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Dealing with forum confrontations

If you use forums often you are probably familiar with how quickly forum confrontations can sprout. Forum conflict is most likely attributed to the fact that forums are generally highly anonymous, and that the meaning of a post primarily depends on the perception, personality, and sensitivity of the reader.

Confrontation can affect a forum of any size. The size of your forum may even influence the type and frequency of altercations. Smaller forums are typically made up of users that very familiar with other members of the forum. Posting/speech patterns, mannerisms, personality, and even annoying habits are all ways members recognize and assess each other. With such close-knit groups, it is no different than spending too much time with a friend or sibling; nerves are bound to be stressed.

Larger forums have the opposite problem. Larger forums have so many members that people can post and post without paying any particular attention to anyone. Problems arise when two or more individuals cross turf, jeopardizing the status quo.

Forum confrontation is generally a fight over reputation. If a user is called out in front of their community (especially one in which they feel a strong connection) they probably feel vulnerable and defensive. Most people's reactions are to lash back or provide excuses. Either action is liable to trigger more written abuse. These situations can grow exponentially as more users get involved, sides are established, and claims get more ridiculous.

The best way to deal with forum confrontation is to turn down the heat. Most issues are fueled by the desire to save one's reputation. Review the issue in its entirety and use your position as the forum admin to close the topic neutrally. If you have specific rules about forum confrontations, this is the perfect time to cite those rules. By closing the topic you are not remedying the situation but have at least exercised some control. Let the members argue it out in private, either by email, IM, or private message. Be sure to facilitate as much closure on the matter as possible. If someone involved contacts you saying they feel like your actions weren't justified or even harmful, hear them out and use your judgment.

Forum confrontations can truly be damaging to your community depending on the members involved. Seasoned users often have a popular following and, if continuously irked, may leave your forum and bring their following with them. You should always make your best effort to suppress confrontations when they are brought to your attention and try to resolve any confrontations that get out of hand.

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