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Community management vs. censorship in social media

The other day @rachelreuben brought up a question on twitter about what to do with an inappropriate comment on the university's Facebook fan page. It wasn't explicit, necessarily, but was insulting to an art exhibit on campus.

Many people weighed in, but as is the case with twitter, sometimes 140 characters is limiting to a thought.

I have seen similar comments on our page and other pages and am curious if you all have a policy or just any thought that guides your judgment on this. Again, the idea is that it's rude, not necessarily vulgar.

I have an opinion, but first I'd like to hear what you all think.

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Here's the screen shot of what I was dealing with on our Facebook Fan Page wall recently:

I believe @gordon_ryan summed it up best in his response to me: "IMHO, if the person used "penis" to describe what they saw, it's no different than "arm" or "nose.""

I made the decision to leave the comment, as it is not a personal attack or profanity. Is it inappropriate to post a comment on a FB wall item that says a certain piece of artwork looks like a male body part? Yes. Part of me wanted to make this a teachable moment if this was someone who was a current student, or about to be a new first year or transfer student. However, they have a private profile, and searching her name in our student record system didn't come up with anything, so we have no idea who she is, other than a "Fan of SUNY New Paltz." If she were someone that applied and we denied acceptance to, it could've created ugliness if we deleted or responded to her comment. This is why I decided it is best to ignore and move on from. Luckily, we have a very high volume of wall posts and comments, so it's quite buried right now.

Very curious to hear what others think & how they would've handled this.
What is the difference of this comment appearing on the FB fan page vs. the comment being made in public by the same person while standing in front of this piece in the museum itself? Others are going to hear/read it in either case, and after all, the person IS joining the discussion and offering an opinion.

Is the opinion that of the artist and/or the institution? Probably not, but it's an opinion.

Isn't the point of a Facebook Fan page to encourage discussion and contribution from the community at large?

If the opinion was "that looks like the Pope's hat...", could that be offensive to a Catholic visitor? Possibly.

Art is also meant to encourage discussion and thought by those who see it.

When the discussion is opened up to the general public, you're going to get comments from all ends of the spectrum, and it stands to reason that many of those comments may be totally inappropriate. Who decides what is inappropriate and when/if it gets removed?

If you remove it from YOUR social network space(s), does that make you a censor, or a responsible protector of your institution's brand and image? (or both?)

I think profanity and/or vulgar insults directed at individuals are never appropriate, and should be removed, but this one is a bit tricky, as it COULD be interpreted either way, depending on who is reading it.
It comes down to the culture of the University.

If it is a religious school, then it would most likely be appropriate to censor the comment. However, with any other school, if it was inappropriate, I believe the Fan Pages Community would self censor.

We recently had someone say they read the name of the comment writer above them as "Viagra" instead of "Vagra." The original writer was a prospective student's father. Luckily, he, the father, wrote back jokingly that he misread the 2nd writer's name.

My manager asked me to delete the comment about "Viagra" but I left it up knowing the community would censor itself.

Community Management and censorship depends on how well you know your community.
I think the answer will always be influenced by the personality of the school, so here is my perspective from ours (small, close knit, religious).

I believe any kind of shared space you are officially hosting (in a private community, myspace page, facebook page, youtube comments, etc), becomes your "living room," to speak metaphorically.*

Everyone is welcome. It's a place to converse, tell stories, and share ideas and concerns, etc. Part of serving as a good host is ensuring that everyone feels comfortable. So there are "house rules." Common courtesy has to prevail to provide a safe environment for people to continue to interact.

I would rather offend someone by taking down an offensive comment than offend the whole community by leaving it up.

Concerning censorship, my foundational principle is that people have many outlets to say what they'd like about us- blogs, tweets, facebook, etc. But once you come into our house, you play by our rules. :) Legitimate criticisms or questions is one thing (and we take those seriously and try to address them not only privately but also publicly), but being rude or snarky for the sake of it is another.

*To give credit where it's due, the living room analogy is one I first heard at International House of Prayer in Kansas City.

We've decided informally that we'll delete profane comments on our Facebook page, but we haven't figured out what, if anything, to do about alumni using the page for self-promotion:

This alumnus has been adding a comment promoting his stand-up comedy to almost everything we post. We were hoping the community would take care of it, but not so far. In general, I want to err on the side of not deleting comments, so we've let them stand. (And really, you'd expect his comments to be funnier, so it's not like it's particularly effective self-promotion.) But—ahs anyone else encountered a similar situation? Any thoughts on when self-promotion turns into unpaid advertising?



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