Dear Fellow Fools,
This note is to let you know that, after much debate and discussion of the pros and cons among several community-focused Fools, we are formalizing a long-standing, yet not formally-stated, policy regarding our discussion boards. Posts specifically about politics, and especially partisan politics will no longer be welcome.
How a Culture Can Go Bad
The Motley Fool has long been proud of the friendliness and generally civil discourse found on our discussion boards. They’re a place where our members can talk with each other and with the analysts and advisors of our various newsletters on investing topics of mutual interest. We believe this community to be a competitive advantage for our business and it’s something that Motley Fool co-founders Tom and David Gardner both cherish.
However, there has long been one topic of conversation that can damage this welcoming environment: politics.
Political beliefs are often firmly held, and when they’re also closely and passionately held, an argument against them (or even an expression of an opposing view) can feel like an attack. The natural response often involves both defense to stop the attack and offense to lower the possibility of future attacks, even if “attack” was never the intention.
This behavior is worsened by an inescapable fact about our board system: It is entirely text-based. It can be difficult, if not downright impossible, to verbalize all the nuances that nonverbal communication can add to the words we speak: body language; facial expressions; even vocal pitch, intonation, and the speed and type of delivery. All of these add layers upon layers of meaning to the bare words being spoken. Yet, they are difficult or impossible to reproduce in mere words on a screen.
As a result, posts are often open to interpretation. And that’s a problem when we’re talking about passionately held beliefs. Investing discussions rarely get heated here, probably in part because Foolish investing means always being ready to learn and even admit we’re wrong – we can’t afford to get too set in our ways, literally. But political beliefs are inextricably tied to personal values, and that’s an entirely different kind of debate – one frequently without conclusive outcomes. As a result, investing conversations can veer off into political arguments at the mere mention of a political figure, or a familiar epithet, or any of a number of other triggers.
When left unchecked, the whole purpose of a discussion board can become hijacked. And it’s not just the participants who suffer.
Experiments Have a Cost
We have tried a couple of experiments in allowing some forms of political discussion through dedicated boards. We had hopes that participants could remain civil while still talking about and stating strongly held beliefs. For the most part they have.
However, not everyone has appreciated these experiments. And, unfortunately, it’s cost The Motley Fool business. We know of at least one case where a member cancelled their membership solely because of these experiments and the resulting discussions and bad feelings. We cannot tolerate this, and because we’re the ones providing the forum and setting the terms of what’s allowed and what isn’t, it’s our responsibility to correct the matter.
For what it’s worth, one member who contributed to the political discussions has reached out to us in private and said that the experiments were a mistake. This goes with all the negative commentary we’ve received in public about the existence of political discussions inside a service dedicated to investing (for which members are paying us).
In light of the above, we feel that we have no choice but to remove politics from our boards platform.
There’s a Thin Line
Now, we recognize and appreciate that politics do affect investing and the performance of companies and their stock.
For example, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 had political ramifications for BP (NYSE: BP), Transocean (NYSE: RIG), oil drillers on the Stock Advisor scorecard, and broad swaths of the energy sector. Regulations, fines, cleanup costs, and so on, all at least partly driven by politics, have had effects upon those companies and investments in them, and one could hardly discuss it all without mentioning political aspects.
As long as discussions remain limited to those effects, speculation about how things might change in the future, and how those changes might affect a company or industry – even if those discussions include political speculation – we won’t mind too much. An acceptable comment could be, “If this party wins the White House, we might expect this type of regulatory change and that could affect the company in this way.”
However, it is a fine line to walk, as it is so easy to let slip a politically charged word or phrase such as Biden, Trump, conservative, liberal, or “this-or-that always leads to such-and-such” (superlatives tend to be strong triggers because there are usually exceptions that somebody could be eager to point out). And once that’s happened, we end up with people feeling the strong urge to respond to just that part, for reasons described above. Even something as seemingly innocuous as that acceptable comment about administrations and regulations can be read in a way not intended by the writer, and we start proceeding down to where we do not wish to go.
In other words, tread carefully.
We Ended Up Here
As we find them, we will delete discussion board posts that we view as being overtly political or in other ways disruptive and therefore violate our Terms & Conditions of Service (found here: http://www.fool.com/legal/the-motley-fools-rules.aspx). We’d also like to remind you that you also have the ability to ask for posts to be removed, via the Report This Post link at the top right of every single board post in our system.
Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to run a curated board system, where every post is read by an administrator and either left alone or removed. We therefore have long relied upon the behavior of our members, both to refrain from posting potentially inflammatory commentary and to refrain from responding to commentary viewed as inflammatory.
Again, political commentary is no longer welcome on our boards.
– Jim Mueller, CFA (TMFTortoise); Senior Analyst and Portfolio Lead
– Tracy Dahl (TMFWordNerd); Managing Editor, Newsletters
– Tony Miller (TMF2Aruba); Director of Community
– Jen Roberts (CMFMints); Boards Manager
– Tom Madigan (TMFXLibris); Premium Content Lead
– Mike Pena (TMFSwiss); Member Services
– Mark Reeth (TMFWreath); Member Services