Outrage and Civility

Imagine that you, as a greatly liked and respected person, found yourself overnight subjected to personal vilification on an unprecedented scale, from anonymous commenters on a website. Suppose you found yourself described as an “utter twat” a “suppurating rectum. A suppurating rat’s rectum. A suppurating rat’s rectum inside a dead skunk that’s been shoved up a week-old dead rhino’s twat.” …

The discussion continues …

Comments

  1. #1 Treppenwitz
    February 24, 2010

    While there was enough vitriol directed at Josh Timonen (off-site, and apparently after civil dissent was deleted) that I don’t think the accusations of quote mining are fair, Dawkins’s post is an exercise in missing the point. While there would undoubtedly be some whining regardless of how everything went down, most of the complaints are specifically about Josh’s tactics, and Dawkins doesn’t address that issue at all.

  2. #2 debunk
    February 24, 2010

    Dawkins is quoting comments made on rationalia.com after Josh locked the forum, prevented people from sending PMs, deleted the accounts of moderators who quoted the message he left on the moderator’s section to show users that they were in the same boat, removed signatures that linked to sites where people could be contacted, and deleted admin logs to hide his tracks.

    I for one understand why people are upset. I would be if I was treated like that.

  3. #3 Pierce R. Butler
    February 24, 2010

    The discussion does not continue (there): please note the little graphic at the bottom of the linked post, saying –

    LOCKED

    Those who want to see more discussion, albeit without quite so much colorful zoologic billingsgate, may choose to don your greaves and gambesons and venture into Castle Calamari.

  4. #4 Azkyroth
    February 24, 2010

    I’m generally not a fan of restricting what kind of content a forum caters to any more than is absolutely necessary, though I certainly approve of organizational streamlining (“off-topic posts” sections without abject nursemaidism ftw). That said, I don’t have a strong opinion on this change, being relatively unfamiliar with the context.

  5. #5 Donna B.
    February 25, 2010

    I thought it was another Sarah Palin thread.

  6. #6 Phillip IV
    February 25, 2010

    A suppurating rat’s rectum inside a dead skunk that’s been shoved up a week-old dead rhino’s twat.

    Perhaps Mr. Dawkins should consider the possibility that that was likely meant as hyperbole, and not the result of a careful, analytical comparison.

    By the way of consolation, that’s exactly what happens every single time when administrative changes are made at a popular forum. Forum regulars tend to be extremely passionate about the place they spend a considerable slice of their online time at, and even the most well-planned and well-meant (and well-discussed with the community) changes will cause a certain percentage of them to go ballistic – even at the normally most mellow forums.

    If, as often happens, the administration’s reaction to the initial outburst is a bit heavy-handed (which seems to be the case here, from a superficial look) the result tends to trend towards nuclear meltdown.

  7. #7 Pete Moulton
    February 25, 2010

    Phillip IV: I don’t see the need for this kind of ‘hyperbole’ anywhere or at any time. The internets are a big place. If someone doesn’t care for administrative changes, then there are plenty of elsewheres s/he can go. I think that anyone who has invested so much time and passion in any one forum that s/he’s capable of such insane rhetoric probably needs to get a life.

    Blog comment threads aren’t really that different. Frequent readers and commenters (I’m the former here, but not the latter) tend to treat the comment threads as minifora. Suppose Greg decided it was time to overhaul this blog, make some administrative changes, as it were. Would he then be worthy of such vitriol? Of course not. Those of us who liked–or could live with–the changes would adapt and stay; those who didn’t would drift away, and find some other place more to their liking.

  8. #8 Sharon Astyk
    February 25, 2010

    Suppose I were? I think I’d probably think “well, that’s life on the internet” and go do something else. Boy, some people are princesses.

    Sharon

  9. #9 Virgil Samms
    February 25, 2010

    Imagine that you, as a greatly liked and respected person, found yourself overnight subjected to personal vilification on an unprecedented scale, from anonymous commenters on a website.

    Imagine that vilification being justified. Apparently he never considers that angle.

  10. #10 Phillip IV
    February 25, 2010

    Pete Moulton: Oh, I wasn’t trying to defend the hyperbole (although I almost admire that specific bit for its sheer creativity), just pointing out with which high degree of predictability these kinds of meltdown happen.

    For the forum regulars, that small minority of posters who spend a good part of their free online time at one specific forum, the community there is extremely important. By my experience, these are the members most opposed to any kind of change, always fearing that the slightest change might drive away the last of the “good people” (and that’s another trait forum regulars share with (political) conservatives: they almost always feel, at any given time, that the forum used to be better in the past, and that too many of the ‘good people’ have left).

  11. #11 Bob
    February 25, 2010

    “Behave on Slashdot the way you would In Real Life; don’t behave In Real Life the way you do on Slashdot.” — Me

  12. #12 Stephanie Z
    February 25, 2010

    Virgil, is there anything out there that can help me understand why people are upset with Dawkins personally? That’s the part of this situation I understand the least.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    February 25, 2010

    Stephanie, I have the same exact question. I was wondering.

    To the extent that I know the man at all (as in having met/conversed, co-conferenced, etc.) it was in the context utterly unrelated to atheism, and entirely related to behavioral biology and related issues. Since he was considered to be a very popular science communicator, he was widely but mildly despised by those who did not know him. If you are scraping by doing esoteric research, and being forced to teach, and find The Extended Phenotype or The Blind Watchmaker to be an excellent textbook, you might learn to hate the guy because you want to be him and can’t. We have a half dozen significant friends in common and they all think he’s great as a person, communicator, activist, writer, speaker, etc.

    I also have this question: How much of the forum business can be explained by having a critical mass of people who require (in “Someone is wrong on the internet” fashion) that a need for blame exist and that the blame be administered, and on top of that, once a pattern for that blame is established, it be meted out no matter what?

    I’m not speaking of specific individuals, and I’m not thinking that there needs to be a large percentage of such in a discussion. Just enough to make sure the conversation moves in a certain direction (or in some cases failes to move).

    I noticed in the maneno that erupted here on my humble blog that apologies were being demaned a lot, and the standard reply to a demand for an apology is to demand an apology. I also noticed in that discussion and much more broadly in discussions I’ve been involved in that blame weaves together the conversation.

    “You must apologize becasue you said the sky is blue, and it is not!!!11!!”

    “Sorry, I don’t remember saying that the sky is blue. I apologize if that is what you were thinking and were bothered by that somehow, but I don’t think you said it.”

    “You must apologize now for denying my request for an apology, AND for saying the sky is blue. In comment 132 in post by you on the Air Force you used the phrase ‘wild blue yonder’. What. exactly. do. you. think. THAT. means? We all know you have repeatedly insisted that the sky is blue! Any possible sense of trust or honesty is now crumbling in this train wreck of yours!!! Apologize for saying the sky is blue or I will stop reading your blog!!!”

    “Uh. My reference to ‘wild blue yonder’ was a reference to a song, but I can see how you might have linked a concept of ‘blue sky’ to me by this reference. I certainly did not mean to say the sky is blue…..”

    “In comment 68 on a post last year in which you were discussing earthworms, a commenter indicated that the sky was ‘blue’ and you refused to correct her on it!! And, I’m still waiting for your apology for being a dishonest person!!!

    …. and so on.

    You see, if you identify and isolate the need to erect blame, drive the blame into the conversation, and repeatedly pummel the victim with the blame, and remove that phenomenon, the entire conversation goes away in a whisp of smoke.

    Which would then allow us to discuss whether or not the sky is blue or some other alternative. Like, “clear,” I suppose.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    February 25, 2010

    BTW, in relation to the previous comment, I have not read one word of the big fight. Read what you will into what I wrote, but don’t connect my thinking directly with whatever was said on that forum. (i.e., “Don’t blame me!!!”)

  15. #15 Paul
    February 25, 2010

    How much of the forum business can be explained by having a critical mass of people who require (in “Someone is wrong on the internet” fashion) that a need for blame exist and that the blame be administered, and on top of that, once a pattern for that blame is established, it be meted out no matter what?

    Are you implying that there may be obsessive behavior among a subset of individuals driving this system?

  16. #16 Stephanie Z
    February 25, 2010

    Paul, I don’t think it would have to be obsessive. It would simply have to set a precedent for other comments by validating a particular behavior or prime people to read ambiguous statements(and which statements aren’t to a certain extent?) in a particular way. It doesn’t take much.

  17. #17 Treppenwitz
    February 25, 2010

    …is there anything out there that can help me understand why people are upset with Dawkins personally? That’s the part of this situation I understand the least.

    While I’m admittedly not feverishly F5ing on Rationalia or other “refugee” boards, most of what I’ve seen directed at Dawkins personally has been disappointment that he doesn’t seem to understand the complaints against Josh.

    I’m torn between interest in how this plays out and apathy towards stories of uncontrollable sobbing at the loss of an Internet forum.

  18. #18 Virgil Samms
    February 25, 2010

    Virgil, is there anything out there that can help me understand why people are upset with Dawkins personally?

    Don’t waste deep analysis on a one-liner.

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    February 25, 2010

    Paul: There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that there is obsessive behavior going on here. Indeed, you asked the question because of something I said to you in a private email, and I am guessing that you want this topic to be aired and you are trying to trick me into talking about it out loud. But I refuse!!!!

    But, as Stephanie has suggested (or at least implied) this need not be individuals with obsessive personality disorder or the like. People who are aggressively plying paintball don’t go out into real life and shoot paint balls at everybody they see as not being on their side.

    Except when they do.

    On the third hand, one does have to forget about the idea that screaming at someone else on the Internet can have a range of consequences and it isn’t really just a game of paint ball.

    Except when it is.

    So no, the main vanguard of arguers need not be individuals who would be diagnosed as neurotic or psychotic generally speaking, in meatland.

    Except when they are.

    Which is all very concerning. And concerning is a buzzword. It means I am ABOUT TO BLAME SOMEONE FOR SOMETHING SO LOOK OUT!!!!!!!111!!!

  20. #20 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    February 25, 2010

    I think that this post may shed a little light on why there is upset-ness on the part of the moderators of the prior forum:

    Death of the Dawkins Forum.

    Comments from the volunteer moderation staff:

    “I’m surprised at the way the staff have been treated. I can’t believe the staff had to be told not to cause trouble, and that they aren’t allowed to start another forum somewhere. Unbelievable. The amount of time I put into moderating this place over the years was unreal, and I know that many staff members worked a lot harder than I did. People have left, angry with decisions and the way things have been dealt with, but collectively the current staff are the people who have stayed through it all. These people are dedicated, and have done great work for the cause. I am very insulted at being told to behave.

    It’s less about civility than it is about high-handedness, from the perspective of the moderators.

  21. #21 Pierce R. Butler
    February 25, 2010

    I have not read one word of the big fight.

    … the main vanguard of arguers need not be individuals who would be diagnosed as neurotic or psychotic … Except when they are.

    If the first statement quoted above still stands, then of what earthly use is posting the second statement?

    Those who actually know what happened seemed to be congregating at Rationalia (and sequential pages).

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    February 25, 2010

    Perice, those two statements you’ve joined together in your comment were made in two different commments about two different but related things.

    To clarify, when Paul uses the word “system” I understand him to mean the broader phenomenon of internet forums and extensive commentary on blogs. My comments in the longer comment are not about what is going on at the Dawkins site per se. I still don’t know much about that. (I wasn’t planning on diverting several hours of my time unexpectedly into a new and annoying venture!)

  23. #23 Pierce R. Butler
    February 25, 2010

    Greg – thanks for the elucidation.

    As you’ve probably deduced, even without seeing the evidence, there is some serious steam being vented about all this. It would be most imprudent to appear to take sides without having surveyed a large sample of the participants’ reports (many of which have remarkably little steam, btw).

    Unfortunately, by the above definition it’s looking more and more like Richard Dawkins is exercising excessive imprudence.

  24. #24 Stephanie Z
    February 25, 2010

    It would be most imprudent to appear to take sides without having surveyed a large sample of the participants’ reports (many of which have remarkably little steam, btw).

    Pierce, what do you see as being the consequences of making insufficiently political statements about this situation?

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    February 25, 2010

    It is interesting (and I totally agree with you) that one would be fairly warned to avoid ” to appear to take sides…”

    I am against homeschooling. I am for homeschooling. Both of these statements are true.

    “BLOOOINGNGGGGG”

    That was the brain of the nearest seven home schooler advocates blowing up because they can’t fit my world view into their cup of tea, as it were.

    I don’t know what went on on Dawkin’s site, but it would surprise me a great deal if it was not a lot of energy spent on blaming, assigning blame, insisting on blame, screaming about blame, whereby none of that has anything to do with secular progressive thought and atheism. That is a guess. But I’m pretty sure it’s a safe bet to assume that when an internet forum blows up it has little to do with fundamentals about the nature of the original question raised by the forum.

    The fact that I will be in trouble if I am seen as having a certain view amuses me. Bullies amuse me.

  26. #26 Pierce R. Butler
    February 25, 2010

    Stephanie Z @ # 24: Pierce, what do you see as being the consequences of making insufficiently political statements about this situation?

    Apparently the consequences are being asked non-sequiturial questions with undefined terms. The issue, so far as I’ve understood it at present, is one of a particular individual and his (mis)handling of the RD Forum’s policies & personnel. What kind of politics can be constructed out of that?

    Greg Laden @ # 25: … none of that has anything to do with secular progressive thought and atheism.

    Well, of course there are those who draw the opposite conclusion. But does that invalidate the suggestion that one “will be in trouble” for prematurely jumping into a heated controversy, or support implicit accusations of “bullying”?

  27. #27 Greg Laden
    February 25, 2010

    Pierce, are you blaming me for making “unsupported accusations of bullying?”

  28. #28 Pierce R. Butler
    February 25, 2010

    Greg – I’m asking, in my ever-so-subtle-yet-impossible-to-misunderstand way, whether you’re implying that I’m bullying by urging you to look before you leap.

  29. #29 Stephanie Z
    February 25, 2010

    Pierce, the letter you link to, or at least the one that loads for me when I follow that link, is someone using the opportunity to take potshots at atheism. How is this different than any other time someone sneers at Dawkins?

  30. #30 Greg Laden
    February 25, 2010

    Pierce: No, I was not thinking that at all. Again, I agree with your point totally. Stepping into this mess without a fairly good understanding of it would be stupid.

    What I don’t like is that if someone stepped into this mess regardless of their understanding of it, there would be those who would quickly classify the ‘intruder’ into one of a small number (usually two) of existing predefined views and then assign blame appropriately. Or at least, that is what usually happens, and the assignment is carried out by the bullies.

    Did you notice how long it took CPP to finally shut up about how I’m against pseudo-anon blogging and commenting? He is a fairly smart guy, and he classified me as against it simply because I asked questions about it and did not instantly agree with him and his friend in whatever they said (and we remain in disagreement, likely, about some issues). Repeated statements by me such as “I have no problem with pa blogging ….. I understand why it is necessary to have pa blogging …. some of my best friends are pa bloggers … there are several pa bloggers in my bathroom, doing something I’m not sure what, right now…” had no effect. That was my introduction on the internet to smart people being utterly stupid because of the way these conversations work, not the logic underlying the conversations.

    It may well be that this is not what is going on at Dawkins’ place. But if I hear a car crashed into a light pole, and one person says “Yeah, it swerved to avoid a UFO” and another person said “Yeah, it swerved to avoid a dog” I’d bet on the dog.

    Even if there is a dweeb not acting perfectly at the base of this (which is fairly likely because these things happen) …. chances are this argument quickly developed into a pile on and a blame fest so fast that nothing useful could ever be dug out from underneith it. Again, just guessing, and again, all anyone is likely to get out of me at this point is a guess becuse it is still impossible to order me to do stuff like read an internet forum.

    It’s like a high school fight. There is a reason that every student in some high schools that is caught even LOOKING at a fight gets suspended.

    ..hmmm… interesting idea…..

  31. #31 Pierce R. Butler
    February 25, 2010

    Stephanie Z @ # 29 – The link was included in response to Greg’s deduction that the present foofooraw is one where “none of that has anything to do with secular progressive thought and atheism”. For those who see the gawdless as unprincipled and unruly, this is an occasion for much glee and gloating (not to say some of us [*cough cough*] wouldn’t feel the same in reversed circumstances).

    Greg @ # 30 – glad we’re not setting up a sub-foofooraw!

    I missed the last brawl here about Greggo the Censor oppressing Comrade PhysioProletarian, so will refrain from comments on that (at least until the movie comes out).

    As for the Dawkins Debacle, that seems to have been months in the making – see my previous two links for the inglorious details, but not until you damn well feel like it.

  32. #32 Greg Laden
    February 25, 2010

    Pierce: I said I don’t know what went on on Dawkin’s site, but it would surprise me a great deal if it was not a lot of energy spent on blaming, assigning blame, insisting on blame, screaming about blame, whereby none of that has anything to do with secular progressive thought and atheism. That is a guess. But I’m pretty sure it’s a safe bet to assume that when an internet forum blows up it has little to do with fundamentals about the nature of the original question raised by the forum.

    .. I just want the record to NOT show that I’ve made some kind of deduction.

    There is a subtext to what I am saying which is pretty obvious: I think these things have a structure, and the overall form of the events can be predicted with little reference to the content. Eventually, the leopard will eat the monkey. Substitute any predator for “leopard” and any prey for “monkey.” The actors in the drama may think they are being very original and important and smart. But it is really just leopards and monkeys.

  33. #33 Pierce R. Butler
    February 25, 2010

    Greg Laden @ # 32: I just want the record to NOT show that I’ve made some kind of deduction. … I think these things have a structure, and the overall form of the events can be predicted…

    Where I come from, we call that last sort of statement a deduction, and the IRS penalizes us for claiming it on our 1040s. Maybe Hume would declare it an induction, but I refuse to be induced to produce any further statements which might conduce toward reducing the status quo.

  34. #34 Greg Laden
    February 25, 2010

    Until I get this brace off, I’m only allowed to do abductions.

  35. #35 peter
    February 26, 2010

    As an ex participant at the forum, what I saw from my side:
    There were apparently attempts, with discussions by members, mods and admins to fix the forum which had experienced a technical difficulties.

    Those discussions were cut short when the announcement came that the forum would be closed, the mods told they were all let go and no attempt to contact Dawkins would be permitted.

    Information by mods actually warned them off from participating in any discussions.

    The mods were as surprised as anybody else by this decision to shut the forum down, and replace it with an apparently heavily censored “reply to the frontpage news” platform.

    This caused an avalanche of protests, as was to be expected, with invectives mostly directed at Josh.

    Subsequently the forum was shut down to a read only site.

    No reason was ever really given – except “streamlining” for the shutdown.

    Dawkins was/is the host no doubt, but he employed the labour of volunteers as admins and mods, in the end keelhauling them for whatever reasons, without their input, acting like any good tinpot dictator.

    That might be his prerogative, but having created the forum as a meeting place not by himself, but through the labour of those volunteers and the members, I question the wisdom, social and internet skills of Dawkins to interact with what might have been called his supporters, and the appropriateness of those actions by someone looking to help to create an awareness of atheism, and to help to create a pressure group to counteract the still increasing influence of religion in politics, education and the law.

    My response to the announcement, that I caught early, on was anyway to not further participate in a to be censored “comment” site, that was far removed from what a forum can be – a platform for extensive discussion.

    Sorry to see it go, it was sometimes enlightening to participate, sometimes depressing, but always challenging to your wit and intelligence – with exceptions, granted.

  36. #36 Stephanie Z
    February 26, 2010

    Dawkins changes the free service he’s offered for some time to something that meets his needs better and he’s a “tinpot dictator”? A little perspective (not to say rationality) might be called for.

    I have quite a bit of sympathy for the moderators (and have said elsewhere that I hope they end up somewhere where they “own” their work), but almost nobody gets consulted on whether they continue employment when management makes changes. And yes, that includes volunteers. That’s one of the drawbacks of working for someone else. It’s sad and painful, but it doesn’t require any slavering monsters to happen.

  37. #37 peter
    February 26, 2010

    and he’s a “tinpot dictator”?

    Why is it that folks – no matter of which persuasion, be it religious or non – are unable to refer to what was said in actuality, but simply cannot refrain from misinterpretation to make what? point?

    “acting like any good tinpot dictator.”
    is what I said, and if you cannot tell the difference between what I actually said and what you think I said, any further discussion is beside the point.

    Your further comments also indicate that you either did not read my statement or do not want to understand what I said.
    Again, with that kind of attitude it is nonsense to try to engage in further discussion.

  38. #38 Stephanie Z
    February 26, 2010

    No, peter, I understand what you said. I don’t think you literally believe or said Dawkins has taken over a country.

    I do question your use of hyperbole as useful in making your point. I’m also aware, having been through organizational upheaval, that while there are ways of handling it that are worse than others, there is no good way. Even from what the moderators are saying about this (and yes, I have been reading some of that), this was far from the worst.

  39. #39 Greg Laden
    February 26, 2010

    Peter, I know that you were only implying that it would be possible to interpret Dawkins as acting LIKE a tinpot dictator, but that implication is in and of itself tantamount to sasying that he IS a tinpot dictator, especailly if anyone happens to think that is what you meant, EVEN IF such a person WILLFULLY misinterprets your so-called implication.

    And with that statement, I hope to have advanced this conversation SEVERAL LIGHTYEARS towards a greater understanding of the ACTUAL TRUTH and stuff.

  40. #40 peter
    February 26, 2010

    From my experience e as an instructor at an alternate school
    I was soon made aware of the difference between “behaving” and “being”. This differentiation was always extremely important when criticizing the students under our care.

    As to advancing the discussion…I am just sad a very lively place of free discussion has met it untimely end.
    The reaction by quite a few is of course exaggerated and displays withdrawal symptoms.
    I find the reactions of the majority reflecting a sadness and an outrage against the willful and very sudden elimination of a place where all kinds of topics mainly related to science and the antagonism between science and religion could be discussed with vigour, always monitored not to cross over into attacking the person, but permitting to relentlessly attacking sometimes very stupid ideas.

    Read through it, and you find that quite a few on the fence religious people found a place here to gain clarity about their position regarding their believes and their waning, overwhelmingly supported in their struggle by that community.

    The same holds true for those who where willing to put their creationist faith to the test, and sometimes actually becoming convinced by the evidence presented.

    That is one of the many reasons I cannot understand the desire to squash such a place to be replaced with a model to permit mainly posting opinions with from what I gather only limited space to have develop a full discussion, and heavily gated, not monitored.

  41. #41 peter
    February 26, 2010

    PS – having checked sites like rationlista, I found only rather thin gruel when joining.

    It might change with the influx of refugees from RDF into a site supporting much more substantial discussions.
    The amount of knowledge available at RDF to scientifically support the discussion with facts and literature references and therefore well reasoned arguments was sometimes quite astonishing in its depth and breadth.

  42. #42 Stephanie Z
    February 26, 2010

    peter, I fully agree that it was a good forum, that it made good things happen, and that it’s a very sad day to see its end. My hope, actually, is that we’ll see a number of sites pop up in its place. I’m confident they’ll develop into more than thin gruel as people remember that they were what made the forum good. I also think more sites = more diversity = appeal to more people, plus more flexibility in the system if/when others decide they’re not in the forum business anymore.

    Still sad though.

  43. #43 peter
    February 27, 2010

    This is a letter from the RDnet forum staff as posted on rationalia:

    Dear Richard
    We hope you will find time to read this letter, which is from all the forum staff.

    We are all deeply saddened that the forum will be deleted in 28 days time. In just over 3 years, it has grown to become the busiest atheist forum on the Internet. On average since last October, the forum has been getting 3,000 posts per day, of which about 2,000 per day are focused on science, reason and your work. The front page average is a fraction of that at 200 – 300. The social posts on the forum only comprise about 1/10 of all posts per day so there is a great deal of substance being discarded.

    Staff were told that the science and reason forum content would be migrated to the new site and we offered to help with this. Then 2 days ago, we were told that there was a change of plan and all the forum content would be deleted in 30 days. Members have been told that they can copy their posts and repost them on the new site. This is complete nonsense because it isn’t individual posts that make up the forum, it’s the discussion threads that are significant and members don’t have the ability to migrate whole threads across. That’s what the staff were going to do for them. This is now not going to happen and over 3 years worth of threads debunking creationism & woo, challenging theism, supporting new atheists etc will be wiped out.

    Andrew and Josh have now announced that the forum has been made ‘read-only’ due to the inappropriate actions of staff. This is ‘spin’ at its finest as it fails to acknowledge that their own inappropriate actions resulted in this debacle in the first place. The announcement that the forum was shut down because some staff posted the letter sent to them and made some public complaints is nonsense. The letter was exactly the same as the one posted publicly to the members with the addition of letting staff know that their services wouldn’t be required at the new website. They also told staff what they shouldn’t do:
    [snip – eg email Richard, inflame the users, start any petitions, relocate groups of users to other forums.]

    We decided to post this letter on the forum as it explained succinctly that staff wouldn’t be required and also let people know that they shouldn’t expect staff to take any action on their behalf. Andrew and Josh removed the
    letter and they could have also removed the staff’s permissions as they said they didn’t trust staff anymore. They didn’t have to make the forum ‘read-only’ for everybody in order to gag the staff. The fact is that they needed the staff to deal with all the complaints that would inevitably have been thrown at the forum for the next 30 days. In other words, they expected the staff to give up their free time to act as police and lavatory cleaners for a month, without a word of dissent themselves, and then just stand aside and watch the forum they’d worked so hard for be deleted. Not much to ask was it?

    Since their announcement, you have made one yourself entitled “outrage” which contains copies of some insulting comments about Josh. None of these comments came from the RD forum. They were all posted on various other websites after the forum was locked. Someone has harvested these quote-mines from other websites and presented them to you as justification for locking the forum. Your announcement also contradicts the admin announcement which says that the reason the forum was locked was due to the staff.They are also saying that they aren’t trying to stop people from going off into other forums but right from the start, they prevented members from having any links/information in their signatures and changed the PM system to make it virtually unworkable so that members can’t contact each other easily.

    Andrew and Josh could have handled this so much better if they had taken up the offer we made a while ago to advise them on how to make the transition. They don’t have any leadership skills or experience but several of us on the staff do this professionally and have years of experience managing change with large and diverse groups of people. This offer was ignored and instead, they have provided a textbook example of how not to do it. This also includes putting the blame on people for reacting badly to their ill-conceived actions. The fact that they either didn’t expect such a reaction or just didn’t care, serves to emphasise their ignorance of how to work with large groups of people and how to manage change.

    We have all worked so hard to support your mission because we passionately believe in it. You and your work have been our inspiration to keep going on days when we were verbally abused and threatened by trolls. The staff are highly intelligent people but we were prepared to spend hours of our own time doing low-level and mundane moderating tasks to keep the forum organised, facilitate focused discussions and solve people’s technical problems. We were also able to use our skills and expertise in fostering a sense of community and ensuring that all people could post there, free from homophobic, sexist or racist abuse. That’s a significant part of why it has
    become the most popular atheist forum on the Internet because it’s a lively, challenging and supportive environment.

    The Foundation’s decision to remove the forum is one we deeply regret but we acknowledge that as volunteers, it’s not our concern. However, we could have used our skills and expertise to help develop the new discussion area, transfer content over and manage the transition for the membership as smoothly as possible. Andrew and Josh rejected that offer and as we were told recently that we weren’t allowed to contact you about any forum
    matters, we weren’t able to make that offer to you personally.

    At the moment, we feel deflated and dismayed while we watch the destruction of such a successful forum but despite that, we continue to wish you well and we sincerely hope that the new website is successful in achieving the Foundation’s goals, which is what were striving for with the forum.

    Sincerely
    The forum staff

    Maybe the closing of RDF will result in more diversity, maybe RDF had become too big with over 85000 members, but I feel it acted as a “galaxy central” that got you started in your search for the like minded.

  44. #44 Greg Laden
    February 27, 2010

    Peter: Your comment (a few back) about how it is sad that the forum is closed is the best argument I’ve seen for it being re-opened or reconstituted somehow.

    The letter from the staff is the best reason I’ve seen so far that the forum should not be reopened. If a group of intelligent rational people who are trying to save a place for discussion of rational thought, science, and so on, and sat down to write a letter to do so, this is NOT the letter they would have come up with.

    In the medium/long germ I hope there will be a new and great Dawkins site. For the short term there probably should not be.

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