To Censor, Or Not To Censor?

I posted this tweet earlier this morning that received not one, but two good questions from @UnKit, and I decided to take it to the blog.

She said, “Censor, or not to censor, that is the question.”

I’ve seen this problem crop up a lot, and my answer to her was very simple (thanks, 140) so I figured I’d elaborate on it here, since it flows with my previous post.

Mediation vs. Parenting

If someone comes in and starts dropping f-bombs everywhere, and despite you asking them privately to tone it down, they continue, then my answer is not to censor but rather to ban.

Language buffers have been in place in communities since they began, and I even remember working for Neopets as a Community Manager back in the late 90’s/early 00’s when we had to come up with all sorts of filters and such to get these kids to stop. We even set it up at one point where if they used a profane word, it would auto-replace it with a Neopets-related word like “blumaroo” (one of the types of pets) or “rainbow negg” (one of the food items you can feed your pet).

“But they’re kids. We’re adults!”

True. But as an adult, if you cannot convey your message without using words that do in fact offend other adults, then you need to be treated as you behave, for the benefit of the majority. I know it seems awful “parenting” of me to say this, but the analogy that relates is this: Get in a bar fight, get kicked out of the bar. You’re free to come back on another day, when you’ve chilled out. (But don’t think for a second that the bouncers and bartenders aren’t watching you. Next time, it’ll be goodbye for good.)

Let me explain, however, that this does not apply to a fully-adult community where the occasional f-bomb or s-word gets dropped in for appropriate effect. It’s language. It’s words. If it’s not overt, obscene (worse than what you’re used to in regular conversation), or an attack on a group or individual, then please, let it slide. When I refer to banning/censoring, I’m speaking in regards to the jerk who comes in and doesn’t give a crap about who he offends, doesn’t appreciate your request to tone it down, and rallies his “friends” to defend his right to blast out profanity in a community he doesn’t own, manage, or truly care much about at all.

Name-Calling Is A Whole Other Animal

It’s one thing for a heated debate to ensue on a topic. It’s normal, healthy, and can teach volumes. You don’t need to stand over people and remind them to be nice, all that’s going to do is fan the flame. I don’t pretend that these heated debates can’t get out of hand, but really for the most part, should be left to work themselves out. The only time I suggest getting involved in the form of censorship or banning is when it gets personal. Name-calling (and by this I mean everything from “retard” to harsh, vulgar slang) is just not acceptable in ANY community. You wouldn’t take it from a stranger on the street, why should you be forced to take it from one in an online community?

Censor and warn the first time, ban the second. I know it sounds harsh and controlling, but the thing to remember is that regardless if it’s a free or paid community, as the Community Manager, it’s your responsibility to make people comfortable. Do you really want new members coming in to see that if they voice a different opinion than someone else, they’re liable to be insulted on a personal level? Guess what will happen then? They’ll lurk at best, but most likely they’ll leave and never come back.

The Bottom Line

You will never make 100% of the people 100% happy, 100% of the time. But you need to develop a method of how your community intends to handle certain things, make sure it’s posted and members are well aware of it, and then enforce it. Once they know what to expect, any complaining that may ensue can simply be directed to the rules/FAQ they agreed to by participating in the community in the first place. Be fair, and keep your conscience clear.

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