Discrimination in Your Online Community: What to do about it and how to avoid it

3 minute read

September 15, 2016

Discrimination in Your Online Community: What to do about it and how to avoid it

Internet Discrimination In The News

Recently, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky published a letter outlining Airbnb’s new policies for combating discrimination on the popular platform. The letter comes following a three-month long investigation into the alarming number of complaints regarding racism and other forms of discrimination experienced by their users.

Among other thing, Airbnb plans to install a full-time discrimination response team, an updated terms of service agreement that all users must agree to, as well as other plans to improve the quality of the service and remove processes that might allow for discrimination.

Airbnb is taking a big step towards trying to end discrimination. And while they may have the resources to do so, your community might not be on the same level.

There are a number of policies and approaches that may be useful in your own community.

Zero Tolerance Policy

Many online forums enact zero tolerance policies when it comes to discriminatory actions or blatant hate speak. It is important for your community to feel as though there can be a free exchange of ideas, including difference of opinion, however that does not have to extend to the blatantly violent, racist, or incendiary.

A zero tolerance policy would entail the removal of the offending individual from the community and restricting their re-entry, if possible. In closed forums this can be more easily accomplished through blacklisting the offenders email or IP address.

Open forums such as social media may have difficulties with members creating new accounts, which is why:

The Need for Oversight

As your community grows and becomes more diverse, there will be a greater need for oversight and moderation. Serving and supporting your community as well as encouraging its development should be a top priority in any case. Ensuring that your community is a safe and respectful place for your members to congregate is part of that approach.

Your community manager as well as their team of moderators/administrators are essential to any successful forum. They can address community grievances, help provide support and education, and remove posts or comments that are detrimental to the community.

The Importance of Guidelines

Any community needs an outline of acceptable behavior that members are aware of. Whether you call it terms of service, rules, or code of conduct, the purpose should be the same: allowing your members to know what is and is not acceptable behavior.

When creating your community guidelines, be specific with your language. Don’t try to be vague or all-encompassing. The fact is you will not be able to account for every eventuality so don’t attempt to. Focus on the tone and behavior you are expecting from your members rather than listing the behaviors, actions, or words you want to restrict.

In the end, remember that as the leader of the community you are ultimately responsible for the content that is posted and exchanged. As such, you set the standards to enforce.

Promoting Unity

Whether your community is a gathering of employees, those with common interests, or a shared cause or political view, the purpose of community is to bring people together. Not drive them apart. Discrimination within an online community only seeks to drive a wedge into the very reason your community exists in the first place.

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David Dumas

Written by David Dumas

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