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Navigating Free Speech In Online Communities

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

A rare(ish) book recommendation, Free Speech – Ten Principles For A Connected World.

Should you allow members to write posts which might offend others? What if that offense leads to physical or psychological harm?

Do you adapt your response to what’s offensive to different cultures or do you force your culture upon others?

How do you build a harmonious community which avoids groupthink? Should you encourage minority views which the majority might find offensive? Should you follow what most people in your community want?

You have your own moral code, but it probably needs augmenting.

Every time you remove a comment (or person), you’re making a trade-off between free speech and public safety. Remove too many comments and you’ve ‘become Hitler’. Remove too few and you’re ‘enabling/profiting from terrorism’ (or worse).

No-one is going to give you the benefit of the doubt and you can’t please everybody. You have to make decisions and those decisions are going to upset people.

So, what should you do?

Read this book and decide where you want your community to be on the free speech vs. public safety continuum. Then communicate your position aggressively. Be consistent in applying that position.

You can’t predict every problem, but you can predict the types of problem and develop simple frameworks.

Did this person intend to cause offense? Is this offense the result of something an individual did (lied, cheated) or something the individual is (gender, race etc…). Is it offensive to a group identity or solely to an individual? Is this a minority opinion which deserves protecting? Or does it have the potential to cause real harm?

You can develop your own rules enough and teach them to others.

The past few years have taught us that free speech problems are going to become an increasingly bigger problem for the mega-communities. Best to become an expert.

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