They’re governed by a social rules and norms – whether publicly stated and consistently enforced, or organic and unspoken.
If you want to build a successful community, you should be aiming for the middle of those two poles:
A conduct framework that is relevant and real to your community members, and formally and consistently supported by moderation.
Context invites censorship
Codes of conduct are all about context.
Culture is contextual and the lines we draw to define our sense of order are created within that context.
An online community for cancer survivors will likely have a different threshold for acceptable language, tone and behaviour than a fantasy football forum.
It’s the job of an online community manager to work with the founding members of their community (as collaboratively as they realistically can) to unearth and formalise social consensus around acceptable and unacceptable content and behaviour.
Boundaries tell us who we are and strengthen our sense of membership in the community.
When people, content or behaviour that isn’t welcome cross those boundaries, we need censorship to remove the thing obstructing the community’s reason for being and throttling shared member objectives.
Don’t let it all hang out
As social media hit mainstream tipping point, businesses were told that this ‘new world’ meant they had to take the bad with the good, no matter what; that deleting criticism sent a clear signal you had something to hide.
That radical transparency would set you free.
In many respects, this is true. Deleting criticism for the sake of it will get you nowhere fast. You’ll look out of touch and appear as if you’ve got something to hide. You’ll struggle to build trust, support the formation of relationships, motivate people to take a desired action and fulfill the intent of the group.
The web is making business accountable in all sorts of impactful, game changing ways.
But there’s a big difference between giving critique and debate their due, and letting a fight break out in your living room.
Radical transparency doesn’t comport with online community.
Communities should be managed as openly and honestly as possible, but allowing anything and everything to remain online in the name of ‘transparency’ will break what you’re working to build.
Hopefully you will find a way to involve members in moderation – through a volunteer system, reporting functions, and for certain communities, even in policy and decision making processes.
But for a community of purpose to thrive, something has to sit outside the lines.
Community managers are constructive censors, and systematic censorship is part of a healthy community.