28 Mar 2017

How to Clean up an Online Community

Many communities like Reddit and Youtube have toxic comments. These dis-incentivise others from participating, upset well-intentioned participants, and earning the site a bad reputation.

How do you clean up such a site? I think the way is to identify the most toxic individuals, ban them, and delete all their comments and replies [1]. I think it's only a few mis-behaving people who in turn provoke others to respond in kind, or convey that this kind of behavior is normal or otherwise acceptable in this forum. If you find and delete the worst offenders, it will have a huge improvement on the quality of the discussion.

You can't find all the offenders, anyway. It will take too much time, for a free service, and you risk catching some innocent people, or people in the grey area. This will make other users rebel against the moderators or the site, or conclude that this site arbitrarily deletes valid comments, and not invest more time participating. To avoid this problem, take action only against users who have unambiguously crossed the line.

Finding the worst offenders shouldn't be hard. Go by the number of times their comment was flagged, or the number of people who've blocked them, or the number of Youtube channels from which they've been blocked, or people having tons of downvotes without a corresponding number of upvotes, like 40: 1. Or just do a search for people using abusive language like "fuck you" or "asshole", sorted by the number of times each person used such language.

To be clear, using offensive tone is not the only unacceptable behavior. Doxxing people, physically threatening them, advocating violence against individuals or groups, and so on.

Human review is needed before blocking anyone, to prevent mistakes. And human review is feasible because the goal is not to catch every mis-behaving user, just the worst ones.

When you delete someone's account for abuse, replace all their comments with a note saying "This person's account was deleted because they were offensive". If their comment remains on the site, it may provoke more responses in the same tone, or otherwise convey that this kind of behavior is accepted on this site, leading to a downward spiral. That's not a worth risk taking to preserve some acceptable comments made by a known bad actor. Better to delete all their comments.

When a misbehaving user's account is deleted, replace all this comments with a note saying that this person's account was deleted for being offensive. Not "this comment", but "this person's account". That tells everyone else that certain behavior isn't tolerated and will lead the person to losing their account, not just an individual comment being deleted.

I think this strategy will significantly and quickly clean up a site with toxic comments, which in turn attracts more well-intentioned and well-behaving users, leading to a positive spiral, like Hacker News.

[1] I'm not sure about replies to replies, but direct replies to an incendiary comment are often not constructive to people not involved in the argument, so can be deleted.

No comments:

Post a Comment