THE BLOG
06/19/2014 04:06 EDT | Updated 08/19/2014 05:59 EDT

Cut the Drama on Parenting Forums

Jamie Grill via Getty Images

Banning. Censorship. Sanctions. Public Shaming. No, I'm not writing about the rigid punishments doled out by a tyrannical Russian or African nation's regime against its repressed citizens. The despotic behaviours referred to above, usually reserved for use by dictators of unilaterally run nations, are doled out by administrators of many online mom forums.

If you thought that you should be terrified of Putin, Mugabe or Al-Assad, think again. Next to sanctimonious and mean mommies, there's nothing scarier than the overseers-in-chief of online parenting groups, who are at the ready to fire without aim, to censor, sanction, shame or outright ban a member of their group without first hitting pause, rewind and investigating an issue before acting.

While rules, such as the non-exhaustive ones below, are created and posted by the group managers to govern discussion behaviour, commotion is generally guaranteed to ensue:

1. Don't advertise businesses.

2. Don't do third party advertising.

3. Don't ask medical questions.

4. Don't raise controversial topics or issues.

5. Don't cause drama.

And, the list invariably goes on. Given that the rules are so vague and unclear (how is 'advertising' defined anyway?), and are applied willy-nilly depending on how the wind blew up the admin's skirt on any given day, their implementation often concludes in opprobrious sanctions against violators by those who drafted them, resulting in more drama than they were intended to avoid. Aggravating the issue is that if a member is a friend of an administrator, they can write, advertise, sell, share, blog, or comment on anything they so choose without fear of reprisal.

Most even-minded people believe that rules should be applied equally, regardless of one's friendship status with the group's manager. Unfortunately, they are not. These self-declared arbiters of disputes and enforcers of rules of their own creation, there to implement the rules with an even-hand, are unlike blind Lady Justice in how they operate the group. In fact, they are far from blind, or fair and balanced in their application and interpretation of said rules. To advise that Fox News is more fair and balanced in its delivery of the news is evocative of the reality that these group administrators generally are not.

To date, I've either witnessed firsthand or been shown screenshots of posts being made in a variety of these online forums, demonstrating clear violations of the groups' rules, yet some posters are castigated while others are not. Once a rule is perceived to be broken in the form of a recommendation of a cake smash photographer, or nasty personal comments as virulent as once dead diseases now being resurrected from the grave are hurled by one against another, the administrators come out of the woodwork to start exercising their moral authority on the issue in the given thread. Ranging from slaps on the wrist, to deletion of the comments, to private message warnings, to outright banning members without warning, these administrators are drunk and mad with power.

Moreover, many of those rebuked are not even forewarned of their violation and find themselves ousted permanently without the benefit of due process. For entertainment purposes alone, below are some specimens of the endless hypocrisies too innumerable to list here:

1. An unpaid advertisement for witchcraft spells was allowed, but a recommendation by a mom with no vested or financial interest in a post-partum exercise program was not;

2. Selling used strollers, cribs, and Prada purses is permitted, but posts from not-for-profit groups who offer free services to help post-partum moms were verboten;

3. Articles from newspapers could be shared, but non-moneymaking blog entries were deemed to be advertisements; and

4. Contests were forbidden, but friends of administrators were allowed to share contests hosted on their personal advertiser-friendly blogs.

Unless a conversation is one that devolves utterly and entirely into the outright violation of either a member's personal rights (e.g. defamation) or the criminal code (e.g. inciting hatred), the role of administrator should be to simply remind people of the rules, and if need be delete a thread and toss out the offending member in the narrow case of where it seems as though the cops may need to be called in to throw water on the fire. While I personally may not like a conversation, or disapprove of personal attacks against anyone in a given thread, in North America people are free to say and write whatever they want so long as they're not breaking the law.

In a country that has granted us the right of freedom of speech and the freedom to exercise it, one cannot expect everyone to get along or agree. However, in these groups, where controversy arises on an hourly basis, the go-to remedy has been to censor people. Censorship is a violation of one's freedom of speech, except in the carved out case where the comments made would form the basis for chargeable offences under criminal law. If an administrator practices censorship simply because they don't like what is being written, or can't corral a dramatic debate that ensues, what will they endorse next? Book burning?

If no one is allowed to advertise in a forum, then no one should be allowed to advertise. Pretty simple rule, right? Wrong. If you're going to have a "no advertising rule," it is highly recommended to determine what definition of "advertising" is being used in the first place. If posting one's blog is considered advertising, then posting an article from a newspaper or magazine would violate any "no advertising rule" (third party or otherwise) since the more times the articles are shared by readers, the media outlet can use those statistics to justify its advertising prices. If you're going to allow a person to recommend a business, good or service as a comment in a thread for a post looking for the best post-partum weight loss program, then why can't that recommendation be made in an independent post, self-initiated by a member who had a great experience with that service.

Furthermore, if you're the friend of an administrator, or pay that administrator to advertise, your rule-violating post is in like flint. Perhaps administrators should seek independent legal advice before enacting social media closed group legislation to avoid reference questions to the administrators, or public appeal of administrative decisions resulting from unequal application of the ambiguous rule.

I abhor the acts of group administrators, which result in censorship of topics that can be discussed. I cannot abide by favoritism of members who are friends of the administrator, who are allowed to post whatever they want -- the rules be damned. While everyone is groveling at the feet of these surveyors pleading for mercy, only to ultimately be excised from the group if the administrator decides they want to get rid of them. I take umbrage with, and am intolerant of, the untruthful and nepotistic application of vague rules, and the offensive punishments that go along with them, against those who are deemed a perpetrator by a group admin without having been given any opportunity to defend themselves.

In the real world, vague and ambiguous laws are struck down by the courts because their application and administration often leads to damaging and unjust outcomes for those deemed to have defied them. A rational and objective person expects this, so then why should the same standard not apply in online mom forums? The forum is merely a microcosm of society on the Internet, is it not? If a rule doesn't make sense, if its biased aftermath concludes in prejudicing some members of the group but not all, then why impose it? Why not get rid of it? If you fear controversial debate, if you don't want drama, then don't create a forum in the first place because sooner or later, like most notorious authoritarian regimes and their leaders, you will find yourself and your group overthrown by your membership after it has revolted against your over lording ways.

For more of Naomi's writing, visit www.naomielanazener.com and follow her on Twitter @satiricalmama

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