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I have a freedom of speech forum
is this a good idea?

 12:22 am on Apr 10, 2006 (gmt 0)

Currently I allow freedom of speech in one "private" forum. That means, no one can see it unles they ask. Lately, since my forum is getting bigger, we have been having problems with gay bashing, sexual topics, hate speeches, and hate towards individuals. Some of the sexual topics are written by young teens, who may be 14. Most of the people that view this material are young teenagers, but they agree to see this material by asking for permission. Nothing is illegal.

Things are just starting to get raunchy. We have a good moderating team as well, so the reason these topics are occuring is not due to being careless, it is due to the fact that we agreed to have a freedom of speech forum. The defense to keep the freedom of speech is, no other music site allows it, and gay bashing after all, is not illegal. It also isn't illegal for a 14 year old to be talking about having sex. It also isn't illegal to criticize a member.

What do I do? Should I not have a freedom of speech forum? Should I leave it? Should I just take out hate speech? Should I keep it rated R instead of rated X? Should I prevent member bashing?



 2:17 am on Apr 10, 2006 (gmt 0)

This is a tricky question, since the forum is established as a place for posts that might be objectionable elsewhere. Are you getting complaints from your members about the content in this forum?


 2:33 am on Apr 10, 2006 (gmt 0)

The trick with forums is to set a tone...

If people are flaming or getting out of hand then you have to use reason and most importantly build a consent of mutual respect...

It can and does work, and if done correctly builds and even stronger bond for members...

This can take a little time but, there is no instant fix for forums as there is no instant way to get members joining in the first place, it is part of the growing process.

The other option is to merely impose rules and have no flexibility, as happens at WebmasterWorld ..


 2:51 am on Apr 10, 2006 (gmt 0)

Are you getting complaints from your members about the content in this forum?

Some complaints. The site was always known for freedom of speech throughout the WHOLE site. When I bought the domain, we now have everything moderated, except the Free For All forum which contains the freedom of speech. I did this to accomodate the older members before I took over. It makes them happy, and THESE guys are who helped me grow the forum in the first place.

The trick with forums is to set a tone...

There is a strict tone for the whole board, except the forum that has freedom of speech.

The other option is to merely impose rules and have no flexibility, as happens at WebmasterWorld ..

My forum is a bit different though. I host many teens and young adults. I am trying to allow the freedom to express themselves, but I need to know where to draw the line.


 11:45 am on Apr 10, 2006 (gmt 0)

No you are missing the point ...

The tone to be set has to be more human .. a forum is the human touch of a website, and the tone to be set is one of mutual respect and courtesy..

Most forums are run by techies that try to control what people do with rules.. but I have found that dealing with people is not best acheived with <if> statements..

You have to be strong to allow freedom of speech but have to be good with people management and diplomacy..

It takes a bit of time and a bit of talking to encourage people down this path, but if you want to stop the flames in that area without imposing rules that totally counterman the point of freedom, it is the best option to go with.

I am a moderator on 3 forums, one of which is a warez site ;-) and in that place where pretty much anything goes, I implemented this very thing.. it is now the most productive, friendly and considerate of all my forums.. ie: it works..

It's not straight forward and you will have people that just don't get it.. but if you are looking for a solution to your problem, I recommend you give this option a real go..


 5:16 pm on Apr 10, 2006 (gmt 0)

One thing you can try to enforce is civility to other members even when there is major disagreement on the topics. It's tough when you get into areas like politics and religion, but it might be worth a try.


 9:23 pm on Apr 10, 2006 (gmt 0)

Regarding the minors, first off, there's two possible liability issues there:

1. Some parent gets upset that their kid saw something objectionable and they sue you for whatever. They don't have to be able to win to be a major and expensive nuisance.

2. A minor is seduced by an adult member. I've TWICE seen something of this nature on boards I was participating in ... in one case, the board staff realized what was going on ahead of time, contacted the parents, and took over the kid's ID and connected the perv to a cop. In the second case, the board staff didn't find out about it until it was too late and the kid had already run away.

Personally, I'd ban minors from a board like you describe on general principles with liability a secondary concern. And yes, it can be illegal -- it's called "contributing to the deliquency of a minor" I do believe.



 12:23 am on Apr 11, 2006 (gmt 0)

Your situation sounds like mine almost exactly. I've been pursuing a freedom of speech ideal since 1998. I've had the same problem with teenagers, too. Once I had some kid's mother write to me about some content she found objectionable and swore up and down she was writing to her congressman, senator, and god knows who else to get sites like mine shut down. I tried to explain about freedom of speech and parental involvement in what kids do online.. never got a response back.

I also had a predator on my site who was in his 30s but pretended to be a teenager. He was a nasty one. Ultimately I was forced to shut down all new account creation for a year just to keep him out. This is getting away from the topic though.

First let me say that even free speech has rules. All my boards are free speech zones, but rules still do apply--no personal attacks against other users except on a flame board designated for such things. No harassment, no flooding, no spamming. Your free speech has to be legitimate speech. Then I specifically call out the boards (the majority, actually) which are to have a civil, friendly tone. People are expected to "play nice" on them. I have some other boards in their own category where I say that more aggressive, impolite posting is okay. If I felt it necessary, I might hide those boards (which also include the flame board) from certain users, perhaps based on age.

That said, I've moved away from the teen demographic. I used to target them, but now I'm exclusively "young adult". People under 18 are only accepted in on a limited basis, and no one under 16 is accepted in. Of course people can lie, but I've not found many who have. Teens on forums are a lot more trouble than they're worth. Combine their typical rebelious behavior with the possibility of their falling victim to predators on your site and it's just not worth it.

I want to add that having a board designated for flames has its advantages. For one thing, if someone ventures out of bounds on a different board, you can say "take it to the flame board." And you're not suppressing their speech--they just have to submit their post to the appropriate place. My motto is you can say almost anything without penalty, as long as you do it on the appropriate board. Of course there are disadvantages to flame boards, too. They can get out of hand sometimes.


 7:48 pm on Apr 11, 2006 (gmt 0)

Thanks. I have a few questions:

1. Can I get sued for kids talking about sex to other kids in a perverse manner? What about adults?

2. Can I get sued for kids talking about sex to other kids or adults (educational)?

3. If a child meets up with another person, (it is clearly discussed in the forum) and as a result, gets murdered, or has illegal underaged sex, would I be liable? Would the forum be in danger?

These probably would be the 3 scenarios that could possibly occur on the forum in the future.


 7:57 pm on Apr 11, 2006 (gmt 0)

It doesn't work.

We had one on a site I was at, the attitude of the forum bled out into the rest of the board and infected other discussions.

In the end it was considered more headaches than it was worth. As usual unmoderated forums decend to the lowest common denominator of posters.


 9:23 pm on Apr 11, 2006 (gmt 0)

Chopin, you can get sued for anything. Even if you do everything right, if a big problem occurs, you'll get sued along with everyone else.

To reduce the chances of being sued and/or losing a lawsuit, though, a strong TOS that prohibits illegal activity and a quick reaction on your part to any illegal activity that is called to your attention will go along way. You should consult an attorney to find out what might constitute illegal behavior, and to assist with your TOS.


 10:53 pm on Apr 11, 2006 (gmt 0)

Chopin, a good place to start your research is [chillingeffects.org ]


 12:28 pm on May 4, 2006 (gmt 0)

Perhaps the problem is that it is clearly marked 'free speech' - if you had a relaxed moderation policy in the forum but didn't explicitly declare it - it may avoid some of the "wow! free speech! let me have a go at that!" posts which, I suspect, lead to flames and arguments on unsavoury topics.

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