I run The Secret Community for Midwives in the Making, the 20,000+ member Facebook group that discusses all things midwifery.
We’re having some challenges at the moment. I've needed several glasses of wine and long runs. Don't feel sorry for me - I chose this job and for the most part I love it. But I have some things to say.
Topics like breastfeeding, abortion, circumcision and vaccination frequently come up. While this is brilliant and we get to hear opinions and stories from across the planet, they’re also subjects that make us vulnerable.
Often debates turn into anger. As the group grows, this is getting more common.
I’m aware that some people can campaign for better care using anger – but I’ve never been that person. I’ve always been quick to cry when I’m angry and that’s not a very persuasive place to start debating from.
In the Secret Community, we have one main rule which is that every post and comment has to be written in an overtly kind way.
Passionate debate is fine but anger or contempt directed at someone isn’t.
The reason for this emphasis on kindness is that I’m at the helm. I didn’t think for a moment that The Secret Community would end up this big but it has, and because I’m in charge, we’re going to have to do things my way.
This means being kind, even when you disagree with who you’re debating with. Even if what they are saying is in your opinion, unsafe or disrespectful. Contact a mod by all means and we'll follow our procedure, we sometimes get in touch with trusts or universities and we have a policy for what to do if someone's letting us know they want to hurt or kill themselves (it happens).
But don't start or engage in a fight about midwifery issues.
This rule is because, in my experience, an angry debate in an online setting doesn’t usually change anyone’s mind.
Think about it – when was the last time someone was shouting at you and you listened and changed your mind?
Spirited debate is encouraged - being kind doesn't mean being nice and it certainly doesn't mean backing away from hard conversations, particularly those about client informed choice and consent, LGBTQ+ and BAME rights. We live in an unjust world and midwives need to talk about that. But a personal attack will mean we have to remove you. Get in touch with the mods if someone needs to be removed.
What might be better is staying calm, or if you can, using humour? Not sarcasm directed at the person but just something to get rid of the tension. It often builds bridges and then you can teach.
This is why I often start my moderation posts with something like ‘oof, G and T time for the mods!’
It helps get us back to human communication.
Notice I'm not saying 'keep your opinions to yourself'.
I'm saying be kind.
I know. It’s not perfect.
Many of you will be saying that nothing will stop you fighting for the rights of women. That if we can’t handle flashes of anger then we can’t be good midwives and censorship of any kind is wrong.
But the internet has some dark holes of horrible comments and threads which make most of us lose faith in humans. I’ve seen these in the context of midwifery and I’m not willing to be responsible for a community doing this, especially not one debating such important subjects.
If I and the mods stopped moderating, the community would go feral, you know it would.
In the Secret Community, if our policy of kindness means removing members, even if they’re esteemed midwives who we really respect, we really have to do it.
It's 'just' a Facebook group. But everyone gets to have their own corner of the social media world and this is ours. If you'd prefer a different kind of moderation, please set up your own group for angry debates. I'd totally support it if you can find a way to get it working!
We have a truly amazing moderator team who do so much behind the scenes and I can’t let them down either.
Keep it kind, everyone, please. Online midwifery will be better for it.
Much Love and RESPECT to all x
(This post was directly inspired by Caitlin Moran, one of my feminist idols, and Reni Eddo-Lodge, who wrote ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race' – both are angry at injustice, both using techniques other than anger to teach and change things).
P.S. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
p.s. If you have expertise to offer us and you'd like to join the mods team, email firstname.lastname@example.org - we have a diverse group of mods including LGBTQ+ people and BAME people but we're still predominately white and straight, so particularly if you're an advocate for these groups we'd be thrilled to hear from you.