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I am a member of a non-profit organization (bike advocacy group), and deal with community management with a small team of other members. We recently published a Facebook post that caught us a bit by surprise by its success. It was decided to promote the post to reach people outside of our community. And it did, 20k people reached according to Facebook, mostly organic reach.

The problems began quickly. We had the usual comments, some positive, some negative, that we are used to deal with (basically, keep everything, and positive answer to negative comments better explaining our point of view and try to stay on-topic). But the promotion also attracted people from other advocacy groups (old cars and motorbikes), that have since made several false claims about our organization, with an insulting tone (though, I don't recall any insult). Those claims could easily be refuted and to do a bit of damage-control, we kept it to answers with personal accounts for now, because we see the following actions as "official" answer to this problem :

  1. Add a comment to our post saying that multiple comments have been deleted due to the false claims
  2. Do the previous and ban such users, to avoid any further comments
  3. Just answer to the claims with the official account of the organization and keep everything as is

We do not reach a consensus on what to do, the arguments being :

  1. People could get curious about the claims and we could risk being accused of censorship
  2. We fear that people being banned could get vocal elsewhere and accuse us of censorship on other media, giving them another opportunity to make their claims, without any easy way to answer that for us
  3. Leaving the comments and answering to the claim could create a negative atmosphere where people may restrain from posting useful/positive comments because they don't want to be involved with these trolls

What's the most field-tested approach to such a problem ?

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I wouldn't use words like "false claims" or censorship. Your group isn't a government and isn't supposed to represent the entire population. It's a group to advocate for bikes. Your posts are aimed at those who want to advocate for bikes. If someone leaves a comment that is in opposition to that, you're under no obligation to leave it in place. Even if it's true, even if it's polite, but most certainly not when it fails one of those tests. Removing things that you don't want to host isn't censorship. The government coming to your door and arresting you for what you posted is censorship. The government forcing FB to remove your posts even though you don't want them removed is censorship.

I have a public FB page for my training and speaking. I have never had someone come and post "C++ is a terrible language nobody should use it" but if they did, I would just delete it. People can post that sort of stuff on their own pages, but I'm under no obligation to give it a home.

If one person keeps posting unpleasant things, then by all means ban them. I wouldn't particularly announce any of this, though I have seen posts that say "as always, disrespectful or off topic comments will be removed, please confine your comments to [whatever the topic is.]" That covers "biking is stupid" kind of comments as well as "but what about" comments that you don't find polite.

In your case, you mention there is a meta-problem where someone is posting "your organization [bad thing]" rather than something about your topic, such as biking. These probably need special handling. The first time, I might just reply "that's not correct" ideally with a link to proof. The second time I would comment "please don't post this repeatedly, we have shown it's not correct" with the same link. Third and subsequent times, just delete them. Again they have their own page on which to run a campaign of "that organization is bad" and it's not your obligation to give them that platform.

  • Thanks for the answer. False claims seems pretty appropriate, it was basically "your organization is massively funded by the mayor's office" while we rely almost 100% on donations and memberships. Easily refutable with our financial reports, but not sure it's worth it. – Loufylouf Aug 21 '17 at 7:53
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Be clear with your community

I am going to answer your question with a reference to a situation happening in Warframe community some time ago. Warframe is an MMORPG about "space ninjas" called Tenno, it is developed by Digital Extremes (DE).

The situation

Some time ago one youtuber, Mogamu, made a video showing evidence that he used a glitch to access some content that was already in the game files, but not yet released officially, a new upgraded version of a "class" already present in the game, Trinity Prime). He also earned some in-game money by selling access to it (in this game classes, or "warframes", need to be crafted before you can use them). So, to sum up:

  • He used a glitch to get access to some content that is clearly not supposed to be available yet (happens in this game, glitches are fixed in this situation, but people keep what they got)
  • He sold access to it (well, a borderline situation according to the rules, as he technically shared what was not yet released)
  • He made a video showing off how does it all work (a clear breach of rules that prohibit sharing of content that is not supposed to be available and accessed via data mining etc.) Mogamu is (and was) also an official partner of Digital Extremes, and, according to their partnership policy, showing bugs and glitches to access something normally inaccessible is not allowed.

Another YouTuber called RevXDev made a reaction video criticizing Mogamu for what he has done. He used parts of Mogamu's video, which is OK according to YouTube rules as soon as you add something on top of the content you use. E.g. reaction videos are OK, but pure reuploads are not.

After some time RevXDev got a strike on YouTube for "copyright violations". He still holds a channel there, but I am not sure what happened to the strike, e.g. if it just faded with time or was successfully disputed.

Then RevXDev got also banned from Warframe. It was an IP ban with an official reason (he claimed it to be an official reason) that he used multiple accounts to make multiple rolls to get "platinum", a donation currency in Warframe, and then send it to the main account. Well, perhaps he did -- but he did it a couple of years ago (not only does he claim so, but it is actually really likely to be that way since the mechanics of discounts were changed to make this strategy no longer that viable). Yes, this is still a violation, it still happened, but the time when it happened lets people guess that it is actually a harassment from Digital Extremesfor criticizing content made by Mogamu, an official partner of DE. After around a week of bombarding various instances with unban requests, RevXDev was actually unbanned. He was banned again later, though, and there was a huge drama about it.

Probably it was a harassment (and the user was banned out of censorship), probably those events just occurred simultaneously and have no connection. But the point is that in any case that youtuber succeeded in making a drama in the Warframe community, it was a very popular issue.

The official response from Digital Extremes was, according to what I have read:

  • Deleting and/or closing topics related to the drama on official forums
  • Banning people talking about RevXDev, at least a fair bunch of people were afraid of pronouncing the name of that youtuber
  • Giving no official comment on the situation and the real reason to ban RevXDev, saying that those reasons are only to be discussed with the use that got banned.

The consequences were:

  • DE being widely accused of censorship. If you go to the review section in Steam Store and read top-voted negative reviews to Warframe, you will read about that drama. A lot of comments say that DE is like Nazi Germany. Users who read negative reviews in Steam will all know about it.
  • People being afraid of getting banned for any kind of criticism of anything in the Warframe community.
  • According to some unofficial notes, lots of people leaving Warframe. Perhaps it happened due to some unpopular changes made to the game, not actually the drama.

P.S. It should be noted that RevXDev donated money to Warframe at its very early stages of development. Not only was his account hence very valuable (it contained some pricey and no longer available things), he was actually disappointed with such a "response" from Warframes.

Proposed solutions

The things I propose are based on what did the Warframe community request, and what would be OK according to the rules of a typical community.

  • Have respect to your community members. Do not pretend like nothing happens, everything is OK, just people discussing something that is not happening disappear one after another.
  • Do not allow the whole forum/group/other community type to be flooded with posts related to the drama. Make one main thread in there where you answer all the questions, and collect your answers in an official FAW in the first post. In case of Facebook it could be one post with questions asked in comments and answers given to comments to comments. Announce that it is the only place to discuss those things, moderate it normally, and keep calm. This way the drama will dissipate once upon a time, but you will save your face. Also, do not ban users posting technically appropriate messages that ask for something that was already answered -- probably delete comments to make stuff readable, but keep the users around. Possibly notify them about why was the comment deleted.
  • If the drama is related to banning a user, or if banning someone famous happens, ask the user if they are OK with disclosing info related to their ban. If they say that they are -- do disclose it, and the community will see that the ban is fair if it is fair. You always have better reach to the community than some salty users, your reputation will be saved, and that user's destroyed. If the problem user is not OK with disclosing details, which is likely to happen if there is something he/she would not like to make famous, announce that you have asked the user and they did not allow disclosing anything, and hence you are not allowed to officially state reasons, but the ban is valid. Pretty much same consequences for the user, if not worse, depends on your community.

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