Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Published on January 5, 2012 By Draginol In Internet


All this has happened before. All this will happen again.


I first started moderating “online communities”back in the mid 80s. Back then, they were called BBSes and the title “Sub-Op”.  Without moderation, Internet communities ultimately die off for the same reason: They become toxic. 

What causes them to become toxic is predictable and preventable. Identify and remove people who are toxic before toxic cliques form. It’s easier said than done because every time I’ve seen it happen, the people causing the harm have no idea that they are the problem. That’s because, in the beginning, they weren’t.

In the beginning of a successful online community, you have a core group of prolific, high quality contributors to the forum. Their contributions help the community grow and thrive.  In time, a certain percentage of these users will believe that they are entitled to judge others and abuse them if they are found wanting.

Eventually, the entitled group will cross some line that the owners of the site object to. This confrontation leads to the debate on what rights the site owner has over the community. And this leads to the following flow chart:



I’ve seen all three paths over the years.

The end result is the same, it’s just a matter of how long it takes to get to the end point. Of course, the other option is for the site owner to get fed up and shut down the site.

WinCustomize Example

I took the hands off approach for at one point as some users may recall. I subscribed to the view that the community had evolved beyond the site owners and could police itself. That merely led to many of the “old guard” bullying those they disagreed with.

Many of the problem people were friends and I would message them to lay off with the response being “That guy deserved it”.  That is usually how you can tell you’re going to have problems with someone because nobody deserves to be griefed.  (Anyone remember the “Community” er “The Council” and the first GUI Olympics? That still stands out as the most blatant example of entitled).

Neowin Example took the path of making their Entitled group into moderators. And for awhile, it was good. But pretty soon, the same problem came up except now the Entitled group had the power to ban users. The site owner had to step in and it was doubly painful because the moderators had built a considerable following who departed with them. That one I watched from the sidelines.

JoeUser Example took the third path a few years ago as some reading this may recall.  In a blogging community it is particularly tough to lose people whose posts are the primary source of traffic. I won’t mention the names but anyone who’s been on here for awhile know the people I speak of.

In every case, the newly banned go to or create some splinter site. I’ve never seen one thrive (they often stay around in a kind of near death for years to come).

I wish I could say I knew what specifically causes people who start out being outstanding contributors to a community to becoming toxic users. They are usually very intelligent people. The only thing I’ve seen them have in common is the belief that some people deserve to be griefed and that they are entitled to make the determination on who deserves the griefing.

Comments (Page 1)
on Jan 06, 2012


on Jan 06, 2012

Any site can thrive if just one belief is upheld, respect. Respect for the site admins, respect for the posters and more importantly respect for the newbies who get curious enough to want to join in the fun. Wincustomize IMO may not be the pristine website where all things come up roses but that is exactly what you don't want. Perfection is unattainable and having some rough edges actually strengthens a community rather than hurting it because those rough edges are the opinions, wants, needs and desires of the community. I believe that we as a community dedicated to skinning whatever isn't nailed down have the opportunity to set an example for those on the outside looking in. Without citing any names there are some who have come here to SD for that very reason. Proof is in the pudding.


on Jan 06, 2012

Any site can thrive if just one belief is upheld, respect. Respect for the site admins, respect for the posters and more importantly respect for the newbies who get curious enough to want to join in the fun.

I agree, Uvah. But it must be understood that respect is earned, not given, and should never be taken for granted.

on Jan 06, 2012

9 times out of 10 Wincustomize hasn't been 'toxic'.  It has, however been 'opinionated', particularly by those who believe they've done the 'hard yards' and deserve a voice.

Mostly they are wrong.

Ultimately once the

y 'toxic' have over-stepped their mark a gentle reminder of 'realtiy' ususally works...



Note to self....Don't philosophise on a Friday night....respect the red...  [typos]

on Jan 06, 2012

The problem is what happens if the site owner is the problem?  Ultimately forums are about the community more then the forum itself.  If a community grows insular, it will eventually destroy itself.


A community needs new blood constantly to sustain itself.


I've given serious thought to leaving a forum I've enjoyed for the past year due to that earlier mention (I understand why you disagree).

on Jan 06, 2012

The situation there is the case where the owner stepped away and the Entitled group took over and when the owner came back and took action it tends to get very messy since you have not just the Entitled group but those who just get caught in the cross fire.  

In a few months, if history is a guide, most of them will be able to come back (assuming the owner wants them).

The Entitled group in question are the quintessential "We decide who deserves to be attacked based on whether we think they are bad people or not."  

After all, from their perspective, my very participating in a thread is me "trolling" where trolling by their definition is holding an opinion contrary to theirs and all contrary opinions anger and upset them and therefore constitute trolling.

That's how it always works. If the entitled group is left to their own devices, they will deem any who don't bow to their views as trolls who therefore deserve to be run out of town -- by them. And they are completely oblivious that they themselves are the problem.

on Jan 06, 2012

I miss the old JUers.

There was a time, when JU really dominated my net time. 

I think what you describe as toxic is more human nature (as is evidenced by your numerous examples)....or as I think of it, freshman to senior syndrome.

Freshmen are newbies, they come in, observe the landscape, take some guff from seniors, learn the community.  After awhile they "feel" graduated to the old timers/seniors group and take umbrage at newbies coming in who don't show the proper respect (or insert whatever reason including plain mean-ness as a reason to flame).

I can't imagine trying to tinker with that as an owner, but what else can you do short of shutting down the site? 

I'm curious.  In your experience, you say the result is the same.  But, which method ran people off the site fastest

Letting the flamers/bullies rule, survival of the fittest?  Did people leave because they couldn't take it?

Or interceding and stopping it before it escalated by banning perps? 

I ask because before LW was banned, JU seemed a very diverse place with occasional flame wars.

Were people leaving before that?

Or do you think her exodus just happened to coincide with the normal flux of on-line communities?



on Jan 06, 2012

Sounds a lot like narcissism.


on Jan 06, 2012

Is this a shot across the bow or is the naughty list already compiled?

on Jan 06, 2012

on Jan 06, 2012

I was sure this post would be about the pollution problem on Taris and why the Sith are sabotaging the cleanup program. 

But you have to know that this forum is one of the nicest. It's all about respect. 

on Jan 06, 2012

This board is the only one I don't find toxic.   I'm a long time Gamefaq's user, and there are those small boards that there are still good discussions and such going, but mostly there are fights.  Why?  Because there are a lot of anarchist, assholes, lazy asses, and dumbshits in the world.  They might be a minority, but the majority are people who get real tired of that stuff pretty quickly.  It's easy to moderate flaming.  It's difficult to moderate the behavior that fans those flames.  

on Jan 06, 2012

We lost a lot of people due to LW and her group. 

After LW, we still had people leave due to a different type of problem and that is people who don't break the rules but are still very opinionated. JU became very right wing over time because of that which in turn took away a lot of diversity.  

A lot of people were surprised LW got banned because she was so right wing and there was a belief that we had some bias for right-wingers simply because I am a right-winger. But bullying isn't a political issue. No matter how much you contribute, you don't have the right to smear other people.

on Jan 06, 2012

Is this a shot across the bow or is the naughty list already compiled?

No, I'd say our community is the healthiest I've seen it in years. A big part of that is the even handed moderation of people like Jafo and Kyro.  People know they have no "dog in the hunt", they just ask that people not stalk others across threads/forums.

on Jan 06, 2012

Wow, I had never even looked at JoeUser forums before...god damn.  I might have to take a longer look, it's like some kind of zoo, but one only for the really loud and deranged Elephants.