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Free Speech vs. Harmony

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This is a conversational topic and doesn’t require “advice,” per se.  I just thought the topic was fascinating and many of us have experienced either as staff or members how challenging it is to balance free speech with site harmony or the perceived safety of individuals.


I’ve seen many larger sites struggle with the concept of free speech.  In our modern world, many of us are used to the topic, and we see that “free speech” is a right we can use just about anywhere.  However, sometimes sites don’t know where to place the “okay let’s stop now” line.  If you draw it too soon, you have members claiming that you don’t allow free speech.  If you wait too long, that same free speech could end up hurting other members.


And from a member perspective, it’s challenging, too.  If you join a site that’s “anything goes,” you could end up getting hurt by callous or uneducated remarks.  If you join a site that limits free speech, you’re not always certain what topics are “safe” to talk about, especially if the site doesn’t outright state “don’t talk about X subject” in the rules.  You could potentially offend someone, and that someone will get pissed off at you, and the next thing you know, you’ve been frosted out by the members of the site.


I’ve been on sites where people pulled the “but it’s free speech!” trick and were belittling and aggravating in topics.  You knew that they were being assholes when they posted, but because there’s no tone on the internet, they would tell the admin that the admin misinterpreted the tone.  Because the admin was trying to keep the peace and allow people their free speech, the problem members were allowed to stay on for too long before they were eventually banned.


But on the flip side, I’ve been on sites that have a hidden list of topics that you don’t get to talk about, and if you do, you get dogpiled and kicked in the throat by multiple people.  Nothing you say or do can convince them that you’re allowed to have a different opinion on the topic, and now you’re gasping for breath wondering where the crap everything went wrong.


My belief is that it comes down to communication.  State in the rules what topics can’t be spoken about if you have anything you’re passionate about that shouldn’t be discussed.  Encourage respectful conversation between people: listen to each other, ask follow-up questions, use kind words, limit bold text and capslocked words, thank people for clarifying something or explaining topics, realize that you aren’t always right.  And most importantly, understand that there is a difference between talking about a subject and being rude about a subject, regardless of what the subject is or who’s on what side.  (Ex: Saying “I don’t like word counts because they limit my creativity” is okay, but “Anyone who likes word counts is a complete bastard and doesn’t understand how crippling they are to the US economy” is not.)


Anyhow, I think people on forums should watch this TED talk about communication.  I stumbled across it yesterday looking for something else, but it’s awesome and I’m glad I did.  It's about ten minutes, but its one of the best TED talks I've seen.


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My opinion on free speech is pretty simple... I'm for it. You can say absolutely say stupid, offensive, annoying, uneducated or whatever things. However, that does not mean there are no repercussions for saying those things.  So say what you want, but if it's a problem then I'm going to deal with it. (So if a person wants to insult another and claim free speech... Yeah, that's not going to work. I'm going to shoot that down pretty quick.) Furthermore it does not mean that others have to put up with it either. So if someone says something patently/demonstrably wrong... fair game to be corrected. 


I'll also admit I'm generally willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. So if I read something and it could be offensive, but could also just be poor phrasing then I'm just going to presume it's poor phrasing. Why? Because too many people nowadays are willing to dogpile and take shots over every little thing. Even when things are innocent, if a bit misphrased. Plus I know for a fact I've misphrased things and they've come across way harsher than I intended them to.


I'll also admit that I refuse to buy into people saying their feelings were hurt (especially if I know they have any kind of pro-"social justice" inclinations) as any kind of justification for why I should take an action. I've seen way too many cases of people using it to manipulate or silence others to ever accept it. I mean in general what was said was never offensive, it was just contrary to their beliefs/opinions so therefore it must be wrong and purged away. (Essentially kill the wrongthink.)


When it comes to topics themselves, I don't care what people talk about. All I require is that:

- mature topics, like sex, be in the mature section. 

- personal topics, like asking for advice, be in the real life section (which is hidden from non-members).

- forum rules are followed. (So no attacking others and it can't be to relay illegal info, like how to hack a company.)


Beyond that I really don't care if you want to talk about pretty much anything else.




Just to be clear, the free speech aspect of the US constitution is specifically aimed at the government taking away right to say things. It says nothing about businesses or private individuals. A forum or blog typically falls under private domain in this regard so they're under no obligation to put up with anything. So that means anyone who tries to use "My Free Speech" as an excuse to say whatever has no idea what they're actually talking about.

Additionally there are clauses in the law that deal specifically with offensive speech. So realistically it's not anything goes, it's your right to free speech extends only as long as you're not trying to cause harm with it.

However that does not mean "you hurt my feelings" is an acceptable way to stamp out someone's opinion or argument. In order to claim harm via speech you have to be able to prove it cause harm in some way, usually via the average person case. 

(If what was said to an average person would cause harm, then it's an issue.)





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"There are three sides to every story... Your side, their side, and then somewhere in the middle is the truth."
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I've never really had an issue with discussions per-say on any of the boards I ran. However my approach has always been: "I expect you all to be able to act like Adults; if we're going to devolve into grade school name calling and political stereotypes, I'll have to step in. And if I step in, the ban hammer is coming with me."

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On 6/25/2017 at 6:21 PM, VirusZero said:

My opinion on free speech is pretty simple... I'm for it. You can say absolutely say stupid, offensive, annoying, uneducated or whatever things. However, that does not mean there are no repercussions for saying those things.


So very much this. You can say whatever you want, and your opinions are not unimportant. But free speech is a two-way street. And there's a time and a place for certain things.


If I see a discussion on my community that is going south, and in an unsalvageable way, I'll step in and shut it down before anything can really be said. I may be encroaching on your "free speech" but I did not create this community to bash, insult, offend, etc. anyone involved. Especially not on a public forum. Take that soapbox somewhere private and off of my website, please and thank you. But if you're able to discuss sensitive information in a mature way, that's something completely different. I encourage informed, civil discussion! Just please don't let it degenerate.


I don't think you need to list topics in your site rules to avoid, but stress the kind of behavior you expect from your community. Respect, understanding, and compassion are three traits that I like to encourage and I leave it at that. If you see someone start unacceptable behavior, treat them with the same respect, understanding, and compassion you expect and it can go a long way. 


a dark, urban fantasy;

inspired by sailor moon

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