ask the readers: our volunteer group wants to get rid of a problem member

I’m throwing this one out to readers to weigh in on. Here’s the letter:

I have a question about a situation I’ve got. It’s not actually in my workplace; rather, it involves an online community of which I am an administrator. The community isn’t incredibly large, it just has over 800 members, but despite that we currently have nine administrators working together as a council of sorts in order to run and maintain this place. Admins are elected every six months after a round of nominations. (It’s not really an approach I agree with using in this case, but that’s neither here nor there.)

We only began using this system a little over a year ago; I was in the first group of seven who were elected, and I was re-elected for this second group. Our first team, while we did struggle to get some things done at times, was very cohesive and differences in opinion within our own team were dealt with in an adult fashion, and I felt comfortable openly disagreeing with ideas or proposed moderating actions as a result (I’d say everyone else did too). However, in our next team (which carried over five of the previous team and added four new people), this has almost been totally reversed due to one very divisive individual who I’ll call Reginald. Reginald, despite always having been a known troublemaker in the community, was nominated (nominated himself?) and elected after swearing up and down that he had learned to be more of a reasonable person.

Obviously, that’s not at all what went down.

He has continued to operate in a very snide, adversarial manner with both community members and other admins; he has shown a penchant for contrarianism whenever we try to discuss any action to take, which grinds things to a halt and stokes negative emotions; he is often making offensive statements and jokes in the community itself (example: jokingly suggesting someone go kill a blogger whose post most everyone in the community took offense to); and worst of all, he cannot/will not take feedback. (That’s basically our job as admins!) The fits he throws while shifting blame or totally diverting the topic are spectacular. It’s caused some of us to avoid using our admin chat unless absolutely necessary (such as when a post gets reported or someone receives a direct complaint) because we want to avoid the time bomb with a hair trigger that is Reginald. All his behavior stops us from doing anything productive, and I have had anxiety attacks just from trying to deal with him.

If he were a direct report of mine in an employment situation, I’d have pushed him out long, long ago. Sadly, that’s not the case; we are elected, of course, and we have to govern ourselves under our barebones rules that are as young as this moderation system is. And at present, there are no bylaws or rules surrounding removing an admin from power. (I know…believe me, I’m doing all I can to get this done!). We do have elections occurring next month, but I don’t feel at all comfortable with just hoping that Reginald won’t be voted back in. I think we need to figure out how to move about this in what’s uncharted territory for us, but I have no idea what that would look like. I’m almost willing to say we (I’m mostly certain that we have consensus about Reginald) should just boot him out yesterday and deal with the inevitable stink, but I worry about what kind of damage he could cause in the community’s well-being if we did that. Anything, ANYTHING at all that you’ve got would be valued; we’re at our wits’ end.

Readers, what say you?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 190 comments… read them below }

  1. silveraspen*

    OP – you say you’re working on bylaws around leadership transitions. Good. That’s the first step, and you’ll want to make sure they account for what happens if an admin resigns early or wants to take a leave of absence.

    You should also create community standards around acceptable behavior – not only for the community itself but also for its leadership/administration, with the understanding that those voted in as admins are in a position of trust and responsible for setting examples as well as performing moderation activities. Establish within that a system for “impeaching” or restricting an admin who violates the standards. Establish a way to take and record complaints from community membership as supporting evidence. This will be helpful not only in this case but for the future.

    Good luck.

    1. Pix*

      For real, seconding the ‘impeaching’ or ‘firing’ of an admin. I would suggest not making this unanimous — perhaps a strict majority would be enough, supported by a certain number of validated complaints from the community.

      1. Chat happy*

        I would thinking having X number of validated community complaints would be a good starting point to be able to call a vote on the matter. And then have a vote where if the majority vote to remove the admin then it goes through.

        1. Emmie*

          I wouldn’t establish a number of complaints to remove someone. There will be offenses so egregious that the person will deserve ouster immediately. Less important, a strict number might also mean X number of complaints from one upset individual leads to ouster. I recommend a policy to remove comments and or members for harassing, threatening, or whatever prohibited behavior.

          1. Pix*

            Possible. But that’s why it would have to be validated complaints; if it’s people complaining about poor spelling/grammar etc, those aren’t egregious enough to be validated, period. And meanwhile, what you consider heinous might not be what I consider heinous– but if enough people DO think it’s heinous, and each person is a complaint, then there’s grounds for removal.

            1. Megs*

              I think what they may be getting at with avoiding a set number of complaints is that sometimes you may have private activity where only one complainant exists – for example harassment via PM. I think in a group of 800, any complaint could be grounds for an admin to call a vote (abuse of said system being a violation in itself).

              But yeah, as others have said, you really need written policies!

      2. Marty Gentillon*

        A strict majority of the board is not enough, that makes it too easy to use for political purposes. A super majority (2/3) of the board or majority of the membership would probably work pretty well. Impeachment should be hard.

        1. Honeybee*

          I don’t think impeachment of admin should be hard on an Internet community. There’s really no need for a hostile, intractable admin to be running around, and the admins do need to be able to work together cohesively.

        2. Anonamoose*

          You’re right. Impeachment should be hard. Because they #1 should be seeking out communitee members who already display the terms of service while meeting the needs of their follow forumers BEFORE given the opportunity to be a mod. So there’s the problem (which the OP already knows).

          I have to assume, Reginald is a shit stirrer who also has fellow shitstirrers who voted for him. Which means your TOS definitely need some work. And then screw the forum voting in, have the admin team vote the next cohort of admins – you know, the people who actually do the job, as they will be most knowledgeable of who within the community can actually hack it. Because it’s hard; you get a lot of flack and it is a thankless job. And you have to be cool as a cucumber.

          The only other way around this is tech: including some sort of ‘happy point system’ in which folks can say when a poster contributed. If they don’t have enough, then they aren’t qualified to be admin. (You can still do this on top of the admin voting in the new admin cohort.)

      3. TootsNYC*

        though in this case, it’s less the community that objects, and more the other admins.

        I like the “existing admins can impeach an admin or eject a community member without input from the community [that’s what electing representatives is for, to be authorized to act without approval on their every move] but only with a 70% vote” or something so you avoid a “faction taking over the community” function. And allow the community to replace an admin.

        1. KarenD*

          Agreed. This makes total sense.

          However, in the instant case, I would not wait — I’d remove Reginald now, without ceremony and without time for him to gather a coterie of fellow flame-throwers to make things more difficult. And honestly, I’d remove him from the community at large, rather than just demoting him from admin status. This decision should be unanimous among the other admin members.

          I’d announce the action with a “Dear Community” message that starts off with a simple statement: “You have entrusted us to manage this community and we take that trust seriously. Today, we have made a unanimous decision that we’d like to share with you all” and then 1) acknowledges that Reginald was in fact elected by the community at large but 2) the administrators believe that his actions/behavior posed a significant detriment to the community both in “public” (what other community members could see) and in the admin-only channel. Acknowledge that this is a drastic action and one that you hope will never happen again, but that it was taken without malice and for the greater good.

          Beyond this, I would not go into chapter-and-verse details. (It only opens you to nitpicking. Most community members will have seen his behavior for themselves, and can probably extrapolate; beyond that, it’s not really fair to Reginald to start listing off his sins when he is no longer around to defend himself – especially if you’re talking about statements he made in the admin-only channel, which he had a reasonable expectation would not be disclosed to the community at large.)

          I would finish up by announcing that this decision was delayed by the fact that there were no relevant standards, and toward that end, you’ll be establishing an open, stickied thread for public input on community standards and bylaws to be presented at the next election.

          Keep the entire thing as matter-of-fact and low-drama as possible. Then keep responses from the admin crew to the barest possible minimum or better yet, zero – you’ve already had your say in the initial announcement. For sure, don’t respond to anything that’s already been addressed in the announcement.

          There WILL be turmoil over this. Some people will defend Reginald as a poor put-upon soul and vilify the admin crew. Let them. Don’t acknowledge any call to reinstate him. You might want to ask all the admins to respond to any public or private queries with a canned “We’ve had our say, now we want to listen to the community.”)

          1. Anonamoose*

            Ya, there will be flame regardless. Like I said above, it’s a thankless job (and one I “regretfully” declined when offered to me – I don’t have the patience). And people like to complain – ESPECIALLY on the interwebz.

            Just rip off the bandaid and steer the ship back on course. (oooh double metaphors mean I need more coffee)

    2. Chinook*

      Another voice adding to the call for a process to remove an admin or for anyone to step down (because life happens). In the meantime, to deal with Reginald now, do a quick search on how similar groups deal with and propose this as a solution. Or, if you find nothing, I would propose a formal motion that clearly states for Reginald to be removed as an administrator for x, y and z because they are against established standards and make there be a high number of administrator votes (75%?) for it to pass. Then, make sure that the motion is available for everyone you moderate to see because Reginald will probably say he was railroaded.

      In the future, I would also recommend that all nominations be seconded to help alleviate this (though it won’t stop it).

      I run a community group based on Hansard’s Parliamentary Rules and, while they are a pain in the butt and slow the process, they also help solve and even prevent some of these issues because of needing a second voice. You don’t have to be that formal, but you can use it is a guide as long as you are consistent. And it can be done via email and chat because that is how my executive does it if we can’t meet and we have an issue that needs dealing with (the secretary just uses the emails to create her minutes).

    1. AMT*

      And what are the technical details around this? Is there an “owner” of the forum who has the power to grand and remove admin status?

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Yeah, back when I was the person whose name was on all the bills for a forum, suggesting people kill someone (even “jokingly”) was grounds for an instant and permanent ban. Basically my ground rule as owner was “Anything that will get me a subpoena is grounds for a permanent ban.”

        I also banned the person who was urging others to call CPS on someone they didn’t like (mostly because they didn’t like the person, but the flimsy pretext for harassment via government entity was “she reads comics with adult content, and she posted a photo and her baseboards were filthy”).

        I’m pretty dictatorial.

        1. Gene*

          One of the notes in the monthly rules mailing for a work-related group I run states, “This is not a democracy, it’s a (mostly) benevolent dictatorship. And I’m the dictator.”

          Luckily, I haven’t often had to run herd on the ~2500 members in the last 15 years.

        2. Anonamoose*

          Is this Wendy Darling of Goodreads fame? If so *heeeey, girl* thanks for continuing to post even post-drama!

      2. Mona Lisa*

        Yeah, that’s what I thought was kind of surprising. There are usually 1-3 chief admins who supervise a group of moderators. Perhaps incorporating a hierarchical structure into these bylaws would be helpful moving forward?

          1. MentalEngineer*

            I was a member and (fairly briefly) an admin of a forum with about 1,500 members that had this structure. I do think this is probably the way to go, but you need to tread very carefully in making the transition. Think about how the chief admins will be selected in a way that lets the members still feel like they had a say in the selection. Think about whether, how, and why the chief admins can be removed. When you’ve made your decision, be extremely transparent about your rationale. Otherwise, your community may acquire the perception that while the moderators can be held accountable, the chief admins are basically immune to feedback or consequences. Whether or not they’re right (in my forum they were, which didn’t help), if that view pops up in a forum where admin selection used to be fully democratic things can get incredibly cynical and toxic in a hurry.

      3. Liane*

        That’s what I want to know who is the owner? Isn’t there someone with a higher level of access.
        I am Lead Moderator on a gaming forum. I report to the 2 Admins–the Site Owners, the only ones who can ban users and/or IP addresses. Right years ago they offered me the newly-created Lead Mod position (a “promotion” from Moderator) when they reorganized their Mod program. I have hire/fire authority over my Mods, as well as a few extra permissions on the forums. If there is a transgression, by a Mod or member that requires stronger discipline than a stern PM from me, the owners and I decide whether to ban or just suspend the offender–and they are gone. Abuse of fellow members/Mods of violation of our posting guidelines isn’t tolerated. You offend a second time or, worse, pushback when I or another Mod calls you down–You are gone for good.
        The rest of the Admins need to get with the site owner/s, lay the whole pattern out and have Reginald’s account deleted and his IP blocked. AFTER it is done, is when he gets the email that he is OUT.
        Once Reginald is history, the remaining Admins and Owner/s put in place rules and consequences for violating them. Ones that are specific, more effective, and faster than “Wait til the election & hope & pray the glassbowl isn’t reelected.” Then you all inform the group of the new process and that Reginald was removed.

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      Would a committee of the current admins be able/allowed to automatically reject nominations from people with records of bad action on the site? I mean, say 20 people get nominated, but one or two are absolutely a no-go. Could those be rejected from moving forward in the process?

      1. Ama*

        Yeah, I manage an expert volunteer group at my org that elects its members. We take general nominations and then a subcommittee of the volunteer group narrows those down to a reasonable number. We do it because when every nominee makes the ballot people win election with 15% of the vote (since we started doing the smaller pool most people are elected with a true majority of the group), and it also helps our group’s diversity in all kinds of ways (a portion of the group tends to nominate their close friends so the nominating committee helps weed out any of the friend nominations that duplicate expertise/background we already have plenty of).

        To be fair, this might not have entirely worked with Rupert because I suspect if he knew he was nominated but didn’t get passed on to the ballot he would have caused some drama but it would have at least been drama that he was not causing as an admin.

  2. Katie F*

    I’d get everyone together and agree to boot him out and deal with the fallout afterward. Maintain documentation to show members when they ask what happened so that you can basically out-maneuver the most likely inflammatory and dishonest stories he’s going to tell. All you can do is get rid of the problem person and try to maintain community trust otherwise.

      1. LBK*

        I think that’s one of those things that feels like it will strengthen the case for ejecting him but really just opens yourself up to getting into petty arguments with his defenders about interpretations of each situation. They’ll be convinced that if they can argue another side of each situation, they’ll somehow win and get him put back in power, and they’ll do that eternally as long as you keep engaging them. The people who don’t care he’s gone will take your word for it and the people who will be mad will fight with you regardless of how much evidence you put up.

        It’s why you don’t get too far into examples when you’re firing someone – you don’t want to give them ammunition to fight you, because they’ll just try to argue about why you’re wrong about each instance. You just stick firm to your course of action and reiterate that the decision has been made and won’t be changed.

        1. LQ*

          I agree. No matter what it says, no matter how clear the screen shot, people will argue with it. It was taken out of context, it was doctored, etc etc. Giving clear and specific examples in a situation like this, at least in my experience, doesn’t work.

          1. LBK*

            Indeed. The courts of emotions doesn’t work like a court of law. It’s much more controlled by confirmation bias than fact-based evidence.

            1. LQ*

              I wish brains were logical. They are effective, but that doesn’t mean logical. So much bias. It is a helpful thing to remember when dealing with things like this. With work you have the moderating factor of most people need a job to survive. With a casual group you often lack that as motivation to self moderate.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Eh, it’s less about brains than people. We can learn to work around confirmation bias and emotion; most people just choose not to, because it’s hard and means sometimes we have to admit we’re wrong.

          2. kbeersosu*

            Perhaps for future issues such as this you can incorporate a “reasonable person” standard to help govern what is considered egregious. Essentially, if a reasonable person would interpret or read what was said as offensive, egregious, threatening, harassing, etc. then it is so deemed by the admin group. And then you use whatever system from there to determine an outcome. (I use this term because it’s part of the Title IX legislation because it’s helpfully broad.)

        2. Annie Moose*

          I also agree. The issue isn’t about this specific example or that one, it’s about the broad trend.

          I definitely think the admins should internally keep this sort of documentation, though! I just think I’d be wary about throwing all of it out there to the rest of the community, who won’t have the same context and same interactions that the admins will have had with this person. (again, very similarly to discussing specific reasons for firing a person–coworkers just don’t have the same context that a manager does)

        3. SystemsLady*

          I read a blog post lately about how in some ways it doesn’t even make sense for rules alone to factor into banning.

          It always, always becomes a battle about semantics and leads to people doing childish line-toeing things – the virtual equivalent of hovering hands over shoulders and screaming “BUT I DIDN’T TOUCH HIM” when told to stop. Then when they do break the rules, they argue the interpretation of the rule ad nauseum (and of course “questioning the rules will get you banned” is bad policy).

          Then you have situations like say have a guy who posts an inflammatory Photoshop per image, everybody argues about it, can’t define what exactly he did wrong using the rules, and the admin ends up banning image posts as a result. This stops the guy but also harms the rest of the community.

          So it’s tough, and if there were a good way to have fuzzy rules that takes into account that community ruiners do things like that it’d be the ideal solution (no violating the spirit of the rules, etc.). Wish I could remember where I read all that.

          1. SystemsLady*

            (I think the context was a discussion about whether or not Twitter should ban Photoshopped tweet screenshots that make it look like a user said something they did not say – most use them as satire, but some use them to incite a mob)

          2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            This is why the group I moderate has the “Failure to follow the Wheaton’s Law will result in a permanent ban.”

            We were sick of the “well, I didn’t violate any rules” excuse.

            1. Liane*

              I need to ask my site’s owners to add this explicitly to our Forum Posting Guidelines. :)

              We have a short & sweet list of rules:
              No discussions on sex, politics, or religion–not even civil discussions.
              No vulgarity, spamming, or abuse of other forum users.
              No discussion of illegal PDFs or file sharing. (We are primarily a gaming hobby site and the owners also run a small indie game company, so this is a Big Deal.)

              Fortunately, the community is well-behaved. In my 8 years as Lead Mod, I have warned only a dozen or so people, and only 4 or 5 got banned by the owners. Most of the latter were banned not because of the original violation/s, but because they responded to my warnings with outright abuse. This even though I am not at all lenient with posters on “my” site. In fact, the close family friend I have mentioned a few times here, has gotten warnings from me.

            2. Anonamoose*

              I had no idea it had a name!! Other than the actual statement. And I also concur.

              (although my first amendment professor is screaming in my brain about how the community defines the ….er….’wheaten’ as it were.)

    1. LisaLee*

      Yeah…I feel like one of the points of having a head mod or team of mods is the ability to make unilateral decisions like this. As long as you don’t open the floor to endless arguments, I think the internet’s short attention span will clear up the drama pretty quick.

      I was on a team of mods who had to boot the site’s *founder* (to make a long story short, she very sadly had a mental illness that she refused to treat and used as an excuse to harass and lash out at others on the site). We debated what to do for months and then finally someone said, “Look, this situation is untenable, she’s making so many other people unhappy and her behavior is unacceptable.” It was hard to do, but after we banned her things got much better very, very quickly and there was much less drama than I expected.

      1. LisaLee*

        I should add too though, that the behaviors of the person I’m talking about including really egregious things like publicly doxxing other members and stalking. So if Reginald isn’t to that level, you could try giving him a final warning (if you have a community code of conduct–which you SHOULD–tell him he needs to adhere to it or be banned) or just remove his mod powers instead of banning.

        Or just ban him. Sometimes life’s too short to deal with jerks.

        1. LisaLee*

          Yeah, I still feel kinda bad about it because on her good days she was a really nice person. Unfortunately her good days got fewer and fewer.

    2. BWooster*

      The fallout will be exceptionally hard to deal with. Even those who agree with the admins will as likely as not support the person getting kicked out because the other admin will not have acted within the rule. A better option would be for the seven admins to resign en masse and force a new election now.

      1. LisaLee*

        That seems like a super convoluted solution. Making a straightforward decision and explaining it may not be immediately popular but it doesn’t create *more* drama by starting a giant public debate. Ultimately this is a forum where mods exist to deal with community problems like Reginald.

    3. KM*

      Seconded. When I used to hang out on forums, I would put a lot of thought into situations like this, and how to make sure that everything was happening fairly, etc, etc, but, with some distance, I now think, man, this is as lawless as a pirate ship. Get the other pirates together and throw him overboard.

  3. Trout 'Waver*

    If you collectively known to moderate with a fair hand, just demote him and let him embarrass himself. It’s likely already obvious to the member community that he’s obnoxious.

    1. C Average*

      Yeah, this is important.

      How visible is the admin team within the community, and how are the team members (including Reginald) perceived by the membership?

      You’ll basically want to consider three things: the likelihood of Reginald creating drama within the admin-team world (probably high), the likelihood of that drama spilling into the online community (can’t really tell based on your description), and the need to take whatever action you’re going to take in a well-documented and professional way that’s consistent with the rules (written, unwritten, and yet-to-be-written) of the community and the admin team.

      Regarding the first piece, I’d start by getting the rest of the admin team aligned in terms of what they’d like to happen. Oust Reginald from the admin team? Pressure him to leave the admin team? Prepare a list of things that need to happen in order for him to remain on the admin team? Prevent him from being a candidate in the next election? Ban him from the whole community? Figure out what you want, and then think about how you’re going to make that happen, his likely reaction, and your counter-moves.

      Regarding the second piece, you’d need to figure out whether the current written and unwritten community norms give other admins the leeway to, say, edit or delete inflammatory posts from Reginald. Is the community accustomed to some amount of admin action along those lines already? Or is it a pretty free-form place where the admins are largely invisible and behind the scenes, and visible admin action is reserved for Really Bad Situations? Think about how it will impact the community if they see evidence of discord within the admin team, and whether it’s better to let that flame out in public or to try to keep it offline.

      Regarding the last piece, I’d give some thought to what kind of guidelines you WISH existed for this situation. Draft them and make enacting them part of your action plan. Explain that in every community, online or otherwise, guidelines cannot foresee every possible contingency, but that it’s become clear in the current situation that some further guidelines are needed. Make it clear that Reginald isn’t being singled out personally; he’s exhibiting behavior that’s not acceptable in an admin, and you’re not only going to ask him to step down (or whatever), but you’re putting some rules in place to prevent similar situations from arising again, and for creating an avenue of action if they do arise.

      I used to be an admin and moderator for a large message board, so I know all too well that it’s easier to say this stuff than to do it. Good luck!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Agreed. Including him in the group is an earned privilege NOT a guaranteed right.

      1. Also an admin with Reginald*

        Thank you for this! I think the wish piece is important for me. Since we’ve been stuck in this rut for months, I haven’t dared to dream what the best case guidelines even could be.
        Thanks again!

        1. MentalEngineer*

          I’m mostly repeating my comment above, but this part is also spot on. Before you start making rules, you need to know what your desired end state is. You can’t know what rules it will actually take to get you there – you can make policies that you reasonably think will do it, but the Internet’s a strange beast, and your rules are likely to shift over time as you have more hard cases come up. But as long as you know what your goal is, you have a way to see that your current policies aren’t working and a roadmap of what other things you could try instead to get where you want to be. Also, again, transparency. If your members know what the ideal for the community is, they’ll be much more forgiving when there are new rules or changes to old rules.

    2. zora.dee*

      ” It’s likely already obvious to the member community that he’s obnoxious.”
      ^^ This.

      I know it’s easy to be focused on this one guy and what his reaction will be, but really by letting this go on, you are doing a disservice to the hundreds of other people who are feeling shut down and frustrated by his ongoing bs.

      I was in the leadership of a large volunteer organization, which had a looonnggg, years-long, history of letting a small group of men do exactly what you are describing: be adversarial, shut down other people, turn every single meeting into their own personal soap box. We were really worried the first time we took action to shut them down that it would make it look like we didn’t have a democratic process, but it was the exact opposite. Over half of the room came up to us afterward and thanked us for doing something, because they had been feeling alone and like they were the only ones hurt by these folks behavior for so long. And it dramatically increased regular participation by others, and especially by minority groups (women, people of color, young people), and participation in leadership. We had been doing a disservice to all of them by letting these guys throw their jerkiness around for so long.

      Be calm and direct about it, stick to very unemotional language. But hold a vote, show that you have an overwhelming majority vote to demote his permissions, announce it to the group, and immediately move on. He will embarrass himself quickly.

      And in the meanwhile, or if this ever comes up again, another tactic when someone is derailing an admin conversation, or other convo, is to take a vote for moving on to the next agenda item. Or take a vote for ending the discussion and acting on the majority decision. If you want, you can make this a super majority vote instead of simple majority. But still, let the group vote to shut that one loud person down and move on. This will also make EVERYONE happier, and will even make people MORE interested in taking ownership, being involved in leadership, etc. It’s not fair to let one person suck up all the time and energy of the entire group.

      Good luck!!

      1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

        YES. Not dealing with people like that actually silences and drives away a lot of the people who aren’t being jerks. It’s like that AAM letter a while back about the creeper in the church group that the church staff felt bad about potentially kicking out, because they wanted to be inclusive. Refusing to exclude anyone is actually passively excluding the people most vulnerable to or bothered by the jerks.

      2. Liane*

        Your comment made me realize that OP’s Reginald Problem has some similarities to the museum with the rogue volunteer that the board couldn’t/wouldn’t fire or even rein in. I think his name was Steve?

        Granted, Reginald doesn’t appear to own the servers or have the domain registered in his name (thus having property to hold “hostage”), but he is one person disrespecting “colleagues,” trying to get his own way and otherwise creating drama & trouble. And the few people trying to get him under control haven’t been able to.

        From what I recall, the last update from the museum OP mentioned many of the same problems as the first one. And if Reginald’s fellow Admins don’t remove him or rein him in, I feel their group’s problem isn’t going to improve.

        1. zora.dee*

          Yeah, good point, I think they are definitely similar situations.

          It is hard with groups that are super liberal/progressive because people feel that they have to be *nice* to everyone in the group. But being *nice* to the person who is treating everyone else badly is extremely *not nice* to literally everyone else who is being treated like crap or having to listen to the jerk being jerky all the time. Redirect your focus to being *nice* to the largest number of people possible.

          1. Patrick*

            I’ve heard the same thing about religious groups actually – a lot of them struggle with what to do with “problem” members since most religions want to be as inclusive as possible. I’m not religious but I’ve read several articles in the last few years about how to handle, for instance, men who use church-related events to try and pick up women (I think there actually might have been one on here about a guy who nobody would kick out of a church young professionals group?)

      3. Anna*

        I was involved in something like this in an online community. One of the moderators was regularly pretty bad, calling members “stupid” and generally being offensive. I finally blew up at him and got myself banned, but managed to get back in. There came a point though where the moderator was again awful and I decided I needed to speak up, in a calm, rational way. I ended up PMing another moderator and letting her know my concerns: mainly that a community shouldn’t mock each other and call each other stupid, and a person in charge of that community sets the tone and should especially not be insulting to its members. Since that time the problem moderator and I have gotten on fine and he’s toned it WAAAAAY down. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but I think approaching it as a detriment to the community as a whole was really important.

        I’m not sure Reginald has it in him to see how his behavior impacts the community as a whole, but I think as the other people who are leading the group you can approach it from that perspective.

    3. Kira*

      Agreed. And I don’t think you have to make/defend your case to the rest of the community in great detail. When I trust the admin team then I trust when they say “So and so was banned for inappropriate comments.”

  4. RT in DC*

    The bylines should also include a way to remove someone from the admin board and to revoke community membership. For the nonprofit board I serve on, a board member can be removed upon a vote by 2/3 of the board members; membership can be suspended or revoked after a hearing and upon a vote by a majority of the board.

    So far, thankfully, neither action ever has had to occur.

    Barring that, in the present case I don’t see much that can be done except for the other admins to actively campaign against Reginald, explaining why he should not be an admin and citing examples.

    Good luck.

    1. Tess McGill*

      This. I’ve served on multiple volunteer boards, whether on the executive board or on a standing committee. The constitution and by-laws in every organization had specific guidelines or procedures as to how to get rid of a volunteer. Whether it was formal (such as 2/3 vote of the board) or slightly more informal (meeting with the person in question, verbal notice, notice in writing, then finally asking the person for their resignation and asking them to leave), there was always a mechanism built into the constitution/by-laws that enabled the president and/or the executive board to dismiss a volunteer member. In my case, the decision was usually made by the executive board only. The president would often speak with those close to the person in question in order to get some insight into why the person is behaving this way (in my case, usually the person is not doing his/her job, dropping the ball, leaving others hanging). Once the president has the background information and verbal & written warnings have been given, the resignation is asked for. In one case, the president actually found a replacement for the difficult volunteer in question and made it easy for the volunteer to simply quit instead of being formally forced out (“fired”). Best of luck to you.

  5. Chat happy*

    Are there other admins that have agreed with you about this Reginald? What about member complaints? Sometimes our own personal annoyance/disdain for someone can make us blind to the face that we are the only one (or one of the few) that have such a big problem with a person or behavior.

    The one beautiful thing about an elected group like this – is that you need to be re-elected to get back in. If this is a mutual feeling, I think you can let out a nice deep breath that Reginald won’t be doing a second stint. And if he were elected to return for another term then doesn’t that say that the members want him? And if they don’t then he doesn’t come back.

    I imagine there is some sort of fanfare surrounding this election and those nominated get to toot their own horn a bit. That is your chance to publicly express your concerns about him being re-elected. Build a case against him that shows how he promised that he’d behave and then several specific instances where he failed to live up to the hype.

    Also, it would be a good idea to define the nomination process for candidates to avoid self nomination… so X number of members need to get together to nominate (and check the IP addresses if you can to determine that someone didn’t just set up dummy accounts to nominate themselves). As well, I would not have an X number of admins setup because if you have 9 seats and 9 people get nominated (including beloved Reginald) it is pretty easy to get bad people into these positions by default. You can then also set up a rule like “candidate must receive at least X number of votes to earn a seat” and then the number of people with that number of votes will make up your admin group. The number could easily be determined by looking at the prior year voting numbers.

    You also need to put a voting system within the admins so that an admin can be voted out should they not live up to expectations. It is ridiculous that someone can be voted in and cannot be forcefully removed.

    1. BuildMeUp*

      It sounds like Reginald was basically able to manipulate himself into his position by “swearing up and down that he had learned to be more of a reasonable person” before the first vote, so whether he gets voted back in is not necessarily a good indication of how big of an issue his behavior is. I agree that if there aren’t many candidates, Reginald could easily be reelected. It’s also likely that there are a lot of people who only visit the community sporadically and might vote without having encountered Reginald’s behavior before.

      I second your last 2 paragraphs – setting up formal rules for the election is a really good idea!

    2. TootsNYC*

      “Sometimes our own personal annoyance/disdain for someone can make us blind to the fact that we are the only one (or one of the few) that have such a big problem with a person or behavior.”

      I believe I’ve seen this in play.

    3. Anna*

      In this case, though, if he’s preventing the rest of the administrators from acting, it makes no difference if it’s just those 8 other people who have an issue with him. Sometimes even one person having an issue with a person is reason enough to keep them out of the group or at least out of a leadership position.

  6. Dani X*

    Who would protest? Does he have a following in the members of the community? Has he pissed everyone off so they would all be glad he is gone? Or do you thin the fallout would be all him?

  7. Xarcady*

    Are there rules about removing/banning a poster for inappropriate posts/actions? If there are, then this fellow is not immune to them. Ban him. The membership will be grateful.

    If there aren’t, make some.

    If that’s going to take too long, can all the rest of the admins agree he needs to go, now, and just ban him?

    Honestly, I wouldn’t try to keep him part of the general membership. Just get rid of him completely. Let the membership know why, but keeping him as a member is asking for trouble.

    1. The Butcher of Luverne*

      Agree about eliminating his access to the group. Isn’t there a way to be sure he never creates another username from his IP address or something?

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        That’s usually not technically possible, and when it is, the culprit can usually just power cycle their modem and get a new IP address. Luckily for us moderators, most troublemakers aren’t that bright, but a few are, so it was my policy (that became adopted by many of my peers) to simply look at problem behavior, and if you see problem behavior that is very similar to someone who was previously banned, then you can check IP addresses if you like. If the IP addresses matched AND they were causing the same issue again, I’d ban them without even a warning. Otherwise, I figured if a banned member could come back and follow the rules upon their return, it was fine with me.

        Kind of like how it’s not usually worth monitoring employees’ Internet use at work; you’re better off measuring performance, and if performance is sub-par, address that problem, not the many symptoms like excessive phone calls or internet usage.

        1. Beezus*

          The software I work with allows banning by username and/or IP address. Like The Cosmic Avenger notes, it’s not difficult to get a new IP address. I can add a wildcard to ban an IP range, but that can sometimes affect other users or potential users, so I don’t do it – if someone is being THAT disruptive, I’ll switch registration rules so that all new registrations have to have staff approval before they can post, and then reject/restrict any registrations coming from that IP range. Most of my users are not technically savvy enough to cause that kind of issue.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Oh, and the most useful thing for that is new user moderation! IIRC, that can be done on the systems I’ve used most (phpBB, vBulletin, and Yahoo! Groups). On smaller, quieter groups we unmoderated after one post just to make sure they weren’t spammers, but on busier, more contentious groups where we had banned people, the rules said your posts were moderated until you had 5 or 10 compliant posts, or even just were given that trusted status at the moderator’s discretion.

        2. MentalEngineer*

          This was also how the forum I worked on did it, and it was still basically useless. Some of it depends on your subject matter. Gaming forums, for instance, are going to have lots of members who are both cranky and tech-savvy enough to get around IP bans. If your forum is international beyond the ‘traditional’ Anglophone world, you’ll probably have people on VPNs who don’t even have to power-cycle their modem to get a new IP.

          I think often admins kinda just have to accept that part of the job is to wait for some of the same old glassbowls to start doing their thing again and then ban them again.

    2. TootsNYC*

      The biggest problem, I think is that these objectionable posts are being done on the admin queue, not on the general forum.

  8. Annie Moose*

    Changing rules/bylaws in the middle of a term in office (if I can describe it that way) seems like a recipe for breeding resent among users who may feel that the admins are being arbitrary and changing rules for their own benefit as opposed to actually sticking to the democratic process they pay lip service to. So I’d suggest that any new rules/bylaws should apply to the next term, not this one, to avoid that appearance.

    Implementing this without causing endless drama would be tricky, but it sounds like you need some sort of a system by which admins can vote other admins out when necessary. To avoid it being abused, maybe you can come up with some rules about when this process can be used–say, when an admin violates the community rules multiple times, and only with unanimous support of all other admins? I have no clue how this would work in reality, I’ve never been on a forum with such a system, but it might be worth considering.

    Finally, are there any sort of “senior” or permanent admins? If there is such a person that the community looks up to, their support could be key in ensuring there’s less problems if/when Reginald is removed from his position.

    1. Marty Gentillon*

      That is pretty easy to solve. A near unity or supermajority ofthe board (of admins) is a fairly strong case. Combine that with an majority of voting members, and nobody will be able to argue the change was arbitrary.

  9. Florida*

    Elected positions are different from other situations. You say that you are almost certain that you have consensus that Reginald should be booted out. Then let the election happen. If you are correct, that there is consensus, he will not be re-elected and the problem is solved. If you he is re-elected, then that is a clear indicator that the majority of people are happy with what he is doing (even though you are not at all happy with it). If that is the case, then maybe this community isn’t the one for you. That seems harsh, but if the majority vote for X and you want Y, then you can spend a lot of energy trying to change the majority, or find another community that already is Y.

    You said that you are not comfortable hoping that Reginald will not be re-elected, and want to take action. Unfortunately, that is not how democracies, which is what ya’ll have chosen for your governance structure, work. You, alone, don’t get to decide. In fact, you don’t have any more power than anyone else. Everyone’s vote is equal.

    I suggest you allow the vote to happen. If you are allowed to campaign, I would endorse the person who is running against Reginald. You can do this in a way that is professional. Once the vote happens, you have to honor the results. It’s not fair to hold a vote, and when you don’t get what you want, campaign to change it. You do the campaigning before the election, and accept the results as the will of the majority.

    1. Joseph*

      ” If you he is re-elected, then that is a clear indicator that the majority of people are happy with what he is doing (even though you are not at all happy with it).”
      If you re-elect a local politician who’s been secretly committing crimes, does that mean that you’re happy with what he’s doing? Not if you weren’t aware of it.
      Almost all of the items that OP are listing are internal issues that the community at large won’t realize are happening. Regular community members aren’t privy to his endless contrarianism delaying actions, they don’t know he shifts the topic during admin-only chats, they don’t know that he refuses to take feedback, they don’t know that he’s basically running off the rest of the admins.

      1. Florida*

        If the commenters don’t know about it, then OP can make it public. There are ways to do this in a professional manner.

    2. Chrissie*

      I agree that it sounded like the users may not be aware of Reginald’s disruptive behavior.
      I am a fan of letting democracy do its thing. Have you thought of publicly stepping down from your duties a couple weeks early as a protest against Reginalds lack of professional behaviour? Ideally in such a way that the effect is noticable to users, basically like a strike. Actually, you could also hold a strike and let Reginald deal with admin duties for a while.

    3. neverjaunty*

      Yes, this. Anything else you’re doing suggests that your bylaws and changes are being driven by “we don’t like Reginald” rather than a more neutral desire to have a helpful community. And if Reginald has a solid fanbase, then maybe the community itself is toxic.

  10. Catabouda*

    Cut him loose now and deal with the small, but vocal fallout I suspect will happen.

    You can always hope he’ll be so mad that he’ll create a spin off board which will gain all of 30 members, be ruly ruly active for about a week before everyone is done venting and then die a slow death.

    1. Florida*

      How do you cut him loose? He was elected by the majority (or at least plurality) of the members. It sounds like all admins are equal. So how does one admin get to decide to eliminate another admin? (I’m not being antagonistic. I’m really trying to understand how you think OP could do this.)

      1. Critter*

        Curious also. I suspect it would involve some sort of IP something or other…or whatever technical means there are for posting on the forum.

      2. Catabouda*

        “And at present, there are no bylaws or rules surrounding removing an admin from power.”

        Currently there isn’t anything which prevents the rest of the admins from deciding to remove one of their own. So, the fact that the person was elected doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of the admins have no say in the situation – that is, until there is an agreement on what bylaws or rules are put in place.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, having no existing rules cuts both ways – it means they don’t have a formal procedure they can enact to get him out, but it also means they aren’t hamstrung by anything. I think it might feel more defensible if there’s an official process in place so that you can say to the community “Look, we did X, Y and Z and that led to Reginald’s removal,” but there’s also nothing that stops you from just explaining the way you made the decision now as long as that’s a process that makes sense (eg the other admins voted unanimously to remove him).

          1. Anna*

            Exactly! This isn’t the kind of election where you discover you made the wrong choice and you just have to slog through it. This is a small, social, informal group. They aren’t beholden to any rules and strictures. Chances are good they’ve have to make decisions on the fly because of the lack of structure and really, this is no different.

        2. Florida*

          I guess my question was more how you would do it without causing a revolt (is that too strong of a word?)? If there are no bylaws, then yes OP can do whatever she wants to. But even when there are no by-laws, there are general rules of conduct that exist. So I guess my question is how she can do this in a way that seem fair to the majority? And in a way that will not piss off the majority? (You are always going to have a few outlying dissenters. I’m not worried about them.)

          1. LBK*

            I think in general, most people will be understanding as long as the explanation provided seems reasonable and if the announcement of Reginald’s ejection includes some piece about “We recognize now the need for formal procedures/bylaws to govern circumstances like this. We’ve outlined the following as our guidelines going forward” and then posting the applicable rules (or maybe having a few options and taking a poll, if you want to engage the community in determining the guidelines).

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yeah, this is where I’m coming down. OP, is Reginald widely beloved among the membership or something? If not, I think you can probably just give a straightforward explanation of the situation.

              I think you’re getting hung up on the fact that there’s no formal process for removal, and that’s making you feel hamstrung. But I think you can act without one (as LBK points out above, the absence of any rules about it means you can simply vote and do it).

  11. Emmie*

    I would look to already established rules for acceptable community behavior to see whether he could be outed from the community. Banning him from the community would also remove him from admins. Even without those rules, maintaining his membership and / or leadership role opens you up to a bunch of risk or liability from your other 799 community members who might find him unacceptable, offensive, or harassing. Keeping him on may be perceived – unfortunately – as a de facto endorsement of his antics. Plus, you’re establishing precedent now about how extreme behavior needs to be to remove a person from the board. Push him out now. Deal with the fall out. Your membership will have tons of other disagreements and it is important to get comfortable managing it to maintain a vibrant community. I’m sorry you have to deal with it so soon.

    1. Emmie*

      If it works for your community, you may wish to solicit their advice for community and admin ground rules- commenting rules, admin rules, ouster, and a process to deal with non- contemplated issues. Having buy in might mitigate their concerns.

    2. TootsNYC*

      In dealing with the fallout, I think Emmie’s point here would be really useful:

      “I would look to already established rules for acceptable community behavior”

      Even if you just boot him from the board (or if his bad behavior is visible only to the admins), then you can say, “His behavior as an admin violated community standards. We expect admins, in their interactions with one another, to follow the same standards for politeness as the general community.”

      And it’s a really good point that being an elected member doesn’t mean you don’t have to follow the rules anymore.

  12. LBK*

    What kinds of systematic privileges does being an admin bestow on you, and who controls those? If you have the ability to take away Reginald’s access to his moderator abilities or whatever other powers he has and block him out of any private admin-only chats/groups/etc., I don’t see how he can stop you from booting him. It’s not like firing someone from a job where you have to deal with the awkwardness of walking them out of the building or trying to debate about being fired – the benefit of this all being online is that you can just push him out the door, change the locks and wave goodbye through the window. I would absolutely say it’s better to do this in the long run than to put up with him, you just need to be prepared to a) write a very clear statement to the community why this was done and b) deal with (aka ignore) the inevitable fallout.

    Having served as an admin in a community kind of like this, every decision is unpopular with some segment of the group, and they’ll for sure be the loudest ones. Just remember to keep it in perspective – even if there’s 80 people freaking out and sending hateful, angry messages, that’s still only 10% of the community, which really isn’t a lot. In most communities of that size you’d probably lose 5-10% every year just by attrition, and many people who complain and swear this will make them leave don’t actually follow through. Just ride it out and everything will be fine in the long run. Make sure you and your fellow admins can lean on each other in the interim because situations like this can get extremely nasty and abusive while things shake out and before everyone settles into the new status quo.

    1. CaliCali*

      Having been in similar situations relating to online communities, one thing I’ve learned is that they need to be run more like workplaces than democracies. I totally agree with this comment — take the action you need to take, and deal with any negative fallout. In truth, what usually happens is that people are relieved the problem person is gone, and it leads to a more pleasant community for everyone overall. It’s like firing the person who just stirs up trouble at the office — a few may be concerned about whether it was fair, but most people are just glad they’re gone.

      1. CaliCali*

        Oh, and to build on the point — this is (presumably) a community with elective membership and participation, which is another way it’s more like a workplace structure. If people don’t agree, they can voice their concerns, but they also have the option of leaving or establishing their own communities. Election, in this circumstance, is more about appointing people to handle the decisions, rather than having some kind of representative government. So in this case, getting rid of Reginald (or stripping him of privileges) is more about making a beneficial community decision.

        1. LBK*

          Yes, totally agree with both of these comments. Opinions from the community can be a useful steering tool, but ultimately the reason admins exist is to make executive decisions when necessary. If the community could completely govern itself by popular vote there’d be no need for anyone at the top.

          1. Zillah*

            Totally agree with all of you. Online communities are not democracies; there are things that members won’t be privy to, and in fact shouldn’t be privy to! For that reason, I’d actually be inclined to not explicitly spell out why he was removed; I don’t see it as much different than telling everyone why someone was fired. It’s inappropriate.

        2. Language Lover*

          I agree so much with these two points. So much.

          Back in the day, I use to moderate/admin online communities and I was very glad to have the decisions about who could moderate left up to me. Democracy is nice and all but inevitably, there were one or two popular posters who would be loud, obnoxious, condescending, inflate their self-importance and even lie about their connections and they would have a strong following. And they did all this in such a way to not officially break any of the established rules.

          I am certain that, even though they annoyed over half of the posters, they had enough followers to win a plurality of the vote had I chosen to go the ‘democratic’ route. That would’ve been a disaster in that I think the way the guidelines were enforced would have increasingly become lax.

          I don’t know how this community came to be but you may want to look into establishing some kind of hierarchy to preserve the community you want. It’s always sad when previously positive communities are overtaken by ugliness.

          1. Liane*

            “Back in the day, I use to moderate/admin online communities and I was very glad to have the decisions about who could moderate left up to me.”
            That’s how my site owners handle it. When they started the site, Owners selected the mods themselves. When they revised their mod program, they decided to create a Lead Mod position, which they offered to me–I had been a mod for several months at that point. When I accepted Owners asked me to select the other mods and any replacements that might be necessary in the future. I was given some guidelines–mainly they couldn’t be newcomers, but folks who visited frequently and had a record of good behavior on the site.

      2. Annie Moose*

        I absolutely agree that leaving the problem person alone will just cause more resentment.

        I helped run a forum into the ground once because I was unwilling to deal with such people directly (I somehow ended up the head admin; the whole team was way too young to be successfully running a community). There was this hugely disruptive member who liked to push the line as far as she could, and would turn on anyone who criticized her until you felt like you had to apologize, and… I never did anything about her, because I was worried about the reaction from her supporters. And this was one of the things that helped kill the community.

        Big huge lesson learned for me: when you need to take action, DO IT, because the price of not doing it is too high.

  13. LQ*

    Are you getting enough candidates for the admin board to make it competitive or is to more everyone who is nominated gets in?

    Can you move forward on actions without total board agreement?

    Depending on what kind of a group you are Reginald is likely driving away members, if you want to keep members this is a problem. Eventually this kind of thing can devolve into just Reginald and his buddies.

    How invested are you in sticking with this group?

  14. Catabouda*

    Oh, and a thought – if the election is going to go forward – be brave, and be vocal of your disapproval of his addition to the admin team and let the general membership know that you endorse someone else.

    1. Florida*

      Agree 100%. You can do this in a professional way. There is nothing more annoying to me than the person who sits quietly before the election, then gripes for a year about the results of the election. If you wanted Fergus to win, why didn’t you say that before we all voted for Reginald?

  15. Grey*

    If I’m reading this correctly, it’s the community that elects the council and the council is stuck with whatever associates they get. The community might not be aware of Reginald’s behind-the-scenes behavior.

    Can you publicly post your meeting/chat transcripts? Not to “out” Reginald, but to let your community know what types of issues you’re discussing and what’s being done. As a result, they’ll see how he acts. It’s not a quick fix but it could assure he doesn’t get re-elected next month.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Don’t do this unless there is absolutely no other choice. You’ll be violating the implicit privacy of speech that admins need to have in order to bring stuff up to talk about in the first place. If you know that your chat transcripts are later going to become open forum fodder, it will hamstring admins who are willing to be privately shot down and need to discuss confidential issues in dealing with problem members.

        1. Zillah*

          I agree. In my online communities, sharing mod/admin-only communication is definitely cause to get kicked off staff all on its own. (As would sharing disciplinary information, actually – I’d never think of publicizing why someone was suspended or banned.)

    2. Anna*

      You should post minutes, but not transcripts. I came from a situation where it was pressed on us that it was crucial to be transparent. What we learned real quick is that 1. Very few in the community cared for the minutiae of how decisions were made. 2. Those that did care that much were ready to gum up the works and no forward progress could be made. And 3. There has to be a little bit of protection for honest discussion of difficult topics. Finally, 4. Absolute transparency is a lie. If you know your entire official meeting will be reported word for word, you will have the conversations that you want to have “casually” at coffee or out getting a beer.

      1. Chinook*

        I second the idea of minutes vs. Transcripts. Proper minutes give the conclusion of a discussion and leave room for honest debate. If I knew every word would be recorded, I would be less likely to play “devil’s advocate” out of fear of my words being taken out of context. Minutes allow members to see what was decided and by whom, not the work when into making it.

  16. Joseph*

    “I’m almost willing to say we (I’m mostly certain that we have consensus about Reginald) should just boot him out yesterday and deal with the inevitable stink, but I worry about what kind of damage he could cause in the community’s well-being if we did that.”
    A way to address this is to first create an Admin Code of Conduct Policy and post it for comments by your community. You’re not necessarily expecting revolutionary wisdom from heaven here, but you will probably get a few useful comments AND everybody will feel like they have a chance to step in. Then, once the policy is agreed upon, you hold everybody to it.
    Also, as a side note, it seems like your council is all equal. You might want to re-think that. Even in situations where people directly vote for the entire council, there’s usually one leader who’s a bit higher, specifically to address situations like this – Guildmasters in guilds, Lead Moderators/Senior Admins of forums, Prime Ministers of Parliament, etc. You might not need a formal title, but you do need at least an informal agreement on who’s in charge of bringing disciplinary actions to the table.

    1. Catabouda*

      Yes – a good point – every forum where I’ve had any admin responsibility on always had at least one “final voice” / lead admin. Most of the time it was the person who started the forum.

      There was never a situation where all of the admins/moderators were considered equal.

    2. qkate*

      +1. I was coming here to suggest this approach.

      If you don’t already have a CoC, create one now. Don’t let Reginald throwing a stink about it derail your efforts–perhaps draft it with just one or two other trusted admins, then present it to the rest of the team as a relatively done deal that just needs some fine-tuning. Get buy-in from the larger community and make it an official part of how y’all agree to operate. Make sure the CoC details clear responses to unacceptable behavior (such as losing one’s role on the admin team, or removal from the community altogether).

      Then, hold people to it. The next time Reginald tries to whip community members into a murderous fervor (WTF, by the way), kick him off the admin team, and potentially out of the community altogether.

  17. Critter*

    Oy. It’s Donald Trump.

    I’m curious about the community itself here. If they have the power to nominate and then elect, then it would seem that you are able, and probably should, get their feedback here. However, there also seems to be a numbers thing at play that may or may not be serving you; if you have about 800 members and nine admins, that would mean that there’s about 50-100 members for every one of you, and Reginald was voted in by only about 10% of the community. If 10% of your community are jerks, then they voted in the one jerk to represent them. That would be likely to happen again.

    1. Florida*

      I think your math is incorrect regarding the 10%. If the admins are elected at-large (which we don’t know for sure), then Reginald would have had the support of more than 10%.
      It is possible that Reginald got fewer than 80 votes. I mean people are elected to public office with less than 10% of the community voting for them (at least in America, where are voting rate is pathetically low). But I don’t think we have enough information to determine that. We don’t know how many people voted or how many candidates there were.
      But I don’t think your rationale for coming up with the 10% is accurate. Am I missing something?

      1. Critter*

        Oh my math is always wrong. I guess my rationale here is that Reginald was a well-known troublemaker that got nominated and then elected; his behavior isn’t new. Of course I’m assuming that the admins got a more or less equal amount of votes, but it seems that enough members of the community supported his behavior and will continue to support him. Even if only an estimated 10% of the community vote for him, it’s may be enough to keep him there.

        Also occurred to me that if you boot him as an admin, you’ll also need to boot him as a member, since he seems unlikely to stay quiet about it.

        1. Florida*

          I would think if you boot him as an admin, he might disappear himself. Also, if he loses re-election, he might disappear. For some people, that bruises their ego and they go. But you are right that others want to make a ruckus about it.

        2. Joseph*

          I think your 10% math is based on the incorrect assumption that people can only vote for one candidate. In my experience, when you’re electing a full slate of people, it’s usually set up as a “Here are your 11 candidates, pick 9”. So even your lowest successful candidate still needs a solid 33+% of the ballots to finish ahead of the two guys who didn’t win.

          To make the numbers simpler, imagine a similar scenario, but with only 2 admin spots and 3 candidates (pick 2 out of these 3): CoolCharlie can be on 100% of ballots, but it doesn’t affect the other two candidates – AverageAndy still needs 50.1% support to beat BlahBob.

          1. Joseph*

            As a side note if there really are a ton of candidates, maybe there’s so much vote splitting that even a small percentage could win, but for an unpaid volunteering moderator position in a group of 800 people, it’s highly unlikely that OP has a swamped ballot of 40 candidates or whatever.

    2. TootsNYC*

      It’s also possible, w/ that many admins, that there just weren’t enough candidates known to them, for people to vote for and leave Reginald off (if people were voting for more than one person, or if people were voting for one person and then the top 9 people were elected). That’s a lot of admins.

      I’d be really curious to find out exactly how many votes Reginald got.

  18. animaniactoo*

    On art website that I was a moderator on, we had several moderators and then the Consul. While all moderators could do administrative things, the Consul had greater powers to take action when things were problematic, including on other moderators. You might, during the election, say that unfortunately you’ve become aware of the need to sometimes take action against other admins. And propose the formation of an office of Consul (elected by the moderators once elections are in so that Reginald cannot be elected by a group vote that he might sway). From a group of 9, you could detail 2 to 3 admin to act as a Consul board who have to majority agree in order to act, if that would ameliorate the impression of any one person having too much power over the group as a whole.

  19. Chocolate lover*

    I was an admin for a Facebook group of over 60,000 people for a year. There were 9 of us. The group as a whole has a variety of rules, but there were none specific to admin behavior or removing an admin. Several admins were removed on separate occasions, on an ad hoc basis and for different reasons. Sometimes for non participation, once for erratic and concerning responses to things, etc. It usually played out that one or more of us initiated a private conversation with the others, and agreed to it. I’m not sure if all group members can vote on the admins, but in our case, the current admins nominated group members, and only the admins voted on who to bring on board. And there was no public announcement about the departure, if anyone ever even noticed.

    You can’t always predict every possible behavior or situation. Some times things came up that no one anticipated, but they needed to be addressed and responded to, regardless. Admins should have some type of discretion for those situations.

    1. justsomeone*

      We’ve done similar things in our FB group, though we did announce the departures because the group was smaller and we wanted people to know not to tag them.

  20. Anonymous Educator*

    I would consult with the other admins and see if they share your opinion of Reginald. If they do, vote him out. You don’t need previously-written bylaws to do it. Once you have voted him out, start drawing up bylaws and codes of conduct so this won’t happen again in the future.

    I agree with others that he likely has a small but vocal following that will blow up for a few days and then leave themselves (or be banned), and then the rest of the 796 people in the community will be more than happy he’s gone.

    1. zora.dee*

      “then the rest of the 796 people in the community will be more than happy he’s gone.”

      YUP!! Always remember, even if you are hearing from 10% of the group that is loudly complaining, the other 90% are sitting there quietly frustrated that this small group is derailing everything. Your responsibility is also to that silent 90% and making it possible for them to feel heard and participate in the community.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I used to be a moderator for online forums that regularly had membership in the 10,000s. We had moderators who acted up and got booted out. We had regular members who acted up and got booted out. Inevitably some small group would be outraged at the bans and kick up a fuss and leave themselves, but ultimately the community was just fine without them.

  21. Argh!*

    He has continued to operate in a very snide, adversarial manner with both community members and other admins — Don’t take the bait. Just continue discussion with each other as if he hadn’t said anything snide or adversarial.

    he has shown a penchant for contrarianism whenever we try to discuss any action to take, which grinds things to a halt and stokes negative emotions

    — If he makes good points, then discuss the points and move on quickly. If he makes stupid points, just hold a mini-vote on whether to consider them, and move on if the group as a whole doesn’t want to be bogged down by them.

    he is often making offensive statements and jokes in the community itself (example: jokingly suggesting someone go kill a blogger whose post most everyone in the community took offense to)

    Say “let’s stick to legal measures” and move on.

    and worst of all, he cannot/will not take feedback.

    In short, DON’T FEED THE TROLL!

    1. Chrissie*

      I love this approach. If, in a real life conversation, everyone would just roll their eyes at some tone-deaf comment, disregard it likewise in your decision process online.

    2. Unagi*

      “he is often making offensive statements and jokes in the community itself (example: jokingly suggesting someone go kill a blogger whose post most everyone in the community took offense to)”

      Ignoring this is failing in your admin duties. The advice to just ignore the trolls is fine if you’re talking about a totally public thing where you have no control over the behavior of the public passing through. You will have noticed that there are fewer and fewer of those venues, for obvious reasons. The OP however is talking here about a membership community. There it is the admins’ job/moral duty to enforce some measure of civility. Ignoring bad behavior with the members will simply give the message that the members’ safety and well-being is a matter of indifference.

    3. TootsNYC*

      “he is often making offensive statements and jokes in the community itself (example: jokingly suggesting someone go kill a blogger whose post most everyone in the community took offense to)”

      Actually, ban him outright at that. “Comments suggesting violence are ground for absolute bans immediately. ‘It was a joke’ is not a defence.”

      That’s egregious, and it ought to get ANYbody banned from your forum.

      1. Anna*

        Yep! That’s really all the other admins need. If you wouldn’t tolerate it from a member (and you shouldn’t) you should absolutely not tolerate it with an admin.

  22. Jaguar*

    I used to help a friend of mine run a very active and very contentious online politics forum during the height of the Bush / Iraq War years. We had our share of Reginalds and the last one effectively killed the forum.

    There seems to be a tendency for the strongest personalities to rise into positions of power and influence (indeed, even though we didn’t have elected admins, our first and most infamous Reginald, someone who we couldn’t stand pretty much from the start, was nevertheless made an admin on multiple occasions). I remember reading something about hippie communes eventually deteriorating because, in the permissive societies they created, the abusive personalities eventually dominated the culture.

    We were very banning-adverse and censoring-adverse, so we tried every manner of dealing with our Reginalds: trying to reason with them, trying to guilt them, trying to fire back at them (boy is it hard to match their energy level!), trying to encourage everyone else to ignore them, etc. We also tried censoring and banning. None of that really worked.

    Whatever you decide to do about it, I would encourage you to take a couple things in mind:

    1) Whatever you try, think about the long-term consequences if it goes badly. If you decide to reason with them, it could drag on forever and dominate the narrative. If you decide to ban them, it could badly splinter the community. Etc. The worst-case scenario has a pretty high likelihood of happening.

    2) Understand that this may be the way the community is going. 800 people isn’t so small that different camps begin to set up. Maybe there’s a group that really wants a Reginald around. It’s not necessarily fair to try and shut him down. There’s a temptation to think that if you started a community or are responsible for enforcing its rules, it’s yours. All 800 people contribute to it and have a stake in it. It’s going to grow into what the community wants, one way or another. There’s going to be pain associated with that.

    1. LQ*

      There is an odd tendency with groups for us to listen to the person who is the loudest and for people to believe someone who repeats something the most. This makes those Reginald personalities so hard to quash. I know in dealing with the ones I’ve dealt with the thing that worked best was basically throwing a steak in the direction of another group and going, go get it! And some of them did. (Did I feel bad about sending them off to other groups? Only sometimes.)

      1. fposte*

        Though sometimes people just don’t care enough about the outcome to enter the ring with them. I’ve been on committees with assholes who weren’t prepared to hear anything but the way they wanted things and made it clear they’d rage otherwise, and I only put up a fight when it’s something that really matters to me or if they’re really wrong.

        1. LQ*

          This is absolutely true. Most of the Reginald’s I’ve dealt with there was a lot of people who just didn’t want to fight on the little things, and when you spend all day at work who wants to come home and fight more battles? Mostly people who enjoy fighting battles or people who are really invested in that one specific thing.

          1. Jaguar*

            Yeah. As I said, it’s really hard to match their energy level. You have to be prepared for a long, drawn-out fight (unfortunately).

    2. Jaguar*

      One other thing I wanted to add but forgot to mention, on the subject of rules:

      Understand that an Internet forum is simultaneously a light commitment for people as well as a place people will begin to make their home. Nobody wants to go to a site where there are a ton of rules and the demand is to become acquainted with them because they are regularly enforced. It’s an online community. People will chafe and people thinking of joining will think twice. Similarly, the people already there consider it a home, so as disruptive and unpleasant as Reginald is to the place they enjoy, bringing out the riot police can be just as disruptive – or even more disruptive.

    3. Annie Moose*

      Heh, I used to be on a forum of less than 50 members, and even we were large enough to have different camps. Never think a community is too small to have such controversies.

    4. Unagi*

      I was very struck by something I read some years ago on http://www.bullyonlineorg – that the nicer a group is, the more likely it is to be the target of random passing psychopaths. They know the concerns against exclusion and for democracy will give them a lot of latitude to terrorize people and most likely run the group as a fiefdom for a long long time. Wise old hippies keep a close watch out for such people, and eject them firmly before they do irreparable harm.

      1. Jaguar*

        I’m always uncomfortable with the “they know what they’re doing” language. They might know on some subconscious or emotional level but otherwise be unaware that they’re acting in some harmful way. Or, alternatively, they may know what they’re doing and be unable to admit to themselves that they’re harming a community they care about. “Know what they’re doing,” to me, implies a level of malicious intent that I don’t think exists in a lot of these cases (probably most). Often, they’re just bringing their personalities into a community that isn’t prepared to accept them. If you have to eject them to maintain the community, that’s fine, but I don’t think it falls neatly into a good vs evil narrative. Often the problem is just failing to adapt to the community, which is far from evil, and the community is failing to be inclusive of different people, which is a problem.

        It’s also worth mentioning that psychopaths aren’t necessarily harmful. Someone with psychopathy has a mental illness (worse, one that cannot currently be cured and for which there is limited treatment) and my understanding is that most are benign. They only lack empathy. They are otherwise capable of functioning in society, need and want human interaction like anyone else, and make responsible choices for themselves and those around them. There is an extremely strong narrative that psychopaths are tornadoes that destroy everything in the path and it’s not true.

        1. Jaguar*

          It also lets people who are destructive off easy, because most of them probably are psychopaths.

        2. Artemesia*

          And see it is precisely this understanding friendly nice point of view that makes many forums easy to victimize by ruthless sociopaths who enjoy making people squirm. The idea that psycopathy is a mental illness and we need to put up with it in our groups because ‘disability’ makes a mockery of common sense and self preservation.

          1. Jaguar*

            Psychopathy is a mental illness. It doesn’t mean that you have to “put up with it.” People are still responsible for their decisions, even psychopaths. It’s just that psychopaths are not automatically toxic people and many people who are toxic are not psychopaths. When we talk about people who are destructive to a society or community as psychopaths, it’s bad because it gives the person an excuse for their behaviour and it reinforces the narrative that psychopaths are always toxic. The word you should be using is “asshole.” We all understand that anyone can be an asshole.

  23. Sarah*

    What do your bylaws specifically say about elected officers? And do your bylaws say anything about your parliamentary authority (ie, Robert’s Rules of Order)?

    From the FAQ on the official site:
    Question 20:
    How can we get rid of officers we don’t like before their term is up?
    It depends. If the bylaws just state a fixed term for the officer, such as “two years,” or if they say the officer serves for a specified term “and until [the officer’s] successor is elected” (or words to that effect), then the group must use formal disciplinary proceedings, which involve the appointment of an investigating committee, preferral of charges, and the conduct of a formal trial. The procedure is complex and should be undertaken only after a careful review of Chapter XX of RONR.

    On the other hand, if the bylaws state a term for the office but add “or until [the officer’s] successor is elected,” or contain other wording explicitly indicating that the officer may be removed before the term expires, then the officer can be removed from office by a two-thirds vote, by a majority vote when previous notice has been given, or by a vote of the majority of the entire membership — any one of which will suffice. A successor may thereafter be elected for the remainder of the term.

    Of course, if the bylaws themselves establish a procedure for removal from office, that procedure must be followed. [RONR (11th ed.), pp. 653-54.]

    And for people who think that RONR is overly complicated, or adds to the hassle –
    In a volunteer organization such as this, people want to get things done, and work together to make decisions. Every time a meeting gets over just a few people, you’ll see the need for some sort of mutually understood rules, rules that we don’t have to reinvent for each organization. The goal of these rules are to conduct good meetings, without any more formality than is absolutely necessary, to protect the rights of everyone and keep things orderly. Rules are there to HELP, not to HINDER.

    1. LQ*

      I love Robert’s Rules. Somewhere on the internet I think there still exists a bunch of articles I wrote about using them at political conventions a long time ago. I think they are surprisingly easy to understand and do a pretty good job of making sure people get heard. That said, like all sets of rules they can be manipulated by those with an agenda, a deep understanding of the rules, and a desire to manipulate.

  24. The Cosmic Avenger*

    I think a few people are making the point that I want to make, which is basically that this needs to be a benevolent dictatorship. If no one is in charge, no one is responsible for anything not delineated by the rules, and so a lot of issues, not just rogue admins, will not be addressed.

    Of course, people want to feel that their opinions are heard and heeded, which is why many online communities have rules. But I’ve never heard of one that had such rules about moderating. Like many other commenters, most of the boards I’ve managed have been created by one or two people (“owners”), whose decisions were final. Moderators were given differing degrees of power, but the owners could always overrule (or oust) any moderator. If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to go create your own online forum or bulletin board, it can certainly be set up for free, but building a community and a reputation is not, and that is what the owners have at stake. If they become truly malevolent despots, then the members can all find a new forum together.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      To clarify, I like to run my online communities the way I like to have my workplace run: with clear expectations, guidelines, and penalties spelled out in advance, and with quick and decisive action when necessary (which means no governing by committee or consensus). But in both cases, input often can alter or even amend the rules, but the “benevolent despot” should be convinced that it’s a change for the better. (Although, much like a parent or employer, you often have to pick your battles and allow things you don’t like, but aren’t disruptive or counterproductive.)

  25. Jack the Treacle Eater*

    O comments when I looked, 56 now! I’ve spent ages writing this so it’ll probably duplicate all the comments made while I’ve been writing, but here goes.

    I’d be really interested to know how you came to the decision to have your admins and moderators elected. I run an online community for a real world group. Before setting up the community, I spent some time investigating how other similar communities were run. In my experience – and I’m happy to acknowledge the limits of my experience – it’s unusual to administrate a community the way you are.

    In our community, and all those I’ve knowledge of the administration of, the admins and moderators are typically chosen by whoever set up the community or by the ‘real world’ committee of the group who set up the community, I’d guess to avoid this type of situation (the real world committee might be elected, but that’s by the by); so it might be worth in the longer run reconsidering the election of admins.

    If you (collectively) do want to keep electing admins – in other words, if you want to run things formally – it might be worth establishing a formal set of rules for running the elections and operation that admins must abide by, with provision to deselect or impeach admins for breach of the rules, as you suggest. That would give a framework by which these things could be handled in the future. You could consider introducing this at the next admin elections (if you still want to go that way – for a small community I’d still look at choosing admins by contribution and reputation).

    That of course doesn’t help with Reginald, and I appreciate I might have just repeated what you feel already. As you have only a month to go and don’t appear to want confrontation, you could wait until elections. If Reginald has clearly breached his assurances to behave, and if the community has seen those breaches, it seems to me unlikely that he would be re-elected. I assume there is some discussion in the community (not just among the admins) of candidates’ behaviour, suitability, bona fides, and so on, where such behaviour could be evidenced?

    From what you’ve said, it appears Reginald’s behaviour is poor in the community generally, not just in the admin section? If that’s the case, I don’t really understand why kicking Reginald out would cause a stink in the community – perhaps you could clarify?

    It seems to me you must have rules for moderating behaviour in the larger community? Typically these might be sanctions for certain behaviour, such as a warning or series of warnings followed by a ban. Are admins not subject to the same moderation as community members? In that case, Reginald should be moderated as you would moderate anyone else.

    If he does get re-elected (which seems unlikely if his disruptive behaviour is known in the community) you must immediately put him on notice that continued bad behaviour will not be tolerated. If you can get rules for admin behaviour introduced at the same time as the elections, you’d have provision to deal with him if he does get re-elected and continues to behave poorly. If you can’t get such rules introduced, you and your fellow admins will have to take the bull by the horns – warn him that his behaviour is disruptive and won’t be tolerated, and if it continues eject him, rules or no rules – but you must ban him from the community at the same time to avoid the ‘stink’.

    More generally, if you (collectively) want to continue running the online community as you would a real world group, I’d say you need to establish a proper constitution with formal provisions for member behaviour, admin behaviour, deselecting or disqualifying admins, and so on – but if it were me I’d just make it less formal and let the community leaders pick moderators.

    You should also look at and talk to admins of other communities to see how they run them.

    Over the years we’ve had a few (thankfully) people who have been beyond the pale in their behaviour, either in the real world or online, and we have had to take action. It’s been my experience that beyond the odd complaint, such action has never resulted in serious repercussions for the community.

    tl;dr – If you can wait until elections then do so. If Reginald is proposed then you should all make it clear you oppose his election and why. If you can get rules for admin behaviour in place do so and use them if he’s re-elected. If you can’t get rules and he behaves badly, deal with him anyway preferably using the rules you do have in place. If he’ll kick up a stink because of it, ban his ass quickly. If you can’t wait until elections ban his ass now. Once he’s dealt with, put strong rules in place for moderating and administrating your community.

    You are not in the workplace but that means you are not tied by its rules and the well being of the community is at stake. Deal with things as best you can for its well being. If that means you have to play rough do it – Reginald is. If you’re acting rationally and unemotionally for the benefit of the community it will be accepted.

  26. blackcat*

    What is your current method for voting? Whatever you do in a month, I highly recommend a method of polling that has an option of “prevent ballot stuffing.” These methods tie a voting token to a particular email address. Each token can only be used once, and you control who gets them.

    If you can ensure to ballot stuffing and elections are in a month, I’d let the chips fall where they may. If you don’t have the means for such a service (many of them cost $$), then I agree with the others that you should just boot him.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, and I would strongly recommend a rule that in order to vote, you need to have had an existing account as of one month before, or something like that.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Or, depending on the type of group, maybe a minimum number of posts, which improves the chances that they are actually involved with and contributing to the group. As I said, I have used a required number of (approved) posts as a measure of when to unmoderate people.

  27. Tea*

    I am part of an online community where moderators maintain collaborative writing “circles” ranging from a half dozen people to hundreds of participants. From time to time, participants or moderators need to be ousted for abuse of their powers, harassment, absenteeism, or any number of reasons. It always kicks off a big kerfluffle– this community even has an online forum dedicated specifically to talk about drama within the community– but frankly, drama is part of the package of managing any group, and better some drama (and maybe some fracturization where the worst of the Reginald-fans wander off elsewhere) than putting up with his bullshit for longer than you have to. This is already causing you anxiety– it’s a real issue!

    Here’s what I recommend:

    Get together with your fellow admins to discuss the issue. Assuming most of you can agree that this is a real issue and that Reginald needs the boot, compose a short and professional message to him, compose a message to your community, CHANGE ALL OF THE ADMIN PASSWORDS*, send the message to him, and then ban his butt.


    Then make a PSA post, something like:

    “Reginald has hereby been removed as an admin, and has been banned from [group] for disrespectful and toxic behavior toward his fellow admins, encouraging harassment toward individuals, and [whatever else applies]. Multiple complaints have been brought up regarding his behavior, and we’ve come realize that an code of conduct needs to be established for both admin and community members to maintain a respectful atmosphere in our community. We will be working on creating the code of conduct and asking for feedback in the upcoming weeks. Please feel welcome to contact us admins via [PM, email, whatever] if you have any concerns.”

    Turn OFF comments, then sit back, relax (“relax”), and start working on that code of conduct.

    What to expect– DRAMA, complaints about “talking about Reginald behind his back,” a million baseless speculative theories about why you REALLY kicked him out, “if the admins could kick him out without warning, then they could kick ANY OF US OUT for ANY REASON AT ALL!!!!!”, first amendment right complaints, Reginald tooting his own horn dramatically in the distance. Make sure you and the other admins are on the same page about how to respond, and then DON’T RESPOND. Let people vent without feeling the need to jump in and correct them. If people cry about wanting to break away and set up their own community, let them. People love talking about drama, but after a while they’d get bored and move on. Feed the flames, jump in defensively, and you’ve added a week of talking points for Reginald for every reply you make.

    If people approach the admins personally for information, be professional in describing the most egregious behavior that caused his banning, and don’t be afraid to admit to uncertainty — “We know this was sudden and caused some concern in the community. Ideally, the situation wouldn’t have come to this, but the way he was acting was so out of bounds that the admin team felt that it needed to take action immediately– we don’t want anyone in the community think it’s okay to wish death on other people. Now that the dust has settled, we want to make sure everyone is on the same page about our community code of conduct.”

    I promise you, once you’re free of him, it’ll be a huge load off your back.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think this is excellent. And since Reginald’s bad behavior was already sufficiently known that he had to make promises that he was reformed in order to get elected, this probably won’t shock the majority of people.

      1. Tea*

        Woohoo, all my years of watching dramatic explosions and flounces from the community have finally paid off.

        Also, yes, that’s totally true. Oftentimes, when someone was banned for bad behavior, on top of the drama, you’d get an outpouring of people who had put up with said bad behavior coming forward to share their stories, commiserate, and– yes, thank the moderators for finally dealing with the problem.

    2. Unagi*

      Certainly the best strategy advice here so far, thank you Tea :-).

      I’m facing a similar situation at the moment, alas. A nonprofit I’m involved in invited 2 new members on to the board – we were losing an important person to greener pastures, these ones were charming and seemed energetic. Well, the energy seems to go mostly to drama, in a couple months they’ve enraged the departing person, whose advice at least we were still relying on, and myself, the only remaining techie. I’m going to quietly contact the other board members in the next couple weeks, and propose their removal at the next board meeting. I’ll quit if that doesn’t succeed, but I’m hoping that the very public berating about how others aren’t doing enough will meanwhile do the job of convincing the others..

      1. zora.dee*

        If this is happening in group meetings, someone also needs to get better training in facilitating meetings ASAP. You can shut this stuff down in meetings, with the right tactics.

        The key is that there is a designated facilitator for every meeting, and when someone starts a derailing rant, the facilitator cuts them off and says “we are getting off topic. Back to the question we are trying to answer/decision we are making.” If they argue about “changing the subject” or “ignoring their concerns”, you immediately call for a vote to continue with this discussion or move to the next agenda item. Use the democratic system to shut them up and move on, in the best interests of the whole group, rather than the 2 obnoxious people. You will be appreciated for it.

        There are classes in facilitation, and I highly recommend them, but there are also webinars and books out there. I like “Facilatator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making” but there are other books and classes that focus even more on dealing with difficult participants/issues.

    3. Jaguar*

      I’ve seen online communities decimated by this strategy. You can do it, but be prepared to lose some people you didn’t want to lose and the trust of even more.

  28. Chickaletta*

    What do you owe him? Is there a contract, or did he pay fees?

    I think that the rest of the board should boot him off and then revoke his membership from the community all together. It sounds like he’s causing trouble with more than just the board, he’s stirring up the whole community, isn’t he? It’s just an online community. If he’s banned, nobody else is going to be hurt or affected, are they? It’s just an online community. Perspective, right? Kick him off and be done with it.

    If you owe him a membership dues refund or something, do it. Otherwise I just don’t understand what reason could possibly exist for keeping him around.

  29. CaliCali*

    One thing that I haven’t seen explicitly mentioned is that once you make these sorts of dramatic decisions, it tends to settle very quickly, and it almost always is better afterward. If it’s a young community (not young people, but just a newer online group), it may be the first “conflict” that’s been handled. However, letting it fester and letting Reginald just do his @$$hole thing is causing WAY more damage than your demotion or banning of him could.

    Additionally, and I say this as someone who has been there before: step away from the group for a little bit. Even for several hours, or a day, or a couple of days. Take some walks outside and talk to your IRL people for a bit. Outside perspective makes these decisions, as well as the relative importance of these decisions, clearer. Not that I’m dismissing the importance of online community, but sometimes you can get dragged into the emotional drama of the situation to where decisions seem weightier than they are.

  30. Kira*

    I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this! The moderated groups I’ve seen don’t use a voting system, so I’d highly recommend you look into a different approach to selecting admins. Elections are better when you have competing viewpoints that need to be heard (like in national politics). After all, you can’t really campaign against your fellow admin, can you?

    What I’ve seen are systems where the “natural admins” (maybe founders or early adopters who demonstrated good judgement and moderation skills) will identify people with those skills and invite them to become admins. This means that the candidates passed their screening criteria and had already demonstrated the traits you’d want in an admin. If one of the admins were to break the community rules, they’d be demoted by their fellow admins.

  31. AnonEMoose*

    I’m a moderator on the Facebook group for the science fiction convention where I volunteer. The way it works is that the Facebook, Twitter, etc., is run by a department within the organization’s structure. So the department heads are appointed each year by the director who oversees that department. The heads, in turn, appoint the moderators, etc.; the heads have the authority to remove a moderator if they need to.

    And there is a process for banning someone from the group entirely. We have a “3 strikes and you’re out” policy, which is basically that if you receive 3 written warnings from the moderators for rule violations within a year, you’re out. Sufficiently egregious offenses, like harassment, can be taken to the director for more immediate action. A person can request that a ban be lifted, but depending on the reason for the ban, how long it’s been, and so on, that might or might not happen.

    The rules are pretty minimal. Basically, no calling people names, no harassing people. Posts have to be related to the topic, and there are limits on posts about selling stuff, etc. That’s really about it. And when we introduced them, there were some people who didn’t like it, but it’s really improved the group overall. People aren’t being jerks to each other just because they can, and on the occasions when they do, they get called on it.

    It works, in part, because the rules are relatively few, but they are enforced as fairly as we can possibly manage. There’s a private, moderators-only group we can go to when we need to discuss stuff, or aren’t sure what call to make. We say that we have a “lawful neutral” moderation policy. Which is basically that, even if we personally dislike a member or disagree with a post, we still need to moderate it according to the stated rules. Same if the group member happens to be a friend. If one or more of the moderators sees a discussion thread going in a direction we know from experience is going to lead nowhere good, we will sometimes step in and ask people to move along.

    I’d definitely encourage your group to consider some kind of structure, even if it’s fairly minimal. Hierarchy often gets a bad rap, and sometimes deserves it, but it does have its place. People knowing where to go with an issue, and having confidence that it will be handled professionally and fairly, is huge.

  32. Former Computer Professional*

    My advice is to deal with it quickly and firmly. “We’ve mentioned before that this isn’t our way. We appreciate your willingness to serve; however, we’re having you step down, as of now. ”

    When there’s the inevitable tantrum, don’t give in to wanting to yell back. Either stick with “Thank you for your efforts and good luck in the future” type stuff or just don’t engage.

    Some years ago I was part of an annual community event — about 2000 people run by a staff of roughly a dozen. We had one staff person who was absolutely toxic, and just got worse as he time went on.

    It wasn’t bad enough that he rarely met deadlines and that half the work completed had to be redone. It eventually came out that what was being done correctly was done by other people and he was taking the credit. We tried talking to him about it, which was either met with a dismissive wave or a tantrum. What finally pushed things over the edge is when, at an event, he sat in a public area and started loudly making sexist comments.

    I and others asked the top staff to get him out. The top staff insisted it had to be done “gently.” I pushed for quickly and firmly and was over-ruled. So, they asked him to “take some time off” from the event, and then when he did, they quietly removed all of his status and access to the event planning materials. The resulting tantrum started with “You lied to me!” and escalated from there, and went on for weeks.

    It turns out that about 5 years after this, the same guy joined another event and got drummed out after less than a year… for not getting things done and for making sexist (and racist!) comments. They acted swiftly and it was over fast.

    1. Former Computer Professional*

      Yipes! I forgot to mention that all the “staff” were volunteers. Part of the reason the top staff insisted on doing the removal “gently” was “It’s different when it’s a volunteer. You have to be -nicer-.” Which made my head hurt. Still does.

      1. LQ*

        I feel a little like you can be swifter and you don’t have to be as “nice” (I’d argue that letting someone continue to make sexist and racist comments isn’t “nice” at all, or rather it is “nice” to the sexist/racist but mean/rude/insulting to everyone else) because no one depends on a volunteer gig to pay the rent. Having a super clear path with pips and all that is great for a job because you need one to live. You don’t need a volunteer gig to live, so if they have a 1 strike policy? Great!

  33. DC*

    Take a vote and get rid of him. I had to do it with a volunteer organization I was with — best decision ever made (I actually didn’t take a vote because I lead the organization, but kicking out a toxic person was the right thing to do). Sure, there was some drama initially for about five minutes, and then blessed peace.

  34. Sibley*

    I’ve been on the user side of this. A FB group that I’m in had 2 admins. One admin (I’ll call him Joe) de-admined the other I’ll call him Mike), but Mike was still in the group. Mike posted about it in the group, and it turned into a thing for a few days but then died down. In this particular case, I think that Joe messed up. I had no problems with Mike, and Mike was actually acting as an admin and shutting down the bad behavior of a few problem group members. My guess is those people complained and Joe didn’t think to confirm the facts.

    In your case, Reginald probably shouldn’t be in the group. Do you have rules about removing people from the group for bad behavior? If so, use them! An admin really should be star group members, so a trouble maker wouldn’t qualify to be considered.

  35. neverjaunty*

    OP, I’m going to make an educated guess that y’all don’t like conflict and preferred to err on the side of “giving Reginald the benefit of the doubt” and “everyone deserves a second chance”, which is why anyone believed his pinky-swear that he was magically going to stop being a glass bowl? And possibly that there are some Geek Social Fallacies at play here?

    In the interim before the elections, one way to handle Reginald is to simply stop playing your part in his script. For him, being sarcastic and nasty means you guys either try to dance around him, or he gets attention (and maybe some support). Stop feeding that. React only to the substance of what he’s saying. When he says “joking” stuff that’s wholly inappropriate, point that out. “I understand that you were just joking. Nevertheless, suggestions that people should be killed are inappropriate.”

  36. Student*

    Having a toxic admin is a lot more destructive to your community than kicking a toxic admin without full “due process” from a new, volunteer group without tried-and-true rules of the road. The people most upset by his ouster are likely the people most like him – odds are your community is better off without anyone deeply scarred by him being booted. This is a case of “rules did not anticipate assholes”.

    If this was a physical volunteer gig and he started crapping in the planter, would you go, “Gee, we need to enact a rule against that before we can deal with this! Maybe he really thought he was helping fertilize the place. Maybe other people who want to crap in planters will feel upset by us getting rid of him and stop supporting us.” Or would you go, “What an unbelievable !@#$. Get this guy (and planter) out of here.”

    1. Artemesia*

      This. When behavior is egregious, act. Then go ahead and formalize rules for the future, but those in charge should be able to exercise judgment when someone is in such basic violation of the rules for polite discourse in an on-line group. Do it fast. Change the passwords. Ignore the outrage if there is any.

  37. Internet Drama Survivors Anonymous*

    You know, I’d been wondering what happened to E- oh, I shouldn’t say that out loud. ;)

    Boot him, right now. Then soothe the community, and rework the rules.

    Why do I say this? Because Reginald, or someone just like him, worked his way up to Admin in a huge online forum I was a part of some 15-20 years ago. He engineered a lot of drama, mostly by subtly poking the bears and setting them at each other. He got banned multiple times, always wheedled his way back in, and somehow got his Admin stars re-awarded.

    The forum split into two big groups and some smaller ones. Almost everyone picked one or the other of the main ones; some of us checked out both for a while to see how things were settling down.

    But as an “expert admin” who “knew all the parties” and “really had a handle on things,” guess who got made an Admin of BOTH the main groups… you guessed it. Our Reginald. Now guess how long both groups managed to survive. If your answer was “not long,” you win…

  38. bopper*

    On the other hand, what if you had a member who acted that way? Do the same thing you would do to anyone.

  39. LisaD*

    I’ve been through this and honestly if I had to deal with it again, I would handle it by resigning my position politely, without leaving any open letters or philosophical screeds on the forum, and just state that I preferred to be an ordinary community member and get back to enjoying the forum as a member, rather than continue to spend so much time and emotional energy on admin work.

    When you are dealing with a Reginald, if you don’t have the unquestioned power and faith of the community to remove him, it is quite simply not worth your time and your emotional labor to take on solving that problem in an unpaid online moderation job. When I removed my Reginald, the result was that he led other community members in a secretive campaign against me where they dug up my real-world identity and essentially destroyed my reputation in the community by putting together real facts about my life in a fictionalized way that made it appear I was exploiting the community for personal gain–which I of course was not. It even made the news, you may have seen it if you paid attention to the Internet Drama beat on esoteric news sites about 7 years ago :) The end result was all to my benefit – I broke an addiction to an online community that is generally abusive to women and not a good investment of time – but the temporary pain and suffering was SO not worth it. I wish I’d just resigned when I realized my Reginald was impossible to work with.

    If you’re being well paid to take the personal risk of taking on a troublemaker who loves power and has the support of some segment of your community, it’s worth it and is in fact your duty. But as a volunteer moderator? My advice is to walk away and let Reginald burn out whatever goodwill he has from the userbase. You can accept being nominated as a moderator again someday after he’s quit, which he inevitably will do when the pendulum of public opinion swings away from him. The more the other admins “attack” or “silence” a Reginald, the more his supporters will love him. If you leave him to run things himself, he’ll inevitably screw up and lose whatever support he had.

  40. Tomato Frog*

    I just want to say that I’m really enjoying all the inside perspective on being an internet moderator. These sorts of threads are my favorites.

  41. Antti (OP)*

    Hey y’all, thanks so much for your input. I’m finally home from work and I’m working on going through your comments. My cohorts have also been reading your input throughout the day and it’s been generating good discussion about what to do now and what to get written into our bylaws. Just to clarify a few things:

    1) This is a Facebook group, and we’re a splinter group from a larger online community that’s run by a particular non-profit (I can’t say too much more or we will be too easy to identify). The non-profit has no official affiliation with us; thus there is no site owner, etc. to confer with.

    2) One thing that wasn’t clear is that Reginald has had a pot-stirring reputation in the larger community, and a lot of his inappropriate comments and such have been in public view (such as the comment I mentioned in the letter), not just in our admin chat.

    3) For the last two elections (incidentally, the only two), anyone could nominate anyone, and as long as the nominee accepted they would be placed on the ballot. The top 7 (last time, the top 9) were the ones who would form the council.

    4) As for evaluating whether I still want to be part of this, that is something I continually ask myself and I am still working through. I really don’t see myself ever leaving the community fully though because it is very important to me personally (and I know others are also in that same spot). I can’t delve into why without risking this being identifiable, but at a minimum I see myself remaining a member of the community, even if I don’t wish to admin anymore.

    Thanks again for all your input; I’ll be getting a little deeper into everyone’s comments over the next few hours. We all really appreciate the feedback we’re getting from you!

  42. stevenz*

    You have time to fix the election. No, in a case like this, democracy does not count; you’re going to get a better, more effective board, which is what you need. So, you have to recruit other people to run who will be more attractive to voters than dear Reggie, so they have a number of choices other than him, in order to water down his support. (If you have more people running than you have seats, some of your allies will lose, of course, but that will all be understood up front.) You also need to convince, or just ask, people to not vote for him. If he is not well-liked, this should be easy to do. Of course, this is all done sub rosa, to make sure he and his supporters don’t get wind of it.

    I have had to manage and lead lots of non-profit boards, and am actually dealing with this problem right now. (Advising boards on non-profit governance is what I do.) It may sound Machiavellian because it is. Your next step, though, is to create a decent set of by-laws, including a code of conduct. And if he stays on the board, put *every* decision to a vote, whether counting of hands or secret ballot. That will isolate him pretty effectively. The chair has the discretion to do this.

  43. LENEL*

    I think you have two options, the first which has been pretty well hashed out:

    1. Admins make the hard call to flick Reginald now and deal with the fallout. There has been a number of useful comments which have suggested ways to do this, but I think there will be fallout from this I wouldn’t be willing to deal with.

    2. Use the last few weeks of this “election cycle” to draft and implement a code of conduct for all members (based on complaints you have received) which is as transparent as possible based on the nature of the internets and is fair, and agree on a process for actioning complaints. Part of this would include a statement that Admins are expected to behave to a higher standard as their role in the group is significant and is to promote a positive, engaging and thoughtful discussion of the issue you’re all passionate about.

    Members code will include things like “incitements or suggestions of violence against a person or groups of persons are grounds for immediate banning from the group by the Admin Team” and possibly an escalating three strikes of different categories of complaints received and documented within certain amounts of time (e.g. proven with screencaps submitted) and you’re out rule. As long as there is a fair process and it’s in place to deal with difficult members, you’re good.

    As part of this, it sounds useful to formalise the role of the Admin team in your group now that a need has arisen. This can be published on the page in advance and can be amended as needed by each admin team.

    I would use this to outline things such as how decisions are made (simple majority or unanimity for certain types of decisions) and to what extent which admins can act. You may want to put in place a “lead admin” position(s) which are elected either by admins themselves or by the members of your group.

    I personally prefer the second approach because I think it mitigates any potential fallout, puts in place a framework going forward that is clearly needed based on the current issues and makes sure you’re all governed by the same processes.

    Knowing what I know from being an active member of community theatre groups (and wowee do those get nasty quickly) this type of process when it’s done openly demonstrates to all members current and future that there are standards, they are applied fairly and evenly to everyone and frankly usually people are happy to see them.

    Using the first approach you sacrifice the higher ground, and it would be something I wouldn’t personally be willing to do. My only caveat is that all this advice depends on the type of group and how it’s run and potential fallout from acting in a way which is perceived to be dictatorial (which it hasn’t been previously) or is otherwise unfair.

    Good luck OP, it’s a suckey situation to be in and I hope it gets resolved.

  44. newlyhr*

    Even volunteer organizations need guidelines for participation. I concur with those who suggest that. As for what you can do right now, I would consider resigning and explaining why–without being spiteful or personal– to the community. You could say that the lack of guidelines for how the admins work together has created a situation where conflicts can’t be addressed properly and one unreasonable person can paralyze the group. Or something else that works.

    If all of you did that, maybe something would change. I personally value my time too much to spend it in constant conflict administering a volunteer group. I would just participate in the community in a manner that works for me. I have been in this position and it just wasn’t worth it to me.

  45. snuck*

    I’ve been involved in the semi-hostile take over of a group… Well… sort of.

    There was two admins, one was breaking the community standards (which were reasonable) and thus was booted. I was stepped up to admin, and then the original admin went away for a few days`after posting here “this is what I’ve done” post.

    I knew why there was a change of management, and there were several attempts at fallout, but because she was was away, and I wasn’t the initial drama instigator… I just politely shut them down or deleted them… and it blew over.

    It blew up and down for a month or so – and went away when I finally posted something along the lines of “There is a lot more to this story than meets the eye, and while many people have been encouraged to become better informed and a part of it in the last few weeks, the reality is that this is a great community, with wonderful people, so lets get back to being wonderful… back to doing what we are good at.” and then refused to acknowledge it further.

    We never got into a discussion about it, we didn’t argue with the various parties. We just removed inflammatory posts (and warned that we would in the original post – that posts that were name calling, accusatory, not in the community spirit would be removed – there was one open, honest discussion post that instead of deleting we just deleted the nasty comments off so people could talk – but the bar for nasty was around if it was a personal attack vs a discussion of what behaviours were desirable in a community).

    It was dramarific… but we got over it… the community has grown dramatically, overshadowed competitors since and is super awesome.

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