After months of extensive participant input including blog comments and an online survey, Forum Manager and volunteer consultation, and Board deliberation, the final version of our updated rules (terms of service) were adopted by the Board on April 26, 2011.
The major changes include:
- Setting Better Expectations – We added text throughout to clarify where the rules come from, the power and responsibilities of forum managers,Â where to complain, etc. We are honored to have you as a participant on our site, but we need to be clear that these forums have leaders. Base on our legal filing with the U.S. government, since 1994 we’ve had a self-appointed Board and have never been a membership organization with elected forum managers or leaders. This will disappoint some.
- Sharing Content More Widely – We’ve officially adopted the Create Commons with Attribution copyright license. Our previous rules were functionally the same, but we believe we are among the first online community sites officially entering the “commons” by default. If you are posting something you only want shared on E-Democracy.org but not any further, just add “Copyright 2011 Your Name” to such posts, documents, or images.
- Moderation Limits – We’ve greatly clarified the use of limited moderation for new members and for cause. We eliminated two month, renewable moderation and replaced it with flexible up to one week moderation for any reason, not renewable and now allow moderation in lieu of suspension after two official warnings. Our goal is to avoid moderating people who do not want to be moderated. We saved many people from warnings and suspensions with our past system but it caused unsustainable administrative burdens. So, if you can’t follow our very strict civility rules or stay within the local scope of a forum, you may find yourself losing the right to participate based on warnings that we will no longer prevent with moderation.
With our 59 survey responses (thank you!), the responses received were overwhelmingly supportive of the draft rules except in two areas – the “two posts a day rule” and comments questioning the execution and interpretation of our civility rules.
We want to make it clear that the volume constraint is a local choice and setting that can be changed by your local Forum Manager (or if you have an active local volunteer team they can make that choice in conjunctions with their Forum Manager). Some forums have higher limits. Our default use of e-mail and clashing online user cultures of web forums/blog commenting make this a complex issue. In short, it is our experience that overall volume must be limited or we will lose our e-mail participants and by encouraging forums to use two posts in 24 hours, conflict is significantly reduced because the harder edged debaters hold back on their second posts after more voices are raised in the process. While your daily experience might be limited, do you really need more than 700 opportunities to post each year? With so many sites offering “sound off” opportunities, we prefer to enable in-depth exchange with many voices.
With our civility rules, we tweaked them, but they are largely the same. Real names with strong civility is our cornerstone. Improving how forums are managed is an ongoing effort. Almost without exception the few but strong complaints come from the most partisan participants on both sides of the spectrum on our city-wide and up political forums. It is our experience that many partisans like strong debate and cross over into name calling more frequently. It is also our experience that this style of conflict drives away the participant base and power of the forum to reach government and community leaders. We’ve clearly chosen participation and power over unfettered debate as our model.
We are drafting a new volunteer Forum Manager selection policy to provide further clarity. In the end, the execution of these rules and volunteer labor capacity to deal with the most vigorous rule violators has to be sustainable for these online public spaces to exist. If you find that our freedom of assembly and our collective freedom of speech choice to not allow name calling, etc. is too restrictive on you personally, please remember that your real freedom online is on sites that you individually own and operate. The vast majority of our participants cite our stand for civility as a reason they participate. Without it, the audience we’ve gathered wouldn’t be here to listen to your speech on our site.