Censorship and moderation of content on the blog

The most difficult thing to deal with while working on the blog was to be both attached and personal with the blog and simultaneously develop a sense of detachment to the content and the creative aspects of the blog. This has been quite hard, especially because the object of this collaboration is a creative, personal and opinion driven. Sometimes, these pinions and the form expression has a potential to implicate or insinuate people with subjective opinions that could be derogatory.

For most parts of this project in the last year, things went exceptionally well. Almost every single writer understood the intimacy of sharing something personal (i.e. a blog post) with many people using a platform that is heterogeneous and global and almost everyone maintained a sense of decorum and refrained from abusing or offending the opportunity to discuss issues and ideas.

There was a situation involving one of the writers in October, 2011 . He was invited to write on the blog  and during this process, one of his posts appeared distasteful to me and it had left several readers unhappy with the profanity in the language used. This post left me very agitated and after exchanging a few emails with writer refused to change his post, I was forced to take down his post and ask him not to write on the blog any more.

In retrospect, there were a couple of key learning experiences that came out of this incident.

1. During the whole process, the usual protocol before a writer began writing on the blog was to share a small handbook that I had written to talk a little about the blog and answer some FAQs. This mainly consisted information about using WordPress and some do’s and don’ts’ . The initial document recommended self regulation on the writer’s part, especially for the language used. After this incident, I had to make a conscious change in the list and put in lines that asked writers to refrain from profanity and abusive language. The contentious issue here was the issue of how much and how far should I, as a site admin/editor/blogger whatever you might call me, moderate or censor the content posted by a writer. My decision to take down the post was based on a belief that the blogger code discussed here was not being followed, and the post contained some offensive material, where the writer did not appear to make any efforts in warning the readers or moderating it.

2. After thinking about this more and having discussions with one of the previous writers, it became clear that in a collaborative venture, there was always going to be a situation like this where it becomes difficult to choose between giving 100% freedom to a writer on his content, and at the same time enforce some amount of control that would prevent a recap of this type of blogging where mindless rants, containing profanity are masked as “creative expressions”.  The solution to this came about in these discussions and it was decided that if such a situation should arise in the future, the best way to deal with it would be to get in touch with the writer, talk to them and ask them to explain themselves and post a follow up post on the blog to explain themselves. Modifying the initial post with a warning to readers about the language being used could be the second step in this process. This to me sounds like a win-win situation, where a clarity of what can be expected in the post would let the readers decide if they want to read it further, and the writer could go ahead and write what they feel like. This to me tackles the issue of freedom of expression,  better and potentially makes collaborative writing more responsible.

A proposal for collaborative blogging experiments would therefore be

1. All writers should be aware of what they represent while being part of the collaboration and required to be responsible for the image that their work would project, about themselves, more importantly the rest of the people associated with them on the project and the overall goals of the project.

2. Often, in such collaborations, the roles of writers and readers become interchangeable and putting oneself in the shoes of both a writer and reader is essential to understand the essence of collaborative writing.

3.  Issue of moderation would always be a contentious one, but proper conversation and discussion between all parties involved is essential.

These are some of the things I wanted to say on this matter of censorship and moderation, and my experience of dealing with it while running the back end of this blog.

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Today is officially the end of the 52nd week, and therefore the 52 weeks of writing with 52 different writers has come to an end. I would like to thank everyone who has written on the blog and for all the support.  I will be posting a few more additional posts to finish up discussing a bit more about the experience of carrying out this collaborative blogging experiment with 52 different writers.

I will leave you with one of my favourite posts.

Varun

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