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As you manage the Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and all other forms of social media for your agency, do you leave all comments up on the page, or do you "censor" it and take off negative comments? 

 

This morning at the IDGA Social Media for Defense Summit, it was argued that the only comments that should be deleted are those that are clearly spam (aka, "Click here to get your iPad7 now!"). All other negative comments should be left because the community should (hopefully) stand up for your organization, and "correct" the negative comment. If not, at least the comment could spark an interesting debate.

 

Do you think social media should be censored? Why, or why not?

Tags: censor, social media, technology

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Every organization should have commenting guidelines and any comment that violates those should be removed. This usually would include profanity, racism, sexual content etc. Negative comments are fine, but they need to be respectful. Our commenting guidelines are available here http://guelph.ca/cityhall.cfm?itemid=78684&smocid=2793.

 

Mashable has recently posted their commenting do's and don'ts, we are looking at incorporating some of their guidelines into ours: http://mashable.com/2011/10/10/mashable-comment-guidelines/

I think it's interesting to think those comments can be censored. Certainly they can be controlled when they occur on an organization's site or one controlled by the organization (i.e. an official Facebook Page), but it has to be clear by now in 2011 that censorship of a social site is like pushing a balloon: the comments will still be posted, they just won't be as visible *to the organization* - meaning it will be harder to counter them. 

 

If negative comments are made, either the community will address them because they are incorrect, or - perhaps - the community will agree with them because they aren't. In either case a positive outcome is quite possible, though in the latter it might be more difficult and less comfortable for the organization. What should be of most concern to an organization is either where negative comments aren't addressed, because there is no community or it doesn't care - or where there are no comments at all (and likely no community).

I would like to say "No" to censorship with several caveats.

  • In the private space, I am free to manage content as I see fit; this may include deleting posts that are hate-mongering or extremely inappropriate. I cannot manipulate the content of another's private space.
  • In the private space, no system-implemented censorship should be allowed or tolerated (i.e., applications that automatically hide what they perceive to be offensive or inappropriate).
  • In the pubic space (e.g., federal or commercial websites, FB, or Twitter instances), list moderators should be allowed to manage content but not delete input. All posts should be available to public view even if the end user has to click on a couple of extra links to get to the offensive ones.

Susan,

I agree with your perspective.

Peak Democracy Inc's Open Town Hall online public comment forums implement your caveats.

Open Town Hall is structured to follow the order and decorum of government meetings, so the online forums are legal as well as civil.

Mike

Afraid to say, it doesn't matter what we think. Here's the bad news.

According to my understanding of the US constitution, citizens have a guarantee of Free Speech, which, more specifically guarantees freedom from GOVERNMENT censorship, and so here's another difference between what government can do on social media versus the private sector.

 

If I'm correct, and you run an official government site, then you ARE government and therefore cannot abridge free speech rights as set out in the constitution. Facebook can. YOU can't.

 

So, if I'm an American citizen posting nasty messages on your forums or facebook pages, and you remove my posts, I'd think I'd have a really nice court case, bringing with it a huge hue and cry about government censorship.

 

Since I'm not a lawyer, and unless there are precedent cases saying otherwise, I think this is something that needs to be looked at by qualified professionals.

 

I would be interested in hearing if I'm missing something, or have misinterpreted things, so please correct me, if I'm wrong on this.

Your right to speak does not impose on me (or the government) an obligation to waste disk storing your comments.  The government, just like anyone else, can pick and choose what comments they choose to retain or delete on servers they own and operate.

 

On the other hand, the Archives and Records Administration might contend that each and every comment on a platform available to the public is a public record and must be retained so historians in 1000 years will be abel to write Phd disertations.

As I've observed in relation to the recent "Occupy" protests, there is considerable case law recogizing time/manner/place restrictions on free speech as legitimate and allowed.  That is why it's important to adopt a social media policy before jumping in with both feet, because it allows the consideration of whether objectionable posts may be removed in the absence of reacting to a specific situation or concern.

Government agencies that want a safe approach to social media should check-out Peak Democracy Inc's Open Town Hall online public comment forums. Open Town Hall online forums are structured to have the order and decorum of a government public hearing -- and accordingly, the online forums are civil and legal as well as easy and inexpensive to implement.

Open Town Hall online public comment forums also can be seamlessly interfaced to a government agency's Fb wall and Twitter feeds.

Open Town Hall has been implemented by about 30 government agencies across the US (and Canada). They have posted over 600 forum topics and have garnered over 50,000 attendees. For more information, check-out: http://www.PeakDemocracy.com .

There are few absolutes in social media, but to me, one of them is that you absolutely shouldn't delete comments simply because they criticize your agency.  Doing so just shreds your credibility, denies you the chance to respond, and tells the world you're not actually interested in hearing what the world thinks.

I agree, however, that you should have a commenting policy.  Here's ours: http://www.epa.gov/epahome/commentpolicy.html

 

There are really only a few things that'll get your comment removed from EPA's Facebook page or not allowed to appear on our blog:

  • contain obscene, indecent, or profane language;
  • contain threats or defamatory statements;
  • contain hate speech directed at race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ethnicity, age, religion, or disability; or
  • promote or endorse services or products. (Note that non-commercial links that are relevant to the topic or another comment are acceptable.)

I disagree with the blanket claims of first amendment rights.  Our attys have taken the position that a gov't social media page is more like a public hearing than a street corner.  In hearings, we do have the authority and responsibility to keep things civil.

From time to time, people forget the policy, and we remind them.  Every time I've ever posted the policy to our Facebook page, we get large numbers of "likes" and positive comments.  And when people complain about the policy, others say that they appreciate that we have it.

Thanks for the info on lawyer opinions. i've never heard of discussions on the issue and gladcommon sense seems to prevail

Under no circumstances should negative comments be deleted.

As Jeffrey said, having a clear commenting policy will help determine whether a post needs to be deleted. Depending on the comment, we'll even send an email to the user asking them to repost without profanity or personal attacks. Most people are ok with that.

But as far as negative comments, you're a big government now; you can handle what the mean kids say about you.

I think the negative comments should stay. That being said, the organization should have established cyber rules. Things such as;

  • Regular review of all posts by an official "cyber review" team
  • Ongoing involvement (including responses) by an official "cyber review" team
  • Established SLA's (Service Level Agreements) for reviewing, fresh content, etc
  • Established and enforced posting guidelines

If the organization cannot do these things; are they really ready to embrace true social media?

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