Daily Archives: March 7, 2013

Community Guidelines and Offensive Language

Image from http://www.inflexwetrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/IFWT_offensive_language.jpg

Image from http://www.inflexwetrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/IFWT_offensive_language.jpg

Community guidelines can be key to helping a community manager moderate a community. Keeping all members on the same page and laying out expectations will help prevent hiccups along the road to a happy and healthy thriving community.

In his post Do Your Community’s User Guidelines Only Protect People You Like, Patrick makes the claim that if your community guidelines don’t apply to people outside of your community, they’re pretty much meaningless.

Most communities feature guidelines that put a premium on respect; no name calling, no disrespectful comments, no unfounded attacks, etc. The author touts a track record of ensuring community guidelines apply to members within his community, as well as everyone and everything outside of that community.

According to Becky Johns in her blog post How to Create Facebook Community Guidelines, the content issues most frequently addressed in community guidelines fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Profane, defamatory, offensive or violent language
  2. “Trolling”, or posting deliberately disruptive statements meant to hijack comment threads or throw discussions off-track
  3. Attacks on specific groups or any comments meant to harass, threaten or abuse an individual
  4. Hateful or discriminatory comments regarding race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation or political beliefs
  5. Links or comments containing sexually explicit content material
  6. Discussion of illegal activity
  7. Spam, link baiting or files containing viruses that could damage the operation of other people’s computers or mobile devices
  8. Acknowledgement of intent to stalk an individual or collect private information without disclosure
  9. Commercial solicitations or promotion of a competitor
  10. Violations of copyright or intellectual property rights
  11. Content that relates to confidential or proprietary business information
  12. Content determined to be inappropriate, in poor taste, or otherwise contrary to the purposes of the forum
  13. Promoting competing products, services, or brands
  14. Personal promotion

Let’s take category one as an example for Patrick’s issue. While profane, defamatory, offensive or violent language may be expressly prohibited when directed towards fellow community members, should that protection be granted to entities outside of the community as well? And by what standards is the “offensive” nature of a post determined?

Patrick believes that any application of one of these categories will do nothing but impede useful and productive discourse and instead invite in a mob mentality with little constructive conversation. While some may cite their wording as necessary tools to effectively express their opinions, the post writes this off as a useless excuse. Patrick finds that:

“You can dislike what someone does, you can criticize their actions, you can disagree with them – without calling them names, without inflammatory language, without personal attacks. That is the level of discourse I aim for.”

While I personally agree with Patrick that eliminating rude and offensive language entirely will raise the level of conversation and provide a better quality, I do not think that expressly forbidding that avenue of expression is the right way to go, either. If something is truly horrific in nature, the CM retains the right to remove the post. Otherwise, conversation should remain as unrestrained as possible to foster authentic and organic conversation, offensive or not.

Content Drives Community (Drives Content)

“Content is king.” – so goes the oft-uttered saying.  While the phase seems to be derived from an article by Bill Gates, I’ve come across the phrase in #RotoloClass, #NunesClass, and now #CMGRClass.  Although the specific venue within which this rule is most applicable may be debated – websites vs. blogs vs. SEO vs. online communities vs. social media sites – the importance of creating compelling content that resonates with audiences should not be dismissed on any platform.

In Chapter 3 of “Buzzing Communities,” Richard Millington addresses the role of content within an online community.  Millington compares an online community to a much older communications medium, the local newspaper, by discussing three ways the latter serves its community:

  • Establish a social order and narrative: identify the news items and individuals that are most newsworthy of readers’ attention
  • Inform and entertain: balance news and events with entertainment items
  • Develop a sense of social community: serve as consensus and determinant of community opinion

A local newspaper has a critical role in informing its community while establishing context among news items and individuals within the community.  Millington goes on to argue that online communities would be well-served in using local newspapers as a model for developing content.  He provides the following goals of content: create a community narrative, encourage regular readership, develop a sense of community, establish social order, and influence action within the community.

Whereas a content site may deliver the latest information about a topic or organization, prompting visitors to read or consume the content, Millington states that a community site “will provide information for members, establish a social order and facilitate strong bonds and heightened sense of community”, encouraging readers to participate and engage in conversation around the content.  It is content about the community that most resonates with members.


In July 2012, I became the first Online Engagement Chair for the Junior League of Syracuse.  Earlier that year, while serving as Communications Vice President and recognizing the increasing importance of an online presence in today’s world, I had lobbied for the creation of the role.  Personally, I was struggling to balance my duties at VP while managing the organization’s website and social media properties.  Around the same time, I was a #RotoloClass student, learning all about the importance of social media in engaging in two-way conversation.

Out of #RotoloClass, the idea of a blog post series entitled “Meet the JLS” was born, in which Junior League of Syracuse leaders would be profiled to demonstrate the spectrum of women who make up the JLS and humanize the organization as individual faces behind its logo.  (Little did I know at the time that this series would help to further many of Millington’s content goals, including developing a sense a community, aspirational spotlighting, and influencing activities and behaviors!)

JLS on TumblrI entered the current JLS year completely jazzed about the new blog post series.  To date, five interviews have been conducted and three profiles published (example at right).  Feedback was good, including from the organization’s leadership and membership, as well as from sister Junior Leagues who saw the posts on Twitter using the #MeetTheJLS hashtag.  However, to say that “Meet the JLS” has stagnated since the fall would be a kind understatement.  What happened? – any number of things, on a range of organizational to personal levels (competing priorities, lack of enthusiasm from participants, scheduling difficulties…).  As the time increasingly grew since the last post or interview, frustration slowly turned to indifference.

Moving Forward

The best content for a community is content about the community.  When I read Millington’s quote about the importance of community-based content, it was like a huge light bulb illuminating over my head and an Oprah “aha moment,” all rolled into one.  I immediately flashed back to the excitement of completing my first profile.  Now, I hope to reshape some of my priorities and elevate the blog post series within them, knowing that the content will add to members’ sense of place within the community, and perhaps even promote aspirations to be one of the women profiled in the series.

Do you belong to a community that is particularly inclusive?  What makes you feel part of that community?

(Featured image by Flickr user Cubosh.)