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

Steven Clift clift at
Tue Feb 7 18:06:43 PST 2017

Thanks for spreading the word.

One  "freedom" comment - our model is about the freedom of assembly based
on strong civility. We are often criticized by those who value individual
free speech over our nonprofit's collective right to shape the rules for
agree to in order to sustain political dialogue among people with very
diverse views.

If you'd like to help us defend our civic model legally, let us know:
clift at


P.S. The other note forwarded from ProgressiveExchange is strictly a
personal initiative unrelated to my nonpartisan E-Democracy role.

On Feb 7, 2017 5:28 PM, "Yosem Companys" <companys at> wrote:

> From: Steven Clift <clift at>
> 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:
> 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:
> al/
> 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 -
>  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.
> is clearly an accident of history. Keep that accident
> going:
> 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:
> 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
> Please get in touch to join our network of legal defenders:
> clift at
> 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
> Steven Clift
> Steven Clift  -  Executive Director,
>    clift at  -  +1 612 234 7072
>    @democracy  -
> - My radio app
> Steven Clift
> Ericsson, Minneapolis
> About/contact Steven Clift:
> Rules: Be civil - No name calling, personal attacks, etc.
> You may post only once every 12 hours - no corrections, etc.
> Complaints to: us-fm at
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