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[liberationtech] Our commitment to civility, freedom of assembly, and our volunteers - Join our legal defense network

Yosem Companys companys at stanford.edu
Tue Feb 7 15:28:05 PST 2017


From: Steven Clift <clift at e-democracy.org>

Our volunteers were recently attacked by white nationalists when we
challenged them on our real name requirements:

"You are dishonorable and despicable and truly what's wrong in this
country, run by our oppressors (such tactics explain why Trump was
elected)."

"You are the same as the other Jewsish handlers, lapdogs,  despicable,
disreputable and lying censors with whom I've had the displeasure to
"meet" (in the guise of discussion from your end)."

"You don't believe in free speech or open discourse, so traditional
with our founding fathers, but selective and punitive censorship and
sanctions."

>From the the other side of the political spectrum, when we acted based
on years of repeated private extremely negative and often rule
violating engagement and past legal threats (and it appears a fresh
legal threat for ironically NOT censoring) to protect our freedom of
assembly with forums that remain defiantly non-profit, community-based
and volunteer-run where -everything- else is commercially owned and
arbitrarily run, we received notes like:

"The decision to issue this extraordinarily harsh, "punishment" is
clearly motivated by your desire to silence voices of dissent on this
so-called, "Democracy" list-serve."

"power mad Executive Director"

"Without a serious discussion of the specific violations, your actions
seem arbitrary and authoritarian"

So as you might imagine, in our conflict-ridden national political
climate where those with the greatest political passion figure the
they are being singled out based on their views and not their
behavior, it is extremely difficult to host an online civic commons
that truly brings in diverse view points. Many people want to "win"
political debates at all costs even if that kills the platform that
gives them access to an audience seeks to allow everyone to listen to
views from different perspectives.

I do wish that earned trust from 20+ years of dedication to raising
and mixing diverse political voices would assure you that extended
extraordinary suspensions are not about the content of public posts.
By design on our system, people get their say and if rule violating,
only their future speech is technically constrained. This impacts when
you can talk again not what you have to say. If you wish to post in a
civilly disobedient manner and take another sanction for the lack of
civility, being out of scope, etc. you can. 99.9% of our participants
get that they can use other outlets for their unfettered freedom of
speech and accept that our civility requirements are an expression of
our 1st Amendment protected and collective freedom of assembly.

If the threat of legal action, which in theory could bankrupt us,
bring interference from the IRS, or shut us down wasn't so real, we'd
be at much greater liberty to go into detail on behind the scenes
management. Admittedly, our difficult position has caused some to
question our motivation and process. I'll share at great potential
risk some general comments.

It may well be another 20+ years before our Board feels compelled for
the sake of maintaining our forums to suspend another member
extraordinarily, let me share what could lead to extended suspensions
for others:

1. Violating our real name policy - If we determine there is a
question about your identify and you can't prove who you are, your
account is disabled. If we figure out who you actually are, you are
suspended for up to five years. We just suspended our first account in
over a year.

2. Legal threats - If you threaten us with legal action, you are
suspending yourself indefinitely from our site:
http://forums.e-democracy.org/support/policies/legal-threats/
There are about five people out there who have done this, two lifted
their threats in writing and were allowed to participate again. It is
a legal threat if you claim E-Democracy is libel for content written
by others. Based on our strong commitment to anti-censorship, we only
remove content if a court finds that the *responsible* author has
libeled you: http://forums.e-democracy.org/support/policies/content-removal/

3. No longer agreeing to our terms of service/rules - If you state
that you no longer agree to our rules, it is time for you to leave or
in theory we can suspend you until you state agreement to the rules.

4. Threatening the existence our forums as a non-profit E-Democracy
initiative - This is our 4.8 rule -
http://forums.e-democracy.org/support/rules/full-rules/  If you
repeatedly generate warnings across multiple forums, disrespect or
bully our volunteers privately and repeatedly, fail to follow our rule
violations process when appealing warnings repeatedly, and rather than
provide input to Board about overall Forum Management concerns instead
attempt to involve them individually in the details of specific forums
repeatedly, you are directly interfering with the ability of our
volunteer-based organization to provide services to the community. As
long as I am in a leadership role with E-Democracy, I will error on
the side of caution and seek to accommodate the participation of even
the most difficult participants until such time that our democratic
mission is fundamentally and overwhelmingly threatened.

If this whole process seems like a tight rope, it is. Luckily, based
exclusively on participant donations, these forum remain open.
E-Democracy.org is clearly an accident of history. Keep that accident
going: http://e-democracy.org/donate

While elements our of civic model can be applied on Facebook and other
places, there is no evidence that non-profit, volunteer-based online
group models running on independent technology are scalable either
based on the ability to attract a critical mass of new participants in
*new* cities outside the Facebook near-monopoly on engagement or with
venture funded models like NextDoor with hundreds of millions of
dollars (and of course very arbitrary terms of service and no
expressed democratic mission).

A number of you have suggested E-Democracy should be run as a
democracy and not a volunteer-driven meritocracy. To that I say,
please volunteer for one of these named roles for your forum and serve
as an assistant Forum Manager and then perhaps a full Forum Manager:
http://e-democracy.org/volunteer The more time and effort you put in,
the more you can shape a forum to do a better job and reach more
people.

The alternative is "No representation without taxation." Meaning, I
think we'd need to require coop like subscriptions upfront to support
such an internal democratic processes (like electing Forum Managers).
Unfortunately that conflicts with our goal of being open and
accessible - a public civic commons and not a closed community. I
contrast those who say we are an "e-dictatorship" with community
insiders who have criticized our forums for being "too democratic."
One former city council staff person called our forums the home for
"the sad and lonely." I remember a call with one self-described
community gadfly put us down by saying "I don't need you any more"
when they found a voice on Twitter and Facebook and was freed of our
anti-rumormonger rules. It sort seems like a miracle that our
conversations continue day after day with criticism for all sides.

This is where I often plead with folks to create competing models
because either we are missing an opportunity to serve the community
more effectively or we are too skeptical based on past experiments
(like the local Saint Paul E-Democracy chapter that did have
leadership elections, but lacked sustained distributed volunteer
engagement leading to burn-out). So, we tend to stick with our just
"good enough" lean model led by our dedicated local Forum Managers who
are willing to serve the community despite being disparaged regularly
by the loudest often least civil voices on our forums.

Finally, after I've cheered everyone up, I have a special request - if
you are a legal professional who:

1. Believes in the right of a non-profit organization's freedom of
assembly online
2. Believes in the ability of the public to participate in non-profit
owned online spaces that aspire to promote greater civility
3. Believes in protecting non-profits from legal threats by
governments, individuals or others seeking to censor content on our
website or hold us libel for the speech of others (without which would
mean we would shut down immediately due to the risks involved)
4. Supports the civic mission of E-Democracy.org:
http://e-democracy.org/mission

Please get in touch to join our network of legal defenders:
clift at e-democracy.org http://e-democracy.org/support

Please note that due to suspected and now confirmed legal threats, we
are fighting for the future of this online forum and all of our
community forums. Your continued participation - be it reading or
posting to these forums - is so appreciated. You help prove our point
that these forums are worth defending as a community asset.

Thank you for being a part of E-Democracy.org.

Steven Clift
E-Democracy.org


Steven Clift  -  Executive Director, E-Democracy.org
   clift at e-democracy.org  -  +1 612 234 7072
   @democracy  -  http://linkedin.com/in/netclift
   http://1radionews.com - My radio app


Steven Clift
Ericsson, Minneapolis
About/contact Steven Clift: http://forums.e-democracy.org/p/stevenclift1


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