From time to time, users get banned for some time, and it can be very distressing for friends and acquaintances. From my experience, it does lower the mood for some time. And on the other hand, we have friends who are upset, but others understand a different narrative and could be argued as ‘the truth’.

One of the earlier situations I know of is one user being questionably creepy towards several users. As I befriended them each individually, I heard similar stories about the said individual it started to put a clearer picture. This wasn’t also my experience in witnessing, and I was seeing situations that resonated with my friends’ genuine concerns.

When this user received a 7-day ban, the narrative changed from the accused and In my opinion, pretended not to know why they were banned and made claims there were people out to get them.

This made me angry, and a confrontation several months later made me choose to block this user, and that block has remained in place ever since. To this day, I still hear stories about this user still sexually harassing others on the platform, and as much as I would prefer this user to be off the platform, it is not my call. Even though there are concerns, this really echos down to something that Altspace staff and generally users ‘promote’: simply block the user.

Why block a user when they should be banned?

Blocking a user with a valid reason helps AltspaceVR determine who is causing problems and who isn’t. Simply getting a group of friends or peers to block someone doesn’t mean that the user will get banned; equally, it does get Altspace’s attention to monitor closely. But a block stops potential escalations and unwanted tension in spaces and that helps send a message to the offending user that their pattern of behaviour will leave them further isolated from other users.

What are the most common bans?

It’s hard to gauge because the information is not available on stats for bans, but from my almost a year and a half being on the platform, the most common bans I hear about are usually from new users who somehow have their children come on and run wild.

It is also a ban for disruptive behaviour such as cussing in a public world or saying racial slurs. They also have tools and algorithms to them sort the fake reports from the accurate, genuine reports.

But one can reasonably expect social heatmaps to be generated to provide data points that may be something out of the popular TV series Black Mirror. Imagine if Altspace knew, based on proximity, time spent in a room, mutual worlds explored, who your close circle of friends were. If that said group went and blocked the same person, Altspace could reasonably know that there might be more to the story.

If you are shocked at the idea of user-relationship maps being generated, the technology is used on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Your actions dictate the content in your feed, the friend suggestions you get, but what you do as a user also matters. If you follow the platform rules, you will do fine.

From time to time, high-profile bans, taking Donald Trump being banned from Twitter, for example, raised some fair criticism about freedom of speech. But this post isn’t about Twitter or whataboutism arguments. Altspace has banned users that have caused an outcry of disappointment, but they aren’t an organisation that bans users for ‘no reason’.

How do I know this?

I have seen good people get banned because they have made mistakes or haven’t shown courtesy to others in some way that disrupts and upsets the users.

In one case, a user from Australia likes to use the c-word a lot in Campfire. But this user’s locale is in a part where using the c-word left, right, and centre is somewhat culturally acceptable to a point where it is tolerated. However, despite other users expressing their concern, some users started reporting him, and he got banned for a few weeks. I know he was warned multiple times before being banned, but I sort of on the fence about if he should have been banned or not because I understand why he uses the c-word.

And to be fair, I know not to use the c-word in general and think there is a time and a place and the commons campfire at the time was not a place.

Although this person is a friendly guy I chat with, I do observe him dropping the c-word – not directed at anyone to insult, just part of his mannerisms for better or worse.

Sometimes a ban can be used to make a point to someone, let them know it’s not on. This pressure from Altspace admins can sometimes deter the behaviour. But after this user came back, he did tone it back down a bit, he still slips up from time to time, but a genuine effort has been made to redeem himself.

That being said, I don’t see Altspace asking a user to not drop the ‘c-word’ in commons campfire to be restricting freedom of speech. You could agree that if a potential investor came on to check what Altspace is about and saw someone blasting the c-word in the campfire, it might not be a good look. And the reality is corporates can restrict freedom of speech as much as they want, but there is a collective concern for freedom of speech, yet Altspace needs to juggle that with corporate values and shared values. So there is a fine line between respect and tolerance that need to be adhered to.

Another user has been permanently banned from Altspace, followed by consecutive bans on alternative accounts. This user was a friend of mine before a series of events unfolded, but when I heard this user had been banned, I wrote a 2-page ticket advocating for this ban to be lifted.

This prompted a personal response from AltspaceVR staff to tell me there was more to the story and ask if I thought personally they would decide to ban someone permanently if they didn’t have all the facts.

This response from Altspace then got me asking tough questions, and I had a friend in confidence tell me what I believed to be the truth because it resonated with things I had already heard. But what made this situation difficult was that all these things this user had done, I kind of felt like this user was on the road to redeeming themself. And I know tons of people who adore this person, and my personal experience up until a few months ago was this person was great to hang around.

So now I sit on the fence with this particular ban because I see both sides. I hope this user can take six months off the platform and come back for a clean slate, but I don’t know if that is possible. But this truth realisation made me realise that Altspace has a tough job moderating its network.

Does Altspace ban users for “helping others”?

No, they don’t, and it’s ridiculous and counter-intuitive for Altspace.

What is the barrier for a permanent ban?

You are always given a chance to appeal your bans, tell your story and provide as much evidence as possible. If you have done the wrong thing, you have a better chance of coming back onto the platform if you own your mistakes and show that you have reflected on your actions. The staff will weigh this up, and although they may still stick a ban on your account for an extended period, it may not be a permanent ban. However, if you do not cooperate and address the issues respectfully, you will get pushed back with a high degree of likelihood.

AltVR won’t reveal the true reason for this user’s permanent ban. Nice guy though.

Mainly permanent bans are given to users who make others feel unsafe on the platform and don’t adhere to community standards.

Hacking related offences can escalate the response. Altspace has tools to get more information from behind the scenes and see what users are doing, clicking on, and what prefabs they are controlling through world editor or API.

Enforcing the platform

More Altspace staff are roaming the platform and keeping things in check, which is a refreshing change. Sometimes they come in with their gold badge toggled off, but I have seen them actively policing the network. This also allows them to get intel about the status quo on the platform from the community.

But the task to moderate every user, mediating every issue is something that AltspaceVR doesn’t and shouldn’t do. This is why they recommend the block feature which sounds like a catch praise when they suggest it but let’s talk about how the block button can be helpful in the long run.

For the people at the back! AltspaceVR prefers you block users

When someone has a bad experience with a user, they block them if they do it gets stored somewhere as a log. But beyond that, people realising that one person has the person blocked and people curiously wanting to know why may bring up tough discussions. But if more and more people have the same experience, this isolation experience may be enough to deter someone from continuing a bad pattern of behaviour. Being blocked by people in a room and being present and thinking you are having a meaningful conversation with someone when in fact, there are four others around you can be embarrassing. This embarrassment can often lead to an apology and a clean slate.

Take the example from the story shared above about a user seeing the c-word. That user got blocked by several users and ended up convincing a mutual friend to unblock them so they could apologise for their behaviour. The takeaway is that sometimes blocking people and giving them a timeout and effectively giving them the ‘silent treatment’ for a little while can work to deter bad behaviour.

I don’t think isolating people from friendship groups is the answer as it impacts mental health and raises anxiety and paranoia of wondering who is around who you can’t see. But it has been effective at providing the necessary jolt to bring people to behave.

Altspace hasn’t made great decisions lately from axing the campfire, to not addressing certain bugs that have been present for a long time such as MS login issues or web projector issues. Some feel that Altspace has been abandoned in some aspects and I’m not disagreeing with those genuine concerns. However, I do feel when it comes to moderation on the Altspace platform they still at the minimum police the network effectively. It’s not perfect, but the fact they spend a lot of resources investigating claims and taking action only when it is required is a blessing to know at least Altspace takes the safety of their platform seriously.