Moderating a Facebook Group: With Great Power Comes Great — Culpability?

Moderating a Facebook Group: With Great Power Comes Great — Culpability?

Maybe this sounds familiar: You and some like-minded people want to share ideas about a particular issue, and so you start a Facebook group. A few clicks later, and voila: group created! Seems simple enough, yes? If it’s only you and your friends or family members, it might be. However, once you start expanding the group to be more public, your role as an admin or moderator becomes more complicated.  

While social media platforms have given us new means of staying in touch and sharing ideas, it’s the human factor that has the potential to make this interaction challenging. People (probably not you, but definitely the others) have a habit of exposing their worst instincts online, and someone (read: probably you) will likely need to step in. This could be as simple as reminding the offending party of the group’s guidelines, or it could mean kicking them out of the group. Establishing rules is a good place to start, but here’s an article that suggests even posted guidelines won’t necessarily protect you legally if you’re not actively monitoring the group and responding to potential problems (According to the article: “There is case law to the effect that an administrator can be held liable for defamatory content and that they have an obligation to remove content which is defamatory or discriminatory.” We don’t necessarily speak fluent lawyer, but we think that fits the legal definition of “scary-a$$ language.”) 

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself, your co-moderators and members of Facebook groups:

  • Privacy Settings: You’ll need to decide what level of privacy you want. If you’re talking about anything remotely controversial, you probably do not want a public group. If you do, make sure all the members understand that and want to be part of a potentially contentious forum. Remember that you can only change privacy settings once every 28 days, and all members of the group will be notified when you do so. Here are the different privacy settings and what they mean:
    • Public - anyone can find the group, see who’s in it and what they post;
    • Closed - anyone can find the group and see who runs it, but only members can see who’s in it and what they post;
    • Secret - only members can find the group, see who’s in it and what they post.
  • Adding Members: When you invite someone to your group, they’ll receive a notification. Then they can preview the group for up to 28 days without committing, though they’ll be unable to comment or invite anyone else until they join.
    • Questions: You can include a few key questions that potential members must answer before being accepted to the group. This might be something as simple as: Do you promise to respect the privacy of the group and not share member posts?
  • Description: Add a short and clear description of what the group is about. “A place to plan for our RTO team” or “a place for people on different sides of the political spectrum to have a civil conversation about the state of our union.”
  • Group Guidelines: As with most forms of human interaction, managing expectations is important. State clearly up-front (perhaps with a pinned post) what is considered acceptable behavior and what is not. If profanity won’t be tolerated, tell them that. Let them know if any negative posts are going to be taken down, as well as what kind of behavior would result in them being kicked out. While all groups will have different standards, it’s generally a good idea to curtail comments that are considered sexist, racist or homophobic. And threatening behavior or comments should obviously not be allowed.
    • It’s a good idea to periodically remind people of these guidelines, as well as to share them with new members. You’ll also want to let members know what actions they can take if they feel someone is violating the guidelines.
    • Remember that in addition to your group’s rules, your users are also subject to Facebook’s Community Standards and Terms of Use
  • Posting: You can require approval by an admin or moderator before a story is posted, or you can let them post as long as they follow the guidelines. 
  • Co-Moderators: You may want to share the task of moderating the group, but make sure that any potential co-moderators agree and understand their responsibilities.

The bottom line? As the moderator of a Facebook group, you’re putting yourself in the role of publisher, with all of the rights and responsibilities that go along with that. It is up to you to moderate content and ensure people aren’t being harassed. Or worse. This could be serious business and something you should be prepared to take seriously. If you’re not ready for that kind of a commitment, you may want to consider participating in another way.

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