November 13th, 2008
If you’ve managed a community that allows commenting or hosts other types of user-generated content, you’ve seen it. Behind the shield of a screen name, the ugliest parts of society sometimes is on full display: racism.
Recently, community managers across the country have had to decide whether to zap or keep comments about Barack Obama that could be considered racist, but the issue comes up often in online communities.
There are no hard rules on this. Each community manager (and organization) has to take a lot of these on a case-by-case basis.
Here are three guidelines that we offer, but we’re interested in hearing how you’ve dealt with this:
1. If there is an clear racist word or phrase in the content, the material is toast, the user is banned and you move on with your life.
2. If the user walks the line by using code words, it’s a little muddier. You might be misreading the author’s intent. Often, it helps to grab a coworker and show him or her the material. Usually, though, your first instinct is the correct one. If you decide you have a racist on your hands using code words, warn or ban the user.
3. If the user is not clearly being racist, but you might be sensitive to a topic (e.g., the person is against illegal immigration strongly, and you see that as being racist because of your own stance), try to get a second — or even a third — opinion. As a community manager, it is still your right to nix any material, but if you come down too hard on the offender, you’ll lose credibility within your community. A heavy handed manager can kill a community.
If you’re a community manager, how far do you let people push the envelope?