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.

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