Online community and "needy" people

There's something that may or may not be obvious when you run an online community. A webmaster may arrive at running an online community through thinking "Oh, if I just add a message board to my site, it'll increase the traffic, I can put Adsense on the forum, and advertising income will skyrocket", which it may. But what of the consequences? Operating a community involves dealing with people, and not everybody who visits your forum has the best of intentions. That's why bars hire bouncers, after all.

Consider these articles for a moment:

They span the first five days of a "school shooting" incident, of which there have been several the past few years. This incident happened at the Red Lake Indian Reservation, a name that's likely to live on like Columbine
has over the past 6 years. It's a sad story, a child of a broken home, taking out his rage in a burst of gunfire, killing people at the school, and finally killing himself. You can say a lot of things about this, and that's happening all around the country.

One thing that makes this story relavent to this web site is that Jeff Weise, the young man who did the shooting, was frequenting online message boards. That is, he took part in online communities.

Clearly he was a troubled young man. The authorities knew he was troubled, and were trying to help him. But whatever help they had to offer was obviously too late. He wrote stories and drew pictures full of bloodshed. Most importantly, the websites he frequented were oriented to the Nazism culture. It's clear that his troubles took him to those web sites, and he tried to find solace, understanding, and community among the online Nazi culture. But the Nazi culture is not known for the nurturing someone in his situation needs in order to make it through, and it's easy to imagine that the Nazi culture instead amplified the problem.

I give you this story to make real for you something I am about to say.

What will you do if (or is it "when"?) a troubled person takes residence in your online community?

Is your community being of help to any troubled people who joins the community? Or is your community amplifying their troubles?

Let me remind you of the above articles for what is at stake. Will you enjoy the scrutiny that comes from having hosted a troubled person on your web site, if that troubled person ends up going on a gun-shooting rampage?

A typical knee-jerk response would be the bouncer solution. If someone is causing trouble, kick them out. But, this isn't helpful in two ways. First, they may not go easily as often an attempt to eject someone can cause an even bigger ruckus, not just from the ejectee but from their friends in the community. Second, the ones who cause "trouble" may not be the ones planning such a rampage as Jeff Weise conducted.

Peace must be kept in the community, and as the community owner it is your job to keep that peace. This means that from time to time people may cause trouble and you will have a choice of how to meet that trouble.

The person I'm talking about here may not be that trouble maker. The question is, how do you recognize them? I don't know what the official profile is of these people, but thinking back, the ones who've done this are into violence, guns, bombs, come from troubled homes, and have a lot of anger.

Another question is, what do you do if you suspect a member of your community may be plotting something like this? Obviously you might involve the police, as it is a crime to plot such an act.

An approach is to consider the group conduct in your community. Is the community being nurturing and helpful to troubled people in its midst? Or is the community amplifying the troubles? For example, if the message board discussion simply regurgitates anger and discontent all the time, this would not be a healthy environment for someone like Jeff Weise who had a lot of anger to process through. Instead someone like him would be helped by an environment that offers hope and solutions for their troubles.

This kind of event is rare enough that you'll probably never have to face this problem. Let us pray that the societal problems we face, that leads to these events, are healed sooner rather than later.