How to Enforce Online Community Guidelines: Issue Warnings

By Deborah Ng

After you have your online community guidelines in place, you need to take appropriate action when necessary. Every broken rule must have a consequence, and the severity of that consequence depends on the severity of the broken rule. Sometimes, of course, consequences are subjective, and you can handle them on a case-by-case basis.

Most of the time, a warning is a sufficient reaction to a broken rule. If profanity is against your comment policy, for example, you can simply issue a warning: “Please note profanity isn’t allowed in this forum. If you’d like to edit your post to include a more appropriate word, please feel free to do so. Otherwise, we’ll have to delete the comment.”

Of course, this type of warning can go either way. Inappropriate comments are often innocent because the member didn’t read the commenting guidelines properly. In this case, he’ll usually apologize and remove the offending word. On the other hand, sometimes members raise a fuss and complain about not being able to freely express themselves, in which case another nicely worded warning or explanation may be in order.

Public warnings do more than tell someone he has broken the rules. It also shows the entire community you’re watching, and certain behaviors won’t be tolerated. Also, you’re issued a first and second warning, the offending party, and all who’ve witness the events, can’t say that you’re picking on the person you’ve banned.

There’s a big difference between a gentle reminder, a nicely worded warning, and a message meant to embarrass the offending party. Warnings aren’t meant to humiliate; they’re meant to remind.