Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Authoritarian Liberal Free Speechers Squash Internet Dissent

Official Statement About The Recent Disruptions

I apologize to our good members for the chaos this place descended into over the weekend. I assure you that the staff and I handled it as best we could. Our goal was to preserve the life of the site while abiding by our principles. We had a few hiccups here and there, but for the most part I think we achieved that. And really, what mod staff would not have had a few hiccups under these circumstances? None of us are infallible. It's hard to have perfect judgment when attacks are being hurled at you faster than you can read them, let alone reply.

There are some pretty basic management principles that I adhere to as much as possible, whether here or elsewhere. I really like "Catch people doing something right" and "Praise publicly, criticize privately." They almost never fail me. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to deviate from those a little bit here. Many lies have been told about Old Elm and people need to know the truth. Our credibility is our most important asset. I must set the record straight.

First, a little history: As hard as this may be to believe, Old Elm Tree was started as a partnership between Mike and I. (He was using the name Two Americas at the time.) Our basic original agreement was to start a site with two main rules: protect free speech and members must treat each other with respect. I continue to hold to that.

The division of labor was that Mike did the tech stuff and I did most of the writing and all of the art. From the time we opened to membership (July 2008) Mike argued against our respectful discussion rule. I was so confused. Why would he agree to that premise and then do a 180 degree turn as soon as we opened? I really don’t know. I do know that even though he said the mission statements and guidelines were fine just as I had written them, he later admitted that he had never read them. He insisted that any moderation at all would be unfair to him and his group of friends because of their ideology. I could never understand why he thought that given that he and I would be the final authority on all moderation. He refused to even acknowledge the possibility of a compromise on this issue. The majority of the mod staff felt that The Crisis forum was the best compromise, so in November 2008 we started that and Mike and TBF stepped down. (She was a mod in the very early months.)

False Claim: Mike did a ton of tech work here, even after stepping down as admin.

Truth: Old Elm was conceived to be more than a message board. It was to be a complete community, with opportunities for members to display and promote their creative output or their small businesses. There were to be many bells and whistles. Mike also said that we would be able to earn money from the site, making it self-supporting and more. I deferred to Mike on tech questions. Clearly he knew much more than me in that area. Mike never completed the tech work necessary for any of that. Although he worked on many things, the only thing he actually completed was setting up the message board. Mike stated he literally could not make any further progress because of the disagreement about requiring respectful discussion. That never made sense to me, but he insisted it was true. Mike stepped down from being an admin and tech support person. After that he did help a few times when we had server issues, because he controlled the server and he knew he had left us with no tech person. It's not easy to find a webmaster that will work for free, but we finally found Solidad in January of this year.

False Claim: Old Elm Tree is “owned by commies” and supported by PI.

Truth: We started this site on server space owned by BlindPig. This was Mike's idea, and it was probably the only way we could have afforded to start. It made sense, because Mike controlled BP's server. I think the situation is that BP receives donations from members at PI to pay for his server space. I know that we were hosted there, PI was and is, SocIndy is, and there may be others. I'm not part of that group and don't know what their arrangement is. What I do know is that Mike and I agreed on a price to pay BP with the understanding that the payment would increase when we started generating revenue. Mike was the one who actually discussed this with BP. Of course, we have never generated any revenue because Mike never did any of the things necessary to generate it. The agreement was that Mike would pay a certain amount per month and I would pay the like amount. I do not know if Mike ever paid his portion. Although I told him when I sent money orders to BP, Mike never mentioned making any payment. I know that I paid my portion from the beginning until we left that server, with Waiting For Hope splitting my portion with me once she stepped up to be an admin and my partner. I have also paid all the domain registration fees and any other incidental expenses. So no, we are not "owned by a bunch of commies." Technically, legally, I own this site. For all practical purposes, Waiting For Hope and I own it. Morally, in my mind, it is owned by the good faith members, the staff, and ultimately by the principles it's based on. I paid the price I agreed to for our hosting. I don't know what the total cost of BP's server space is and I don't know what he receives in donations. If I go to Kroger and buy a gallon of milk, the only thing that matters to me is what my price is for that gallon. I don't know how much milk they have altogether, who else buys it, or how the wholesale price is paid.

False Claim: Chlamor's banning was ideologically motivated.

Truth: His posts speak for themselves. Chlamor was defiantly saying that he had no intention of ever following the rules. Obviously the firefights would never end as long as he was here vowing to keep fueling them.

False Claim: We were trying to shut down the opinions of Mike and his friends.

Truth: I offered Mike his own column several times. Although he accepted each time and said he would like to do that, he never followed through.

Mixed Claim: Mike also claimed that he was being attacked.

Truth: Well, yes, there were some attacks against him. I can't defend all of them. I will say that he provoked most of the attacks.

Some people reappeared here after months away only to throw gasoline on the fire. These people were not here contributing to the community in the good times. They were elsewhere sneering at OET with Chlamor and Mike (you can find it yourself if you care). When they suddenly showed up here causing trouble, was that good faith? If you don't contribute to a community for months or years and then show up causing trouble, are you to be considered a member of that community? Should consideration be given to your desire to disrupt over the rights of the true members who have been consistently building trust and friendship? Of course not. That's absurd.

The hard thing about OET is that we have two foundations: free speech and respect for other members. Not only do these not conflict, but in fact they are synergistic. However, the duality does make us vulnerable to those that disagree with these core beliefs and seek to destroy us. They play one foundation against the other and mock both.

We knew from the beginning this could be a problem. We could have done things differently to make things easier. We could have limited membership. We could have banned some people before we had proof beyond a reasonable doubt that they would never be good neighbors. We could have done things behind closed doors with no explanation and made the evidence disappear. We didn't do any of those things. We are governed by our principles.

Sadly, this created a bad atmosphere for good members. And that goes against something else we hold dear. It's not just that we expect members to value and respect each other, it's that the staff also values and respects the members. On Sunday, we took some steps to calm things down for the time being, which I will elaborate for you below. We're going to be brainstorming this week on changes to prevent this from happening again. We aren't afraid to think outside the box around here.

Here are the changes we have made:

Balantz and Cornermouse, our two most longstanding mods, have been promoted to admin to help WFH and I keep up with everything. We four will decide later if this will be permanent.

Several members were given suspensions. We needed to do that to stop the chaos and give us time to fix things. No final decisions have been made on whether these members may return. They are free to contact us privately to give input on the final decision. I want to make this perfectly clear. The prime consideration is the good of the community as a whole, not the wishes of the individuals. I am letting you know in advance that we are not open to discussing whether or not any members should have been suspended or should be allowed to return. It is not good for the community to do that. You may make your feelings known by pm. I am simply making the list public so that you all will know what is going on.

Those suspended are:

Chopped Liver

In addition, three members who had previously asked that their accounts be deleted were accommodated. Those were TBF, Erinacious, and DJinn. (Also note that a couple members voluntarily suspended their accounts. They will be back in a couple days.)

Chlamor, probably with the help of someone more computer savvy, was attempting to register sock puppets. So, we changed new member registration procedures to require individual admin approval.

We locked the thread on Chlamor's banning because it was constantly escalating the problem. We may reopen the thread, and we may move part of it to The Crisis. As you know, we don't like to lock threads, but we're not magicians and we can't bend time.

We are confident that OET remains strong and will continue to grow. We have halted the trouble. It won’t be allowed to start again. Please accept our apologies and know that we will protect you better going forward.

Andrea and Waiting For Hope
and the Mod/Admin Staff