MODERATE CAUTIOUSLY

Minimize your control over user expression.

If your product provides a forum for content or communication, consider carefully whether you want to be in the business of policing those forums. If you need to place limits on illegal or other harmful behavior, make sure your policies are as clear and narrow as possible and ensure that there are mechanisms in place to handle disputes with minimal disruption to expression on your service.

PROHIBIT ONLY ILLEGAL CONTENT OR SPECIFIC HARMFUL BEHAVIOR
A sense of community can flourish when users are able to communicate freely. Narrowly tailoring your terms of service or community guidelines to prohibit only illegal content or specific harmful behavior that undermines the purpose of your service will help you limit the time you spend monitoring speech and the risk of being inconsistent or biased in the application of your policies.
Case Study

In February 2012, PayPal drew criticism from the press and civil liberties groups when it threatened to kick book publishers off its platform unless they removed “offending literature” from their catalogs.

In February 2012, PayPal drew criticism from the press and civil liberties groups when it threatened to kick book publishers off its platform unless they removed “offending literature” from their catalogs. Although the company claimed that its policy was merely a shield against legal action, its actions were seen as affecting a broad range of content, some of which was clearly legal. Faced with a barrage of criticism, PayPal narrowed its policy to focus more narrowly on illegal and liability-inducing material.

Case Study

A coalition of 40 tech and racial justice civil rights groups slammed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an open letter for “silencing individuals at the request of the police” after two separate incidents in which the social media company

A coalition of 40 tech and racial justice civil rights groups slammed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an open letter for “silencing individuals at the request of the police” after two separate incidents in which the social media company suspended livestreams of police shootings by African-American users. The controversy arose amid reports that Zuckerberg reprimanded Facebook employees for defacing “Black Lives Matters” messages written on the walls of company headquarters. Groups called on Facebook to recognize its importance as a tool for “documenting police misconduct” and institute transparent policies regarding content censorship and collaboration with law enforcement. 

CLEARLY SPELL OUT YOUR COMMUNITY’S POLICIES
Vague prohibitions of “offensive” or “inappropriate” speech leave users uncertain as to what they can and cannot say, which can both chill acceptable speech and drive users to forums with clearer and more speech-friendly policies. On the other hand, clear policies encourage users to contribute rich content and engage with others. As your service changes, reevaluate and improve these policies to maximize speech.
Case Study

Instagram found itself at the center of an international controversy after it removed a photo posted by the Sikh artist and poet Rapi Kaur.

Instagram found itself at the center of an international controversy after it removed a photo posted by the Sikh artist and poet Rapi Kaur. Even though the photo was of a fully dressed woman alone in bed with a period stain on her clothing, Instagram deleted the photo twice for allegedly violating its prohibitions against sexual acts, violence, and nudity. After facing widespread criticism for its decision, Instagram apologized for “wrongly remov[ing]” the content as a violation of its Community Guidelines and reposted the photo.

MAKE THE PENALTY FIT THE VIOLATION
If users are subject to extreme penalties for minor violations of your policies even if it’s their first time, they may quickly lose interest in engaging with your service. Instead, ensure that consequences are proportionate to the rule violation and designed to keep speech and speakers on your service. Doing so helps you earn the respect and loyalty of all of your users.
Share This: