It turns out that everyone online isn’t as nice as you. Some people are online to prove how smart and funny they are. Unfortunately, a sizable minority of these people also just happen to be jerks. On Twitter yesterday, Karen suggested it might be because of a lack of women participants or moderators.

Most bullies are dudes

While I can’t offer evidence to support or reject Karen’s jibe regarding lack of women, I do have some experience with moderators.

Having Moderators Doesn’t Fix Everything

I remember high school quite vividly. Even though I was one of the bigger kids, I was frequently targeted for bullying. Actually, it was probably BECAUSE I was so tall, that I was targeted. Thinking back, it’s hard to picture the school without the teachers, principals, volunteers, and other adults. No, the hallways policed themselves. I think online communities are much the same. The community generally follows the lead of the moderators. And sometimes the moderators themselves are jerks!

So what’s a N00B to do?

My first piece of advice would be to go the home-school route, or just change schools! That’s right, leave the forum. It’s what the bullies want. After they get their blood, they want to see you tuck your tail and leave whimpering. Just skip all that bull-crap and go to a different forum where people are respectful and nice.

But Jeff, this site is the ONLY site that can answer my question!

Ok, here is how to gird your loins for battle!

Urgent Help!?! You might as well take a bath in ketchup

  • Google, Google, Google. Then search some more. The worst offense a N00B can commit is to ask a question that has been anwered before. Some moderators have even taken the step of embedding these FAQs in the footer of each post in the forum. Unfortunately, you need to know WHAT to search for to get your answer. At least do a keyword search of the message board and read through the first 3 pages of results. Only after doing so, post your question.
  • Tell a story. The more information you provide, the better. Identify yourself as a N00B, but also include how you ‘Googled for 10 hours to no avail.’ If it’s a technical forum, include all the technical specs of your environment. Include steps to build a reproducible scenario. The more you do here, the more respect you will be given.
  • Don’t bring your homework or interview questions. Urgent! Need help today! This is like chumming the water near a seal colony. You are begging to be eaten alive. It’s really obvious that you are trying to get someone else to do your work.
  • Unfortunately, just like High School, doing everything ‘right’ is no guarantee that you won’t be bullied. So, while having a moderator won’t be a guarantee for civility, NOT having a moderator is just as bad. It takes a lot of work though to run a message board correctly. I read a great post this morning about how it’s YOUR fault if your message board is full of A-Holes. It’s a great post because it also has a list of steps to take to ensure you build a respectful and helpful community.

    I’m a moderator on a few boards at Quest, and I have had to ask another moderator to back off before – not something I relished! More frequently I have had to delete posts and ban their authors. But, my first rule is also Dalton’s 3rd rule from Road House: “Be nice.”

    I remember that the people asking these questions are probably the same people who are buying our goods and services. We have a fancy term for these people, it’s called ‘customers.’ So even when they do annoy me with the N00B questions, I try to always answer the question respectfully. My favorite response is a ‘Yes’ followed by a Google link that returns their answer as the first result.

    Hey, I may be a jerk, but at least I’m a polite jerk.


I'm a Distinguished Product Manager at Oracle. My mission is to help you and your company be more efficient with our database tools.


  1. Glad you called those tweets “jibes”.

    I don’t have the time to participate in online communities that have zero moderation, that love trolls or that waste people’s time with moderator wars.

    When we started our forums about 15 years ago (first as mailing lists, then as newsgroups and forums)we were pretty much the only place to have a discussion in a virtual community. I got lots of flack for “censoring” people who wanted to personally attack others or for kicking off famous experts who only wanted to spam the community. But people stayed. And they participated. We have members who have been part of the communities for the entire 15 years.

    I find that one of the best things to do in keeping the environment collaborative is to insist on people not post anonymously or obviously fake IDs. Sure, lots of people want to hide their questions, but we have a process for doing postings for them if they don’t want others to know what they don’t know. We also have a human read every single post. Some are paid and some are volunteers. I think that’s why we don’t have have a lot of turnover. It also means many professional relationships have been formed over the years.

    Social media like Twitter have really put a dent in participating in forums, I think because it’s harder to filter messages in a mailing list. It’s also the fact that everybody creates forums now. That has diluted the messages and communities. And most people don’t take the time to professionally moderate the posts. I can barely stand to participate in LinkedIn groups for this reason.

    Maybe it’s time to find another Oracle community?

    • JeffS

      There’s definitely more than one, and a few of those are pretty good. It’s the one that rhymes with BoraWack that is pretty intimidating for the new kids.

      Having someone read all the posts is key – I try to do that on our boards, and there’s a half doze other people who do that too, so it’s a team effort.

      The SPAM isn’t so bad anymore, how funny is that?

  2. On one French forum for developers, moderators get stars for acts of moderation. This is pretty insane… I have been censored more than once there, especially when complaining about moderation 😉

    • JeffS

      I stood up for a user a couple of weeks ago, and the moderator gave me guff for complaining, and gave special note that I had only 3 posts on their board. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I try to stay away as much as possible because of how unfriendly their environment is.

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