Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Forum related matters, such as technical problems, user accounts and comment moderation.

Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Flewellyn » Fri Oct 05, 2012 5:54 am

Well, folks, it's been a rather stressful and unhappy 48 hours. We mods and admins know that you've been waiting for us to resolve the situation re: Matt Dillahunty's sockpuppet "experiment" the other night, and have been rightly concerned about how we'll proceed. So, here's the consensus we've come to; there are three things of note.

First off, Dillahunty is banned, indefinitely, for violating the forum rule on sockpuppets. Some of our rules are flexible, and open to interpretation; this one is not. No sockpuppets, no exceptions. We have our rules for a reason, and we cannot protect this space as a safe space if we give breaks to "big name" atheists. The parallel between this situation and the one with Readercon earlier this year should not escape anyone.

Matt Dillahunty may be allowed back, at some point, if and only if he apologizes, sincerely, for the damage he has done to our community, and makes good on trying to repair that damage. Telling us that our distress over his actions is "too damn bad" is not welcome, and displays a lack of concern for the well-being of our forum membership. Since he's not an evil monster, we remain hopeful that he may come around on this issue. Nevertheless, the ban will remain in place until he does.

Item two: while his actions were unwelcome, disruptive, and hurtful, he did point out a problem with the forum moderation policies. We are a young forum, and have been easing ourselves into moderation; plus, four of our most active moderators are rather new at the job, having just joined up last week. By comparison, I have "seniority", having moderated for three weeks here. So, we've had to "ad hoc" things a bit. And, due to troll fatigue, we got a bit trigger-happy and suspicious of new users. Also, there's been some problems with consistency of moderation. And, finally, the fact that disapproved posts vanish into the ether was an unwelcome surprise to us.

So, to fix that, we have adopted a new moderation policy. This isn't a change to the rules, but a codification of procedures for enforcing them. Siliddar has posted the new moderation policy here. This is how we'll be handling things from now on. We've also implemented a new policy on post approval, which hyperdeath has posted here. We feel that this should be sufficient to help keep things like Tuesday's incident from happening again.

Finally: in the interest of being more welcoming to new users, we have adopted a policy for moderators and administrators of assuming good faith on the part of the new users, unless we have clear evidence of them being trolls, sockpuppets, or spammers. Under the scale of offenses outlined in Siliddar's policy post, this would be "Grievous" level offenses. Except for those, we moderators and admins will follow the policy of assuming good faith for the first few posts, and if their new posts are problematic in a way that would be considered a "Minor" offense under the moderation policy, acting to warn the new users under the assumption they are breaking rules out of ignorance. The threshold of what constitutes "enough good faith" is a bit slippery, but under Siliddar's rubric, minor offenses would probably result in a warning at most. Anything more than that would require moderator action under the policy as outlined.

I want to stress something here! The policy of assuming good faith for new users, and trying to be welcoming to them, is required only for moderators and admins! We do not require or expect regular users to do this! We encourage those who feel up to welcoming people, to do so, and if you wish, and feel you have the necessary brainspoons, to assume good faith on the part of new posters, but we will not expect this of you, and we will not look down on anyone who doesn't feel up to it. Extending benefit of the doubt is a tiring thing, and if you aren't able, you are not at fault for that.

Why do we make this distinction? Well, it was pointed out to us by a few insightful users that being able to assume good faith is a matter of privilege. In these forums, we moderators and admins are privileged: we have the power and authority here to determine policy, and as such, we are in many ways the public face of this forum. But, with great power comes greater responsibleness, just like Batman's dad said before he blew up Krypton. So, we are going to expect ourselves to go the extra 1.6 kilometers, and try to welcome new users and give them a bit of slack at first, if they seem well-intentioned. If one of us mods feels we are unable to meet this obligation with respect to a new user, we'll hand the issue off to another mod who has more brainspoons available.

The upshot here is this: we are not changing the forum rules for regular users. What has changed is our moderation procedure. We're going to be more consistent, we're going to try to help new users, but we are still not going to tolerate trolling, derailing, or bullying. Because this place being a safe space for our members is more important than public relations, and because if we can't stand by our principles when one of our own strays, we fail as a movement. And we do not intend to fail.
Last edited by Flewellyn on Mon Oct 08, 2012 7:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: This doesn't need to be an announcement anymore, I don't think.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Flewellyn » Fri Oct 05, 2012 5:56 am

MOD NOTE: If you want to reply to this announcement, do it here. If you want, instead, to voice public concerns about what Dillahunty did, and how you have been affected by it, please do so here instead.

For this thread, I am also asking for one post per person. Unless you really, really need to say more, in which case, PM a moderator first.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Flewellyn » Fri Oct 05, 2012 6:32 am

There is one more thing.

I wish, personally, to apologize on behalf of the administrators and moderators, for not moving faster on this. We had hoped that we could come to some reconciliation with Dillahunty on the matter; but we see now that this was wrongheaded of us. It was also wrong for us to put public relations above the sanctity of safe space, by showing differential enforcement of the rules to a "big name".

This was wrong. It was wrong when Readercon did it, and it was wrong when we did it. We have, I hope, fixed the wrong, but damage has still be done. I hope that, in time, those of you hurt by our delay, and the damage to your confidence that this caused, can forgive us.

It will not happen again. Regardless of the person involved, our community's rules are the rules, and all shall receive equal consideration and equal treatment. To do less is to compromise the very principles of this movement.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Equality+ » Fri Oct 05, 2012 9:27 pm

To be fair and even handed, Matt has broken neither the letter of the law nor the intention. Sockpuppets are secondary accounts used for to "talk to" the first account, which is why the imagery of a sockpuppet makes this so clear, talking to your own hand, although unlike the metaphor.
Just having a second account is not sockpuppeting, especially when they are not actually using the first account. There is nothing wrong with a user wanting to change their name, so long as they only use one at a time.

For ease of reference, the rule was:
Single Identity: One person may only use one forum account. Sockpuppets, when detected, will be banned alongside the main.

It is perfectly reasonable to want to use a second account, especially if the first includes your real word identity. Making a second account because your real life identity is linked to your first account must never become against the rules. Such a rule could endanger the safety of people who need it. A celebrity wanting to hide their celebrity status and be treated like a regular person should also be an acceptable use. This has to remain a safe place for everyone equally and we must not discriminate on any grounds.

One rule I would suggest to add for the future is one for anti-impersonation or identity theft. Wanting to be anonymous on the internet, especially if you are a celebrity, is not and should never be against the rules. How many people here actually have their identity known? Especially in safe areas like this the ability to remain anonymous is paramount.

He has admitted to breaking a rule, but it seems he is trusting the word of the moderators rather than checking the rules for himself. As it stands though, Matt has not actually broken any rules.

Given all the public support for Athiesm+ Matt has provided in the past he has been one of the biggest contributors to the movement and a public defender of Atheism+ against its critics. Considering he has only broken a misinterpretation of the rules and is guilty only of trusting our word implicitly, I think we have treated him unfairly.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby curioustoo » Fri Oct 05, 2012 9:43 pm

"if and only if he apologizes, sincerely, for the damage he has done to our community"

Please be specific about what "damage" Matt has done to the community. I see a car wreck of course (like most people) but I am not sure I see Matt as causing the car wreck. Please note, the sockpuppet account is a distraction and a side issue. Both he and me agree that this has given a good reason (excuse?) to ban his account, no one argues with that, however this cannot be the 'damage' you are referring to. (if it is then I would be surprised and disappointed). Exactly what damage does he need to apologise for?
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Ginny » Fri Oct 05, 2012 10:14 pm

Equality+ wrote:To be fair and even handed, Matt has broken neither the letter of the law nor the intention.


He did break the letter of the law: one account per user. I'm not sure how you consider yourself qualified to judge its intention, as you were not there when the rules were made.

One of the many discussions this incident has given rise to is whether we want to keep that rule as it stands, because of some of the issues here. Regardless, the rule was clearly stated and clearly disregarded. Ignoring, forgetting, or refusing to read a forum's rules before participating is unacceptable behavior no matter who is doing it.

He has admitted to breaking a rule, but it seems he is trusting the word of the moderators rather than checking the rules for himself. As it stands though, Matt has not actually broken any rules.

This is flatly untrue. You just quoted the rule which he clearly broke, so I'm a little perplexed why you're saying it.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby ischemgeek » Fri Oct 05, 2012 10:18 pm

curioustoo wrote: Exactly what damage does he need to apologise for?


Cross-posting part of one of my posts from another thread. He, in order of severity:

1) made a previously safe space feel unsafe to a number of people.
2) dismissed the impact of 1) and painted those who now felt unsafe as unreasonable in their reactions.
3) placed the mods into an unfair lose-lose situation, which
4) resulted in a loss of mod trust in this community
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby hyperdeath » Fri Oct 05, 2012 10:20 pm

Equality+ wrote:To be fair and even handed, Matt has broken neither the letter of the law nor the intention...the rule was:
Single Identity: One person may only use one forum account. Sockpuppets, when detected, will be banned alongside the main.


I appreciate what you're saying, but there's a fine line between interpreting the rules and weaselling around them. Many forum members felt that excusing Matt in the way you describe, would have amounted to giving a famous person a break, by getting him off on a technicality.

EDITED TO ADD: I agree that the sockpuppet rule is absolutist. We are planning an "acceptable second account" policy.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby GreatBlueHeron » Sat Oct 06, 2012 12:11 am

I thank the moderation team so much for doing the right thing no matter how hard that was. I can understand why people are leaving--I seriously considered doing it myself. I think I'll stay for a while and see how things go.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Stephen T » Sat Oct 06, 2012 12:23 am

I thank the moderation team so much for doing the right thing no matter how hard that was

Seconded.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Tigger_the_Wing » Sat Oct 06, 2012 11:23 am

Stephen T wrote:
I thank the moderation team so much for doing the right thing no matter how hard that was

Seconded.


Thirded.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Improbable Joe » Sat Oct 06, 2012 2:40 pm

Seems fair. Moderating is hard, and made harder when people undermine the rules and authority of the moderators, no matter how positive their intent might be.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Elphaba_Is_Green » Sun Oct 07, 2012 3:07 am

Hi! I'm a moderator of the reddit /r/atheismplus forum, and I just wanted to say I think you've handled it well and provided us with a good model to follow ourselves. I think that expecting moderators to assume good faith, but not expecting users is a good compromise for the forum.

I hope that Matt comes around and is able to see things from your side of the situation. If not, well, worse things have happened. It's good that you treated him the same way you'd treat any other forum user in the end.

Cheers. :)
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby maiforpeace » Sun Oct 07, 2012 4:37 am

Elphaba_Is_Green wrote:Hi! I'm a moderator of the reddit /r/atheismplus forum, and I just wanted to say I think you've handled it well and provided us with a good model to follow ourselves. I think that expecting moderators to assume good faith, but not expecting users is a good compromise for the forum.

I hope that Matt comes around and is able to see things from your side of the situation. If not, well, worse things have happened. It's good that you treated him the same way you'd treat any other forum user in the end.

Cheers. :)


Elphaba_Is_Green, thank you for your support and kind words, they are very much appreciated.

I read a lot of great things from others about the moderation at Reddit - so kudos to you too!

I have given Reddit a try several times, but the format just doesn't work for me, I'm stuck on this kind of format - but I promise to come by and give it a better effort so I can support you too.

If there's anything you need, don't hesitate to ask.

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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby maiforpeace » Mon Oct 08, 2012 2:50 am

Round Up of threads

Subject: Hi from Austin, Texas

[ Show ]
MattDillahunty wrote:Hi, I'm Matt Dillahunty. I won't assume that everyone here knows me, so here's the quick rundown...

Currently, I'm:
- president of the Atheist Community of Austin: http://www.atheist-community.org
- host of our TV show, The Atheist Experience: http://www.atheist-experience.com
- co-host of our podcast, The Non-Prophets: http://www.nonprophetsradio.com
- owner/manager of the counter-apologetics wiki, Iron Chariots: wiki.ironchariots.org
- contributor (rarely) to the Atheist Experience blog: http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp

You can find me on:
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/matt.dillahunty
Twitter: http://twitter.com/Matt_Dillahunty
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/SansDeity

And, while I support Atheism+ (I've been atheism+ or moving toward it for many years, without the label), it's unlikely that I'll be spending much time on the forum. In addition to the efforts above, I'm also on the Secular Student Alliance's Speakers Bureau (which means I spend a lot of time travelling for talks and debates). Oh, I also work a full time job, have a wonderful wife (who has her own podcast: godlessbitches.podbean.com) and quite a few hobbies that I'd like to spend some time on.

All that aside, I still felt compelled to at least sign up and be ready to participate, when possible.

-Matt Dillahunty


Subject: Could a moderator post the content of my post in the right f

Subject: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Subject: On the Dillahunty matter: your reactions

Subject: You screwed Matt Dillahunty

Subject: For the record
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby curioustoo » Tue Oct 09, 2012 4:35 pm

Can somebody ( a moderator) please tell me if the below is the 'official' list of reasons from Atheism+ as to what Matt has to apologise for

1) made a previously safe space feel unsafe to a number of people.
2) dismissed the impact of 1) and painted those who now felt unsafe as unreasonable in their reactions.
3) placed the mods into an unfair lose-lose situation, which
4) resulted in a loss of mod trust in this community

I would sincerely hope not but I will save further comment until I know if this is official or just a rambling list of nonsense from an individual.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby ischemgeek » Tue Oct 09, 2012 4:42 pm

Well, since I'm not a mod and I'm the one who wrote that, you can probably safely assume that it's not official. Therefore it certainly is a list from an individual.

Though: I object to your characterization of it as 'rambling'. That word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

As for 'nonsense', again, I object to your characterization as such. I do think my writing has a coherent meaning. It may be a coherent meaning you disagree with, but that does not make it nonsense.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby maiforpeace » Tue Oct 09, 2012 4:51 pm

curioustoo wrote:Can somebody ( a moderator) please tell me if the below is the 'official' list of reasons from Atheism+ as to what Matt has to apologise for

1) made a previously safe space feel unsafe to a number of people.
2) dismissed the impact of 1) and painted those who now felt unsafe as unreasonable in their reactions.
3) placed the mods into an unfair lose-lose situation, which
4) resulted in a loss of mod trust in this community

I would sincerely hope not but I will save further comment until I know if this is official or just a rambling list of nonsense from an individual.


The mods don't speak for the community. We simply will do our best to convey what the community is asking for.

The community speaks for itself, and it has many voices.

This is one members voice, among the many, and it's as valid as any other one - whether or not people agree with it doesn't matter - this person is telling Matt what they need for them to forgive him. He can choose to meet that need or not.

Why people think that there can be any 'official' position on this matter is just silly. However, if many people agree with this, wouldn't it make sense to at minimum consider it seriously and not dismiss it out of hand?
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Cipher » Tue Oct 09, 2012 4:51 pm

I would sincerely hope not but I will save further comment until I know if this is official or just a rambling list of nonsense from an individual.

I've asked you once already to be less vague in your complaints about that list.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Avenel » Tue Oct 09, 2012 5:09 pm

curioustoo wrote:Can somebody ( a moderator) please tell me if the below is the 'official' list of reasons from Atheism+ as to what Matt has to apologise for

1) made a previously safe space feel unsafe to a number of people.
2) dismissed the impact of 1) and painted those who now felt unsafe as unreasonable in their reactions.
3) placed the mods into an unfair lose-lose situation, which
4) resulted in a loss of mod trust in this community

I would sincerely hope not but I will save further comment until I know if this is official or just a rambling list of nonsense from an individual.


Neither rambling nor nonsense. We lost at least one valuable forum member for exactly those reasons.

They are not mine, however.

From my perspective, Matt did everything wrong. Here is how it looked to me:

Matt's friend Skeptickle gets banned. Very soon thereafter, a new user 'curious' appears, and the first post is to protest the banning.
Now, in every forum I have participated on since finding usenet in 1995, that has been a huge troll/sockpuppet red flag. Any mod not
highly suspicious doesn't deserve the job.

Flew made a judgement call that it wasn't an appropriate first post, and took actions that led to it's inadvertant deletion.

'curious' second post, which is the first any of us saw except flew, was an unnecessarily aggressive confrontation of a respected mod.
Again, major troll sign. The subsequent doubling down and refusing to back off just confirmed that 'curious' was just another troll in
a long line of trolls.

Matt trolled. Maybe he didn't intend to, but he did. Intentions are not magic. As far as I'm concerned, a simple 'I'm sorry, I didn't think
about what my posts would look like to people besieged by trolls, I should have been more careful' would suffice.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby curioustoo » Tue Oct 09, 2012 5:15 pm

"The mods don't speak for the community. We simply will do our best to convey what the community is asking for."

So there is no list of things that Matt has to apologise for? Is that what I am being told. So if Matt was silly enough to apologise for the 4 things listed that still would not get him unbanned? Because somebody else may still then raise a fifth and six item which he has yet unseen.

Was Matt banned from this site based on a 'feeling' some in the community had? He was 'officially' banned but there is no official way to be unbanned? Is that what I am being told?
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Cipher » Tue Oct 09, 2012 5:17 pm

curioustoo wrote:Was Matt banned from this site based on a 'feeling' some in the community had?

No, Matt was banned from this site in accordance with a rule on having second accounts which clearly stated that both accounts would be banned.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby curioustoo » Tue Oct 09, 2012 5:22 pm

"No, Matt was banned from this site in accordance with a rule on having second accounts which clearly stated that both accounts would be banned."

So according to this Matt was not banned for the "damage he has done to our community" (unless you are defining the second account as "the damage").
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby Cipher » Tue Oct 09, 2012 5:27 pm

curioustoo wrote:"No, Matt was banned from this site in accordance with a rule on having second accounts which clearly stated that both accounts would be banned."

So according to this Matt was not banned for the "damage he has done to our community" (unless you are defining the second account as "the damage").

As far as I know, the effects of Matt's behavior are secondary to the offense for which he was banned.
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Re: Resolution and moving forward on the Dillahunty incident

Postby curioustoo » Tue Oct 09, 2012 5:30 pm

"As far as I know, the effects of Matt's behavior are secondary to the offense for which he was banned."

According to this then an acceptance by Matt that a second account broke the rules and justified his banning would be sufficient to get him unbanned? Presumably he would need to assure people in the future that he would not open a second account. That would satisfy everybody and get him unbanned?
Last edited by curioustoo on Tue Oct 09, 2012 5:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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