It’s a fact that some subjects are more controversial than others. At times, courting controversy can be a good way to encourage debate and interaction in your online community. Sometimes though, controversy can breed contempt – the last thing you want to happen.
What subject is your online community based around?
The existing subject matter of your community will help you determine whether you need to make the discussion of certain topics off limits. If you run a forum based around current events for example, it would be rather unconstructive to disallow conversations of a political nature.
If you run a general interest community, it is far easier to disallow the discussion of certain topics as they may rarely be mentioned anyway. You may decide that you are not going to allow conversations about religion – in a general interest community this may be OK, however in a community based around philosophy or history you may be severely limiting the scope of discussions within your community.
What level of moderation can you provide?
Religion and politics are perhaps the two most controversial topics – people often feel very strongly about these subjects, and can become extremely passionate when discussing them. It is very easy for people who disagree with another member on such subjects to be perceived as personally attacking them. Of course, this is not always the case, but due to the emotional and passionate nature of these subjects, arguments and bad feelings are far more likely to occur.
On the flip side, the very fact that many people feel so strongly about these topics can lead to healthy discussion that can significantly increase the level of interaction and member engagement on your site. If you can provide the moderation that such topics will often require, then there is no reason why you should ban such discussions outright.
What type of members does your online community attract?
Every community is different – or at least is should be! If your members are generally mature and rational, then you will be far more likely to get away with allowing or even encouraging the discussion of controversial topics. If your community attracts younger members or those who are more sensitive to people disagreeing with them, perhaps you should consider not allowing certain topics to be discussed.
Give your members a chance
I prefer to adopt a laissez-faire approach when it comes to setting rules and moderating online communities. I try to avoid blanket bans or other measures that may stifle interaction. That being said, if a certain topic causes tensions in a community, action needs to be taken. This may involve warning a community member or removing posts. Only if there was evidence that a certain topic was persistently causing problems within a community would I consider banning all discussion on that subject.
Remember – the more you restrict your members, the less you are encouraging member interaction.
Do you ban the discussion of certain topics? Do you actively encourage controversy and passionate debate? Has this ever come back to haunt you? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.