Forum administrators and site owners should be careful when publishing any sort of public political statement. It is all too easy to get invested in politics to the point of debating, or even arguing. There are times when one side of any issue can be considered factual, with opposing arguments perhaps lacking any facts, evidence, or convincing theories. Those can be the most troubling to deal with for any moderator, whether they are in a televised debate or handling post reports on an online community board. It’s important to understand the difference between providing a good user experience for your members and forcing your members to help you have a good experience. When it comes to violence, harassment, or illegal activity, the choice to moderate is easy. However, politics, belief systems, and other controversial topics can require a bit more finesse (note to reader: I am no master in this field by any means).
Just because someone doesn’t agree with your viewpoint or understand the information you are discussing, you can’t dismiss them too harshly or censor their posts. Your members should feel as if they can voice their opinions freely, just as the world’s greatest nations traditionally allow for freedom of speech. Over time, what we consider “protected speech” has changed. Nowadays many people are leaning towards a philosophy of the only protected speech is “true speech”. In 2020, and really going back to the beginning of the world wide web, there are numerous cases of false information being spread around social networks and forums – but this also happened for thousands of years prior to the internet. The general consensus in the past has been to allow this false information to be spread and hope that people do their fact checking wisely to discredit any blatant lies. This doesn’t always happen, but the choice to allow the political speech (even if false) to stay online is to make sure every person’s freedom of speech is protected. However, as you are probably aware, this is changing.
Nowadays Twitter even flags the President of the United States for posting fake news. The people of many countries are now asking or begging their countries to pressure social networks and major companies to be held accountable for misinformation, or to remove anything proven to be false by fact-checkers. This may be beneficial and important right now, but it can create a massive divide in which a large part of the population doesn’t feel “protected” from fake news – for them it may feel as if there is a conspiracy to suppress their freedom of speech. Whether or not this is genuinely true or not probably varies, but the important thing is to at least understand how people feel about “fact checking” and content removals so you can become a better administrator who better serves your specific web community.
When a political post is removed, it can really lead to people feeling like the website is trying to hide their views from others. For extremely controversial topics some may even believe their posts are being removed because they are “so true” that the administrator can’t bear the thought of other members seeing them [the admin] “get owned”. This is not a good outcome whatsoever, and is a major reason why it’s important to not just remove posts willy nilly without an explanation. The opportunity to inform the user why their post is being removed is a way to avoid any sort of misunderstanding and prevent similar posts from being published in the future.
I think anyone from any background can agree that it’s important to let people share ideas. After all, it is the freedom of this speech that allows people to not only share their opinions, but be challenged on them and even corrected. Without it, society can’t adequately debate topics which leads people to stick to their views and give nobody a chance to change their mind. Surely not having any freedom of speech would not be good for any community, and posts should not be removed just because they are incorrect. If someone posts that 2 + 2 = 5, then that would be incorrect, but there’s really no need to remove it in most cases (unless it is a math related thread and they are spreading fake answers). It’s when something is incorrect and damaging or against your rules that administrators should take action. In most cases you should just write a reply to tell the user why their answer is wrong (2 + 2 actually equals 4) or ask them how they came to their conclusions!
So, when is it time to remove political speech? When any post is against your forum rules, it’s time. This is a golden rule that allows you to moderate your website clearly and with transparency. Make your rules clear for your new or existing members so that there are no surprises. If something does not violate a specific community rule your members have agreed to, but you feel the post should be removed then consider the following: posts (political or not) in many cases should only be modified or removed by a forum administrator if the post is significantly offensive, discriminatory, threatening, violating any law, or otherwise damaging to your community. If the post is political and you still feel you must remove it, you will need to be tactful. You should be careful about not offending entire parts of your forum community. Make it clear that the post is not being removed for its political angle, but because of the nature of the post violating your forum rules or common sense decency. You may want to message the user to ensure they understand why their posts was removed, or as they might say – “censored”.
All in all, your forum will be however you want it. If that means that political speech is not allowed entirely, then moderate based on that rule fairly. If you allow political posts then make sure you are fair and do not censor people or suppress freedom of speech as you tactfully moderate. That’s it folks! Good luck and happy moderating.