If there has been a thing that as been fundamental in teaching other people how to moderate an online community, it has been talking about social mores. It is an ancient word, and I only know about it because I studied at such a traditional university like Leiden University. However, it is very fundamental.
So, first of all some theory about communities. David McMillan talked about how to define communities, pinpointing the important elements of the sense of any community, online or not, as membership, personal investment, social norms, trade and a shared social connection through symbols and storytelling . Watch this video for some more background. Howard Rheingold defined this for the online environment, with his famous definition that defines a social contract online. Want to learn more? Check out my free online workshop “Build Your Online Community”. The summary? You don’t have a community unless you have some norms that people agree to.
Now, having covered the academic basics, can we move to the fundamentals? In all places where we interact as a community, we need to reinforce our social mores, which in effect are our norms & values. That means, yes, defending academic free speech. It also means being stern when there are violations of the academic methodology. You are out of turn when you use logical fallacies for instance. In a pub we would throw beer at you, but in the digital space that tends to ruin your laptop. Hence online community guidelines, or social media codes, or what have you. They simply translate old mores to new ones that can be implemented online.
Is it normal for teachers or management to check if people stay within boundaries? Yes, absolutely. That is not infringing on your rights, it is only checking them for validity. We do that all the time. If you have a student stending up during your campus lecture, sprouting nonsense and calling names, you’d have the janitor remove them, and rightly so, for disrupting education. The same is true for similar instances at campus, whether that is during a lecture, or during a more grey scaled whats app group clearly associated with the university and people are made to feel uncomfortable in an unacceptable way. Mores apply everywhere where the community is.