There is a reason that politics and religion are the two main things not to discuss in polite company. Few topics can divide a room faster. And, as a community is not all that different from a group of people in a room, it can have the same effect online.

Rarely can subjects be as divisive as those two – rarely do subjects lead to people holding each other in greater disdain.

This is why, if your community isn’t about politics and/or religion, it is a great idea to consider not allowing those topics to be discussed in a general nature. If your community is about those subjects specifically, obviously that’s not reasonable or possible. You just have to have good guidelines and do your best. But, for everyone else, it’s worth considering.

Here are the main reasons why:

  1. Environment. These discussions spill over. People think differently of their fellow members, just because they are a member of a particular religion or political party. It goes from “that’s so and so’s opinion” to “there’s that right winger again.” Suffice to say, it gets pretty nasty.

    Even if someone doesn’t participate in the political or religious threads, there is a fair chance that they will judge the people who do so. This leads to hostility in other areas, where politics and religion are not even being discussed. Which brings us to…

  2. Focus. What is your community really about? is about the martial arts. It’s not about what you think of President Obama. Or which religion is out to get you. I want people to discuss the martial arts.

    We do allow people to discuss religion and politics, but only as it pertains to the martial arts. For example, we have a popular thread on whether or not Christianity allows for the martial arts. We also have threads on laws relating to martial arts. These are relevant to our focus.

    But, general politics and religion spills over. And what does that put a strain on?

  3. Your resources. Think about your resources, especially when it comes to moderation. Respectful political and religious discussion is possible and it happens every day. But it is a beast to achieve and it requires moderator time and resources. Why would I want my moderators spending hours reading through 1,000 word essays on politics when they could be reading martial arts related threads and looking for spammers?

If you know me, you know activity doesn’t really matter to me. That’s a luxury I have. If you allow these discussions, if you want people to endlessly debate and you want a selection of your membership to utterly embittered, it’s possible that you may get more posts and traffic out of it. Very possible.

Some community managers even like the idea of dividing people – they want the debate, the traffic, etc. While I am happy to see respectful debate on our forums, it’s not something I try hard to create. And it’s not something that affects my decision making. Culture comes first. I want people to disagree naturally, not because I pressed them to talk about the most sensitive topics possible.

It’s also possible, however, that you’ll turn off a lot of people and drive away your core audience that isn’t interested in all that drama. And there are plenty of places that they can go if they want that sort of discussion. Personally, I am more than happy to have them go there.

Some communities try to segment them and that can be worthwhile. I remember when I used to be on staff at the SitePoint Forums, they put them in their own forum (I’m thinking they must have been in the general chat forum before that and they just became too much). Then, they made that forum opt-in only, so that only people who really wanted to see it, would. Then, finally, they removed the section completely and did not allow that type of discussion to occur any longer.

But, at the end of the day, is it worth the effort? That’s your decision. But, think carefully about your objectives, your focus, your resources and what it will take to maintain the level of quality that you are after. If it doesn’t fit, don’t hesitate to cut it.