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 RyanSchultz.com 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 RyanSchultz.com 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!