Building An Online Community

The internet can be a cesspool that promotes the worst of humanity. But? It can also bring people together. Depending on where you hang out and who you hang out with online determines if you’ve found a supportive group of friends who share your hobbies/etc or a group that will bring you down.

At WorldCon 2019’s “Building the SFF Community Online” panel, Christopher Davis, Heather Rose Jones, Elio GarcĂ­a Jr., fromahkyra, and Kat Tanaka (oh-cop-nick)Okopnik shared tips they use to help the online communities they moderate thrive.

For most of us, when we reach out online, we’re looking to connect. Unfortunately, not everyone online is full of good intent. Some people are intentionally trying to disrupt things — for the kicks.

7 Ways to Suppress Trolls

  1. The common phrase “don’t feed the trolls”, which advises people to just ignore antagonistic comments, actually turns into a way of ceding space to the trolls and letting them take over.
    • Instead – you should make clear rules and explicit punishments for breaking them, escalating as necessary:
      • delete threads
      • temporary bans
      • permanent bans
  2. One way to discourage trolls is to be in a space that requires a consistent name for the log in — and can attach a reputation to that. Reddit does this very well – (depending on the subreddit). The more reputation and following a username has, the less likely they’ll act to destroy the community they’ve helped build.
  3. Delete comments/threads whose topics or language are banned. Don’t memorialize bad behavior.
    • If it’s a discussion that should happen – open up a new channel for the topic, but keep a close watch on it for people crossing that line.
    • Remember that comments are coming in real-time, and it can be challenging to tell who escalated things after-the-fact. Especially if the discussion is split between multiple threads.
  4. Remember that a push to enforce ‘civility’ can be used to hold the status quo and inhibit growth. Sometimes, people need to be called out.
  5. People will find ways to break the spirit of the rules, even if they don’t break the letter of it. That’s why human moderators need to be there, to draw a line — right or wrong.
  6. Warning: if you speak up to strongly defend a person or group you are not a member of, you can cause a strong push back against the very people you were trying to defend. Back them up, show support, but going on the attack can backfire. So, be careful.
  7. As a moderator, be careful who you stop an attack thread with. If you shut down the attacker, without letting the defender reply, you’ve effectively given the attacker the last word.

4 Ways To Encourage a Supportive Community

  1. Being explicitly welcoming of people of color, LGBTQ+ people, people of different genders, abilities, etc.
  2. Delegate tough topics to contained threads.
    • Easier to track/monitor
    • Easier for those who aren’t up for the discussion to avoid
  3. Not every discussion will end in total agreement, and that’s okay. People can have differing opinions. The important part is making sure that everyone’s humanity is recognized, and that people’s identities are not a target.
  4. Remember that not every member is out there posting. Lurkers may feel just as connected as the regular posters, even if you never see their names. Make it easy for audience members to make the switch to participation. Have semi-regular posts to invite people to delurk.

By promoting the behaviors you want to see, and making the space unwelcoming to those who would seek to destroy it, you can promote a supportive, and friendly community.

Let me know if there are any tips I missed!