Episode 4: How to Prevent and Address Harassment

On today's episode of the Modcast Podcast, we'll be talking about how to prevent and address harassment. Joining us are our guests SexualRhinoceros and AerinNight, and, as always, our hosts Sean and Kairi.

Episode 4: How to Prevent and Address Harassment

On today's episode of the Modcast Podcast, we move on from discussing moderating in teams to discuss issues that can stem from moderation; how to prevent and address harassment. Joining us are our guests SexualRhinoceros and AerinNight, and, as always, our hosts Sean and Kairi.

Episode Guests

We have, today, the pleasure of being joined by SexualRhinoceros and AerinNight. SexualRhinoceros, who goes by Rhino, is the lead admin for the Rainbow 6 Siege Discord, head of the Just Some Bots Github group, as well as moderator on the Titanfall, Anthem, and Pittsburgh Steelers Discord servers. He's been active in Discord community development since late 2015, and no matter what we do, he just won't go away.

Alongside Rhino, we have AerinNight with us. Aerin has moderated a number of small-time Twtich streamers' channels over the last few years, currently moderating for AnneMunition's community. She once wrote a mod-bot that sassed users as it timed them out, and her catchphrase is "ban them all".
While this bot seems funny, her advice was "don't do it", as it encourages rule breaking due to the reaction that arises from it.


Defining Harassment

Harassment is a broad term, thus to get us on the main page, Sean asked our guests to define harassment. Rhino started off with saying anything constitutes as harassment as long as it's "some kind of action that's unwanted by another party and you still partake in it", intentional or not. Sean agreed, sharing that the Fair Play Alliance, a group which Discord is a part of, is attempting to define toxicity (which is closely related to harassment), and their discussions overlapped with Rhino's ideas.

Aerin also agreed, specifically touching upon the fact that (especially as it occurs online) harassment does not have to be physical unlike common thoughts of it. She also shared a stricter definition, specifying that it is very targeted to victims to get positive or negative attention from them. Moreover, Aerin touched on bullying versus harassment, stating that bullying is more looking for power, "to get respect out of fear", thus there's a psychological difference between bullying and harassment.

Unfortunately, harassment is more prevalent in specific communities such as female streamer communities, so Aerin, upon prompting from Sean, shared some of the harassment she's seen in the community. She was careful to not share any names as that gives the harassers exactly what they want- attention.

I'm not going to name any names, because that's actually very important, you want to not give these people attention, that is what they want, they want to know that they are still in your community somehow.

There are different types of harassers. You have people who want to use certain prohibited language, and constantly come back on different accounts to get around bans. If you persist in dealing with it correctly, eventually they will lose interest. However, there are those who do not lose interest; those who believe they were wronged. These people can go even further than simply chat harassment and can potentially start looking up your personal information, taking it much further than is acceptable. Every broadcaster should be prepared for this, due to the unfortunate nature of the internet.

Proactive Measures

Linking in nicely with the last points made by Aerin, we move on to discussing proactive measures, rather than reactive. Previous episodes discussed how having an active mod presence and clear behaviour expectations can help, and we've got our guests this week to add on to those.

Rhino likes to define the culture of the server from the top down, which starts within the mod team. A positive and accepting team creates a culture that discourages harassment and bad behaviours in general. Issues now stem from certain things that might be seen as fine to one but not fine to another, such as self degradation. Here again is where a positive culture comes in play, as the community has a better understanding of what is and isn't allowed.

As Sean points out however, some parts of the culture are hard to control. Servers for "dying" games are bound to have a different culture compared to a thriving game, such as Anthem versus Rainbow 6 Siege. Having moderated both these servers, Rhino agreed that it's "tougher to orient the community in a more positive direction" (as Sean put it), as gamers, for reasons beyond us, like to trash on games in their respective servers if they dislike them. Lines must be drawn however, as stamping out every negative thing will lead to no conversation.

I think for us, and from what I've seen, is, taking more of a gentle guiding hand approach, has been really beneficial for me.

Getting users to consider the person behind the screen is helpful, as it gives them a reason to stay there, and again discourages the negativity that they might have entered the server for.

While Rhino focuses on gaming related servers, Aerin agreed with his advice, sharing that it's good advice for communities in general, and that she does a lot of the same things. Moreover, Aerin also thinks to add on some more long term proactive & antiharrasment stuff.

You need to start Googling your own name, looking up your own address, see what you can find about yourself accross the internet. If you find a moderator you trust, you can maybe get their help with this.

If you are a moderator reading this and thinking "Hey, this would be cool to do to help out!", ask first. It will seem very creepy if you do that without asking before you do.
Finding this information is crucial as it allows you to clean it up. While Aerin hasn't run into real life harassment a lot, you are bound to eventually run into it after spending time on the internet a lot. As sad as it is, the people who do this typically have some sort of mental issue, and do not know how to interact with the streamer but think they're deeply in love. It's also much easier for these people to have a connection with streamers as compared to actors as the streamers typically aren't playing a character, as brought up by Sean.

Rhino brought up a video he watched regarding the parasocial, one way interaction, which can cause (as the video creator called it) morbid cringe.

They're so invested in trying to harm or harass the individual, that it's reached morbid levels of way more than one individual should ever invest in something in their life.

This behaviour typically stems from someone who identifies with the type of person. They might identify with the streamer but have suppressed it, creating a hateful personality of themselves.

Going back a bit, Kairi brought up a time where someone in her own community brought up a popular streamer and mentioned that they are close friends, but that they only know them through Twitch chat. Upon further questioning, the only one-on-one the person had with the streamer was a reply to their YouTube chat. While we see why this is creepy, the person themselves did not see why it was creepy. In a similar vein, Aerin had to deal with a member in a community spreading rumours that they were dating with the streamer.

Some people are doing this unknowingly, as said by Sean. There are also the opposites of two extremes, someone finding someone's address to send them cookies, and someone doing so to get attention. Both of these are harassment and equally suck. Yet again, Aerin has to deal with a similar situation, where someone who was banned two years ago still persists in attempting to get back into the community. To catch these people, Aerin keeps the communities in 10 minute follower mode and monitors the names of new followers for patterns. A lot of the time, you are powerless to deal with these people who may be harassing you via email or whatnot, until it gets to a criminal levels, linking in nicely with our next topic.

Difference in Community

In most online communities, harassment is unfortunately inevitable. It is, however, up to you how you handle it, which will of course change depending on who the harassment is to, and from, amongst other things.

Regarding harassment against herself, Aerin generally has a thick skin, and thus if someone takes it far enough, she'll just block them. Moderating for someone else however requires following their community rules. You're enforcing what they consider harassment, which can be somewhat of a context shift between communities you moderate. Harassment is very much defined by what the streamer and community decide they want things to be like. A PG-13 stream with no swears allowed? The rules are very simple and easy.

Sometimes mods can disagree with the streamer, Sean brought up, asking Aerin how she deals with disagreement in judgement. If a streamer finds a user creepy, but Aerin doesn't, she'll try and find a middle-ground (which is not necessarily the centerpoint between options).

You have to look at the behaviour and see, is it really creepy? By some objective measure that we've decided upon, whatever the measure is. Talk with your mod team, as that's usually where you can build the best multi-perspective view on things.

Sometimes you will find that the reporter is being overzealous and you need to talk to them, sometimes the user truly is being creepy, and you need to tell them to cut the behaviour off, or worse.

Back to Rhino, Sean posed questions to Rhino asking about both his thoughts on user to user harassment, which is frequent in the competitive scene, and user to developer harassment, which can occur when a new controversial patch drops, for example.

On the user-developer side, Rhino and his team attempt to ensure no one developer is being focused on. You can't stop a group of 100 thousand people from being angry at a patch, so they found the most effective way to be no specific callouts or names allowed, and if Ubisoft (for example- the company) is named, they aren't making actual threats. Complaints are inevitable, and thus they have a channel for complaints, but threats are not allowed. This allows people to just make their complaints and move on. Focusing on one developer is misdirected anyways, as most decisions are team decisions, and also not targeted. Alongside this, Rhino and the team keep notes on as many interactions as possible to make sure they have the most clarity on individuals. Networking with communities can make this easier, as certain people hit certain types of servers and thus these servers can warn each other.

As Aerin pointed out, these type of users aren't common. It's typically a small percent of people making the most noise, and are thus memorable. In relation, Sean brought up the 80/20 rule.

In moderation, 80% of your time is spent on 20% of the userbase, and it turns out that those 20% are like the troublemakers that don't listen, don't read your rules, and just consistently push it over and over.

In AnneMunition's community, it's a more 90/8/2 rule. A very positive community has been built up there resulting in moderators not needing to call everything out as users themselves will say "hey, please don't do this", which is a sign of a healthy community like Kairi said.

Relating to this, instant tightning of your moderation is hard. It is much easier, as everyone agreed with, to build up a positive community than to change a negative one into a positive one, as the negative influences will have pushed out the positive and will not take lightly to being moderated. There are, however, cases where this is needed such as an example brought up by Kairi where a small Discord ran by two developers got raided overnight after announing their game to be going Epic exclusive. This community implemented a channel similar to the previously discussed vent channel in Rainbow 6 which worked well.

Sean shared from a Discord level that there are people who are "superfans" of Discord, who lash out when Discord isn't the way they want them to be. It is, in a way, disappointing as Sean puts it as these people are so invested in the product but they won't listen to other views, even from the Discord developers. They would get toxic and dangerous when the product deviates from their ideal, potentially scaring developers from doing certain things. This applies to more than just Discord, with Sean specifically pointing out the Mass Effect 3 ending backlash. Another example brought up by Rhino was an admin of the Overwatch Discord quitting (more than just Discord, but the internet mostly)

At the end of the day, if you tie your emotions, or your physical being, the state you're currenlty in, to something online, something abstract, like a company, or a Discord server, or a video game state, that's a really unhealthy way to live your life.

Difference in Severity

Kairi here raised the questions to our guests on how they decide if something is too minor to address, as well as when they decide when something is so severe it should be escalated to T&S, with Sean also asking for the craziest thing our guests have seen.

Rhino on his teams builds up moderation guidelines for his team to work from, with the two categories generally being "run of the mill", and "who thinks like this". There's simple things like a user using a slur, right click --> report and delete, and then there's things like users being automatically banned and taking it so personally that they flooded modmail with 200 messages with paragraphs of sob stories and more, and even took it to Twitter DMs. While users like these sometimes have a mental illness and need help, as Aerin points out, that is not your responsibility, you do not need to be their therapist (and shouldn't, if you're not licensed). Back to Rhino, you need to distance yourself from someone in that state to prevent their fixation on the community shifting to you. This is why, Aerin points out, you need to be the lead-by-example part of your communities. Moderating in a more friendly way instead of the negativity that you are banning them for does less to fuel the fire. Both our guests have "moderator tones", where they speak differently and take things more seriously and consider things more, which users also need to learn to take seriously.

It's now Aerin's turn to tell us about their experience. Her worst experience was when it was decided that nobody in chat gets timed out, no one gets muted. This lasted for all of a week. This led to the point where she wanted to time people out for things again for extreme things, ToS breaking things, which resulted in death threats on an hourly basis for weeks. This, for better or for worse, numbed Aerin to death threats as 99.9% of the time people can't follow up with it.
The reason this decision of no one being timed out was made was because there was a perception that overmoderation caused the community to shrink. This worked terribly, and filled the chat with trolls overnight. Sean, who has been in community management and moderation for a long time, commented that he has never seen a community die of overmoderation. If you jump into a community and see low quality things, you won't sit around.

That's what it is. You look at the first page and you're like everything is terrible here, the only people that stick around are terrible people. No one's going to be like "Oh, well, maybe it's really terrible right now but it gets better on Sunday morning".


djb2spirit#7719: Someone comes to you feeling bullied, but from what you can see their report seems to be overblown. As in cases where maybe it's just a misunderstanding, or both users are giving as good as they get. How do you go about addressing the reporter and attempting to explain how you see it, or potentially the perspective of the so called "bully"?

For Rhino, if someone is being overblown about something, it's an opportunity for him to analyze the situation more as Rhino himself says he's a white guy and doesn't have as much of the perspectives as others have. In these situations, he would ask the victim why they felt this was bullying, and discuss with the reported person what brought around this happening, to get all perspectives on something. Even if he's sure it's not bullying, it would be noted and he would encourage the reporter to continue the reporting as policy is formed around users.

Aerin shared similar sentiments; "This is a good time to put on your diplomacy hat.", you get why the potential bully is doing this, and why it is offensive from the reporter, to try and draw understandings and bridge gaps. If you can't do this, you can try and get the reporter to understand this is allowed and they can block the user or, worst case scenario, leave. A diverse mod team is good in this case as moderation discussions, especially ambiguous ones, require discussion from the larger mod team.

Aymen#1723: How do you set a difference between what can be considered as harmless jokes about somebody and bullying? As a mod, do you try to take your time to figure out the intents behind those messages, maybe discuss it with other members of your mod team or do you immediately warn the accused person?
pk944#7595 continues: An addition to the previous paragraph, if you take action on those kinds of situations, how do you manage when the reaction from members is akin to "Oh, they're my friend, I'm allowed to do that"?

Right away, Aerin shared that she would DM the victim. They're the one who knows, and it keeps it out of the main chat to not cause a public stink. If it is something, you can DM the offender, and their reaction can gauge potential moderation issues.

On Discord's side, Sean shared that there are three general considerations when analysing user-user interactions. One, what is the effect on the victim. Two, what is the effect on the bystander. Is the rest of the chat okay with it? Three, how do we, broadly as Discord, feel about it.

Aerin here brought up that rule one in every community should be to follow ToS, as there are certain things you have to enforce or risk action on your community as a whole.


We hope this episode helped you out with understanding harassment and how to deal with it. There's very nice information from both the moderators perspective, and internal perspectives of how Discord works. Again, thank you to SexualRhinoceros and AerinNight for coming on as guests, and Sean and Kairi for hosting as always.

You can find us over at Twitter and Discord to submit a question or interact with the team and other listeners and moderator, and you can listen to the full episode on Spotify, Anchor, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Twitch, or Pocket Casts.


Sean Li, Host (@seansli)
Kairi, Host (@kairixio)
Panley, Director (@panley01)
Mary Helene Hall, Producer (@maryhelenehall)
Brandon, Audio Editor (@_MetalChain)
Angel, Producer (@AngelRosePetals)
Joe Banks, Engineering lead (@JoeBanksDev)
Dan Humphreys, Social lead (@dan_pixelflow)
Delite, Social media manager (@MaybeDelited)
Drew, Social media manager (@SoTotallyDrew1)
Ahmed, Content writer (@DropheartYT)