Platform & Community Guidelines: Free Speech


#1

To Matt and the Write.as Team:

I am considering signing up one or more Pro accounts but first, want to clarify your stance on free speech, censorship, and commercial content.

FREE SPEECH

I like the free-speech stance of platforms such as Gab, Minds, and Steemit. Essentially, they don’t police content as long as it is legal according to US law.

I see you getting into the “hate speech” issue in your Platform Guidelines and Community Guidelines, which is a pandora’s box. I have no desire to post anything which would be seen as malicious or hateful, but it is a slippery slope due to being subjective.

Furthermore, as a user, I would like to have the freedom to view content that is offensive, but otherwise legal by US law. If I dislike the content, I can choose to (if the feature exists) mute or block the user. In other words, I like platforms that treat their users like adults and let them make their own decisions and manage their own content consumption.

“Malicious speech” and “hatred” are vague terms open to interpretation as to where the line is drawn. For example, what if I politely and logically lay out an argument which is 180-degrees opposed to your values, but is otherwise legal in the US to post online? If you are an SJW, you will interpret it as “hate speech” and take it down to silence me just because you can. We’ve seen this behavior by the likes of FB, Twitter, Patreon, Reddit, Medium, etc. exposed.

However, as we’ve seen in the example of Gab, if you do take a pure free speech stance, you will be de-platformed by the providers of many essential layers of your technology stack. They have recovered, but it took a while for them to replace them with free speech alternatives. You may not be willing to take the heat and stand up for the first amendment, which is understandable. Few people have it in them.

That said, without a clear commitment to free speech (within the bounds of US law), I would not see sufficient value to justify migrating to this platform (although I do applaud its other merits).

Please clarify your stance on free speech and censorship.

CONTENT MARKETING

Your Platform Guidelines and Community Guidelines seem to contradict each other with regards to the use of company blogs and content marketing. In the Platform Guidelines, you prohibit content marketing, but in the Platform guidelines, you encourage company blogs (which are usually full of content marketing). Please clarify your stance on this.

AFFILIATE LINKS

With regards to affiliate links, it says, “don’t willingly mislead people, especially in order to get them to do something, like … click your affiliate link.” So, can we post affiliate links if we add a disclosure notice in the article? If so, in what format must this be to avoid your team taking action against our account or deleting our post? Please clarify your stance on this.


#2

Great question! I wondered much the same thing, though, because of the exportability of write.as, I dove in. I’m not sure US law is the standard in free speech anymore, though it used to be.

As a Catholic, I am called to love the sinner, hate the sin. In today’s society, this gets obfuscated to mean hate the choice, hate the person. They’ve ignored sin, pretending it is a viable, moral option. This removes the naming of sin from the public discourse, because even if legal, it gets shouted down as hate. Thus, Catholic teaching on abortion, marriage, gender identity, and other things is labled hate speech in many quarters.


#3

Hey, thanks for asking. First, there are a few basic things to understand about how everything is set up. We have Write.as, the entire platform, and Read Write.as, our smaller community / writing showcase. Our rules are different for each, because of how readers discover content on each section of the site.

  • The Write.as Platform Guidelines cover our entire, base blogging platform. You’re responsible for how people get to your blog, so in general, we’re very relaxed about what you discuss there. As long as you aren’t actively harming our infrastructure (e.g. with spam or automated posts), or purely deceiving people (e.g. with Bitcoin scams), then you’re fine discussing whatever you want (more on this below).

  • The Read Write.as Community Guidelines are more strict, because Read Write.as is the face of the community of writers here. Besides showcasing the character of our platform for new users, it also provides an instant audience for anyone who publishes there. So we need to protect it from writing that makes the community look bad / unwelcoming, as well as purely commercial content that doesn’t give anything to the community (i.e. cheap advertising).

So to answer your specific questions:

Free speech

Our guiding principle is that true freedom of expression can’t exist without personal privacy. As we stand for privacy, we also stand for the free expression that it enables. We believe people need a place to discuss non-mainstream ideas, and we hope to enable that on Write.as. So that’s why we’re generally lenient when it comes to the entire platform.

As for the “malicious speech” guideline for the general platform, it was left relatively vague so that we can handle a range of issues as they come up. Again, generally, we err on the side of freedom to express yourself in good faith. We give trust and assume good intent first, until it’s proven that this is undeserved. This has worked out for us for over the past four years. But we ultimately have to be able to limit the most egregious content that harms our platform or reputation, and that of others. Language changes between cultures and over time; we need to be able to easily adjust to that.

Still, generally, most people won’t have to worry about this – and as a customer, we’ll always work with you before making any rash decisions (more on this below).

As for the public community / Read Write.as, we’re more strict. In this realm, we become more of social space than the broadcast-only environment of Write.as. So we expect people to behave as they would offline and be respectful of other people, no matter how “right” their well-reasoned arguments are. Freedom of speech isn’t an excuse for being an asshole.

To sum it up, if you’re concerned about “censorship,” do not make your blog Public. This way, it won’t be subject to our more strict community guidelines.

A note about economics

For the problems with the platforms you mentioned, it’s important to realize that these services are all run by private commercial interests. This is somehow left out of most conversations today, and the media does a lot of hand-waving around this, so I’ll be plain:

Some of these platforms’ decisions might have been made on principle, but the more-likely driver was an economic calculation – e.g. the ad revenue you get from having a controversial figure on your platform doesn’t make up for the load of bad press you get by keeping them there. Bad press means fewer active users, means fewer “eyeballs” on ads, means lower ad prices, means an unattractive place to advertise, means fewer actual customers, means no more business.

For platforms like Medium that are investor-backed, as a writer you’re not the customer, but a source of free writing that they can use to make their own platform more valuable. If you aren’t furthering their goals, they lose nothing by kicking you off. Don’t attribute to malice what can be explained by money.

Of course, we’re also a commercial entity. But where we differ is in our economic incentives. Since you pay us to write here, we work to keep you happy, rather than advertisers or investors. That means we have the freedom to lead with our principles, and indeed it’s also good for us economically, as it attracts more customers who value those principles, which means we get to keep building this thing, which means you get a product you enjoy, and so on. Our business model means that if issues arise, we want to work something out before even considering kicking you off.

Content marketing

Again, you’re encouraged to run a company blog, do content marketing, commercial activity, etc. on Write.as (i.e. the Platform Guidelines). There’s no limitation for commercial activity there.

We draw the line at Read Write.as (i.e. the Community Guidelines / Public blog setting), because we want it to remain a non-commercial space where people can safely read without being advertised at, or sold to. This is a sacred place for us, and one of our most stringent guidelines. Please use Write.as for your commercial blog, but do not leverage Read Write.as for commercial purposes, cheap advertising, etc.

Affiliate links

This “Deceptive or link-only posts” guideline is mostly directed at a certain category of users on Write.as that most people won’t fall under. Our main concern is with cryptocurrency scams, phishing posts, links to malware and spyware, posts that have no content in them besides a link, etc.

If you’re a legitimate user invested in the platform, you are free to include affiliate links, using your judgement on whether or not to disclose them. We won’t take any action on your post(s) or blog(s) for this kind of use. (I agree, this should be clarified in the guidelines.)


I hope that helps! Let me know if anything is still unclear.


#4

Thanks, @Matt. Some food for thought there.

Do you have a Terms of Service?

If you don’t yet, Minds.com’s and WordPress.com’s are open source.

And, WordPress.com clarified their stance on free speech. Perhaps you might adapt it to publish an official statement for Write.as.


#5

I’m guessing that at some point, the volume of content being aggregated by read.write.as will be so large that you’ll need to add some kind of reporting tool so that users can flag content that is in violation of your guidelines. I guess the question then is, how to stop it from being abused (false flagging, etc.)


#6