Community Strategy Insights

The latest insights on community strategy, technology, and value by FeverBee’s founder, Richard Millington

What % Of Your Members Are You Comfortable Upsetting?

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

Patrick shares his decision not to post an article about female martial artists.

He asked a few female members of the community and decided not to publish the article because some might find it offensive.

Patrick’s example may be unique, but in the broader context there is a obvious danger to not publishing articles that might offend/upset members.

It leads to groupthink.

It leads to a stale community that rejects new ideas in favour of the status quo.

Better yet, the list of things people find offensive is too broad to act as a single decision point. Here’s a screenshot from today (Aug 1, 2014):


This raises a few big dilemmas as curators of community identity.

1) Should you try to pre-empt articles that might provoke a % of your members?

Unless the article personally attacks an individual (not their ideas/actions), is sexist/racist/homophobic, or clearly a violation of any normal ISP’s terms of service, we would allow it.

New ideas begin at the fringes and aren’t accepted by groups which favour the status quo. New ideas are often considered offensive to many.

Better yet, who decides what’s offensive? Are you the self-appointed purveyor of all things offensive? Do you have enough insight into each of the dozens (perhaps hundreds) of minority groups within your community to know when something is/isn’t offensive?

Far better to remove an article that has clearly caused offense with an apology and lessons learned than to prevent new ideas seeing the light.

2) Is it wrong to provoke some of your members? 

In a large enough community, some members will always take offense. This usually leads to an intense discussion. That’s not always a bad thing. That increases activity and brings more people into the community. It might help a new idea gain acceptance.

Far better to provoke a few members than have a community where people stop submitting material because they’re worried about causing offense.

Bigger decision, are there degrees of offensiveness? Do we rate offensiveness from 1 to 10 and remove those after 5? How would we apply this?

3) What % of members are we comfortable provoking? 

How many people need to find an article offensive before we remove it? Is it 5% or 50%? In addition, those offended will comment more than those that agree (or are inspired) by the article.

As a broad principle, we look to see how many members personally write to the community manager before removing a post/article that’s not appropriate. Commenting is easy. Everyone has an opinion on every issue. But don’t confuse position with intention. Someone writing a separte e-mail to the community manager shows a deeper level of interest in the topic.

4) Do we take the side of the majority or the minority? 

Related to the above, who is protecting the minority views that the majority might find offensive? If you side with the majority there’s no-one standing up for the minority opinion in your community. Is it our duty to support the views of most members or to protect the rights of the minority to have views? I lean toward the latter.

5) Do we want communities to be harmonious?

Finally, do we want communities to be happy, harmonious, places where everyone agrees and no-one ever causes offense? Or do we want our communities to be a place of volatility and ferocious debate? Both have their pros and cons. Again, I favour the latter.

Knowing Patrick’s work for 5+ years, I’m sure he made the right call in this situation.

However, be careful about the precident you set when you pre-emptively remove content that might offend members. It brings up a wide array of bigger issues.

On October 29th to 30th, the world’s top 250 community professionals are going to SPRINT in San Francisco. Will you be one of them?

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