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We moderate a support chatroom for people with Asperger and autism. We experience that some users are disturbed by the conversations of other users, when those conversations touch on topics such as drugs or pornography. We don't want to outright ban those topics from being discussed, as some of our users may have drugs proscribed by their doctor, experience that medical marijuana is helpful, or struggle with a drug addiction. However, sometimes the tone is particularly disrespectful, or users are outright telling others that they should try drugs. When we point this out, users may complain that the rules we're enforcing are too subjective, or might ask "where in the rules does it say we cannot do X". Several users have broken out of the main channel and started their own channels, because they feel the main channel is too restrictive. The latter is not necessarily a problem, except that they and others remain unhappy in the main channel and challenge operator actions that they perceive as arbitrary or unjust.

I think trying to catch it all in a set of set-in-stone rules will not work. Rather, I believe we may need a code of conduct.

How would we start to write a code of conduct for an Asperger/autism support chatroom? How do we express in this code that we wish to remain friendly and open to visitors and new members, without alienating older users who think we're being too restrictive (and say so in no unkind terms)?

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    This is not a code of conduct problem - enforcement of conduct isn't a replacement for development of community standards - the kinds of standards members enforce through supportive culture. However, I don't think I know enough about the community to really give a well-founded answer. Just be aware that, in established communities, you often get what's there in terms of culture, and changing it means certain long-established people will leave. – user35 Aug 16 '18 at 17:23
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    On Stack Exchange, you tag question. For example your question is tagged with irc. How about allowing users to opt-out of specific tags? – Robert Paulsen Dec 20 '18 at 21:39
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Have you thought of using CW or TW (content or trigger warnings)?

It might give enough space and distance for people to avoid the rest of the content while training those who want to discuss those issues the awareness that some topics are more sensitive than others - a big issue in the autism/Aspie community. There are different ways around CWs and TWs and how much distance and space plus how strict the rules are etc.

https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/inclusive-teaching/2017/12/12/an-introduction-to-content-warnings-and-trigger-warnings/

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  • This sounds like a very good idea! – gerrit Aug 22 '19 at 7:17
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Your community's situation is difficult enough that you need professional expertise. There are Code of Conduct consultants. I would advise shopping around consultants to find one who has good references and is familiar with neurodiversity.

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I think you have two problems. One is about the medical need for a space that is safe from certain triggers. The other is just about people being respectful of each other. It is likely that you will need both a "safe" space and an "less safe" space. Users with medical reason to avoid triggers will want to stick to the safe one.

Regarding the "safe" space, you should have a clear policy on what you require in order to keep it safe for your users. This policy should be enforced consistently and dispassionately. There is no need for judgement of right, wrong, ethical, unethical, etc. If a user violates the policy, then the action (warnings, bans, etc) dictated by the policy needs to be taken.

Regarding the rest, you also need a policy to help people know how to behave. Rules like "no name-calling" and "no personal attacks" are common. But for this one, you have to realize that you can't please all the people all the time. You need to understand that every rule you make will push someone away. I personally avoid groups where cold hard facts and blunt statements are not welcome. In a public medical policy discussion for example, I would much rather a person say "That's totally irresponsible and could kill people" as opposed to "We should discuss this more. It might be dangerous", if the former statement is what they are thinking.

Other people go the other direction and don't see conflict as valuable. You are going to have to decide what you want for your site. Then craft a policy and enforce it in the way you decided. You will lose some and annoy others. But that is the nature of any set of rules.

Finally, know and be active about the fact that rules do not need to be carved in stone. Do your best. Then reconsider and revisit your policies. Discuss with your community where appropriate. Revise any time you find a way to make them better.

Good luck.

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