i’m made mute by the virtue of decision

Life is a soap opera. It may be even more of a soap opera in the online world. I’ve been watching a big drama in Kathy’s life unfold for the last few days.

There is a private online community that was created as a safe haven for like-minded people. It is an interesting community, started by a group of women who had been on another semi-private online forum. I don’t know the details, but apparently the atmosphere of their previous community was destroyed by cyberstalking and other actions by one or more unsavory individuals.

The forum has a process for admitting new individuals that is designed to keep out people who might destroy the peace and comfort they have worked to build in their community. Any member can send a message to the administrator nominating someone to join. The founders discuss the merits of that individual among themselves after that. If they decide the person is acceptable, they use an anonymous voting process to let the community as a whole decide that person’s fate. During this whole process, that person is never informed what’s going on unless they are approved.

Kathy’s words fill in the next part of the story better than I can:

I am a member of several groups, clubs, organizations and boards on various websites and in real life. I’ve always enjoyed spending time with people who share common interests and with whom I may become a good friend so when I was recently proposed for membership on a board, I was flattered and wanted very much to join. But then I discovered that membership was done by vote, and that people could vote no for ANY reason. I also discovered that a dear friend had been proposed before me, and had been voted against, denying them membership.

I went ahead and joined and kept my insecurities and guilty feelings to myself for a long time because I wanted to fit in and make friends…not rock the boat. But after someone made a comment on the board about a similar situation on a different board and how unfair it seemed, I brought the whole thing up. I explained that I knew how she felt because I felt the same way about my friend who had been declined.

The comment Kathy is talking about was lamenting the “invitation-only” aspect of a real-life event that they had attended. This person wished that they could share it with friends who had not been invited.

You can read the rest of what happened right afterwards in Kathy’s LiveJournal post about the mess, which I have partially quoted above.

Behind the scenes, this has started a real scat hurricane, especially after the first comment on this post. At the moment, you can’t see most of it, because the replies are screened. Something else you won’t see in her post is a detail that I learned about later, because I slept through it – she was awake most of the night before she wrote the small novel that started all this. The whole thing has been emotionally draining for her, and has come at the same time as some other highly stressful things, one of which is her grandmother’s heart trouble.

This morning, Kathy posted one final note on the subject. Around the same time, there was another email from the forum administrator, which asks Kathy to unscreen the reply to Niki’s comment, allowing her defense of her community to be seen. The email also says that people in the community are now upset because they think Kathy was made to leave. Does this mean that Kathy’s post has been removed? I believe her reasons for choosing to leave are very clear, but if the post was removed, I can understand the confusion.

Kathy has told me that it has consistently been reponses from the forum staff that have resulted in her feathers getting ruffled. Her initial comment was one of agreement with another member. The moderator response kept her awake all night, wrestling with her feelings and eventually writing the resignation post. The comments and emails from the forum staff since then have only fueled her frustration. A direct quote: “If they had left well enough alone, then I could have left it alone too.”

I think she should unscreen all the comments and let the identities of those who chose to comment become public record along with her post. Today’s post title reflects her decision (so far) to let the big post be her last direct contribution to the affair. Would she be going against that decision if she allows the other voices to be heard, since technically she’s not the one actually speaking? None of the comments is anonymous, and one of them even gives hints about the name of the community. There are some compassionate voices in the mix, thankfully.

Right now as I write this, she’s riled up enough over the staff’s comments that it would not surprise me too much if she throws all caution to the wind and further explains her feelings on the subject. I doubt she’ll reveal the community and individual names that were blocked out of her resignation post, though.

Now for my opinion about the actual issue, which is MINE, not Kathy’s. I’ve been able to see all the responses from others in the community on this issue. The harshest responses have come from the forum management, in response to someone who isn’t even a player in the drama. All of the messages of support have come from the regular members.

If the admins and moderators truly believe in their process and are completely secure in the knowledge that they are doing things right, why are they compelled to defend themselves from a comment made by Niki, whose opinion should mean nothing to them?

Kathy’s post went out of its way to avoid attacking anyone. The worst insult in it was inferring that they were acting like 13 year old kids, which according to our teenage twins, was more insulting to them than to the forum members. Some of the comments Kathy has received since have not been so kind.

I run a forum of my own. I’ve never tried to exclude anyone from joining, partly because my target audience is fairly large. Even if I wanted to, I can’t think of a fair way to do it. I do have some private areas on my forum, and membership is not democratic. I’m happy to say that I am a bossy dictator in this regard.

I think the forum staff has an admirable goal with their security practices, and probably doesn’t need to do anything differently. Due to the particular situation involved, it didn’t work for Kathy. Rather than just quietly disappear, she wanted to express her feelings and did her best to avoid stepping on anyones toes. Unsurprisingly, toes got smashed anyway. They don’t seem to be smart enough to learn from the experience and pull their feet out of the way – they keep sticking their toes out further and quietly saying “please don’t step on me again.”

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