I normally try to leave politics and religion out of my work with nonprofits, but this time I need to make an exception. A month ago I launched a Facebook Page called Accomplishments of President Barack Obama. In just that short time it has become abundantly clear that I have been living and working in social networking bubble of nice, friendly, supportive nonprofit folks. My advice to nonprofits has always been that mean people on social networking sites are few and far between, so don’t worry so much about them. You’ll have to deal with them maybe 2-3 times a year. And for most nonprofits, that’s still true.
BUT over the last month I have gained a new respect for social media staff that work with nonprofits who tackle controversial issues like reproductive rights and abortion, health care reform, immigration reform, marriage equality, and peace and war. In this political climate, they have to develop a very thick skin and just accept that their cause will be attacked by people from all sides of the political spectrum every day – sometimes many times a day. It’s exhausting and can be quite depressing and stressful.
I have run a lot of online communities over the last 10 years, but never one as challenging as the Accomplishments of President Barack Obama Facebook Page. It’s really testing my community building skills. You have to do more than just post a few links and say “Thanks!” :). You have to moderate. You have to weed out the hate. You have to witness and try to reverse the demise of civil discourse. As someone who studied political science and has long believed in the power of the Internet to create positive social change, I am quite disturbed by what I am witnessing on this Facebook Page and others like it. My skin is not that thick. I am much bothered by it.
That said, I have been trying to find that thin line between freedom of speech and when it’s appropriate to “Report” and permanently block people from your social networking communities. Lessons learned thus far:
1) If they use hate or racist language, report/block them.
These folks are rare, but they sadly exist. They are not interested in discussing the issues. They only join your page to rant and incite. They want a fight. The more people argue with them, the more active they will get on your page. Not only will they bring you down, they will bring the entire community down. I can’t stress that enough. Giving such a person their freedom of hate speech will ruin it for the rest of your community. More people are reading your Status Updates on Facebook than you might think (I have discovered). The vast majority are silent.
When asked, your fans want you to block the haters and racists because at a certain point your fans become so disgusted that they disengage from the Page to avoid seeing the hate. Out of 8,600 fans, I have now had to block a little more than 30. They were blocked for either really foul, hateful language full of 4-letter words, for uploading obviously racist images, or for being repeat offenders (see #5 below).
On Facebook, simply click “Report” by their comment. Select “Attacks Group/Individual” and check “Permanently ban this person from this Facebook Page.” Then delete their comments. You will immediately feel a sense of relief knowing that you won’t ever have to see their hateful, stupid words again.
On Twitter, you can “Block” them from following you. Once blocked, you will no longer see their ReTweets/Mentions and they will no longer see yours. Poof. They are gone.
On MySpace, select the setting that you require that you view the comments before posting, then don’t post and remove them from your friends.
On YouTube, “Block User” and delete their comments.
On your Blog, require comments to be reviewed before posting, then don’t post and report the person’s comment as Spam. You won’t see their comments anymore.
Finally, report the racists to the Southern Poverty Law Center and right before you block them, let them know you did it too.
2) Collapse Threads and restrict your Wall on Facebook.
It’s taken me almost two years to build a community of 8,700 fans on the Nonprofit Organizations Facebook Page. I have found it a difficult community to engage. There are few Comments and Thumbs Up. There is very little need to restrict any activity because: 1) it does not get a lot of activity; and 2) there are very few hateful and angry people that participate on that Page. To date, I have only had to block one person. One really crazy person.
The opposite is true for the Accomplishments of President Obama Facebook Page. The Page has grown quickly and there is lots of action and feedback – and not all of it good. Since I can’t monitor the Page 24/7 for hate and anger, I have learned it is best to collapse comment threads and default to the wall settings to comments only Admin posts. Doing so limits the visibility of the hate. It’s a necessary trade-off to avoid depressing your fans.
Thus, go to Options > Settings > Do not check “Comments on stories will be expanded by default” and set the “Default View for Wall” to “Only Posts by Page”.
It is important to remember that these settings should only be in place if you are a nonprofit that regularly receives hateful activity on your Page. If not, these settings are too strict for 99% of Pages out there. You want to encourage more activity on most Pages, not restrict it.
3) Create and post “Community Guidelines”.
Lay down some ground rules and post it a Facebook Note. Ask your community to help monitor the hate and anger. Refer to the rules often by reposting them on threads where uncivil discourse spirals out of control.
4) Guide your community to kindness.
When a discussion between fans turns heated and people start insulting one another, it is a good practice to intervene and remind people to please try to be respectful and to keep it civil:
Hey folks! Just a friendly reminder to please keep it respectful and civil. Thanks!
Something this simple does help and usually changes the tone. When those that are arguing realize that someone is listening and watching, they usually cool down. Remember: Fans can disagree and argue. The only time to delete and/or report and block is when their content is racist, hateful and/or vulgar or if they are a repeat offender.
5) Trust your instincts on blocking repeat offenders.
Some people fan your page only to argue and they repeatedly post contrary statements to everything you post. One person can easily usurp your community. They may not post hateful or racist language, but they argue all the time and can easily change the tone of every single Status Update you post. A good way to tell if you should block them is to go to their profile and browse through the Pages that they have fanned. What Pages a person has fanned says a lot about who they are as a person, namely, if they are legitimate fan of your cause.
Freedom of speech is important, but you have to make a tough decision about when one person’s inflated ego and political or social beliefs trumps thousands of others in your community. There are many, many other places on the Web where they can go rant. You will need to decide when you no longer want them ranting on yours for the greater good of your community. I usually give someone 3-4 chances to actually participate in a discussion rather than just incite, beyond that I make the call to block them. You’ll never miss them and neither does your community.
6) Take a break.
I had some sleepless nights over running this Page. You will too. Take a break. Stay away from it at night and on the weekends if you can. Try to share the responsibility of the Page with another staff person. Good luck. Stay strong. Your work is important. Make sure your boss knows that.