I live in the United States. I am a Jewish person, and I work in a Jewish organization. I live in a home with my wife. In each of these institutions, in each of these places, there are rules, policies, procedures. Regardless of where I go or what I do, there are always rules. There are rules everywhere.

Though I may sometimes resent the rules that guide the life I live, I doubt that any of these things that are so valuable to me would even exist if not for the rules upon which they are built.

Rules were put into place before the American colonies declared independence from the British, and then those rules were refined and codified through the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Judaism, it could be argued, all begins with the 10 Commandments, and we have the rule of law as further outlined in the Torah, the Talmud, the Mishnah and more. Within the framework of these ancient guidelines, we create the Jewish organization of synagogues and national and international movements. We have policies, procedures and bylaws.

Even in my own house, the garbage goes out on Friday, and we hang the car keys on the hook next to the garage door. My wife pays the bills, and I make the coffee. We have rules.

Had any of these rules been established, and not enforced, the entities the rules were designed to support and frame would have been so much weaker. Our country would have become a place of anarchy and chaos (yeah, I know…some would argue that it is just that exact type of place, but stay with me here). Judaism and our congregations would have likely faded to nothingness centuries ago. The home my wife and I have worked so hard to create and lovingly sustain almost 29 years ago would be so much less happy, joyous and positive.

We also create rules in our online spaces. “Please don’t…” or “This is a space for…” are words that are often posted in Facebook groups, Twitter chats, Slack channels and Teams as a way to guide behavior, and to make expectations clear. In The Tent, the Yammer network at the Union for Reform Judaism, we framed these rules in the familiar framework of the 10 Commandments. We call them the “Ten Commandments of The Tent,” which I previously wrote about on this blog.

We worked hard to create those “10 Commandments.” We wanted them to reflect the character of our physical community as well as the community we were building online. Rules for our country were not easy to create, neither were the rules for the Glickman house. But those rules are in place. They are there. They are hard fought, and they are the result of meaningful conversation and experience. The rules were codified and recorded. The rules are available for all to see and know. So what comes next?

Next, we must pay attention. Next, we must adhere to the guidelines we create in our online spaces.

It’s wonderful to say that it is unacceptable to insult another person in the online space, but once you have created the rule, you also have to create process for monitoring for unacceptable behavior, and you have to insure your colleagues are your partners in this work.

If the rules for your online space dictate that no advertising is permitted, there now needs to be a concerted effort to monitor the space for advertising that is both overt and covert.

The rules are good to have in place, and the time that was invested to create those rules was time well spent. And while much more time now needs to be spent maintaining the rules you have worked so hard to create, there are some simple methods of implementation that will make it easier to run your online space, and to remind your users that they are posting in place that is lovingly monitored, and is moderated with care and concern for all.

  1. Raise Awareness: Make sure the staff and network moderators are aware of the rules, and are monitoring the space they oversee for unacceptable posts.
  2. Empower Staff: Network moderators don’t need to be, nor should they be, the only staff members responding to issues of concern. Now that your staff colleagues are aware of the rules, make sure they know they can also respond to issues of concern. Allow their familiarity with the issues and the users to make enforcement of the guidelines more effective and empathetic.
  3. Embrace the Positive: The rules don’t exist only for those times when your users conduct themselves inappropriately. They can also be used encourage engagement and activity. If your users know there will be no advertising, and that hostile or abusive replies to their posts will not be tolerated, they will feel more comfortable posting, and becoming an active, engaged member of your community.

Write your rules. Take the time and care crafting the rules (or guidelines, or community standards, or policies) your community deserves, and then make sure you manage your community within a framework that will empower your community to continue to grow and flourish.

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