60 Replies to “Social Punishment: The “Bozo” Feature”

  1. Depends on your view of troublemakers. Often the contrary voice builds a community, if only in opposition to that ‘troublemaker’. At first blush, this approach seems like a passive-aggressive way of handling the situation, esp if it is an informal community.

    In the case of brands, where marketers need sanitized communities to ensure funding for their social media initiative, a bozo feature wld be helpful for a short-term, knee-jerk response from a spineless community manager lacking the wit, experience or confidence to deal with troublemakers effectively.

    But longer term: who wants to participate in a vanilla-bland-boring community? Might there be ‘Lord of the Flies’ response where the dissenting voice — the troublemaker — starts a negative brand community…or communities?

  2. In Second Life you can ‘mute’ another residence, which might be the equivalent to a MySpace ‘block user’ but it means that that avatar can still be present in public space but they won’t be heard by others if they are muted by the individuals. Kind of similar to the Bozo concept.

  3. Jeremiah – Great post that shines a light on the critical area of community management/moderation. Some companies I talk with start out solely thinking about applications (blogs, forums, wikis), but quickly realize there’s a lot more to social media/community.

    Jim | @jstorerj

  4. Thanks Jim

    It would be helpful to readers if you could cite some examples of how it’s worked for brands (we don’t need to know the specific brand name) anything to share?

  5. I’ve managed and moderated a few community boards, and this seems like a really smart feature.

    I think most community managers (if unbiased and actively tuned into their community) would easily distinguish the appropriate use of such a feature. If a user is disruptive, versus simply vocal, or constantly posting the same argument/position/articles over and over again versus moving the conversation forward, then Bozo-ing them would be appropriate.

    Although I will say, the feature could eventually be just as ineffective as Banning if the user is still able to Private Message or, use email to reach out to other community members to ask why he/she is being ignored or not being answered.

    Most community members establish sub-networks that allow them to circumvent the established community platform. The user would then establish another account, starting the process all over again.

  6. Sure! I’ve asked our Director of Moderation Services to chime in with a comment (including examples of the bozo flag in practice). He may not comment soon given the day, but will definitely share some best practices.

  7. I am a member of an online niche social networking community. When troublemakers begin their snarky attacks on others or are obtuse about how nasty they are being, they are warned by the site administrator. If the activity continues, they are banned and their posts ripped from view.

    There are definitely troublemakers out there – and there appears to be a specific level of interaction by the administrator that is deemed troublesome enough to take action.

    That said, “moderators” or people who monitor posts for such activity are few. It’s usually via peer pressure or peer reporting that the administrator is alerted to troublemaker activity.

    Bland and all that? Well no. A certain amount of spirited interchange is permitted, particularly on a side venture of the site that offers room for clashing views. On the main site, less butting heads is permitted, given the reason for the site’s existence (dealing with loss of certain family members).

    Each entity that runs the site has to develop some sort of rules that work for the environment. If it’s a business community, ideas should be able to flow but if someone disagrees then they ought to be able to follow logical argument instead of outright name calling or disrespecting of another. Many examples come to mind; I’ll leave that to your imagination =D!

  8. Hi Jeremiah

    An interesting post about a difficult problem.

    Branded communities do have a few difficult people and they can be a real pain. But just making a difficult person’s posts invisible would surely be a case of ‘brands behaving badly’. Far better to have openly published (and fair) rules about what constitutes acceptable behaviour and to enforce them, than to deceiptfully muzzle someone without them or anyone else knowing it.

    Brand marketers have to learn that brands cannot be managed in the same ways they were as little as five years ago. Although this is always going to difficult for marleters used to controlling the message, brands really are conversations. These conversations, the good ones and the bad ones, have been going on for decades behind marketers’ backs.

    Sometimes this means dealing with difficult people out in the open. Honest, customer-driven brands are better off for it.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  9. “Bozo” is effective only in cases when you’re dealing with someone who’s more annoying than destructive. On (Prospero’s) Mzinga’s platform, a bozo sees his own posts but to everyone else they appear as deleted. Hosts have the option of reading the bozo’d post, or leaving it collapsed. The bozo continues to think he’s clever – for a while. Eventually, they all figure it out. It’s far more difficult for a community manager to explain publicly why they’ve deemed someone a bozo, than it is to take more decisive actions.

    Far more effective troll control measures include gag, lockout, full moderation, and Voice flags – all options we recommend to forum hosts daily in Delphi Forums & Talk City (now owned by Mzinga.)

    Some people are comfortable with no-holds-barred communities, most are not. They want to be comfortable where they post, and to be assured that they’re not going to be attacked or harassed for their words and opinions. It depends on what you’re looking for in a community – debate, or friendship – or something else.

    Contrary voices are not the same as bozos and trolls. It’s all in how you speak up and out that determines your place in the community.

    It is true that if you ignore someone they’ll move on. That holds true whether you’re ignoring your regular visitors, or you’re ignoring a troll or a bozo. If there’s no interaction, there’s no point. Most will move on.

    Delphi Forums
    Talk City

  10. vBulletin has this feature, and it’s called Tachy Goes to Coventry. It allows an admin to put a user on every other user’s ignore list without the user knowing it. So they just blather on without disturbing anyone.

    Although vBulletin is a very popular forum software, it’s not widely used by brands looking for social networking or community features.

  11. So if they are made ‘invisible’, what prevents them from creating new login(s) & continuing to cause issues. I would think that they’re going to figure out that others can’t see their posts?

  12. When a brand is investing marketing dollars to build a community and the quality traffic (e.g. owners/users/evangelists) is diminishing due to ‘troublemakers’.

  13. Connie —

    Usually when an account is banned, the user knows about it right away, either because they are notified or because they are obviously denied the right to login or post. When a user is bozofiltered (put into Coventry, etc), they do not know that nobody can see their posts. Everything looks totally normal to them, but nobody is responding. Eventually, most trolls get tired of not getting a response and stop posting.

    To answer your question more directly, there is nothing preventing them from creating new accounts to cause more issues. However, this feature prevents that from happening less often as they don’t see any change, and it can take a long time before they realize that nobody can see their posts. This slows them down, at the very least.

  14. Hi Jeremiah, Hi Lori

    One of the most influential books I read a few years ago was a book entitled ‘A Complaint is a Gift’. Its message was simple. Rather than treating complainers as a nuisance, the book showed clearly the benefits of bringing them in, of trying to understand their grievances, of trying to recover them and of try to fix any underlying problems at source, so they don’t create future complainers.

    Trolls notwithstanding, surely this is the whole point about branded communities. They are about the whole range of people with an opinion about the brand, not just those with a postive one. Or the brand’s marketers.

    Listening to and responding to these difficult people is much more likely to lead to improvements with the current product, to the brand developing a reputation for being open to dialogue, or even to the next crowdsourced blockbuster product. Just ask Starwood Hotels’ resident ‘Starwood Lurker’ over at InsideFlyer.com.

    Just a thought.

    Graham Hill

  15. Hi, Jeremiah–

    Your post reached me through Techmeme and piqued my interest in how directly it touches the dissonance between community and market.

    I’m a member of several unbranded online communities and co-mod of another. One of the things that frequently comes into play both day to day and in terms of the quality of overall community participation is the two-way visibility between mods and members.

    The balance of power favors the mods, of course, when it comes to a question of who stays and who goes, but the check on that absolute power is simple: whatever the mod does when she perceives a problem with a member, her action is visible to every member. Not only visible, in fact, but comment-worthy. A community known for capricious or self-interested moderation tends over time to attract commenters more focused on pointing and laughing than on the site’s stated purpose.

    Silencing a member is a pretty radical move. When a mod perceives the necessity for it, any social networking community worth the name will operate on the norm that both the individual and the community should know what’s happening and why. Otherwise what you’ve got isn’t a community, and the people who joined thinking otherwise are likely to be unhappy when they find out otherwise.

    I suspect that mods who represent the interests of a company or a brand, rather than the interests of the community whose members they moderate, need to be more transparent in their decisions and the reasons behind them, not less — unless the brand-owner wants to end up either preaching to the choir or painting a “Mock Me” target on itself.

    Jane J.

  16. Some systems allow users to ignore bozos on a one – one basis, or allows all users to vote for karma points – when sufficient -ve karma is reached the bozo is ignored or removed.

    Issue with all systems is bozos always come back with new names.

    Some systems/groups limit freedoms of early users unitil they have enough history of “playing nice”.

  17. If you want to see a mature set of features you need only look at the moderation features of LiveJournal. They use the term “screen”. You can also allow content owners of a thread to see the IP address as well as prune or freeze discussions. It’s quite good really.

  18. It depends how you define this so called ˜bozo™/ troublemaker. Thing how many people in American history were able to make a change just because they spoke out. There should be a limit to website misuse or racism but when it comes to opinions or experiences what™s the point of these social networks if you can™t read the truth?!

  19. Jeremiah,

    I remember when I was 1st introduced to this feature/concept 10 years ago, I was adamant against its use. To think that online communities out there would leverage this feature within their forums seemed to be unfair. After 10 years in Community Development, I have seen this feature work and become a successful tool, when used appropriately.

    The tool should not be used in every day use. There are other tools (gagging, blocking, banning……) that are more effective and pertinent to individual situations. This tool should be used as a “last course of action” in most cases.

    However, when you encounter people that are consistently taking advantage of these online communities, getting up on their soapbox and disrupting these areas with posts that are malicious and destructive to a community, harsh times call for harsh measures.

    The best case for this tool is when members create accounts to spam your online community, and do not care about what happens to their ID. They may never even come back to your community to see what is happening, but rather create a “bot” to post SPAM.

    There are of course other situations, but most are handled on a case-by-case basis, with this action being the worst case scenario.

    Mike / @NHScooch

  20. At Lithium, this is one of those features (we called it “squelch”) that, over the past ten years, we adopted, used, and then retired because we didn’t like the experience for either users or moderators. Where it’s effective, the user is generally a troll who should have been banned in the first place. Where it’s not, the user eventually realizes what’s happening and then registers a new account – and you’re back where you started. The real issue for us is that it’s not transparent – I’d argue that anytime you’re misleading users for any reason, it’s not a good thing.

  21. We’ve used the ‘bozo’ feature for more than nine years with our prospero clients’ communities (now Mzinga). This is a good feature within certain parameters. Those parameters are the community’s terms of use and community rules. You can not effectively manage a community with these…

    Bozo’ing a member is not a blind event that deceives the member when used properly. We would never mark a member as bozo without at least attempting to have a conversation about their violations of the rules of use or TOS. The only exception is the spammer rule. You don’t need too many scripts for “As Seen on Oprah..” paypal scams to be run before you act quickly to protect your members.

    In our moderating the “old” AARP community, we rarely used it. But it was our option of last resort to get the member’s attention to get them to enter into a dialog with the moderators.

    As communities have matured (no pun intended again), members have started using disposible email addresses for registration. They do not read emails sent to those accounts and therefore, never see the moderators attempts to contact them if there is no private message feature on the site. So, they continue their personal attacks or posting objectionable content unabated until we bozo’d them. Within a day or two, almost all would send the moderators an email about it. We’d discuss with them why we did it. Usually, the member in question would agree to modify their behavior and would be let back in as a ‘regular’ user.

    As stated above, it does become a bit of a cat and mouse game if members just re-register with a new email address and username. But that happened only about 10% of the time in our experience. Most community members had spent far too much time developing their online persona to have the username stripped away.

    Used judiciously and carefully, the bozo option is a great tool for community managers. But that’s just our two cents…

  22. Jeremiah, I’ve had to deal with this as me being the moderator of the mods for a branded community . The mods would come to me with their cases, cite examples, and we would use a warning system. The rules of engagement were as you would expect them to be; and as you mentioned, you would still get those who would try to push the envelope.

    I’ve had the dubious task of having to explain my actions to the community on numerous occassions when I had to unfortunately ban someone. It always seemed to be someone who was very popular and contributed a lot, but who largely started to think they were above the rules and “were” the commnunity.

    Just recently I had to ban a person who was one of our most senior members and one of the most prolific contributors and ardent supporters. He knew that he had breached the rules and essentially had no more chances, so he had to go.

    What did he do? He registered under and created a dozen aliases. He created a BBS and a NING group devoted to trashing the company and the product. He registered a Facebook group devoted to his “cause”. He blogged about it. He did everything he could to raise his noise level over his discontent. He was relentless. I have to think that he spent every waking hour, hell bent on doing whatever he could to sully everything he could that was associated with the product and company. It caused me to essentially clean up after him.

    After about a week and a half of this, I knew that this was not the way to approach this. Instead of fighting him and trying to mute him or counter him, I decided to reach out to him and enter into a dialogue so that I could show him that what he was doing was childish and harmfull and doing no one any good. I made a descision to let him back in because it made sense in this case, to keep your enemies closer; but also because he pleaded with me to do so. He was hurt and missed his people, so to speak. And he was going to make me pay. Oh yea, he called me out on all these sites as well.

    The thing that amazed me though was that he was my brand champion and it was utterly shocking how quick he turned on us; even though he had completely brought it upon himself. A lot of lessons learned from this experience. Was it the right way to handle it? No. I was hypocrite for saying, “It’s ok for him to break the rules”. But I had no choice. He controlled the situation but in the end, I did as well.

  23. This is an important topic and unfortunately, you don’t really understand how daunting this is unless you are a community manager. I seriously began debating last week what would be a healthy life-span for a community manager because my week was filled with user drama. Not the kind you can just ignore but the kind that sticks around haunts you. I wouldn’t have even believed this existed two years ago! Anyway, I agree with another commenter here about there being different “types” of troublemakers and there is really no one response that will deter them all. I think the bozo feature works in some cases and it underscores just how pathetic some folks can be online. In others it just fuels their fire. I swear, there will be a rehab for this kind of work in the future…and I’ll probably be the ringleader.

  24. Marc, Angela

    Wow, take care you two. There are community managers here that can support you, reach out to me if you need peer support, I can connect you with others that can help.

  25. BTW–Marc Meyer. I had a user do the exact same thing. I think he had about 25 aliases. At least he didn’t go to Facebook though. I don’t know that my demographic is terribly savvy in terms of multiple social networking sites so thank goodness for that. BUT–he is currently wreaking all kinds of havoc in bozo mode. If he were live today, my day would have been hell! I’ve reached out to him in the past, and he did reform himself but that has ended and so far I have not given what it is he wants. Jeremiah–I’d like to know if people are dealing with real life issues that come online after members in their communities “meet” in real life. I can start that thread for ya! There is a doctoral dissertation in this.

  26. @Jeremiah, and @Angela as a post script to this, I’ve also had the blogged death threat as well, I still have it saved somewhere but the point is and Angela echoes this-Within these communities, sometimes a mob mentality can take hold and all of a sudden, we the community managers are considered “the man” i.e. big brother. and for whatever reason regardless of the steps you take to make sure things are running smoothly, you’re actions are considered counterproductive. No matter what you do.

  27. @ Marc, This is why many companies hire 3rd parties to moderate their communities for them. It creates a nice separation between the company, and the enforcement of their policies.

  28. @Mike, I would argue that a third party could still be susceptible to the big brother moniker and consequences that Marc and I have both mentioned. The answer could be to not be so “available” but then the concept of community-building could be somewhat at risk as well. Depends on your goals, I suppose.
    @Marc…let’s talk offline. I’m communitygirl on twitter. I’ll find you.

  29. I am a brand consultant for a company that provides social media contest platforms for brands looking to engage their market through promotional contests. (ProjectBreakout.com) We essentially offer a vetting service that will moderate their entire campaign. We work with them to find out more about their brand, their objectives, and include their input in how to deal with ‘trouble makers’. It’s unfortunate that anyone has to deal with users like that but personally, I feel brands should approach this head on and directly. Of course I could go on but it’s a relevant topic for anyone working with social media. Thanks for the article.

  30. Jeremiah: I’m a bit late to this discussion, but excellent post and discussion starter, as always.

    I love the feeling I get when I hear about the bozo option. We haven’t done it on our site, but we’ve considered it. It feels like justice. But, I also know that the justice I feel as a community manager might be short-lived if a serious troll gets wind of it.

    The “Ignore” option for users (minimize “that guy” and his content) is also attractive, but it doesn’t have the weight of a community solution.

    I am most attracted to this idea: Let everyone dig into troublesome/problematic content if they choose, but minimize it — and clearly label it as minimized because it was deemed inappropriate — if the community has chosen to deprecate the content (x number of flags, what have you). Or, to put it another way, make people click through to see the bad stuff.

    If you’re up for it, I wouldn’t mind hearing what you think about “karma points” in one of your future blog posts. A number of social networking sites have been implementing that kind of system, but I haven’t heard much about how that is working for them. It’s a great idea, but one that may be too “game-y” for some — or potentially off-putting to new users.

  31. There are two sides to this and none are pretty.

    1. Someone is in charge, makes a judgement, mutes (very old media but effective)

    2. Bozos (or trolls) are relative. Consensus is key and well, now it turns into survivor and meta-arguing about whether or not the person is a bozo or not? Sheesh, see #1, put someone in control and let them take the heat for banning someone. And then ask yourself why big companies might be afraid of/resistant to social media.

    Sounds good on paper, but hell, even drama can be monetized. And that’s all we are. Little barcodes to be scanned and filed.


  32. I don’t recall precisely how I landed on this Blog but the topic is most interesting; I remember I was searching for white label SN solutions. Anyway, my take is that a community should be largely self-policing: Should (for instance)three members find the post offensive the post automatically goes Bozo ::::shrugs::::

  33. Guy joins local newspaper with social networking environment, mainly for local sports team networking and forum commentary. Gains popularity with insightful and colorful commentary, gains many friends and during the off season is bored.The Local Newspapers union endorses a national political candidate. Think news media aren™t consistently biased against any political party… Ha haha! Average Guy continues to represent his personal opinions with factual commentary, insightful opinion and funny syndicated cartoon posts,forum is flooded union with representation to sway conversation to public opinion toward their favor. Average guy is “Bozoed” off social networking sight, 1 year and 50 friends later… what a waste!
    Anyone that thinks newspapers are Fair and Balanced and are bastions of Free Speech that benefits all is wildly mistaken.
    Newspaper will not even return an email,no TOS violation, Blacklisting and Whitelisting members is common practice. Mass lockouts for members with viewpoints contrary to newspapers political opinions.
    This is what happens when the moderator is the bad apple.

  34. This is a slight side-step on a human interaction topic I’ve enjoyed reading. The role of moderator can be identical in part to “sales” in that, the sales person must overcome a series of objections to make closure. Believe me, I have grey hairs from 10 years in hi-stress enterprise sales and the process was slow learning. When I finally learned to “moderate” client issues, complaints, bitches, grinds, etc…I managed to turn around more than a few Bozo clients. But, I strongly recommend Dan Hill’s book, Emotionomics. He’ll take you inside human motivations that lead to emotions that interact with behaviors; and you’ll see a side of the Bozo you’ve maybe never seen: what motivates this behavior and why.

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  38. Can we install this feature in broadcasting and deal the all the left and right-wing nut jobs out there?

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  40. This gives the community manager a way to defuse the situation, in a non-confrontational manner, allowing for the troublemaker to quietly move on their own.

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