There Are No Exceptions To The Rules

A situation emerged at a delicate time last year.

A community member was accused of making a racist remark on their personal Facebook page.

The accuser demanded they be banned from the community. When the community manager didn’t immediately do this, they published a tweet that included the alleged quote, @mentioned several prominent members of the black community, and demanded the member be removed. This was retweeted a couple of times and the brand’s CEO’s email was shared around to write emails too. This creates internal pressure to remove the member and follow up with a statement that ‘racism will not be tolerated here’.

I recommended not removing the member because she hadn’t broken the community’s rules. This was supported by two factors:

1) There was no proof to support the allegation (no screenshots or other witnesses to corroborate the claim).

2) It happened outside of the community and thus isn’t covered by the rules of the community

(the member quit the community before the ultimate decision was reached).

If you decide to remove a member based upon an accusation alone, you’re opening a pandora’s box of accusations and counter-accusations which will be impossible to police. Worse yet, it encourages snooping on private social media accounts of other members looking for anything which could be interpreted negatively.

Yet, this also highlights a problem in the future. If a member was clearly expressing racist remarks in a visible channel (whether it happened in this instance or not) it would be asking for trouble by allowing them to continue to engage within the community.

So we decided to update the rules. The new rule was simple enough to understand.

It read (paraphrased): If there is clear evidence a member is found to have engaged in speech or activities which are intentionally and unequivocally hateful either inside or outside of the community, the member will be suspended from the community pending a full evaluation of evidence.

For reasons which belong in another post, the terms ‘clear evidence’, ‘intentional’, ‘unequivocal’ are pretty important there. Likewise is the process (suspension pending evaluation of evidence).

A few final thoughts about the issue.

1) There should be no exceptions to your rules. Either you update the rules or you have nothing to enforce. When you make exceptions you’re inviting far worse problems later.

2) Rules are there to protect members, not punish members. Members might not like a failure to remove a member in the incident above, but the same rationale for not removing the member is also the rationale that protects them too.

3) If you bend the rules to public pressure, you’re no longer in charge. If you do what the mob tells you, you have mob rule (aside, it often takes far more courage not to remove someone than remove someone).

So, either update the rules or enforce what you have. No exceptions.

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