Lately, our Seed&Spark users have asked for more social and communication features, and since we’re all about community building, we’re releasing them! In tandem with the first release (of an in-site messaging feature), we’re also releasing a new Code of Conduct that builds on our original community guidelines. While we have been incredibly fortunate to build a very positive community of support for inclusive content, we also know that social features can make a site vulnerable to bad actors. So we wanted to put a stake in the ground about the behaviors we believe contribute to the current positive environment, and also clarify stuff we will not tolerate. This is particularly important if you want to create a truly inclusive space where everyone has equal opportunity to participate in and co-create the culture of your community.
And personally speaking, I do not subscribe to the notion that as the owner of a privately held company or CEO of a platform my job is to provide “free speech protection” to any asshole with a bad opinion. People (Jack Dorsey) have been hiding behind “free speech” on the internet as a way not to have to put in basic protections for the users most vulnerable to being attacked on the internet (women, people of color, etc). For me, publishing a code of conduct in tandem with the release of social features on the site is a stake in the ground: we have standards for how people treat each other. You will not be arrested by the government for your “free (mean) speech,” but you just can’t do it here. Dissenting opinions are absolutely a part of the diversity we hope to create on Seed&Spark. That said, there are a lot of threats being disguised opinions in social forums all across the internet, and that requires very specific attention from folks building those platforms.
In its best form, the Code of Conduct will be a living document that adjusts as our community’s needs and demands make themselves known. Because this is a community, I’m sharing the thinking we used to guide our V1 code of conduct. And, I’m hoping that as a part of our community in some for, you might share your input and feedback so that we can improve it. Ideally, we can make this an additional resource for founders who want to make sure they are building inclusive spaces on the internet!
- We did research.
Before we started writing, we took the internet to see what others have done. Mozilla probably has some of the most comprehensive resources available, and your code of conduct’s nuances will be dictated by the particulars of how people are interacting. I also asked my own twitter feed, and as a result was pointed in the direction of some CoCs for community Slack channels I found really helpful (thanks Woot Woot Sound!), as well as for comments sections on media sites. What was most useful was to see the language different companies use to clarify the behaviors that are and are not ok, and that helped me think through what behaviors I think are likely on our platform.
2. We defined what community engagement is for
Something we saw consistently across CoCs is first and foremost a reminder of the purpose of community engagement on the website, slack channel, or platform. Starting with the positive (here is what we are here to do) can often be enough for reasonable people to understand the expectations around their own behavior.
Here is the intro to our current code of conduct, where we lead with what we are here to do as a community, and what we’re here to avoid in this CoC:
3. We’re defining behavior that sucks — and leaving room for using our team’s judgement
It can feel frustrating to have to be super specific about all the ways someone shouldn’t be an asshole, but it’s important to establish clear ground rules. We made sure to define the kinds of language we do and don’t want to see, how a person’s account should be set up for accountability (use your real name!), what is considered SPAM, and even outline some rules of the road for healthy debate (which we encourage!).
However, we by no means make an exhaustive list of all the things that could be considered a violation. Sometimes you just know it when you see it, like when the spirit of the thing is shitty even if it technically falls within the guidelines (this is what trolls excel at).
4. Let people know what to expect for regulation
We have a flagging system, and anything that gets flagged will be reviewed by our team at which point we’ll make a judgement on what action to take. Initially we were going to take a sort of “three flags and you’re out” approach, but that’s been used as an abusive tactic to silence voices on other platforms. More importantly, sometimes a single flag may be enough to remove a user from the platform if the abuse is significant.
5. We have a plan to iterate
Codes of conduct shift as conduct shifts. We will learn things from how our users implement the social features that will require that we have a regularly scheduled review of the CoC. What I’m most curious about is how often flagging will happen and what will trigger it. We don’t expect some big uptick in abuse since we really haven’t had that problem so far, but we do have a new opportunity to learn if any common community behavior irks our users.
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It feels terrible, honestly, to have to consider throwing someone off a platform we built to increase inclusion and elevate diverse voices. But man, there are a lot of mean people using the internet to drown out voices that so desperately need to be heard right now. So, if we can create a reliably safe place on the internet for diverse voices to rise, then it will all be worth it.
Up next: expanding the code of conduct to include all of our live events. We would love to hear from you in the comments: who is doing it well? Where have great-seeming CoC’s fallen short? Thanks for your input!