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How to Respond to Accusations of Censorship in Your Online Community

The owners of each community have the right to create and enforce any rules they want. It’s not censorship to remove a spammy link or comment that uses profanity or vulgarity; it’s being respectful of the entire community as well as those who host the community. You’re not stifling an idea or even the thought behind a comment. You’re simply asking them to remove inappropriate words.

If someone is a visitor at your home and uses foul language in front of your children and you ask him to please not use those words, it’s not censorship. You’re asking someone to respect your rules and your home. Likewise, it’s the same thing with online communities.

Still, many people who are asked not to sell, spam, use profanity, or personally attack other community members cry censorship after being asked to play by the rules. Many of these people know it’s not censorship really, but enjoy publicly denouncing you as a censor anyway. Don’t lose your cool.

If you’re accused of censorship because you remove a post, you have several recourses:

  • Ignore it. Your community knows the rules. Allowing one malcontent to make his accusation and move on might be the most peaceful way out.

  • Respond and then move on. If other members of the community get involved and begin protesting, you’ll have a melee on your hands. A better course of action than ignoring may be to respond, hear the other person out, and put it all behind you.

  • Respond privately. Contact the member and offer to discuss the situation. Explain where you’re coming from, why you have rules, why you removed the offending word or post, and why it’s not censorship. There may be some back and forth between you, but at least it’s a private conversation, and you’re allowing the other person to have a voice.

    Be careful not to let it escalate into a spitting contest and don’t fire back in anger. Have a calm, reasonable discussion. You still may not be able to convince the other person to see your side, but he might appreciate your allowing him the opportunity to voice his opinion. Plus, you’re keeping the negativity away from the community.

  • Respond publicly. You don’t need permission from your community to handle matters as you see fit. If you feel the need to remove a comment, do it without fanfare. Just know that sometimes the commenter becomes upset and offended by this action and takes it public by telling others you’re censoring his comments.

    Sometimes these types of public announcements, made in the community itself or on the social networks, are ignored. Other times, accusations get so out of control, you have no choice but to address it. You can do so with a single tweet, comment among the community, or blog post. Again, it’s up to you how and when to respond and if to respond at all.

You’ll never be able to please everyone in your community. You won’t be able to convince someone who refuses to listen that you’re not censoring, so your goal should be to keep the peace in your community. Just know that the more back and forth that occurs over a particular issue, the less likely it is to die down right away.

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