Boundaries Revisited

August 28th, 2009

We posted this article a little over a year ago.  We’re re-posting it now because we’ve had a lot of growth in the Figment community since then, and with that growth we’ve seen a band or two that have really pushed the boundaries of what we consider offensive material on Figment.  I have to say that we are very pleased with how fair and conscientious you all are, so this is in no means a reprimand or a “see what happens” type of post.  Rather it is an attempt to clarify what we view as offensive and how we hope to deal with it going forward.  You all play a part in making Figment a place where everyone is welcome but censorship is not the means to the end.  We welcome any comments you might have on this subject.

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We here at Figment consider ourselves a pretty fair bunch and as I’ve said in other posts we go out of our way not to over police our site for what we consider offensive material, but rather try to allow the users to self-police those bands they find offensive.  If enough people agree that a band is offensive than we mark it offensive, that is unless something is truly over the top in which case we step in.  We have never removed a band or album from Figment for being offensive (when we mark something offensive it is only filtered out of view of those people that asked not to be shown offensive material when they created an account on Figment), until now.

Today I removed a band that made fun of people who suffer from Down Syndrome.  I thought long and hard about whether or not I should remove this content from Figment, but in the end decided that there are certain boundaries we have to set for the site and this band crossed those boundaries.  Making fun of people with developmental disabilities is something that has been done before, but it’s a slippery slope and one that requires a lot of finesse on the part of the person delivering the joke in order for it to be funny.  When it’s not it’s simply mean-spirited.  We found this band mean-spirited, and even if it wasn’t meant in harm, felt it could cause harm simply by perpetuating a stereotype that increases the stigma attached to those who are developmentally disabled.  That’s not what we created Figment for.

In short, just because something is delivered as a joke doesn’t mean it isn’t hurtful and we all need to be mindful of that fact.  Is it a right to think whatever you want regardless of whether it hurts someone’s feelings?  Yes, but it’s also our right to restrict the use of our bandwidth to promote something we feel crosses the line.

Right now the movie “Tropic Thunder” is also under attack for scenes that use the term “retard” and although I’m not sure I support the idea of a boycott, I do think the filmmakers should have considered some of the complaints leveled at their movie prior to releasing it and practiced a little self-editing of their own.  That is certainly what we are asking all of you to do on Figment.

So what other boundaries have we set?  Well, I don’t want you to think that we are telling you what to express, but let’s face it there are certain areas that I think we would all agree are overtly offensive.  For instance, racist, sexist and hate related material.  We aren’t looking to play the role of big brother on Figment, but we do expect everyone to play our game in a respectful and fair manner and if we feel something doesn’t meet those criteria we will exercise our right to remove the material or it’s creator from Figment.  We also understand that there is always room for interpretation and will try to consider that before making any decision related to permanently removing any form of content from Figment.  Furthermore, we promise to always notify the user as to our decision and allow them an opportunity to remove the material themselves.

We’re open to hearing what you think about this issue so feel free to leave us a comment with your perspective.

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