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Censorship on Forums
Should Forums Censor Unorthodox Opinions?
The Shower Scene




msg:3340679
 5:25 am on May 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

The "flavor" of a forum distinguishes it and might even be considered part of their brand. These flavors also reflect the forum's orthodox positions- whether they lean to pro-this or anti-that. This orthodoxy distinguishes forums. Does the flavor arise spontaneously or through careful censorship?

A forum I moderate at addresses issues that sometimes has more than one answer, and we encourage people to express themselves while understanding that there may be more than one clear approach. However there are certain issues where we do not tolerate opposing views. Those issues generally revolve around harm to animals.

In our industry it is not uncommon harm animals even though there are alternatives many others use that do not harm them. We understand that these animal-unfriendly pracices are culturally acceptable worldwide. However our moderators have decided that there are viable alternatives and that the harm towards animals is needless. Thus we formed a policy of stepping into discussions and gently suggesting to these members to come to our "greener" and more "earth friendly" way of doing things. In cases where a member wants to proseletyze their non-green methods we are firm in letting them know that we do not approve. This is a proactive stance to protect our green "flavor."

We want to be known as a green-leaning forum and feel that by censoring opposing points of views we are contributing to the greening of our industry as well as maintaining our flavor as a green forum. As someone who respects freedom of speech, I resisted censoring member opinions however I came to agree with the conclusion of the other moderators that if we did not moderate the discussions to our point of view then it was entirely possible many other forum members would come to accept non-green solutions that harm animals and the earth, which is contrary to our ethical standards.

Do you find it is necessary to censor your forum to maintain it's orthodoxy or flavor? Or do your members shape the tone and orthodoxy regardless of your own point of view?

[edited by: The_Shower_Scene at 5:26 am (utc) on May 16, 2007]

 

percentages




msg:3340697
 6:02 am on May 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

>Do you find it is necessary to censor your forum to maintain it's orthodoxy or flavor? Or do your members shape the tone and orthodoxy regardless of your own point of view?

I believe that all forums should ideally allow all points of view. Censorship is only justified if the point of view posted may cause legal or economic action against the forum.

I believe a law needs to be created to protect forum operators from frivolous law suits based upon opinions posted by their members! Some will argue the law already exists.....I think it needs clarification with regard to the Internet at this time :)

The law is not clear enough in this regard IMHO....I have openly told all forum operators where I post that they should censor any posts I make that they feel uncomfortable with!

Forums are a great tool, that need protection, until that is set in concrete you have to give the forum providers a lot of leeway in their decisions to censor :)

We all like to think we have free speech.....I think American's are leading the pack.....but, it is still a work in progress!

Quadrille




msg:3340807
 10:21 am on May 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

I think it's much more mundane than that.

Free speech is not a big issue here; there's plenty of places people can go to express their views. Censoring a private forum does not deny free speech, it denies free speech in that forum. At worst, they can go make their own!

If forum owners worked together to ban a view, or the government banned them, that's different!

The real issue is the practical one. If a dissenting view is relevant to the discussin, and argued in a constructive way, then I'd resist editing it.

If the posts are clearly designed to disrupt the forum (note: thus seeking to deny free speech to forum members!), then not only should you remove the complete post, but also the complete member; quickly, cleanly, without fuss.

If you have a healthy forum, the members will have mostly ignored the troll anyway (and keep an eye on those who rose to the bait - they may be equally dangerous to keep around!).

And that's the point - is it a constructive addition to the debate, or a troll with an agenda?

rogerd




msg:3340900
 12:50 pm on May 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

I think a lot depends on the way the dissenting view is expressed. If a member simply articulates a different approach, I'd be unlikely to censor that even if it went against the grain of the beliefs of most community members.

If the dissenting member carried it too far - e.g., making the same point repeatedly in the same thread (or many threads), mocking the beliefs of other members, arguing endlessly, etc., then I'd take action.

The distinction for me is whether the dissenting member is disruptive - I've seen members who can hijack a productive discussion by making a single short post that challenges the beliefs of other members and draws a flurry of responses. Sometimes, the best way to deal with it is to split the off-topic posts into their own thread. Often, though, the content of these posts is old, rehashed stuff that has been covered many times. When the behavior becomes troll-like, whether intentional or not, it's time to step in.

rogerd




msg:3340906
 1:01 pm on May 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

>>that if we did not moderate the discussions to our point of view then it was entirely possible many other forum members would come to accept non-green solutions

This strikes me as a bit heavy-handed. It seems like discussion is being stifled because alternative points of view might actually make sense to many members, and that would be awful. Perhaps I've misread the intent. That might be acceptable for a religion forum, but less so for other topics. (Then again, some people do seem to get into environmental stuff with an almost religious fervor.)

I'd lean toward regulating disruptive behavior vs. points of view. Sometimes it's a fine line, though. I've had very articulate, rational members who functioned as trolls even while they expressed support for other viewpoints. (E.g., posting a link to an article showing that green pest management is largely ineffective, while expressing support for these practices in the post.) In these cases, it's a pattern of behavior over time that forces moderator action.

mightymid




msg:3341339
 8:01 pm on May 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

Shower Scene, are you finding that the non-green posts are outnumbering the green posts? If so, I can certainly see how that may interfere with your organization's branding efforts. To me, it's a dilemna that's entirely different from troll issues and that sort of thing. There's obviously a conflict between the desire for discussion to be open and the need for an organization to craft its own image.

As for your question, no, I wouldn't censor posts in order to shape the discussion in one's favor. Instead, I would take a good look at the users/members. Have you thought about reaching out to some of your "greenest" members to encourage them to contribute more often? Is it possible that the greens are there but are simply less vocal than the anti-greens? Is it possible that you're not attracting enough of your target audience? I think the best way to get your message to carry is, not by stifling opposing viewpoints, but by identifying and supporting your most insightful members.

John_Blake




msg:3345255
 11:03 am on May 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

I think a lot depends on the way the dissenting view is expressed. If a member simply articulates a different approach, I'd be unlikely to censor that even if it went against the grain of the beliefs of most community members.

If the dissenting member carried it too far - e.g., making the same point repeatedly in the same thread (or many threads), mocking the beliefs of other members, arguing endlessly, etc., then I'd take action.

I share right the same opinion here. The problem with the dissenting views lies exactly there - when the person expressing such an opinion goes too far causing troubles to the whole number of community members. If the approach to express the opinion is acceptable, then, imho censorship is not needed.

thecoalman




msg:3353136
 5:42 am on May 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

Disagree with censoring just because it's an opposing view point. Kind of pointless if your discussing social issues and everyone is "yes" man IMO. I'd prefer for posts to fall or stand on their on merit, there's no reason to censor because if the post is pointless other members who have opposing views will be more than willing to point out why.

Censoring for legal or members who are just trying to be annoying are another story.

MThiessen




msg:3353848
 8:04 pm on May 30, 2007 (gmt 0)

Well, dissenting views getting out of hand is *basic* moderation.

Doesn't matter even if they are on *your* side, if someone gets out of hand, insulting etc etc then you step in, regardless of the topic, so that point falls under "basic common sense" imho.

Opposing views make a forum interesting.

How boring would your forum be if everybody nodded in agreement?

Suppose a catholic forum banned atheists?

HOW? On earth are you going to change any-one's point of view on a topic if you stifle debate?

Debating is the heart of forums, stick a knife in this and you stick a knife in your forum.

Beagle




msg:3354096
 2:43 am on May 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

Suppose a catholic forum banned atheists?

Hey, we have enough to fight about among ourselves without other people butting in! ;) In my years of experience, two Catholics who disagree about something are much more likely to come to virtual blows than a Catholic and an atheist, in the same way that you're more likely to fight with your sibling than you are the person who lives down the block. I've never seen a Catholic forum that kept anyone out, but I did see one where the ultra-traditionalist Catholics had their own section because they "didn't play well with others." (Of course, any of them were welcome anywhere in the forum as long as they behaved themselves.)

Does the flavor arise spontaneously or through careful censorship?

The term "careful censorship" scares me. I'd much rather have blatant, out-front, no-holds-barred censorship, because then at least you'd know the score.

However there are certain issues where we do not tolerate opposing views.

"We do not tolerate" is strong stuff, but if this is really, really how you feel, I'd say to state it upfront and openly. Treat your forum members like adults who can decide to either stay or go. As has been said, it might be the death of the forum, and it doesn't show a lot of faith in the ability of your beliefs to stand up under scrutiny, but that's ultimately your call. Be very clear about what you don't tolerate. If it's harm to animals, say that, and don't make members guess how far they can go into a less-than-green discussion before they reach the end of your tolerance. If there's something that's truly off-limits, it should be as clearly stated as anything else in your TOS - otherwise you get into that "careful censorship" that really does scare me, and that (IMVHO) doesn't show a lot of respect for your members.

Thus we formed a policy of stepping into discussions and gently suggesting to these members to come to our "greener" and more "earth friendly" way of doing things.

IMHO, if your forum has an earth-friendly flavor the moderators shouldn't have to do this; the members (which includes the moderators, I assume) will do it naturally in their own posts. I don't see why you'd need to "form a policy" about it. If someone - moderator or not - thinks they have a better way of doing something, they can simply share it.

In any forum I've been a part of that really works, the flavor does, indeed, arise spontaneously, because the group that's there will draw people who want to be part of the kind of discussions they find on the forum. IMVHO, the "flavor" of a forum has more to do with how deeply the group wants to go into discussions, and how the group handles differences of opinion, than it does with everyone having the same opinions.

In cases where a member wants to proseletyze their non-green methods we are firm in letting them know that we do not approve.

Proselytizing is a different issue entirely. But stating opinions isn't proselytizing. If someone's truly proselytizing, unless they're very skilled at it they'll be an obvious troll, and you deal with them the same way you would any troll. But it's the proselytizing that's the problem, not the opinion.

Marcia




msg:3354115
 3:02 am on May 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

If a forum is set up as a site (or part of one) whose purpose is to support a certain position, then IMHO it should center around that position and be focused on facts, issues and activism. A specific given stance isn't open to debate.

Editing some posts selectively while allowing others will not sometimes, but always lead to, "Hey, why was I censored and not this or that other guy?" and often (if not usually) end up with lengthy or bitter arguments by PM.

For example, if a "green" forum has a stance against putting certain cosmetics ingredients into bunnies' eyes to see if it causes them to go blind, they have a perfect right to disallow posts saying it's fine because it reduces the appearance of aging.

Topics that involve topics/products that are medically necessary and/or life-saving may be a different story, but it's still ultimately it's up to the forum management and has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

rogerd




msg:3354835
 5:37 pm on May 31, 2007 (gmt 0)

Good point, Marcia. An advocacy forum will generally have threads like, "What can we do to prevent..." or "How do we increase public awareness of..." A member who barges into these threads to argue that the whole purpose of the thread is wrong-headed will be disruptive. OTOH, threads like, "Should we be concerned about..." should, in theory, be more open to a variety of opinions.

A few vociferous dissenters can have the same effect as intentional trolls, even if that's not their intention.

trooper27




msg:3355605
 11:22 am on Jun 1, 2007 (gmt 0)

Do you find it is necessary to censor your forum to maintain it's orthodoxy or flavor? Or do your members shape the tone and orthodoxy regardless of your own point of view?

Straight to your asking, The_Shower_Scene,

I think it mainly depends on the forum owners/moderators position on many issues. First, do they tolerate other people's opinions? That's in general, you know some people don't take criticism well and their nature can be seen on their forums too. Second, the extent of censorship varies depending on what "face" these forums are trying to build - are they a "free stage" for everyone to chime in with their opinion or do they want to build an unspotted reputation. Sure there are many sides of the topic and I won't enter into details now, but I guess these two in general present my view.

As for my personal forum projects, I am open to other people's opinions and I prefer my community to have a real-life face, so definitely I am not much of the censoring type there.

trooper27




msg:3357859
 11:12 am on Jun 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

...and one more point to add - I, personally, when moderating a forum, usually take into account not the position (whether it is the common one or the "voice" of the opposition) but the way it is expressed. There are at least two ways how to present your own view - to listen to what the other say and then state your opinion and to show an aggressive standing point and assault on every poor soul daring to keep a different view.

rogerd




msg:3358405
 8:54 pm on Jun 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

The stated mission of the forum can help determine if post editing or removal is appropriate. For instance, if someone came into a forum for Hummer enthusiasts and put up posts that big SUVs were responsible for destroying the planet and are driven by inconsiderate fools, those would clearly be unwelcome, off-topic, and candidates for removal. On the other hand, if an environmentally-minded poster suggested techniques for fuel saving in a respectful manner in an appropriate topic, few members would take offense.

It's not that dissimilar to real-life gatherings. If someone showed up at a sports bar on Monday night and went from table to table suggesting that football was a stupid game watched only by morons, the proprietor would quickly toss the person out to prevent a riot. Online, trolls try to start virtual "riots" by provocative posts, and the forum operator needs to take action before fighting breaks out.

Kurgano




msg:3376568
 8:57 am on Jun 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

The vast majority of forums own your posts.

Aka when you signed up you grant permission to the owner to moderate at will by agreeing to the sign up terms.

A popular forum I found went as far as to print up a copy of one members deleted posts for me from one of his backups.

Another health forum i've visited took the members posts and shared the database onto two seperate websites, one in the US, the other in denmark. Identical posts on each site, same profiles etc. US google doesn't return .de sites and vice versa but when a user deletes stuff in the US the .de site keeps the posts cached.

Get the idea on how little control you have when you've posted your comments online?

vincevincevince




msg:3376573
 9:13 am on Jun 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

No you should not censor unorthodox opinions. If you are not willing to have them on your forum them you must prohibit discussion of the topic.

In your case, you must not allow discussion of animal friendly or animal unfriendly methods at all. The forums here are not prepared to have discussion of religion or politics. Whether your statement agrees or disagrees with most people here or with the admins, if it touches on religion or politics, it will disappear.

Kurgano




msg:3377024
 9:20 pm on Jun 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

No you should not censor unorthodox opinions. If you are not willing to have them on your forum them you must prohibit discussion of the topic.

I can't find any law that agrees with that. All I could find was that prohibition was outlawed actualy, replaced with something called freedoms too. /shrug.

vincevincevince




msg:3377299
 12:53 pm on Jun 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

It's not about the law, it's about having a forum in which users respect each other. Your forum should not be about pushing forward a hidden agenda, it should be about frank discussion of the issues involved. If you aren't willing to hear both for and against, then it is better that you be clear that the particular divisive topic is not welcome on the website.

Beagle




msg:3377605
 10:00 pm on Jun 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

The vast majority of forums own your posts.

Well, not really - although a lot of them think they do.

buckworks




msg:3377636
 11:07 pm on Jun 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

Be as open as you can to people who see things differently than you do. A logical, factual, respectful discussion among people with different perspectives can be a rich source of new learning for everyone.

Don't be afraid to re-examine your own orthodoxy once in a while. Many "green" issues aren't as "black and white" as first impressions might suggest.

A simple example would be an ovo-lacto vegetarian who thinks he causes no harm to animals if he eats eggs and drinks milk.

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