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A couple of weeks ago I set a rules on my industry-specific forum that politics are not allowed. The reason was that I wanted to keep the discussions focused and avoid the bad taste that political threads can create. This is not working out too well as our members are very opinionated and seem to like to talk about politics.
Does anyone have experience with politics on forum and how to handle them? Who do I put as moderator and how do I make sure politics don't take over the forum?
I'm sure there are some forums where the membership can have intelligent, well-reasoned, polite discussions of politics, but I don't happen to have any of those. ;)
I can think of a couple of possible solutions:
1) Prohibit discussion of politics (might throw in religion, too); people are welcome to discuss these topics, but not in your forum. If your forum is topic oriented, your members should understand.
2) Create a forum for off-topic or political discussions. At least they won't clutter up your primary forums, and those members who don't care to participate won't be subjected to viewing them. Some moderation will still be needed, though.
The result is that every forum on the first site has some questionable posts (the garbage is ruthelessly deleted). On the second site questionable posts are silently moved to the off-topic forum (or deleted, if they go too far). I find the on-topic forums of the second site much more focussed than the so-called "tight ship" site.
Not having an off-topic forum leaves the moderator with two choices on a marginally acceptable post: accept it or delete it. The off-topic forum gives a valuable (IMHO) third choice.
The challenge for the forum admin and mods (if some political discussion is allowed) is to keep it civil - these kinds of discussions are HIGH maintenance.
In the rare instances that politics and religion have come up, I have never had anyone fail to understand why it was deleted.
I am very uncomfortable with the idea of banning political discussion outright. To do so only benefits those who already hold political power (whether it be in the office, in an industry sector, or in a geopolitical region) and would rather keep holding on to it.
At the end of the day everything is political from what time you get up in the morning to what you eat for dinner in the evening. Political discussion should be encouraged. If not in a dedicated folder, then where?
Making a separate area for political discussions is a great idea, and will make a lot less work for you since most members will respect your TOS and post there. The ones who don't will probably only make the mistake once after you let them know their post has been moved to an appropriate area.
Politics is something that should always be talked about. Many of you younger guys and gals have been used to a certain way of life and it might not seem relevant who our leaders are, but the fact is that who you vote for is the most important decision you will make in life. What our leaders do affects you, your kids, your retirement, everyone, and everything - and honestly there are a lot of people out there right now who are running for no other reason than getting their name in the history books and don't care about this country or anyone but themselves. When you block discussion, you are empowering those individuals and limiting the public's knowledge to what they see on campaign ads or the news.
Remember, many people don't go looking for a political discussion. They think candidate A stands for this, Candidate B is against this, and they vote based on television ads. If you run a forum that squelches political discussions, that's one less place where people can potentially hear something about a candidate or gain a new perspective. Narrow-mindedness at election time leads to unqualified leaders getting elected and blocking political discussion in an election year doesn't help anyone. Everyone here knows that I lean to the right, and that some of my friends are politicians in office right now - it doesn't give or take any credit from anything else I say unrelated to that subject.
You can always delete the forum after the election is over, but in many ways I kinda think it's your duty as an American (if you're American, of course) to participate in the political process. Those who don't vote or don't care are doing a disservice to their country far greater than they can imagine and are taking for granted one of the things that makes this country great. So <insert whoever you pray to> bless America, baby :)
And how do I know all this about Digitalv? Because he doesn't try to pretend that his politics and life and business and points of view are discreet entities that have no connection to each other. So I can disagree with his politics but I can also respect him for being a business man with integrity. Or I can respect his politics because I can see how they connect to his business life and world view. This openness strengthens these forums, it doesn't weaken them.
What does weaken a forum however is when posters post in a style that contains a load of implicit political, economic, and social presuppositions, none stated explicitly, but always underlying the point being made, often being the very point. This leaves other posters with a very difficult choice, either ignore the main point and stay within the so called non-political charter by not bringing these implicit points up explicitly when responding, or respond openly to them, and be labelled 'political'. Or try to veil ones response in equally implicit terms, which tends to get so obscure few will catch the point. Tough choice.
To me, if you want to call your forum a 'community', then let it act like all communities through history have acted, where politics is front center, along with the rest of life. If it's just a straight tech type or professional type forum, which is actually a pretty rare thing if you look at the degree of connection between business and politics/governement nowadays, then I'd tend to agree that politics should be shuttled off to foo fora.
As Ronin says, trying to pretend that politics don't permeate all our activities is pretty naive. This doesn't mean a thread on Sewer Pipe linings has room for some political discussion, but if the purchase of those linings, which turned out to be defective, happened because company x bribed city councelman z then that discussion better happen or there's no point in talking any more.
To me it's a forum by forum and thread by thread decision, not an absolute, and also depends on whether the political observations are on topic or off topic [for example, any discussion of MS or MSIE that pretends that the degree of market penetration occurred strictly in a pure ethical business realm can't get very far in terms of creating any real understanding in the thread, that's like talking about traffic but only looking at a car's engine].
There are obvious places where politics have very little place in a forum, taking WebmasterWorld, the apache forums would be an example, it's straight tech talk. But if you are talking about MS for example, how can you possibly have a meaningful discussion without talking about their legal and political maneouvers, which tend to drive their engineering decisions, or google's recent ipo, can you really pretend to believe that many decisions made by google were not made for primarily business, not engineering reasons prior to the ipo. And once business stuff comes in, politics isn't going to be very far away. And so on.
Occasionally, business or political issues MAY shed some useful light on a technical topic, but 99% of the time these issues are introduced by an opinionated individual looking for a soapbox.
For example, you can't have any meaningful discussion of why MS decided to integrate IE into the OS without talking about hardcore politics and serious anticompetitive business practices, that decision has had serious and ongoing consequences, which are the subject of many many threads here, but very few posters are really aware of what actually happened or why. Pretending you can have this discussion without talking about this background leaves almost no substance to the discussion.
For example, there were many threads where people were talking about standards and html and css, seemingly objective topics, but happily digigalv decided to push that line and really ask people to think about what's happening in a more macro sense, guys like mattur do that too on the rare instances they decide to post, this type of posting is to me far more valuable than the standard post, and is far more educational, but it's also far more controversial and leads to often interesting discussion, but a discussion that can actually serve to broaden viewpoints in many cases if the participants are reasonably open minded. In other words, they are dangerous because they might actually make you think about things in a slightly larger sense.
Narrow the range of allowable discourse and you narrow the range of posters, primarily due to the implicit political views that always underlie almost any discussion and which if left unchallenged form an implicit agreement or consensus on that viewpoint, thus driving away the posters who don't happen to share that view. This is an intrinsically political action, with a political cause, but almost always goes unchallenged, I've seen that many times here, and I'm not the only one who's noticed this problem. You won't notice these posters leave, I've talked to some that left and it was always for that type of reason, too narrow, closed minded, dogmatic etc were the reasons I was given. Personally these are the posters I want to keep, not lose, but I'm speaking only for myself there.
Anyone running a forum has the right to make this decision, they do the work, this isn't an actual community where the members have any rights at all, obviously, it's more like a feudal system, when push comes to shove.
However, it's worth keeping in mind that when the allowable range of subject matter grows too narrow, the quality of posters will probably drop over time. Obviously the opposite is true, drop the discipline and good posters will get annoyed and leave, tough act to balance no doubt. The decay is so gradual that it's hard to pinpoint, but you can tell when it's happened.
This isn't suggesting that a thread should be highjacked by some type of stupid argument about which candidate or party deserves your vote or whatever, when I use the word politics I'm not using it in that sense, those conversations will often but not always be off topic. I'm using it in the sense Ronin is using it, where politics refers to the life of the citizen and the polis. Pretending issues can be separated from this background isn't realistic except in very specialized cases. In other words, it's the macro view of things, the macro always supports the micro, and if you can't jump up to it once in a while, the micro sort of drifts away, since it doesn't have any foundation.
I can think of very few businesses where political considerations are not a primary component of what makes that business function in today's economy, although there are cases where the subject matter is so specificly focuses that there really is a simple answer to a simple question, not a frequent case however from what I see here on WebmasterWorld for example. Pretending this isn't the case might help create the illusion of objectivity, but it's only an illusion. Personally I'm not into illusions, I see enough of those working with the web as it is.
Sorry, too long a post, off to work...