Online communities are an ever growing and important part of communication, camaraderie, and business in hyperspace. Online communities, just like communities in the physical world, allow users to connect with those who are like minded, and sometimes those who are not, to share ideas, discuss upcoming projects they're excited for, and share personal commentaries on their own lives. For the businesses and organizations who run these online communities, invaluable insight into the desires, needs, and issues our clients and customers is provided in a non-intrusive and voluntary way. However, with all the good that online communities have to offer to both users and moderators, there are of course comes the downsides.
In recent years a multitude of incidents have made national news demonstrating the toxicity which can arise when an online community goes unchecked, moderation becomes overwhelmed, is not using adequate guideline enforcement, and/or are not using systems to identify and stop toxic behavior before it becomes an irrefutable issue. When left unquelled this toxicity can have a plethora of negative outcomes and can result in irrevocable damage for an online community including users abandoning the platform, or worse, and ultimately in revenue deterioration for your company or organization.
Your online communities health is an important part of sustaining users and growing your platform, knowing how to protect it and what steps to take in order to do so is an absolute necessity. Below, we'll take a look at five of the biggest headline making online community failures in the last few years and how you can ensure measures are taken so that your business doesn't suffer the same fate.
The Backlash of Gamergate
As reported by the New York Times, the controversy that became known as Gamergate began when an angry online mob rallied against a selection of video game developers and journalists attempting to shed light on sexism and misogyny in the industry in late 2014. Though many different sites published articles on the rampant sexism of modern gamer culture, the inciting catalyst would ultimately be an article published on Gamasutra by freelance writer and editor at large Leigh Alexander in August of 2014, which itself was inspired by an online attack on indie game developer Zoe Quinn by an ex-boyfriend that same month. Ultimately the mob, spurned by the implications of Alexander's and other's articles, won a major victory by convincing Intel to drop a major ad campaign with Gamasutra which resulted in major financial loss for the site.
Online Border Employee Community Rife with Demeaning and Inappropriate Posting
In July of 2019 as controversy surrounding America's borders continued to grow more rampant, US Customs and Border Protection found itself in more hot water over two Facebook groups of former and active agents making inappropriate and vulgar posts relating to their job. "The Real CBP Nation" made headlines when CNN reported on the group in early July while "I'm 10-15" was brought to light by journalist group ProPublica. The CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility's Assistant Commissioner has said they are investigating the disturbing use of social media but says that since January of 2016 the department has dealt with eighty additional cases involving inappropriate or unprofessional use of social media.
Bethesda Bans Homophobic Attackers from Fallout '76
In November of 2018 Eurogamer, along with several other video game news outlets, reported that Bethesda had banned player NathanTheHicc, along with a group of his friends, for life after they attacked and killed the avatars of another group of players in the online multiplayer game while using derogatory and homophobic language. The situation was made worse when victim AJ from Chicago discovered there were no in-game report functions for reporting abuse or rules violations of other players and took to Twitter to air his grievances. While Bethesda community managers sent AJ a link to a website where he could report the players AJ said the site had issues including asking for a video file of the incident in question while not accepting video files to be uploaded. AJ goes on to say that for him the site wouldn't load and that it seems hard to report players to Bethesda when incidences like these happen.
Family of Murdered Colorado Woman Abused Viciously Online
Little can be worse than losing a family member but the relatives of Shannan Watts, who was murdered by her husband in 2018, have experienced when it does indeed grow darker. Unfortunately this darkness came in the form of those who interacted with Shannan's father Frank Rzucek online in the days following his daughter's death and the trial of husband and killer Christopher Watts. In a statement released by his attorney to KUSA of Denver, an NBC affiliate, Rzucek says that the family has been 'subjected to wild false allegations, fake Facebook accounts, hate speech and a constant stream of ugly, evil insults and attacks' and goes on to say this of the social media outlets on which the attacks continue:
"To online social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter — we have contacted you many times reporting this abuse, but to no avail. We are calling on you again to do the right thing, to take some responsibility for your platforms and to stop this despicable conduct."
Youtube losing Advertisers Due to Suspicious Algorithm Suggestions
Internet video giant Youtube has come under fire multiple times, and lost many different advertisers, due to the seemingly ease of use by pedophiles and perverts of their platform to access videos of children. A slew of videos of children doing seemingly mundane tasks, such as gymnastics or playing Twister, most of which were posted innocently by the children themselves, had their comments disabled after sexually explicit references began appearing in 2017 following multiple advertisers removing their ads from the site including Mars chocolates, Johnny Walker scotch, and Smirnoff Vodka. In a similar situation in February of 2019 Youtube made the decision to ban comments on videos of children younger than thirteen as well as deleting accounts, terminating channels, and taking further action against policy violations after a video posted by Youtuber Matt Watson exposed what he called "a wormhole into a soft-core pedophilia ring" which resulted in major corporations such as Disney and Fortnite creators, Epic Games, removing advertising from the site.
As these incidences illustrate, more and more online communities are falling prey to toxic behavior that is not only affecting user interaction but ultimately company and organizational income that rely on their community support. Stepping up trust and safety efforts is an excellent means of ensuring that your own online community doesn't fall victim to disturbances like those discussed about above.