Free speech is not to be regulated like diseased cattle and impure butter. The audience that hissed yesterday may applaud today, even for the same performance," William O. Douglas
My daughter is in middle school and has brought home some intriguing writing assignments this year.
A few weeks ago, she had to write about the pros and cons of social media and texting.
The weekly exercise forcing her to examine the pros and cons of many current issues now has me looking at the pros and cons of many issues in my own daily life... including free speech.
“Congress Shall Make No Law Respecting an Establishment of Religion, or Prohibiting the Free Exercise Thereof; or Abridging the Freedom of Speech, or of the Press; or the Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble, and To Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances.” ~First Amendment
BEGINNING OF THOUGHT
The First Amendment is one of the greatest freedoms we have as Americans. Having been a broadcast journalist for 20 years, I believe speech - positive or negative - is the "beginning of thought"... thought that can lead to useful solutions.
I also believe harmful speech can destroy small businesses and families in our small community.
When Jo and I launched the Estrella Mountain Residents private Facebook page... we basically addressed each challenge as it popped up. We knew what we wanted our page to look like... and we knew what would turn off members. We've done our best to be flexible and accommodate members. Admittedly, those first few weeks were really stressful. Not everyone could agree to disagree.
Many of you may remember the controversy from this summer when a member complained about a local company. We simply asked if the member gave the business an opportunity to fix the problem. Instead of folding in the midst of the drama that ensued, (which really sounded like a great idea to me), we clearly re-stated our guideline asking members to resolve conflicts with businesses before posting a complaint on our page.
In the past 10 months, we've also chosen to delete photos of alleged bad drivers on the parkway and posts about children reportedly behaving badly.
KEEPING IT CLASSY
Estrella is home to just over 11,000 residents. We frequently hear from neighbors who want classier restaurants and more amenities in our community.
It just takes a few bad apples - or comments made in the heat of the moment - to destroy one of our local businesses or people and prevent others from coming into the community.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself." ~Charlie Chaplin
Having been in that situation in a small community reinforced the lesson of kindness. It also led me to starting up my own business where I've met some really wonderful people and have had the opportunity to tackle new challenges.
IS IT CENSORSHIP?
When Jo and I choose to delete defamatory comments on our private Facebook page... whether it be about children or businesses... the common response comes up. "CENSORSHIP!"
We know we're called "controlling"... etc., etc. Speaking for myself, I take pride in it.
A good friend who once led a similar effort pointed something out to me earlier this year.
Censorship applies to the government.
The right to free speech means that you are allowed to express yourself without interference or constraint by the government.” ~Social Media Examiner
If you want a good read on this topic, I invite you to check out this article. As explained in the piece, "an individual or organization is free to set whatever guidelines for user-generated content that fit."
Estrella Mountain Residents is not the government. We're two residents. And we have very clear guidelines on our private Facebook page and on our website. It's also imperative we monitor content considered defamatory and not "look away" from restricted speech.
CAN I HAVE FRIES WITH THAT?
Kindness is the best route I know how to manage our page. We've just been told by one family that hurtful comments made elsewhere in social media have them considering leaving our community.
Are negative comments really what you want to see on our page? The majority of you tell us you don't want to see it. We agree.
Yes. We delete.
We only ban when push comes to shove. Typically, we'll contact the member and explain our reason and give them an opportunity to re-word the comment or find another page to post. Sometimes, the conversation gets ugly and the person either leaves the page on their own or we make the tough decision to part ways.
What about those who complain about being removed from the page? This is how I see it.
Imagine the private Facebook page is your kitchen. You invite people in, feed them, entertain them, and then they leave and post all over social media about how much they hated your food. The next day, they're knocking on your door asking for free seconds of the incredible guacamole dip from the night before. (I have a fabulous gauc recipe by the way.)
Not cool, right?
We've had people leave the page, de-friend us, block us and then demand to still have access to our page. It is what it is.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
The moral of the story is this.
Opening a forum for residents to engage in constructive criticism to effect positive change in Estrella is the purpose of our page. Using kindness to shine a spotlight on all the great people and resources in our community is a bonus component. Providing a channel for neighbors to help each other in need... is compassion.
In life you can never be too kind or too fair; everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load. When you go through your day expressing kindness and courtesy to all you meet, you leave behind a feeling of warmth and good cheer, and you help alleviate the burdens everyone is struggling with." ~Brian Tracy
When you come into my kitchen, you're free to eat all the guac you want. I'll even make seconds! But, our relationship has boundaries, too. Please remember how social media, rumors, and the written word can devastate.
"Thank you" to those of you who call, email, and text with positive words of encouragement. In the grand scheme of things... I see a bright future of our page. I credit our caring members who continue to amaze me on a daily basis. I wish you all a peaceful holiday season.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Barber is a Goodyear resident resident of almost 20 years and a retired broadcast news journalist. Involved in various nonprofit and city organizations since 2008, Barber has a unique view of what's happening in the West Valley of Arizona.