TechPresident, writing about the Slate story reviewing moderation practices on Sarah Palin's Facebook page, says it is "less a cleaned-up open Facebook conversation than a some sort of curated narration to the life and times of Sarah Palin."
Dickerson and a colleague built a program that tracked comments on 10 Palin posts over the course of 12 days. Now, you might assume that team Palin took a hatchet to especially negative, anti-Palin commentary. And some of that, it seems, happened.
But that's not all that went down. The Palin enterprise also scrubbed from her feed comments where, found Dickerson, folks went after people who wrote mean things about her. Racial slurs were enough to get the boot, yes. So were suggestions that she shouldn't let her kids (Bristol, presumably) do reality TV or vaguely-worded notes about Barack Obama birth certificates. Also no good: excessive religious imagery and mild objections to Palin's picks of candidates to endorse.
So, the Big Story here is that Palin's staff tries to maintain a decent community by keeping things civil and focused, and weeding out the jerks?
Look, we've gotten too wrapped up in the idea of politicians and/or technology having clear, defined and consistent rules. That just doesn't work in a social medium. If you create any kind of bright line "no racism/cursing/personal attacks" rule, then you have to make decisions about exactly what does and does not qualify as racism/cursing/personal attacks - and you will be attacked for your decisions no matter where you draw the line.
Social interactions are too fluid for that kind of strict rule-making.
So what is the answer? I think there are two reasonable options:
- Safe Harbor: A couple years ago (I can't find it now), Patrick Ruffini pointed out that the more control you try to exert, the more responsible people will hold you for what you allow. Moderation = Responsibility. The Obama campaign went the other direction, largely allowing anybody to post anything and only exercising minimal oversight. When you have a flood of content, nobody blames you for the idiots leaving drops on the carpet.
- Discretion: As appears to be the case at Sarah Palin's Facebook page, discretion is the better part of moderation. That makes sense. We don't demand hard, fast, bright line rules in the offline world, because we couldn't possibly make rules to cover every social situation. We wing it. We use discretion. We do the best we can and move on.
Maybe that will be the best way for political organizations to manage their online communities, as well. Politics is already complicated enough. The online world doesn't have to be much more complicated than the offline world.