
In response to this process the community may rally together and the moderator might not need to ban anyone. In another community such a thread may stir up the offenders. Many communities might lie somewhere in between.
Outright ban from the forum is a great threat to a poster who may have spent months if not years contributing to a forum. Outright bans will panic and demoralize many vocal members of the community and so should be avoided by making clear that bans are not final and binding, but may last only so long as is necessary to return the forum to a better tone. Some bans may be for only the time it takes for the moderator and a poster to come to a mutual understanding. Some may be longer.
Understand also that if the moderator only bans one person then posters will claim the moderator is singling one out. If the moderator bans several so that he could not be accused of singling one poster out then posters will claim he is using too wide of a brush. Having seen moderators do it both ways it seems to me that it is better for a moderator to be accused of singling someone out then with painting with too wide of a brush. If the moderator paints with too wide of a brush then community members will feel that they too could have just as easily been banned. This risks disaffecting members of the community and the non-posting community.
Hopefully a moderator can navigate the difficult waters of rehabilitating the tone of the forum without much drama or collateral damage. In the immediate months that follow it is important to be vigilant in their moderating so that the forum keeps it's better tone.
- Keep Our Republic
To iterate the disclaimer from above: This post is meant to be a general discussion on best practices when it comes to banning. With regards to what has happened on Redstate recently: Most of what I read is on the front page. I am neither a regular poster, nor do I know all that has occurred. But from previous experiences in other forums I believe the best thing the Redstate community can do moving forward is to advocate to the moderators best practices to be used in the future.