Should social media be censored?

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This topic contains 20 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  Lindsay 4 years, 2 months ago.

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  • #144471

    Allison Primack

    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?

  • #144509

    Greg Hahn

    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

    Mashable has recently posted their commenting do’s and don’ts, we are looking at incorporating some of their guidelines into ours:

  • #144507

    Jesse Wilkins

    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).

  • #144505


    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.
  • #144503

    Robert Bacal

    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.

  • #144501

    Peter Sperry

    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.

  • #144499

    Michael Cohen


    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.


  • #144497

    Michael Cohen

    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: .

  • #144495

    Jeffrey Levy

    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:

    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.

  • #144493

    Kevin Lanahan

    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.

  • #144491

    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?

  • #144489

    Robert Bacal

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

  • #144487

    Eric Erickson

    It is not censorship or an infringement on a user’s right to free speech when you take down a comment because it is spam or because it does not comply with the page’s stated guidelines. You are not telling them they CAN’T say something – they just can’t say it there.

    You can’t shout ‘FIRE’ in a crowded theatre, but there’s no reason you can’t shout ‘FIRE’ in your house or on your front porch.

  • #144485

    Jeffrey Levy

    @Kevin Lanahan: right on target. We also sometime send notes that give them back their comment so they can see it and ask them to resubmit without profanity. It depends on our workload and whether they seem sincere vs. being someone who regularly posts the same outlandish stuff.

    @James E: yep. Great points about the needed staffing and operating environment.

  • #144483

    Patrick Fiorenza

    Negative comments should stay, and should be addressed. If a comment breaks a guideline policy, agencies should notify that person why the comment was deleted. I think there is a norm online developing of what is acceptable and what is not, so there is a lot of self policing that takes place. The biggest thing is to have a policy addressing what kind of comments stay and go, agencies can do a lot to guide the conversation too, through the tone they use and content they publish.

  • #144481

    Denise Petet

    I agree with the : leave everything, however profane, obscene, threats and spam should be ‘soft deleted’….as in made invisible to the general public but still there for audit purposes.

    Sometimes it’s fun to see someone go off on a tangent about something and see the general public correct that person. I think that carries far more weight than any official response that just gives any ranter justification.

    Not all crit is bad. Sometimes it’s good to know what people are feeling. Good to know what’s irking them. The key is that not every crit needs to be responded to. SOmetimes people just want to vent. And the hard part can be determining the venters from those with real issues.

    Every site I’ve ever joined has a basic TOS that states what you can’/can’t do. Probably one thing that’s never been addressed in previous TOS that will likely show up more in the public sector is cyber bullying (I’m sure school social networks have such rules).

    I manage a forum off hours, and it’s not government but for fun. We have a multinational membership and we deal with a lot of…immaturity 🙂

    We have basic rules, but it boils down to ‘respect others’ and ‘keep your personal junk off of here’. DIsagree with someone to your heart’s content, you just express that disagreement in a respectful manner. Don’t call names, don’t cuss, don’t bully, don’t ‘yell’.

    We do occasionally have members trotting out ‘freedom of speech’, largely when we tell them ‘no, you can’t call this person names and insult them’. One thing they don’t realize when they bring out those three words – the majority of them have never read the origin I’m sure – is that yes, you can say what you want, but you’re not guaranteed an audience.

    Our forum is also privately owned, and when you’re on a privately owned site, you follow the owner’s rules.

  • #144479

    Dory Dahlberg

    Our agency has taken the position that in general negative comments or those that criticize policies are welcome and may foster good discussion. However, we will not keep on the main page profanity or hateful remarks, fraudulent representations, personal attacks or anything that violates our discussion guidelines.

    We haven’t had to worry about this much yet, but if we do need to move a comment we would place it on another page, like a violating comments “junk drawer.” (an idea from Steven Clift, e-democracy guru) So it would still be available to view, just harder to find. And we would add an explanation as to why it was moved.

  • #144477

    Chris St.John

    Security with DTM-09-026. The Department of Defense (DoD) outlines their policy and guidelines for the effective use of social networking. This DTM applies to all agencies within the DoD. If Facebook is blocked for your agency, this will tell you why.

  • #144475

    Deborah Johnson

    My city’s social media policy states:

    “Although we encourage posts and comments on City of Lakewood Social Media sites that allow posts, these sites are limited public forums and are moderated by City staff. Posted content must be related to the topics posted by the City to be considered appropriate. Inappropriate and prohibited content is subject to immediate removal from the site. Inappropriate and prohibited content includes content that:

    • Is not topically related to the particular article being commented upon.
    • Is vulgar, obscene, offensive, threatening or harassing.
    • Is potentially defamatory, libelous or includes false claims.
    • Promotes or advertises commercial services, entities or products.
    • Supports or opposes political candidates or ballot propositions.
    • Is determined to be in violation of federal, state or local laws.
    • Includes sexual content.
    • Discusses or encourages illegal activity.
    • Promotes, fosters or perpetuates discrimination on the basis of creed, color, age, religion, gender, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, national origin, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation.
    • Provides information that may tend to compromise the safety or security of the public or public systems.
    • Violates a legal ownership.
    • Violates the terms of use and privacy policy set by the site service provider.
    • Violates this Policy and Procedure.”

    We’ve had to remove only a couple of posts under this policy and have made an effort to notify those who’ve posted such items to let them know their remarks were removed and why. This policy is appended to the Facebook info page for all to see.

  • #144473

    Deborah Johnson

    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.

  • #257223


    Social media is used as a worldwide communication tool, and people want and/or need it. Right now there is a lot of fuss about the Islamic State owning Twitter accounts. There have been many disturbing tweets, such as: executions, torture, and sacrifices. Twitter and government officials have been trying to delete accounts that are a part of this. The government should not have the right to control or limit the user’s access to social media.
    The government should not make decisions for other people. Social media is used to express people’s feelings and opinions. Even if people do not understand other religions, it does not mean that they should control their ways of expressing who they are. The government wants to delete ISIS accounts just because they are tweeting things that may support their religion. In the article “ISIS Is Adept on Twitter, Study Finds” by Rick Gladstone and Vindu Goel, a man who they interviewed named Mr. Berger stated that “the monthly traffic from Islamic State accounts represented maybe one or two hundredths of a percentage point of the network’s total” (Gladstone and Goel, 6). In comparison to the rest of the Twitter accounts made all over the world, there are only about .001-.002% of Islamic State accounts made. The government should not be deleting their accounts when there are hardly any compared to the rest of the world. They do not need to worry.

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