ENCOURAGE USERS TO SPEAK FREELY

Promote diverse speech and speakers.

If your product or service allows users to interact with each other, it is in your best interest to encourage user expression. The more freedom your users have to express themselves freely, the more likely they are to interact deeply with your service, with lasting benefits to everyone involved.

"The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive on the planet.... The Internet has redefined commerce, and...is the ultimate vehicle for free expression." - Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman

ALLOW SPEECH REGARDLESS OF TOPIC OR VIEWPOINT
To build the widest possible user base, your service should let users discuss the topics they choose and express their own viewpoints. Encouraging debate rather than stifling dissent can produce a vibrant and compelling dialogue that engages existing users and attracts new ones. On the other hand, efforts to censor user speech can generate bad press and outrage users.
Case Study

Apple has been accused of “going down a dark and scary road” for rejecting iOS apps that address any topic the company deems “objectionable.” In recent years, Apple has rejected games and other apps focused on

Apple has been accused of “going down a dark and scary road” for rejecting iOS apps that address any topic the company deems “objectionable.” In recent years, Apple has rejected games and other apps focused on sweatshopsdrone strikes, and the Syrian civil war solely because of the topic itself. In addition, commenters have noted that the policy has a chilling effect on developers and publishers, causing them to self-censor apps related to issues such as gay sexuality before even submitting the app for Apple’s approval. As a result, Apple has been loudly criticized for “bar[ring] thoughtful and intelligent political expression” on its platform, leading some developers to abandon the platform entirely. 

Case Study

Facebook has repeatedly faced criticism for censoring discussions of marijuana legalization. In 2010 and again in 2012, Facebook blocked ads supporting marijuana legalization voter initiatives and drug policy reform measures.

Facebook has repeatedly faced criticism for censoring discussions of marijuana legalization. In 2010 and again in 2012, Facebook blocked ads supporting marijuana legalization voter initiatives and drug policy reform measures. The issue re-emerged in 2015 when the company “permanently deleted” an account for discussing New York’s newly-enacted medical marijuana law. The ongoing missteps have undermined Facebook’s effort to position itself as a key platform for reaching “a huge potential voter pool” and led to criticism that its handling of the issue “amounts to censorship.”

ALLOW USERS TO SPEAK ANONYMOUSLY OR PSEUDONYMOUSLY
Many of your users may have important reasons for remaining anonymous or pseudonymous, whether they are domestic violence survivors, transgender people, or whistleblowers reporting an abuse of power. Other users may simply wish to access and share information without fear of harassment or embarrassment. Even if persistent identities are important for your service, allowing users to use pseudonyms can accomplish that while protecting users from harm and encouraging them to participate more deeply.
Case Study

Facebook suffered over a year’s worth of bad press after advocates began highlighting the harmful effects of its "real name" policy.

Facebook suffered over a year’s worth of bad press after advocates began highlighting the harmful effects of its "real name" policy. The policy, which required users to use a name on a government ID, sparked outrage by sending many users into a process resembling a state of “online purgatory,” with their accounts disabled until the user submitted identification with a “legal name.” The policy had an outsized effect on vulnerable people using non-legal names for privacy and safety reasons, with multiple news outlets highlighting its effect on transgender people, survivors of domestic abuse, and Native Americans. After both online and offline advocacy, including protests at the San Francisco Pride Parade and public pressure from advocacy groups including the ACLU, Facebook finally committed to changing the policy.

Case Study

In 2011, Google came under fire for requiring users of its new Google+ service to use their real names, rather than pseudonyms, as identifiers on the service.

Critics expressed concern about the loss of online pseudonyms and the especially problematic consequences for people in vulnerable positions. Many users also complained about frequent and unpredictable account deactivation based on the real name policy. Google’s initial response, “use your name or don’t use the service,” was viewed as a lost opportunity to distinguish itself from Facebook. However, continuing pressure ultimately convinced the company to backtrack and promise to allow pseudonyms.

AVOID ACTIVELY MONITORING USER COMMUNICATIONS
If your service attempts to profile users by intercepting email, private messages, or other forms of communication, it may not only invade users’ privacy but also discourage users from communicating freely on your platform. Encourage your users to freely express themselves by making it clear that you will not monitor their online communications.
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