Herding Trolls, Legitimately: The Ethics of Online Community Management

Research & Education
re:publica 2016

Short thesis: 

Racism, sexism, trolling, flaming, griefing and other kinds of toxic behavior seem to dominate headlines about social media and digital games today. From both theoretical and practical perspectives, this 60-minute panel will discuss the crucial role of community management and a communication culture driven by ethics, empathy, dialogue and responsibility when it comes to governing toxic behavior online. After short inputs by each panelist, we will open the floor for questions from the audience.


Social media and online gaming platforms are run by private companies who take toxic behavior more or less seriously when governing their digital turf. Should they be held morally accountable for what happens on their sites? Digital business ethicist Dr. Thorsten Busch (University of Konstanz) will point out that it’s not enough to just sit back and do business as usual. Instead, recent business ethics theories such as corporate citizenship and political CSR (corporate social responsibility) emphasize the crucial role of community-driven stakeholder management.

In the second talk, Dr. Kelly Boudreau (Brunel University London, UK) will introduce three different approaches video game companies take when they manage toxic player behavior: unilaterally dictating Terms of Service contracts (ToS) and End User License Agreements (EULA), defining behavioral norms boundaries through code, and community management through direct interaction with the player population via customer service representatives.

Roland Panter (BVCM Bundesverband Community Management) is director of communication at the German association for community management and social media professionals. In his work, he has dealt with many facets of trolling and harassment on social media and co-authored a white paper making recommendations on how to face digital harassment. In this session, Panter will give a short overview of potential responses community management offers in case you encounter the ugly face of online communication.

Lastly, digital media researcher Nele Heise (Graduate School Media and Communication, Hamburg) will discuss the relevance of dialogue and participatory community management, as well as the question of how shared norms and basic ethical principles should not only be an important foundation of online communication (see early “netiquettes”), but can also help us to create and manage a healthy communication environment, be it in comment sections on news sites, forums or social networks.

Stage 6
Wednesday, May 4, 2016 - 11:15 to 12:15




Visiting Assistant Professor
University of Konstanz
Strategischer Berater, Interim Manager
Lecturer Games Design & Theory
Media Researcher & PhD Candidate