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I'm running a forum that's open to the public, which has predominantly been civil and on-task for the last 3.5 years.

Recently, however, there's been an ongoing, unproductive dispute between a handful of users.

We currently don't have explicit community guidelines, but, in light of this dispute, I'm thinking we should adopt some sort of code of conduct.

How would you go about writing such a document? What points should I make sure to include?

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3 Answers 3

I believe the following general ideas make sense for community guidelines and, if you post them, they should be enforced even-handedly for all members:

  • All community members are expected to treat each other with respect - incitement, flaming, and derogatory statements against fellow members of the community will be penalized

  • (if applicable) Off-topic discussion outside of the (off-topic subforum) will be moved to (off-topic subforum); repeated posting of off-topic material outside the subforum will be penalized

It might help to step in and nudge discussion of disputed opinions toward rational discussion - i.e. remind users that ad hominem arguments are not productive and will be penalized and encourage users to cite their sources and provide evidence to back up their opinions - but hopefully the enforcement of community guidelines will be sufficient to remind your community's members that they are expected to remain civil without any further involvement in the disputes themselves.

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I tend to use as few rules as possible. The more rules and the stricter the rules, the more people will try and bend them. The ones I usually use are in the lines of:

  1. Use common sense
  2. Don't be a jerk
  3. Report misbehaviour to the staff
  4. If we really can't work something out, admin's word rules

That way you get to look at each case separately. In my experience some users may have a reputation that will allow them to get away with more than others, in some cases offtopic isn't that bad at all, etc. By treating each issue this way users won't be able to hold pretty little rules against you and as long as you're not being a tyrant and let people speak their minds rules like these generally create an open atmosphere. If everything else fails, rule 4 lets you have the last word, but you shouldn't need it very often.

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I also would suggest that if the links people post are going to be "NoFollow" links, that you should state so. While it's easy for people to view source to figure it out, I think that so many people don't know that, and you get many comments because they want to generate backlinks or their on-topic comments are littered with links with hopes that it helps their link profile.

Much comment spam is due to bots (xRumer, etc.), and the bots aren't going to read your guidlines, but there is still an effect of comment spam attributed to humans. Because of that, I think this might also be beneficial to include in your guidelines.

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What does that have to do with user disputes and community guidelines? –  Stephan Muller Dec 7 '10 at 18:13
    
I think it's quite helpful. Such as: "Don't post link spam here guys. No one wants to sift through it and it's tagged "NoFollow" anyway." I suppose it's most helpful to communities that are very open to newcomers, but less helpful to tighter communities where there is a smaller variation to the patterns of behavior. –  Chris Adragna Dec 7 '10 at 18:32

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