There Is No Winning with Community Rules

Facebook has had a rough year. As a service with over two billion active users, it has been receiving a constant stream of mutually exclusive demands. Unfortunately, there is no way to please everybody when they want mutually exclusive things. For example, a lot of Facebook’s users want the service to be a place that upholds the ideals of free speech while a lot of its other users want the service to regulate various forms of speech.

Facebook responded to these demands by enforcing “community standards.” However, its enforcement of these “community standards” have seemed arbitrary because they’ve never actually been published. But the age of being punished for violating a secret set of rules is over. Facebook has finally publishing its community standards:

Facebook has released a lengthy 22-point document that explains more fully what its “community standards” are—in short, what is and isn’t allowed on the platform.

Now that the age of being punished for violating a secret set of rules is over, the age of having to interpret the published rules can being!

There is no winning condition when it comes to community rules. If you enforce a secret set of rules, your users become upset because they feel arbitrarily punished. If you enforce a public set of rules, your users still become upset because they feel arbitrarily punished whenever their interpretation of the rules differs from an enforcer’s interpretation.

Anybody who has had the task of enforcing rules in a community knows that the devil is in the details. A rule that states, “racism is prohibited,” may seem straight forward but it’s not. Race isn’t a concrete idea. Americans generally tie race to external appearances. Judaism, for example, wouldn’t normally be considered a race by American standards. However, Judaism is considered a race by Nazism. If somebody posts something anti-Semitic, does the rule against racism apply? If you decide it does and ban the user, they will likely argue that the rule doesn’t apply because Judaism isn’t a race, it’s a religion. Simple enough, just create a rule against religious discrimination, right? Discrimination, like race, also lacks a concrete definition. For example, if I call Christianity barbaric because most sects of Christianity oppose same-sex marriage, am I being discriminatory? Some may interpret my statement as discriminatory, others may interpret my statement to be a valid criticism.

There is no way to satisfy 2.2 billion users. For most communities, being unable to satisfy everybody usually leads to a healthy split. For a service like Facebook that relies on having billions of users to make itself appealing to advertisement buyers, a community split is dangerous. However, it is also unavoidable because there is literally no way to win.