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 â€œscopeâ€ 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 peopleâ€™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 â€œteamâ€ 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 Boardâ€™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.