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E-Democracy.org – Project Blog

Online Survey – Comment on the Updated Rules Draft by March 15, 2011

Written by Steven Clift

Every few years, our Board seeks input on rules changes and reflects on how they have worked in practice so they can be improved.

Online Survey (NOW CLOSED) – Read the proposed rules and comment section by section. Or read the full draft.

The rules govern participation on our Issues Forums and guide our growing network of online communities of practice.

Thank you. We received over 60 responses via our survey. Now the input will be reviewed.

The cornerstone of our rules are:

  • Real names to build trust, ensure accountability, and enhance participant power and influence in local democracy
  • Promoting civility by prohibiting name calling of any kind and limiting the number of posts a person can make in a day (typically two)
  • Forum by forum geographic or thematic “scope” to maximize the audience and therefore forum influence (about local issues, not local people talking national politics)
  • Volunteer forum manager facilitation, rules enforcement, and the ability to suspend participants based on warnings for limited amounts of time rather than removing rule violating content

Unlike most private online spaces, these rules intentionally limit arbitrary and unaccountable management action. While we aren’t a government or a democracy (we don’t vote people off the island so to speak), we operate forums to improve democracy, openness, and to foster community building. These rules have evolved since 1994. In order for E-Democracy.org to fully establish your right to participate in forums that we legally own and operate, the rules are quite lengthy (sites with short rules reserve all the rights for themselves and rarely assign themselves any responsibilities like we do).

Below the quick rules summary is our analysis of the major changes from our perspective from the current rules.

Online Survey (NOW CLOSED) – This is your chance to comment on specific draft rules language or propose amendments to our Board. To be fully reviewed by the Rule Committee, you need to use this survey form (public comments on this blog post are more than welcome, but put them in the survey as well).

The full draft rules are available here for printing.

Thank you. We received over 60 responses via our survey. Now the input will be reviewed.

Previous blog posts and comments helped the Board think about this set of revisions.

Draft Rules Summary

1. Real Names Required: Register and sign posts with your real name and community.

2. Right to Post and Reply: Sharing your knowledge and opinions with your fellow participants is a democratic right.

3. Limits on Posting within a Forum’s Purpose: Two posts per day per member on most forums. Forum charters determine geographic or topical scope.

4. Be Civil: No name-calling. Respect among people with differing views is our cornerstone.

5. No Personal Attacks or Threats: This keeps the forums welcoming and safer.

6. Private Stays Private: Don’t forward private communication without permission.

7. Avoid Unsubstantiated Rumors: Asking for clarification of what you’ve heard in the community can be appropriate if issues-based. You alone are responsible for what you post.

8. Items Not Allowed in Forums: No strong profanity, pornographic content, chain letters, unsolicited commercial advertising, etc. Forum charters may detail examples or exceptions including allowing commercial exchange and advice.

9. Public Content and Use: You are sharing your content under the E-Democracy.org selected Creative Commons license unless you state an alternative copyright.

10. Warnings and Suspensions: You may receive informal or official warnings. The volunteer Forum Manager is responsible for facilitation and enforcing rules. With your second official warning in one year, you are suspended for two weeks. You may appeal all warnings after a third warning that brings a six-month suspension.

11. Forum Managers: Each forum has a manager with responsibilities and technical privileges to meet those responsibilities. Disputes with Forum Managers may be brought to E-Democracy.org through various mechanisms.

Major Changes Overview

The most significant proposed changes in the rules are:

1. Moderation Use Limited – The period allowed for special moderation is changing from two months to one week with exceptions specified. Forum Managers will also have the option of offering moderation in lieu of the first two week suspension for repeat rule violators with the goal of keeping them as forum participants.

2. Warning Tracking – While official warnings are given perhaps five times total a year on our 20+ neighborhood forums, our more political city-wide, state, and national forums generate more heat and complaints. To improve our tracking of official rule violations, we are proposing an internal rule tracking system. While there were some calls for public transparency on all issued rule warnings, there were others who asked us to protect their privacy. We are trying to strike a balance where publicity of early violations would outsize the penalty required and the calls for transparency in our dealings (mostly) with repeat rule violators. The draft now makes public forum notices which name the member suspended with third warnings (which results in a six month suspensions) required but leaves the process private “as is” for the first two warnings. We hope that such notices will help assure participants that such removals are extremely rare and reduce the number of times people from different parts of political spectrum think they are being singled out for their political views when they receive official warnings. Use the survey section on XYZ to tell us what you think.

3. Creative Commons for Sharing – We are proposing that content shared by participants – unless marked otherwise in their post – is now copyrighted for open reuse across the Internet with the attribution Creative Commons license. The rules always allowed forwarding of posts, but this makes it more standardized. Most sites claim ownership of what is posted on their property, we do not.

4. General Expectation Clarifications – We more clearly state that these forums are about our collective freedom of assembly and our right to engage in effective speech with civility. Some suggest that their individual free speech rights trump our voluntarily applied civility rules. We’ve made it more clear that if you don’t agree with the rules now or later that this is clearly not the case. No individual or government can deny us our right to define our own form of group political expression. The Internet allows everyone to do their own thing and we embrace that as a democratic actor online with clear civility goals and not as simply like a host of other people’s individual expression on their own website.

5. Forum Governance Input - While some have the impression or expectation that the name E-Democracy implies a membership organization with elections, dues (taxes), etc. our legal non-profit registration from 1996 established a mission focused self-appointing Board and volunteer empowered governing framework. We are a democratic education organization with a view on how to facilitate online public engagement and not a representative organization with voting members. That will not fundamentally change. Our position on this is relates to our direct experience with the resources required to operate a local chapter that had elected officers and the like and ongoing lack of volunteer capacity beyond the role of our dedicated volunteer forum managers who do the heavy lifting across 35+ forums. To encourage distributed community leadership and local volunteer “team” engagement where there is volunteer interest without creating difficult to meet obligations for every community, a separate Forum Manager appointment and oversight policy is being drafted for future Board consideration. This will encourage local volunteers to activate their local volunteer teams (most communities have internal team online groups used during forum start-up and that almost without exception go dormant once a forum opens) to become more active in Forum Manager oversight and support. In places where local volunteers do not actively support the forum with their time (recruitment and outreach, content gathering, fund raising, related civic engagement programming, etc.) the Forum Manager will remain the single authority on the local charter and lead nominator for their replacement when they retire. (The policy will also allow for the replacement of local Forum Managers for cause.)

As we only dig this deep into our rules every few years (and this was the deepest review in a decade), the online survey is your chance (through March 15, 2011) to offer comments straight to our Board’s rules committee before we make any final revisions based on your input and adopt the new rules in late March at the full Board of Directors level.

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35 Comments on Online Survey – Comment on the Updated Rules Draft by March 15, 2011

We’ve developed a loose structure of moderation at the Seward Forum. Some “edgy” folks are just kept on moderation and we let them know if they cross a line and we can’t post or we pass the post through. It allows them to participate. The new rules are going require what I see as a significant amount of extra work and really not create better experience in our Forum where no one is complaining. Hoping to see this changed back to the old system.

Firstly, I think it should be clear which Creative Commons licence is being used. Preferably CC-BY.

Secondly, it’s a shame that the survey is on the javascript-required Survey Monkey site instead of a more widely-accessible alternative (even Google Docs forms are better).

The rules do not provide for appeals of forum manager decisions, large or small. This is a fundamental weakness.
The e-Democracy 501(c)3 applications claims eligibility as an education organization, but no forum conducts education. e-Democracy should fulfill its education objective.

I don’t see a stated policy about how much of a commercial you can display on this site. I’ve seen intro’s that clearly advertise their products/services, which I’m okay with. And I’ve also seen a specific post suggesting local businesses introduce themselves and talk about their biz.

I think as we continue to see the rise of home-based or near home businesses it would be good to clarify (1) what we can / cannot advertise (2) if we can give commercials, the best place to post.

I think the more we can help support each other’s local businesses, the better as long as we don’t cross over into SPAM.

thank you.

Comments from Mr. Ferman and Ms. Blomseth make sense. I think it also is important for “e-democracy” to clarify its definition of “democracy.” It does not appear that the people running this believe in allowing people who participate to vote for those who will run the forum.

That is a central idea of democracy as I understand it. Since those running e-democracy apparently disagree, it would be helpful to know your definition.

Another feature of democracy as practiced in the US is that there is a balance of power – all power does not reside in one individual or group. It appears as Mr. Ferman states, that this is something needing attention.

Thank you.

There’s an obvious conflict between e-Democracy’s aim of enhancing a participant’s power and influence IN local democracy and its over-reliance on rules and what appears to be a centralised management structure.

Here local democratic practices are crumbling due to widespread cuts- for example no one was consulted over a decision to reduce many bird nesting sites in a local park. Those who needed educating on this subject were the council officials who ordered the demolition of numerous shrubs and trees. Consultation on this issue apparently would have been too costly.

The problem here seems to be not just a lack of information but a control of the distribution of information.

With rules that are too inflexible e-Democracy risks reducing the flow of information between participants: and thus their capacities to influence processes locally.

Ms McMullen is right on. E-Democracy.org is certainly a technocracy catering to a specific group of volunteers serving only those who assent to a very specific worldview. This is fine if one is in the in-group, but those outside are likely to see things run more as Muammar el Qaddafi’s regime cracking down on protesters in Libya.

That said, I think that the section on moderation is an improvement, although not in the sense that it is an expansion, or could be, on this practice, extending the decision to staff as well as forum management and the board. The rules are still arcane and ambiguous enough that individual managers can and will run forums more in Qadaffi fashion than presiding over the freewheeling chaos we all associate with democratic process and discussion (what I would prefer, with participants growing thicker skins and greater tolerance). At least you have done away with the term, “special moderation,” however in practice forum managers still are able to imprint their own view of the rules and individual posts and posters, e.g., I can no longer post in the US forum because Mike Fratto insists that I must submit to his censorship before I can be taken off of “special moderation,” something that will never happen.

I find Peter Fleck’s practice of moderation in the Seward forum every bit as disturbing as that I have experienced in the St. Paul issues and feedback forums, previous management of the MN forum, and the US forum. It does not bode well for the organization as a whole, certainly for my own participation.

Some months ago, the initial request was made to community members to voice their thoughts on what rules needed to be changed. It was clearly understood that these were only preliminary, but I would have expected that the thoughts presented would have some impact. Yet, the most strongly presented issue has been totally ignored.

I refer to the arbitrary limit on the number of posts a member may make in any given day. While it’s true that there were not huge numbers of people making this request, there were a number, all strongly worded. And, it was pointed out that the explanation for that rule – that it was intended to keep any forum from being dominated by a small number of posters simply won’t fly, since many other forums manage to avoid that problem, despite the lack of such a rule.

So, my question is whether the input to this survey is going to make a real difference, or be ignored.

And, yes, I’ll fill in the survey.

@Kayza Kleinman – what are the many forums of which you speak? I think the posting limit is a good idea and really does work, but I agree that 2/forum/day is arbitrary.

Second the above comments, except for the one about posting limits. When heated exchanges have happened in PoHo forum, the posting limit has discouraged the vitriolic, damaging back-and-forth discussions… making everyone wait another day to continue gives people a chance to cool down and avoid escalating the tension. I am glad the limit is not on the table.

The organization should engage the participants actively (not every 3 years) in continuing reflection, self improvement and shared governance or avoid billing itself as a democratic and participant driven forum. Specifically, the forum rules preventing criticism of the forum rules creates an oppressive, authoritarian environment where dissent is effectively impossible. As an alternative, discussion of forum rules could be moderated in the same way that every other issue is moderated. If forum managers are expected to be able to moderate complex civic issues, what makes forum rules so uniquely unmanageable?

To MJ Ray

Are you really claiming not to know of forums that have civil conversations without this rule? You need to get out more.

Most of the forums I frequent in a professional capacity are more technically oriented, but since they are generally non-profit technology oriented, you re still dealing with a bunch of people with strong opinions.

Some of the forums I frequent include:
510 Tech
Information Systems forum
Several NTEN forums
e-Riders

To Vanessa Coldwater,
There are many ways to deal with the occasional vitriolic or otherwise nasty argument, without imposing a forum-wide limit that more often than not stifles conversation.

kayza kleinman – yeah, probably I should get out more!

Anyway, I believe at least the one of those you link that I have experience of (e-Riders) has limits on posting, but I think they’re not stated explicitly and enforcement is a bit uneven.

NTEN’s rules at http://groups.nten.org/wiki.htm/10/Privacy_and_Legal_Policies says you agree not to post so much it “disrupts the normal flow of dialogue with an excessive amount of Content”. So that one also contains weasel words – why not set an explicit level?

I didn’t find 510 Tech or Information Systems forums by web searches.

Thank you for your continued comments. Keep them coming in via the survey.

We’ve had 45 responses so far.

I had some emails about comments which are not on this page now. Are comments being removed?

I guess the anti-spam system allows unmoderated comments once someone has posted the first time.

Every moderation request has been approved and no comments have been deleted. Please send me anything you’ve received which concerns you.

Passes mustard!

To MJ Ray

Whether the language of the NTen rules constitutes “weasel words” or not is a subject of legitimate discussion. But, I can tell you from experience that the limit has never been close to 2 messages per day. Certainly, they manage to allow people to regularly post more than that, and conversation manages to flow quite nicely.

In short, the conversation on NTen is a perfect example of a forum that manages to stay both active and civil without a broad based very low cap on posting.

MJ Ray

Information Systems Forum is a Yahoo group. 502 Tech Clubs are hosted by NTen

I earlier commented on lack of appeal process. In the current system the cop+investigator+prosecuter+jury+judge+prison warden+pardon board+parole officer is lodged unappealably in one person. This should be changed. Let the person assigned to the cop function pass the violation to another person for the investigator function. Let the case be passed to another person for the prosecution function. Let the case hearing be passed to a three-person panel for the jury function. Let the verdict be passed to another person for the judge function. Let there be created an appeal court. You get the idea of splitting all the jurisprudence funtions to different people. Let there be a rule that all of these people be different and no communication after a case has been sent up the line.

@Steven Clift “I guess the anti-spam system allows unmoderated comments once someone has posted the first time” – it’s configurable in wordpress but I think that’s the default setting. I guess what I saw was content from other parts of the site being reposted with a spam URL for the author. I didn’t keep the emails and I should have.

@Kayza Kleinman – I hope e-d look at NTEN, but I think its audience is a bit more tech than the mainstream. Maybe that tolerates a higher traffic level, but there is still a limit there, just not a clearly-stated one.

Too often I think things happening in one locality that have wider implications have the discussion cut off by moderators. For example, I wrote something about an event in Minneapolis, and what I wrote included the who-what-where-when-and-why. But the “why” was deemed national in scope and inappropriate for the Minneapolis Issues Forum. That seems to me to be a too rigid application of the geographical rule: the who-what-where-when could be posted on the Minneapolis site, but the “why” had to be posted on the national site. I know discussions can sometimes wander, but ughhh.

yas for updated rules draft

My biggest concern with edemocracy rules is regarding how the civility aspect can apply to links. For instance, there are several who have left messages on the Minneapolis Issues Forum in the midst of a heated “blog war” in north Minneapolis. While much of that issue is indeed a Minneapolis issue, and therefore an appropriate topic, the back-and-forth from both sides is clearly outside the scope of the civility and other rules of the Forum.

To get around that, people have posted links on the Forum to content that would otherwise draw disciplinary action if it were posted directly. Since I have my own blog and I have at times posted links to my writing, I don’t want to see a rule change go too far.

I would propose that direct links to outside sites should link to content that is reasonably within Forum guidelines.

at the risk of sounding like a broken record (for the last 3 years), increasing the number of posts….or having the option to increase posts under certain circumstances…corrected information (including when forum technology muddles up), request for information on forum thread, ….or contacting manager to add new threads (with all that is going on at state, city)….need to ration subjects among 2 threads means timely info not getting attention.

in a democratic venue….access to information is important and it shouldn’t be necessary to judge which of 3 subjects should be given coverage. it’s confusing to combine several subjects under one thread …like ‘stuff”.

a mpls announcements forum would be helpful.

thanks for the good work,

best,
cheryl

As some know I am the forum manager for both the Minnesota Politics and Issues Forum (MPIF) and the Minneapolis Issues Forum (MIF).

There are four “rules” I use in the two forums I am the forum manager for that I believe would be helpful to explicitly incorporate into the forum participation rules.

Announcements:

1) Public event promotions and links to commercial, media, or non-profit online content related to the scope of the forum are appropriate.

2) Event announcements whose content is outside the scope of the forum are also appropriate if that event is being held within Minneapolis.

An announcement of an event being held in is permitted regardless of whether the content of the event is or is not within the scope of the forum. However, discussion of that content is not permitted if it is outside the scope of the forum.

Posting of Personal Information:

Posting of personal information of individuals or links to such information even if that information was publicly available in response to an opinion one does not agree with is a personal attack. This includes the posting the exact home location of individuals or other like information.

Name Calling/Nick Names: (add to civility rule)

If a person or group does not refer to *themselves* by the name being used then it is name calling. The media don’t get to choose the person or groups appropriate nick names either. (e.g. Tea Baggers)

Public Figures and the civility: (add to civility rule)

Public figure gets the same respect as our regular members on this forum. This is what makes us different from the other discussion venues. The civility rules of the forum apply to elected officials, those seeking office or others considered “public figures” in the same way as they do for any person whether they are forum member or not.

Matt Perry
Forum Manager
Minneapolis Issues Forum
Minnesota Politics & Issues Forum

Please add to the civility rule a clause that forbids the use of psychiatric terminology to describe groups or individuals who act in some unwanted manner. To allow such speech is to allow dangerous forms of stigma into the lives of those writing such material, to those reading it, and to those who may have been hurt or who will be hurt by such stigma.

This cause goes over the heads of many people — including Minnesota Public Radio and National Public Radio moderators and their guests. It can do irreparable harm to people who experience such medical conditions; and, it has had the effect of creating an environment in which many members of our society commit suicide or otherwise engage in other self-destructive behavior.

To add to my earlier comment, I must clarify: An example of what I mean may include calling the Republicans, Democrats, Green Party member, Independents, and other smaller groups “schizophrenic” for acting in a quizzical and illogical manner. Such use confuses the public’s awareness of the medical condition, Schizophrenia, heightens many peoples anxiety toward that neural-atypical condition, often creates fear and hatred, leading to violence against people known to have, or thought to have, such an impairment. Comments like these have been seen on mn-politics regarding Asperger’s Syndrome, an autistic spectrum condition that mostly affect roughly 2% of men and a slightly smaller number of women in the United States. Children are also affected by the presence of this and other conditions revealed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual-TR 4 (DSM T – Fourth Revision).

In other words, please do not use these terms for unscientific/non-medical communication as it can also lead to citizens refusing or not retaining medical therapy to manage manageable conditions that otherwise kill or cause to be killed, or cause to commit suicide within our society.

Please notify me of my success or failure with positively influencing new policy on E-democracy.org. Thank you.

Kramer auto Pingback[…] we posted before, we are just completing a full rules review: http://blog.e-democracy.org/posts/1145 The blog is an appropriate place to discuss rules changes and as per the rules agreed to as a […]

i have been re-directed to here, to comment on the rules — it was unfortunate that i missed the cut-off date to post comments — when i wanted to remove a post (which i initiated in the first place (and on which no-one had commented either)) i was told the rules prevented this.
The rationale seemed to be based on a “think-twice B4U post” morality ethos ect…….
There was no appeal.
Given that it was my post in “my” forum, i was annoyed.
I still annoyed.

Thank you for all of your feedback. We received 59 responses via the online survey.

The final rules have been adopted by the Board and will go into full effect on May 15.

See the blog for change highlight.

I read this rules, i’ll try to follow these rules :)

I’m impressed with your site. I had no trouble navigating through all the tabs and information was very easy to access. I found what I wanted in no time at all.

Please make it “uncivil” or “hateful” to disparage a person’s comments based on typo’s. I am increasingly annoyed at Wizard Marks’ manner of disparaging manner of slighting people with whom she has a conflict. Despite her other thoughtful and insightful comments, which are both endearing and helpful, she has done this to me in a way intended to negate, marginalize, or embarass. In her offline comments, she has tried to de-rail me for calling on the forum manager to report perceived violation of the forum’s rules, when brought against her. This sort of marginalizing occurs among other frequent posters to other people, as well; and, it is not in keeping with civil discourse.

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