Policy on Trolling

The policy in the #node.js irc channel is this:

tl;dr If you’re a dick, you get kicked out. This is not negotiable.

  1. Sexist, heteronormative, racist, and other offensive remarks are not allowed. (Cursing is allowed, but never targeting another user, and never in a hateful or sexually explicit manner.)
  2. Remarks that make any of the ops go “Hm, that’s inappropriate”, whether on the above list or not: also not allowed.
  3. You get a warning.
  4. If the warning is not taken seriously, you might get a second sterner warning in PM, if you’re lucky, and the op is feeling generous, and this is the first time. But don’t count on that.
  5. If the warning is unheeded, you get kicked.
  6. If you come back and continue to make trouble, you get banned.
  7. If you contact the offended party, and are truly apologetic, and it was the first offense, and the op who banned you feels it’s appropriate, then you may get un-banned.
  8. If an op bans you, I’m definitely not going to unban you unless they agree it’s a good idea.
  9. If an op bans someone, and you think it was unjustified, take it up with that op, or with a different op, in private. Griping about bans in-channel is not tolerated, and will result in more bans.
  10. Ops are expected to be paragons of virtue. If an op creates an inappropriate situation, they should expect much less leeway than standard users.
  11. Your free speech is not our problem. We recognize that this policy is a restrictive political stance. That is the intent. If you want a room with different rules, go create one.

In the majority of cases, this is fine, and never requires anyone to be banned. Most so-called trolls are immature boys (sometimes actual children, and sometimes just childish) who just need a grownup to tell them “no” from time to time, perhaps with a light wrist-slap. A /kick and a 2-minute ban to cool down is usually enough, if the warning didn’t do it.

However, persistent trolling ruins communities. No good can come of tolerating it. In the node community, we are not afraid of losing a few kids who can’t manage to behave in a grown-up manner. We’re more concerned with losing the people that those kids chase away.

This policy does not depend on anyone’s agreement. Your sexist remarks in our IRC channel is not protected speech. The D in BDFL does not stand for “Democracy”. Complaining about the ban will not get you unbanned.

A similar policy exists in slightly modified form for NodeConf, the node mailing list, and so on. It works. “Don’t be a dick, or you’ll be kicked out, and crying about it will definitely not help.”

I have been in a lot of online communities over the last 20 years. I have never seen a community fall apart due to excessive banning of trolls, but almost all of them have fallen apart due to excessive trolling. I’d strongly encourage any online community to adopt a similar policy.

This policy and the accompanying justification is released under a CC-By license. In other words, you can use any or all of it for your project or community free of charge, with or without changes, for any commercial or non-commercial purpose, provided that you link back to this post.

I have chosen a very liberal license because I want people in the world to be nice to each other, and I believe that part of the way to get there is for more communities to have reasonably low tolerance for bad behavior.

edit A prior version of this used the word “gentlemanly”, contrasting the distinctively boyish nature of most IRC trolling. In my view, behaving in a “gentlemanly” manner means that one is respectful, despite being male and in the company of strangers; a definite challenge for many. For various reasons, virtually every IRC troll in online communities is male.

However, the term has connotations for many people implying a specific sort of politely dismissive and condescendingly sexist attitude; others felt that this colored the entire post in a gendered manner that made the underlying message less clear.

That isn’t my intent, so I changed the term for clarity.

2014-03-17 - Added rules 9 and 10.

2014-10-02 - Changed “heterosexist” to “heteronormative”. Added rule 11.