How to Effectively Deal with Conflict in Online Communities

Early this morning before I left for work, I had to step in to intervene in a three-way conversation on the Discord about a technical issue, which was rapidly turning into a heated disagreement. All sides of the argument had very strong opinions, and after another angry debate later today, one of the parties chose to leave the Discord completely, despite my pleas to stay.

Which led me to ask myself: what is the best way to moderate online communities when people start to argue? And how can you have a civil disagreement without having it devolve into arguments, accusations and people leaving the community, never to return? (Please note that I am not talking about trolls, griefing and harassment, which are an entirely separate topic.) So I went and did a little research…

And I found a very useful post from the SocMedSean blog, ten tips for knowing when and how to avoid an online argument:

  1. Learn Thumper’s Rule: If you can’t say something nice, then say nothing at all.
  2. Don’t argue just to argue: “Community managers can spot them a mile away. Trolls who like to just stir the pot and start arguments. They’re the bane of our existence and when I spot one, I give one stern warning and then have no problem clicking the Ban button when they do it again. If you’re there just to argue, then go someplace else. If you’re there to contribute and enjoy the company of other people, great. But don’t be a troll. No one likes  a troll.”
  3. Know your position and how to defend it: “Do you really believe in the argument you’re making or are you just attacking the person who is disagreeing with you?”
  4. Think about the community: “Before you go off on a rant, think about whether the content is actually useful to the other members of the community. If not, keep it to yourself or find the right channel to express your point of view.
  5. Consider how others would view the discussion and your behaviour
  6. Consult with the site owner or community manager
  7. Learn to agree to disagree
  8. Consider learning from the person you are debating
  9. Be you…the real you: “Understand that who you are online should be reflective of who you are in real life. Ask yourself, ‘if I held this argument in person over a beer, would I be saying the same things?’ If the answer is NO, then stop typing. Don’t say things online that you wouldn’t say in-person.”
  10. Back up your position with real, verifiable facts

Neobela, one of the members of the Discord, summed it all up in a couple of words:

Howard Rhinegold’s Brainstorms (where many folk from The Well landed) had only one community rule: “Assume Goodwill”. That pretty much covers it all if you think about it!

Part of the problem with online communities is that you often don’t have things like tone of voice or facial expressions to add to what the person is typing. This can often lead to tragic misunderstandings. And it’s surprising how often people forget this. It’s always better to ask and confirm what someone is saying, rather than make assumptions. (Again, I am not talking about dealing with trolls and griefers.)

So, what tips and tricks have you found helpful in dealing with conflict in online communities? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or even better, join us on my Discord and continue the conversation there!

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2 thoughts on “How to Effectively Deal with Conflict in Online Communities”

  1. I had a taste of this from the moderator’s side many years ago, when I was running an online support group. Several people showed up one day spouting off about a newcomer to our group, stating that she was a bad person and we should throw her out. None of their reasons were relevant to our group, and I only had their word on the veracity. So I stepped in and told the lynch-mob leader directly, “You are harassing a member of this group. I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I don’t care what she may or may not have done elsewhere, none of that is relevant here. My group, my rules. Deal with it.” They eventually departed, but that incident stuck in my mind.

    Sadly, too many folks online are quick to get on their hobby-horse when they disagree with something. And those looking only to cause trouble and/or attack someone they don’t like will take advantage of that.

  2. I’ll have to disagree 🙂

    There is more than one type of disagreement. Plus, always being nice is not always the best course of action. There are people that need to realize they are out of line, unthinking, have their head up their butt, or are revealing incredible ignorance and need a jolt. Nice doesn’t always cut it.

    Trolls… this is a VERY subjective point. Trolling is neither good nor bad. It is trolling. But what one considers bad trolling another considers expounding of viewpoints and beliefs for earnest debate. Many of the Muslin-Christian apologetics forums encourage trolling to engage people.

    The Liberal doctrine is to experience a diversity of ideas. If people are not putting forward controversial ideas, there is no diversity just homogenous pablum. Disagreeing is not inciting violence and many on the Left claim, which is likely why #WalkAway is going viral.

    Know your position… what a concept. As an interesting experiment in Left-Right argument styles read Rules for Radicals by Alinsky and compare it with Tactics by Koukl. The first is about winning minds by any means and the later is about changing minds by reasoning.

    Besides, everyone knows their position. The problem is few know how to defend their position with logic or reason and resort to less than intellectually honest tactics. Worse is few actually know why they have the position they do.

    Rants serve a purpose. While they recommended thinking of the community and whether it will serve it or not, they miss the crucial point, does the community know the subject better than the ranter. Cortez posted her FAQ’s about her Green Plan. Within hours she had to take it down. Ranting about the environment and the elimination of planes, ocean liners, cars, and cattle… just wasn’t going to work. Now the world is ranting about her and providing facts as to why a paying $100 trillion while eliminating most of the jobs on the planet isn’t going to work. The rant gets everyone engaged in Climate debates.

    Consider others viewpoint… good debate tactic. In the current political arena, the effort to avoid triggering another has evolved PC speech into a high-speed move to elimination of free speech. Considering people’s viewpoint is a reasonable thing for considering how to say something. Basing what you say or not on their viewpoint becomes a fear-based censorship.

    Learn to disagree… they could have added learn how to debate and disagree without being disagreeable.

    A good debate presses you to understand your position. Being beat in a debate teaches you the weaknesses in your viewpoint. You either find supporting evidence or change your position. For Darwinian Evolutionists ask if they have ever calculated the time needed for human DNA to evolve? Ask a Christian if they can prove the Bible is true? In most cases both will be totally stumped as they have not considered the point.

    Being the real you… Bill Cosby, pervert that he is, has a hilarious comedy routing about cocaine. Asked what it does the answer was that it brings out more of who you are. His follow up was, what if you are an a__h_le? So, if you have jerks posting, that can be a really bad recommendation.

    Facts… now there is an idea. Know when you or your opponent are arguing facts and when opinion is being argued. No one can win a debate on opinion. Opinion: Hitler wasn’t such a bad guy. After all, he did kill Hitler… One of those cases where one has to figure out if the speaker is serious, making joke, trolling, or just upsetting the usually thought patterns by twisting conventional knowledge.

    So, how do we handle disagreements in forums or comments? If you are stuck moderating, learn debate tactics, Alinsky’s and Koukl’s as well as the general tactics a debate team learns. Then don’t over think it and be aware of one’s own biases.

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