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Using research to deal with toxicity from day one

mmohammed profile image Mohamed ・2 min read

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Shout out to Alex's question for inspiring this post!

From the day I started as an Assistant Community Manager at Future, I've had the pleasure of learning through doing.

My very first task was to come up with an additional clause in our community guidelines that would specifically impact/ inconvenience one of our more difficult forum communities. The goal was to decrease toxicity and ad-hominem attacks via the addition of a clause and to do so with as little uproar as possible.

My manager, the VP of Global Community, asked me to come up with a legal and policy-driven justification for being more aggressive about ad-hominem attacks between forum users. I'd spent the last two years working as a moderator and getting to do this exact sort of research, so this felt like an escalation of what I'd learned upto that point. Plus, I went from working with a community of 500,000 to one of over 10 million at the time!

So, I got right to it, building a legal justification that tied this additional clause to the overall health of the forum. Thanks to some recent work done by the UK's Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, I was able to do so. My instructions were to justify this ad-hominem clause so that it made sense to stakeholders in three groups: our Legal Division, our Content Division, and the forum's users/ members.

The result was an individualized justification to all relevant stakeholder groups. This clause was going to keep the forums from becoming too toxic an environment to encourage engagement (thus affecting the Content Division's several KPIs). That same toxicity would lead to, as mentioned in the linked white paper, legal and revenue ramifications via UK regulators (thus affecting the Legal Division's KPIs). Finally, both the Content KPIs and Legal KPIs being so negatively impacted would result in a higher risk of the forum being closed - both for the users' safety and that of the company.

This led to the policy addition being approved by both internal stakeholders as well as the forum users. While KPIs meant everything to both Content and Legal departments, the forum users were largely understanding of this policy addition as it was announced as a measure to keep the forums from closing.

As a team, we managed to get this clause approved by being transparent about how it affected all relevant stakeholders - especially the impacted community itself. It also was encouraging to see the community value the health of the forum this way. It spoke volumes of the value the forums provided, naturally making us in the Community team happy!

Personally, having to put my research and moderation experience to this sort of work was my first taste of life as a CM. A year and a half later, I'm beyond grateful for that learning experience and every educational day I've had at this job since.

Discussion (2)

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alex profile image
Alex Angel

This is awesome, thank you for sharing! Great to see the internal collaboration that went into this decision, as well. I hope this ended up being a bonding experience of sorts between the teams since you were conscious of how it would impact their goals and took steps to include them during the development phase of your policy change.

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mmohammed profile image
Mohamed Author

Thank you, Alex! Honestly, it was nice to work across departments like that. I had limited interactions as I was a complete beginner. But, very educational nonetheless!