Advice for Helpers

Communities are healthiest when everyone works together to maintain the space and shape the culture. If we leave all the emotional labour for operators to deal with, they will be more likely to burn out.

These are some things non-operator helpers can keep in mind during challenging situations to avoid making more work for others.

Let small things slide

The best response to minor annoying behaviour is often to initially ignore it. Drawing attention to it can encourage more bad behaviour, which is the last thing the channel needs.

If the behaviour is persistent, it can be addressed later.

Attention seeking

If the bad behaviour is someone wanting attention, responding to the attention-seeking proves that it works, and they’ll keep doing it. If it doesn’t work, they’ll get bored and probably move on.

Bad language and frustration

If someone is a bit snappy or using bad words out of frustration, scolding them can make them more frustrated.

In a support channel, helping a user with their problem is much more important than trying to make them ask in the “right” way. So unless it becomes a habit or makes the channel uncomfortable, it’s not worth derailing the support process.

Typos and non-fluent language

Don’t draw attention to someone else’s typos or pick on them for their use of abbreviations like “u”, unless they specifically request help with wording. They could be typing from a phone keyboard, be non-fluent in the language, or have some condition that affects their typing.

They may be sensitive and feel unwelcome if people focus more on their wording and ignore their questions. If you can still understand what someone is asking, answer it and ignore the typos.


It may feel like a waste to answer someone asking the same question in multiple channels. Sometimes people don’t have much time, or maybe they have a boss hurrying them! Seeking second opinions is also a perfectly normal social practice; people do it all the time.

Confronting people about occasional crossposting makes the channel feel hostile, and people feel like they are under surveillance, regardless of why they do it. If someone wants to answer the question, let them. If you don’t want to answer, ignore it quietly.

They are being rude

While it would be very nice if people were never rude, it is going to happen. However, don’t automatically assume people are rude. They may have different cultural norms or a language barrier that unintentionally changes their perceived tone.

It is best to let small things slide and not raise the channel temperature by calling them out. If a person’s demeanour bothers you, quietly refrain from engaging with them instead of telling them off. If a channel member is hostile, it is important not to worsen the situation by responding in kind.

They are in the wrong place

While you may know how to navigate IRC, other people might be confused or not know where to begin. Instead of scolding people for getting the wrong channel, it is better to say you do not know the answer and tell them the correct channel to ask.

When you redirect people, first check if they can join the destination channel. Otherwise, it might seem like you’re pushing them away. You may need to /whois them to find out if they are identified or not:

/whois Nickname

If they are identified, there will be a line saying so. It looks like this:

[Nickname] is logged in as Accountname

If they are not identified, check if they will be unable to join because of +r in the channel modes, or if they will be unable to talk because of +R in the channel modes or +q on $~a (users that are not identified). This is how you would check for the #windows channel:

/mode #windows
/mode #windows q

At the time of writing, #windows does not have either of these restrictions set, but if it did, the output of the above might look like:

11:49 -- Mode #windows [+Ccnptjfr]
11:49 -- Channel #windows created on Wed, 19 May 2021 07:36:22
11:49 -- [#windows] $~a quieted by on Mon, 14 Jun 2021 10:49:19
11:49 -- [#windows] End of Channel Quiet List

If the user needs to be identified, and they are not, they might need reminding. You can do this when redirecting them politely.

<You> I don't know much about Windows, but the people in #windows will! You will need to be registered to talk in there. If you have an account, see '/msg NickServ HELP IDENTIFY'. If not, see '/msg NickServ HELP REGISTER' :)

They didn’t read the topic

IRC can be a bit overwhelming when first joining a channel, especially for new people. In addition, some clients may not show the whole topic on join. Instead of just telling the person to /topic or “read the topic”, it’s easier and more friendly to tell them the answer even if you copy and paste directly from the topic.

Avoid answering people with bots

If you always use a bot trigger to answer a person, the channel atmosphere will be cold and robotic. Using bots to answer people will make them feel like they’re in a call center phone queue. Ick!

It is better to take the time to write something yourself; people can tell the difference and will pay attention to you better than to a bot. Some people think factoid bots are necessary because people are impatient and leave quickly. This almost always is due to a lack of response, not a lack of solution. If you greet them and ask them to wait, they probably will.

If you need the factoid to remind you of the information, and the bot does not give factoids in PM, explain as you’re doing it. This also teaches them how to use the bot. Also, don’t just leave them hanging with the answer! Check it yourself to ensure it has the information you think it does, and prompt the user to confirm if it covers what they want.

When to stop engaging

When a situation requires intervention and your own attempts to defuse it do not seem to be working, it is sometimes best to stand down and stop contributing to the noise. Instead, try to seek out a channel operator quietly, such as with private messages or in an -ops channel if there is one.

If you know that someone else around is an operator, and they seem to be paying attention to the channel while the disruption is occurring, they might already be talking to the person in private. Check with the operator if you’re unsure before also trying to intervene.

When an operator starts handling the situation, continuing to engage with the person who is misbehaving may derail the operator’s efforts, as the person may become defensive at being “ganged up on”.

If necessary, use the /ignore functionality in your client to stop contributing.