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How We Talk Together Online

Communicating online can be difficult. When we can’t see each other’s faces, or hear another’s voice, we can make mistakes. We can mistake a person’s meaning, their tone, or even their character – particularly when the lack of physical proximity brings out the worst in us. When discussions start to go wrong, they tend to spiral downwards, each comment interpreted in the worst possible way, until we’re just shouting into the ‘net.

This is not conducive to building community. When people are willing to say online things they would never say to someone’s face, relationships suffer. People begin to believe their fellow congregants are worse people than they are, and everyone is reduced to the slice of themselves they put online. Because of the unpleasant interaction on social media, people are less willing to talk through things in person. Nobody learns. Nobody grows. The community suffers.

This is why we have rules to govern what our members are allowed to post in response to articles on our Facebook page and in our Facebook group. The rules aren’t there to prevent discussion or to shut people down. They are meant to foster community, to help our online spaces meet the same standards of mutual respect and trust we expect to observe when members of the Ethical Society meet face to face.

That said, this is what is allowed on our social media pages:

  • Expressing your own view. It is acceptable – even encouraged – for participants to say what they think about a particular post.
  • Disagreement. It is perfectly acceptable for participants in a discussion to disagree, to say why or why not they support a particular view or perspective, as long as they do so respectfully.
  • Commenting on others’ comments. Replies to another’s comments are not necessarily problematic. It is fine to respond to what someone else has written.
  • Judging behavior and language. It is perfectly acceptable to talk about another’s actual behavior or the language they have used. If someone’s language is homophobic, for instance, or if they have breached the rules of the group, it is fine to talk about that behavior.
  • Rejecting consensus. It is fine not to believe what others believe. We are a freethinking community, and we don’t do dogma. You have a right to express your view even if you are the only one taking your position.

This is what is not allowed on our social media pages:

  • Personal attacks or insults. There is no reason ever to personally insult or attack another member of our community. This includes calling people “stupid,” insulting their character, If an issue is so drastic that it needs to be addressed directly, contact myself or Kate and we will attempt some form of mediation. Insulting someone else online doesn’t help, and undermines the relationships necessary to build a healthy community.
  • Broad judgments of character. While it may be tempting to judge people based on their behavior online, we want to encourage members to get to know each other deeply and to bring out the best in each other. Therefore, we ask that people not express broad judgments of a person’s character on our social media pages.
  • Jokes at the expense of others, particularly marginalized communities. We have a policy which guides our communication at the Ethical Society: we’ll laugh at ourselves, but not at other people. We ask our members to follow the same policy online.
  • Statements which reinforce the marginalization of any group of people. The Ethical Society exists to uphold the worth and dignity of all people. Any statements which are racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist etc. are inconsistent with our core values as a community and will be removed.

These rules still leave a lot of grey areas. Communication is complex, and there will always be room for disagreement as to whether a particular post violates the rules. Therefore, we have two uber-rules which override all other considerations:

  • The admins’ decisions are final. When we make a decision, that decision will stand. If you disagree with a decision, speak to us in person about it, but do not argue about it in the thread.
  • Relationships are paramount. The most important thing about our social media pages is that they exist to further the broader goals of the Ethical Society: the creation of a community of love and justice in which all people are honored and treated with dignity. This value overrides any of the rules – our main concern is keeping people in right relationship with each other and fostering growth and fellowship.

These rules will change and develop over time as our community changes. For now, this is how we expect our members to engage with each other on social media.