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I'm one of the moderators of a users forum (Forum X) dedicated to a single software product. We have 5 moderators; and 2 of us including me are also Forum Admins. (I'm also a moderator of a Stack Exchange site, but am posting anonymously here; the forum I'm discussing has very different norms which are not going to change after 20-odd years).

We have a problem user, and I'm seeking advice on how to deal with them.

One of the moderators is an extremely prolific and knowledgeable answerer of questions. Let us call them B. We have other very knowledgeable members who are not so active, so a request for help is likely to be answered first by one of three moderators: B, myself and C. It is, however, very unusual for anyone to respond before B does (B apparently never sleeps). Recently B started locking topics they had responded to so that nobody else could answer; they were told that was a misuse of their moderator powers and have desisted, but they are still causing problems in other ways. It is unusual for anyone to contribute once B has done so (and if they do, B will almost certainly point out any flaws in their response).

B is (we believe) in their mid-late 70s and lives with their partner who has health problems (dementia); as far as we can tell Forum X is a huge part of B's life and we don't want to deny them that. They also spend a lot of time developing and supporting 'companion' applications which are useful to a great many people. In many ways, they are a force for good in the 'X' users community.

However:

  • They have only one way of dealing with users -- by treating them like naughty children 'who haven't read the documentation'
  • They are prone to 'willy-waving': 'I have XX companion applications to maintain and it's awfully hard and difficult'; 'I'm not sure why you can't find time [to do what I say] when I have so many more companion applications to maintain; 'I am the most helpful person on this forum -- pay no attention to others'; 'I am the only source of knowledge -- Z is wrong'.
  • They are much appreciated by new users/users who need a lot of hand-holding

As a result we are losing members (in the last 12 months all of the users asking to delete their account have quoted B as their reason -- this is only visible to admins). We're also seeing a sharp decrease in people developing companion applications. These users are the competent/moderately competent who could be expected in time to help other users -- in short, valuable users.

We (the admins) have repeatedly informed B that they are driving users away; they reform for a day or two but then revert to normal.

In another context we have a 'Knowledge Base' maintained by product users; last year we migrated it to a new platform which is much easier to contribute to. On the old platform B (and I) were the only contributors because of its complexity. During the migration to the new platform B disagreed with the new content/style rules and declined to participate. However, they are now bombarding the new Knowledge Base administrators with trivial requests for changes; one has already resigned.

What I want to achieve in order of priority:

  • other users/contributors stop leaving because of B
  • B continues their useful contributions (both in Forum X and developing/maintaining companion applications) -- for their own mental health and because others find it useful

I fear these are mutually incompatible, but want to enable B to contribute without alienating others. Removing B's moderator privileges would not avoid most of the problems.

What we (the other moderators and I) have tried:

  • Discussing (in the Moderator forum) why users are leaving (with exact quotes from their 'resignation' letters). B apologizes but claims that they are misunderstood and/or not being unreasonable.
  • Private emails from the admins pointing out that they need to treat other users as individuals and not members of the class of 'idiots' or the 'insufficiently dedicated.'

The other admin is very busy; the other moderators are conflict averse. Matters are complicated by the fact that I'm finding it increasingly difficult to deal with B's behaviour in a neutral manner as they are 'getting under my skin'. The other admin and I have discussed removing their moderator's privileges (which would be visible only to them and the other moderators, and not change much); and putting their posts on moderation (which would put an unsustainable workload on me personally, as well as running afoul of my instinctive reactions, which I'm controlling so far with difficulty). We could remove their access completely, which would be counter-productive from the viewpoint of other users, especially as I suspect their reaction would be to withdraw their companions apps from circulation (they have threatened to do this before, repeatedly --often when there has been public criticism of them: 'I'll take my bat and ball home' behaviour.)

In short, how do I deal effectively and fairly with another moderator who is exhibiting problem behaviour, drives me 'up the wall' and holds a lot of cards... while recognising that their participation in the forum and the appreciation they get for it is very important to them.

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    not saying this is off-topic here, but did you know about communitybuilding.stackexchange.com ? It would be on topic there as well. Apr 21 at 18:08
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    “ We could remove their access completely, which would be counter-productive from the viewpoint of other users, especially as I suspect their reaction would be to withdraw their companions apps from circulation (they have threatened to do this before, repeatedly --often when there has been public criticism of them: 'I'll take my bat and ball home' behaviour.)” are these companion apps copyrighted? If not, one possible solution to that problem would be... well you’ve probably guessed. Apr 21 at 18:18
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I fear these are mutually incompatible

That's because they are. You can't control B or their behavior. You've tried talking, giving warnings, and B still acts the same. There's no magic words or actions that can solve this perfectly for you.

You need to decide what is more important to you :

  • Retain users, which means getting rid of B and accepting that you lose his contributions (and apparently other users if I read correctly). This might be a big loss in the short term, but by being able to retain new users your community might grow a lot more than it could with B.
  • B's contributions, which means accepting the fact that users will in the future leave the community because of him.

Either way, making a decision and accepting all it entails can only help you and your community. You'll have a clearer path on what kind of future actions and consequences you will face, and hopefully you personally find some peace with that.

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