Aug 02 2011

Forum fallout

I’m aware that some people probably think I’ve been pointlessly shit-stirring on the old UKFur forums this afternoon.

The short story behind it is a friend got assaulted, robbed and raped over the weekend. (I am not willing or able to provide details, as it could influence behaviour and the outcome of legal action.) Myself and a few others were rightfully angry that a forum mod said they wouldn’t be kept away from them on there.

I can see their point. The forum moderators are not the police, they don’t know rumour from fact, they are not in the position to request legal documents or evidence.
However, while the forums are not linked to the real world meets per-se as is repeatedly stated, the majority of the organisation, promotion and discussion of those meets takes place on those forums. Large portions of the forums are dedicated to those meet discussions to the point there are regional moderators to spread the load.
Whether it likes it or not the UKFur forum moderators do have a responsibility to the real-world events even if they’re not directly organising them.

So when something like this occurs and is witnessed by long-term meet organisers AND the person is arrested and taken away at the meet itself, surely that’s enough that at very least you wouldn’t want them able to discuss and plan future meet attendance with the rest of the group, right?

I tried to steer away from the R-word at first in the thread, as it was not what was witnessed at the meet, but ask on the forums what outside events on the forums would lead to someone getting banned there with a few examples like murder and assault. Rape did eventually rear it’s head though as it was pretty obvious people knew something like this had happened and it was the point of my question.

The responses, screen-capped for posterity, were ranged, interesting and changeable as the few intense pages went on. They were for the most part polite, but I still can’t shake the feeling more than a few were also “shut up now” hints/expectations from some mods. I’m honestly surprised I didn’t get any warnings or outright bans myself as a result of this, though hypocritically a few others got off-site harassment as a result of joining the thread.

I learnt a few interesting things, both on the thread and off;

  • One mod can’t talk about people being raped without turning it around to complain about their own love-life.
  • Another admits they’d ban someone for accusations of molesting a pet, but would only maybe ban someone for actual proof of rape/assault.
  • The few users who respond at that point agree they would expect this response from moderators.
  • Memories are either short, times change, or hypocrisy reigns as one who is concerned about the discussion fouling police investigations omits recalling previous mod-only discussions about deleting profiles containing potential evidence when a pair were arrested for a mutilation/murder pact last year.
  • Another mod places rape on the same level as cyber-bullying.
  • Sympathetic parties are only sympathetic until they think they can out the mystery parties involved (specifics of those involved were intentionally never revealed and the thread closed before accusations began to fly).
  • Several mods don’t know the difference between detached and callous.
  • Several users don’t know the difference between a community and a database.
  • Many mods have a career in politics ahead for studiously avoiding answers to direct questions such as “Would you ban a user if it were admitted by them and proven by police they raped or assaulted another user of this forum?” even after it’s put forward that not doing so would be against the victims human rights.
  • That they might ban them but it might not work because they could come back under another name. Which undermines the whole justification for banning for any reason.
  • Only one mod seemed to give a shit that this might have effected a real person, and not just be to cause drama on their forums.

Basically the forum as a whole has historically managed to largely avoid having to do anything directly about this sort of thing. The problems usually just “go away” by themselves. People who are banned from physical meets for bad behaviour of whatever sort generally drift away from the community in a short while as they are no longer able to meet folk in person (for the most part). Throw in the fact that there’s long been a small but disturbing undercurrent of social pressure that a level of sexual predation in the fandom is just normal has meant small assaults against members of the community have been either stifled, ignored as hearsay/drama, or left to sort themselves out.

I’d like to say though that this has changed greatly in recent times through the sustained efforts of “Lupus Londonwolf” and the rest of the LondonFurs Committee who organise the physical London Meets (and a few others). They have probably done more than anyone to minimise and rapidly remove these harmful social elements from the community. They took chaotic, hidden back-room meetings and brought them into daylight; exposed members to the public and banned people who broke the rules. And most members have learnt from this. Social skills have improved, and people don’t try to get away with questionable shit anywhere near as much. Those who do are quietly removed early on or learn fast.

To put it succinctly, over the last 5 years or so they’ve changed the London group from one where we got kicked out of pubs every few months for damaging furniture, under-age drinking and people who couldn’t figure why it wasn’t appropriate to wear bondage gear and hump in public, to one where people aren’t afraid to report feeling uncomfortable about someones behaviours or actions, where you can change into costume without having someone try to feel you up, where we’re not only asked back to venues but the staff like us enough to offer us special rates and hours! This change in mentality seems to have spread to meets across the country.

It’s for actions like theirs that I’m still glad to be a member of this community, not for the actions of forum mods who still believe in the old Geek Fallacy that everything must be permitted or you’re persecuting them just like mean old normal people.

I owe this community a lot, but I’m not so tethered to the past I don’t know I can do without the forums if I need to, and at worst the community itself. It helped me grow and grow beyond it as a result.

Would I have said things as bluntly and honestly if I’d still only been socialising in that community? Maybe, but probably not. I know now though that in the worst case I would have lost access to a small convenience where I post maybe once or twice a week and would have had to look at other websites for meet-up details.

Widen your social circles, gain security through redundancy. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind for fear of retribution or expulsion. There’s usually more than one place to socialise, and if there isn’t already, make one.

TL;DR – If you do something that forces meet organisers to call the police on you, get you arrested and charged at a meet, not only do I want you banned from that meet but I don’t want to have to you haunting the community discussion forums where those meets are planned and organised, let alone haunt those members your actions may have affected.

UKFur, I am disappoint.

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