Read any web page about how to build an online community and more often than not, you'll see a reference to Discord, Skype, or forums. These platforms can be a great way to feel connected with your community, to be able to fine-tune your project, business, or presence, and fix problems in real-time, but there is also the possibility of some members of your Discord, Skype, or forum community acting out, being excessively emotionally needy, or acting in an abusive way towards others in the community.
This can be a tricky situation to navigate, so I'm going to give you a few suggestions to assess the potential for drama, to tackle it if it does occur, and to keep the community a positive, enriching place for your community to come.
What is your group about, and who are you likely to draw in? If the group is for discussing something dry such as economics or photography (and by 'dry' I certainly don't mean boring! I mean that they're unlikely to incite abusive behaviour or any other kind of acting out), then your Discord community probably isn't going to become the home to somebody who acts out too often. No community is completely immune, but some are simply not likely to attract drama. Others, such as gender dysphoria/anxiety/abuse survivor/other support groups, S&M groups, or particularly popular fandoms, are more likely to.
Any online community, regardless of its core remit, can be an emotionally healthy or unhealthy place to be. It depends on the individual community members and how they behave. So, before we go into how you manage drama, how do you assess the potential?
The quickest way to assess this is with the Karpman Drama Triangle (Karpman, 1968). The human condition is notoriously complex but this diagram simplifies the dynamics that lead to acting out in any community (online or not), and once you're used to it, you will become adept at spotting it quickly and efficiently.
The three corners of the triangle each have a label: Rescuer, Persecutor, and Victim. If a person is acting as any one of these in your group, then they need somebody else to play a role on the drama triangle as well (for example, you can't be a rescuer without a victim, nor a victim without a persecutor, nor a rescuer without someone to persecute). So if you have somebody in your Discord or Skype community playing any one of these roles, ask yourself:
Which role are they playing, and who (if anyone) is filling in the other corners of the triangle?
The other roles may be being filled by somebody outside of the community. For instance, if I come to your online community and complain about how I've been passed up for a promotion at work (yet again! It always happens!), then I may be stepping into the victim position (I say 'may be' because discussing problems is not automatically a sure sign of victimhood. See the 'Winner's Triangle' later in this article). My persecutor is my boss, and I'm asking you to be my rescuer.
Except... you cannot be my rescuer in this situation. You almost certainly don't have the power to veto my boss' decision to pass me up for that promotion. Therefore the best way I can condition you to play the part of rescuer for me is to make clear how sad and angry I am about missing out on 'my' promotion and convince you that it's your job to make me feel better. How can you do that? By bad-mouthing my boss, perhaps, or by offering me alternative work? None of these things need to be your responsibility, but a victim will try to convince you that they are.
This is a relatively benign example, but what if I describe being thrown out of the house by my family to live on the streets, or being on the receiving end of life- or health-threatening acts of homophobia? Am I not entitled to complain about it or seek help wherever I can?
Seeking help for a problem is healthy, however it needs to be done with an honest eye on who realistically can offer the help, and who cannot.
There are a few things you can do to minimise the impact of a person in the role of Victim in your community.
The Winner's Triangle is the far more constructive counterpart to the Drama Triangle. Some of you (especially those of you whose communities are naturally given to offering emotional support) may have been protesting throughout this article that a person who talks about their problems in your online community is not necessarily a Victim. Neither is a person who wants to help necessarily a Rescuer, and neither is somebody who has something to fight for a Persecutor.
You are right, and Acey Choy articulated this beautifully in the Winner's Triangle. A person describing a problem they're experiencing can simply be allowing themselves to be vulnerable (without being a Victim). A person who wants to help others can be caring (not a Rescuer), and a person who wants to right for what is right may simply be assertive (not a Persecutor).
These are all healthy positions to be in, so long as we are only in them when they are appropriate to the situation. If you find yourself frequently stuck in any of the positions of the Drama Triangle (or if somebody in your online community seems to be trying to pull you onto a position on the Triangle) then reverting to the Winner's Triangle equivalent is a great way to resolve the situation with minimal drama.
Thank you for reading this article. I hope it's given you some clarity and guidance for keeping your online community drama-free. If you have any questions then you are more than welcome to contact me; I look forward to hearing from you.
Berne, E., 1968, 'Games People Play'
Choy, A., 1990, 'The Winner's Triangle', TAJ 1, 1990.
Karpman, S., 1968, 'Fairy tales and script drama analysis'. TAB, 7, 26, 1968, 39-43.