Monday, May 14, 2007

ProgBlogs and Process

I have other things I should be doing tonight. But there has recently been some conflict at ProgressiveBloggers, a progressive Canadian blog community to which I belong, and it happens to be catching me in a phase in which my always uneasy relationship to and ever fluctuating perception of the actual political significance of blogging is such that I feel some political responsibility to contribute. I don't intend to say a whole lot on the immediate conflict, but to reflect a bit on the larger political implications.

This community has almost 350 affiliated blogs at last count, covering a very broad range of political opinion (something I will talk more about below). There are a small number of authors of affiliated blogs who volunteer their time to be moderators of the community, who apparently conduct their discussions about issues related to their work in closed forums. Recently, as described here and here, and at least alluded to here and here, there has been some conflict amongst the moderators involving political differences and what seems to have been an attempt to silence them, followed by one moderator -- one who is on the left end of the spectrum covered by the community, and who is a feminist -- deciding to try and spark broader dialogue about dysfunctional process in the community by talking about the conflict publically. This was, I understand, in the context of longer term conflict around issues of politics and process. She has subsequently resigned as as a moderator.

There are a number of different and not necessarily directly connected things that this conflict has been making me think about. I am just going to ramble on about them without trying to turn this post into some sort of unified whole.

The first is on the political content of the dispute among the moderators, which focused on the World Bank. I obviously do not have direct access to who said what to whom, and no wish to rehash it. Given the political range covered by the community, I am not at all surprised to hear that some members of PB are supporters of the World Bank, while of course some of us think that (though it may have very smart and very nice people working for it) it is a horrible institution, one of the three central global instutions in charge of coordinating certain aspects of the pillaging of the Global South by capital and by rich Western countries. What does surprise me is that an up-front critique of the World Bank was considered to be beyond the pale by one of the moderators -- not just something he disagreed with, but something so unacceptable that he thought it should be changed, retracted, or deleted. It was not so long ago that North Americans were gathering regularly in their tens of thousands to protest the various organizations which have been coordinating global neocolonial capitalism and promoting neoliberalism, so I find the complete unacceptability of even admitting this position to discussion to be very concerning. It seems like it might be be connected to the fact that a third moderator is actually employed by the World Bank, and wanting to hush up political differences for the sake of harmony, but that is pure speculation, and there are probably other dynamics going on that I am not positioned to be able to see. In any case, as far as I understand it from comments in the posts linked above, this was resolved with admissions that mistakes were made, but the fact that it happend to begin with is still of concern.

The second thing that is interesting comes from a close reading of the posts linked above and the comments on them. In her original public airing of the controversy, Polly made it clear that in doing so she was treating both the content of the disagreement and the process issues as political. In other words, this was being done to draw attention to aspects of how power was working and how the community to which we belong is functioning. There has been a tendency among those comments that are not supportive to completely refuse to engage with it as a political question, and to treat it solely as a matter of interpersonal conflict and a sort of depoliticized (or professionalized) ethics. I'm not sure how much is really to be gained by a continued focus on the specifics of the incident, as this post from a third party demands, though I wouldn't object if there is significant sentiment to do so. Rather, I think what it might be fruitful to address would be the more general issues raised around transparency, participation, and process. (To those of you familiar with the ways in which these things tend to play out in activist groups in real life, some of the unsympathetic comments on Polly's posts that claim that her concerns about process are distractions from the real political work we should all be doing will sound awfully familiar.)

Third: So what about process issues? See, I've never paid much attention to how PB works. I think I had just assumed that the moderators only did technical stuff -- and I've never had any problems in that regard, so that side of things is definitely well done -- and so I didn't figure it mattered much who they were or how exactly they operated. It appears I was mistaken. And, to be fair, I suppose I kind of did know. There was some sort of bru-ha-ha a while ago about an affiliated blog being given the boot because of comments labelled anti-semitic, which I was vaguely aware of at the time but paid no attention to so I have no opinion on the accuracy of the charge. Certainly anti-semitism should be taken seriously and addressed. I understand that a policy is being developed for the community on related issues, though I know little about it. Is it public yet? How was it developed? Does it attempt to incorporate anti-oppression principles and recognize things like power and social location? I have no idea. This could be crucial stuff, because, okay, there was that one instance related to anti-semitism and a response to it, but there is stuff grounded in and reproducing oppressive social relations in blogs affiliated to PB all the time. Of course there is. (In fact, I seem to remember the moderator who just resigned pointing out some sexism in some things that were happening back last fall, and not getting a particularly supportive response in a lot of quarters.) So issues around drawing lines, and around when it makes sense to engage and when someone should be kicked out, and all of that stuff are very complicated. Plus, there is always a danger that such policies can be used to target people whose analysis is farther from the mainstream of the community.

Okay...got sidetracked there a little bit. In any case, I was originally leading up to the admission that because I haven't really paid much attention, I have no idea what the moderators actually do. I am not aware of their role described in print anywhere. I am not aware of any way in which they must be accountable to the broader membership. I am not aware of how they are selected. I am not even aware of enough of the details to know if any of this matters very much, politically speaking. My main indication that it does, apart from stuff I said in the last paragraph, is that the moderator who just resigned seems to think it is of political significance, and based on stuff of hers that I have read over the last couple of years, I'm inclined to trust that assessment. I am particularly concerned about why the process amongst the moderators needs to be a closed one. I mean, I know that tends to be the default way in which executives of any organization in this society operate, but generally speaking I think it is not only unnecessary but it is politically undesireable. We are not some sort of capitalist enterprise that must keep its trade secrets to aid in its competition against other corporations. So why not just make it all open for everyone to see? And, though I obviously am inclined towards open processes, I am really asking if anyone has any reasons why that might not be appropriate in this instance. (And if the answer is something about a risk of compromising the political mission of the PB, I have to ask whose politics and whose mission. And whose compromise.)

Which brings me to my last point. In a couple of spots in the posts linked above, Polly relates her ambivalence about being in a community such as the PB at all, given the range of its politics. Personally, I see the logic as being something like the logic of the united front -- that's an Old Left term having to do with building the broadest possible coalition to face down a clear and present danger from the Right. Historically, for example, you can see it in Canadian politics during periods when the Communist Party allied itself with the Liberals and fought against the CCF, at least officially on the grounds that the Liberals were the best opportunity for defeating the Right though the actual reasons were often more complicated and more self-serving than that. In the present, the anti-war movement in Canada (such as it is) tends to operate on the united front model.

In real life I am quite ambivalent about united front politics for a number of reasons that I won't get into now -- certainly not against them completely, but in favour of viewing them with a more critical eye than often happens. But in terms of a blog community I have much less problem with them. Oh, I'm not saying I'm a super enthusiast about all of the results. I get kind of depressed when I see how overwhelmingly many of the posts that come through the PB top page have to do with electoral politics, and how few are about social movements or about personal/political stuff or about politics grounded in oppressed communities. I also get the sense that a lot of the material that does come down the pipe that is social movement-oriented and/or farther left than the NDP often does not get a whole lot of attention from too many members/readers.

In fact, though one or two of the identifiers would technically include me and there is more vague language that would do so farther down the page, I don't feel that the current version of the opening sentence of the commumnity wiki that describes the basics of PB particularly speaks to me or my politics:

Progressive Bloggers is a group of Canadian bloggers who firmly believe that this great country needs to move forward, not backwards. Be they Liberal or liberal, New Democrats or democrats, Green voters or voters who want a green country, or even Red Tories searching for a home, these bloggers believe that Canadian politics should move in a progressive direction.


But, frankly, I'm not terribly concerned about any of that. I think a community like PB is useful because it allows me to easily encounter material that I would not otherwise search out and it allows people who would not search out my kind of stuff to see what I'm up to. Though it is easily romanticized and too often presented in an understanding of politics steeped in philosophical idealism, there is still importance to the thus-far underutilized potential implicit in communities like PB for actual dialogue and debate across difference to happen. I'm not sure what could be done to get some of that happening deliberately at the community level, or if there would even be much interest in such a thing, but it will continue happening on an individual level, and I think that's important too.

And as Red Jenny said in the comment thread of one of the posts linked above, "Without us lefties, the libs will keep thinking they actually are progressive. It's important to keep pushing, I think."

28 comments:

Northern BC Dipper said...

I am not aware of how [the moderators are selected.

I believe the process has gone something like this:

1. Wayne (the owner/recent resigned main administrator) decides that a moderator is needed

2. Scott or somebody makes a post on the PB website asking for new moderators; they tend to ask for a write-up about the applicant (who are you, what will you do for the PB, your involvement in the community).

3. Applications come in.

4. Current moderators decide which of the applicants becomes a moderator(s).

With Wayne gone, I'd assume the current moderators would begin Step 1, if they felt it was neccessary

From personal observation, moderators vote on the instatement of new blogs, ensure that all the technical stuff is working, and decide what happens in a crisis.

Scott said...

Hi NBCD.

Thanks very much for this...very helpful.

Do you know what crises have had to be addressed, btw? Is any of this written down anywhere? Are there any plans to do so?

Do you have any insights into any of the other questions raised above? For example, do you know of any good political reasons why the moderator forums are not open?

Thanks again!

Saskboy said...

The moderator forums are not open because there would be Tory trolls with nothing better to do, in there trying to disrupt them. Routinely they are a boring place where Scott does much of the grunt work by linking to blogs that have applied so moderators can review them and recommend them for inclusion or note any problems with the applicants (missing link logo, etc.)

As a side note, I don't have a vote in moderator decisions. Wayne and the mods at the time I came on decided I was for systems help only, and could give my nonvoting opinion on matters.

"I think a community like PB is useful because it allows me to easily encounter material that I would not otherwise search out and it allows people who would not search out my kind of stuff to see what I'm up to."

That's why I like PB too, and it's the best in Canada at doing that. No other Aggregator is as diverse and interesting (except for Saskblogs.catprint.ca which is non-partisan and run by Lance (Catprint.ca).

Scott said...

"The moderator forums are not open because there would be Tory trolls with nothing better to do, in there trying to disrupt them."

Sorry, I don't buy that. I mean, I buy that it's a problem, but I don't buy that closing the forums completely is the only solution. Why not make it so only registered PB members can access them? Or make it so that only mods can change them, but everyone can see them, perhaps with additional forums for PB members to comment on process issues? Why not find mechanisms by which the community as a whole could decide how it wants to balance openness with the possibility of trolls?

I was involved with an indymedia centre for awhile. They not only have to be aware of Tory trolls, but are often targeted by right-wing extremists and by police and intelligence services. Though participation in process was limited to collective members, every scrap of online communication and deliberation was publically archived as a form of accountability. Surey PB could manage this.

Northern BC Dipper said...

Do you know what crises have had to be addressed, btw?

Well, the big one that comes to mind is the McClelland "anti-semitic" crisis (you refer to it in your post), where the moderators decided to remove his feed for a year.

By "crises", I mean anything out of the ordinary day-to-day moderation. I bet we wouldn't even catch wind of most of them.

For example, do you know of any good political reasons why the moderator forums are not open?

Saskboy's part of the organization, so his post will probably tell you more. Personally, I don't think it is that important to have access to the moderator forums; most of the stuff they do is pretty mundane, and for the most part I trust them. A concern about having open moderator forums for me is that moderators might focus on "performing for the crowd" rather than fairly deal with the situation. The moderators, though, do tend to reveal if a vote is majority or unanimous in regards to the decision to add new bloggers.

Do you have any insights into any of the other questions raised above?

Not that I can see.

catnip said...

I appreciate your post. You've obviously put some thought and an attempt at fairness into it.

I'd like to address this first:

There has been a tendency among those comments that are not supportive to completely refuse to engage with it as a political question, and to treat it solely as a matter of interpersonal conflict and a sort of depoliticized (or professionalized) ethics.

I was one who wanted to get past the politics because it was distracting from the fact that Joanne made the private exchange public. That was my concern. There is actually very little "political" discussion behind the scenes. From what I gather (from Joanne's post), a blog was up for review, there was an issue about the WB, one moderator with ties recused herself from being involved in the decision to approve the blog and that should have been the end of the story. Instead, Scott and Joanne disagreed about something - and I'm not clear if that was a disagreement over the WB itself or Scott's support of the moderator who recused herself - and mayhem ensued.

It's important to note that the complete story from all sides hasn't emerged publicly. That's why the politics of the situation concerning the WB are a secondary concern for me. We have different political ideologies but that rarely comes up as an issue.

As for the process, I agree that it needs to be clarified to the larger community. It's really not that complex. We approve/disapprove/put blogs on hold (for a lack of posts). If a blog would obviously be a better fit for the Blogging Tories, it's doubtful that it would be added. I think the wide variety of political perspectives included in PB's blogroll proves that.

"Crisis" situations occur when someone has sent a complaint about one of PB's blogs to one or all of the moderators - whether that's about possible libel issues (we aren't lawyers) or something similar to the McClelland situation (which I wasn't around for).

A code of conduct is under review and will be presented to the community. It strives to ensure that human and civil rights are protected and respected by ProgBloggers. That's a very general statement which I know may generate discussion and questions that are better left to the time when the code is actualy released.

I've chaired various non-profit boards and committees during my life and I have no problem designating a task such as that to a smaller group before it is presented to the membership for review. It's a disciplined and simplified way of moving towards a workable consensus.

As for opening the forums, I'm not sure what that would accomplish. How would we decide on blogs for inclusion, for example? Hold a huge discussion and vote on each one? How long might that process take and how fair would that be to the applying blog? Blog approval is the major function of the moderators and I don't know that there's much else (tech issues etc) that the larger membership would even be interested in. So I'm not sure what some people think they might be missing.

Anyway, I hope that answers some of your questions. PBers can also e-mail any or all of the moderators at any time. Our e-mail addresses are on the main page.

Hope that helps.

Erik Abbink said...

I'm surprised to read that Robert McClelland's so-called anti-semitic post is considered a crisis, yet the latest controversy is often referred to as a "spat". Anyone?

Kuri said...

Deja vu all over again, as far as I'm concerned. In my opinion, you cannot seperate the personalities from the politics in these sorts of groups. How people act towards each other in small collectives like this is often very political.

Does it matter? I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't. PB is a promotional tool and nothing more. It pretends to be a community, yes, but in the same way that the Alberta PC leadership pretended to be a real election. It's all fake - so we're just left to exploit it for what it's worth and ignore the merde de taureau as much as we can.

Northern BC Dipper said...

Erik Abbink,

Time will tell how this is remembered.

Though I must say, this thing has not really gotten too widespread.

Polly Jones said...

Yes. "Something" did happen. You have not heard "his version" because he knows damn well that it's the same as mine.

I fear that things are not as Red Jenny suggests. I don't think we show the Liberals anything. We lend credibilty to them; we legitimize their claim that they are "left" of centre.

Left and Right are fairly meaningless to me.

Both the Tories and Liberals are neoliberals. (Not that half of them know what is meant by neoliberalism.)

They certainly don't care how they're impacting the world. They are too wrapped up in being entitled to privacy on their forums!

Ugh.

Scott said...

Norhtern BC Dipper:

Thanks again for answering some of my questions.

"A concern about having open moderator forums for me is that moderators might focus on "performing for the crowd" rather than fairly deal with the situation."

But that's precisely one of the points...PB members being able to see everything that happened in the forums would be one way in which some form of transparency and accountability could happen. Mods would be more careful, knowing that scrutiny was always possible...even if most of us ignored the forums most of the time anyway.

Scott said...

catnip:

Thanks for your long and detailed comment.

"I was one who wanted to get past the politics because it was distracting from the fact that Joanne made the private exchange public. That was my concern. There is actually very little "political" discussion behind the scenes. From what I gather (from Joanne's post), a blog was up for review, there was an issue about the WB, one moderator with ties recused herself from being involved in the decision to approve the blog and that should have been the end of the story. Instead, Scott and Joanne disagreed about something - and I'm not clear if that was a disagreement over the WB itself or Scott's support of the moderator who recused herself - and mayhem ensued."

Again, this does not address the point I was making in the paragraph to which you are responding. By "political" in that paragraph I'm not so much meaning the World Bank stuff but rather the process stuff -- "how power was working and how the community to which we belong is functioning," as I say it in the post. The paragraph of yours that I quote above again insists on a purely personal or interpersonal reading of what happened rather than a political one, which, whatever the intent, functions to treat real, broader political concerns as not being serious.

"It's important to note that the complete story from all sides hasn't emerged publicly."

The reasons I have been given for why things haven't emerged publically, I don't buy...why can't that happen, given that random people who were not involved can be sent another moderator's experience of these events in private emails, as has happened to me? But beyond that, I think it is important to note that other "sides" in cases like this are not just about different experiences of events: they are about different politics for understanding the context in which events happen...again, I don't mean politics around the World Bank stuff so much as politics for understanding power and process at a micro level.

In the next few paragraphs you answer some of my questions about how things work and what goes on: thank-you. What you say about a code of conduct worries me a bit...what exactly does "presented to the community" mean? Will it be treated as next-to-done? This is something where the huge spectrum encompassed by "progressive" could easily result in very, very different visions of what such a policy should look like. How are those discussions going to happen? How have they already happened? What process will be used for the broader community to shape this policy? What politics shape the assumptions underyling it...and if the answer is small-l liberalism, then how does that relate to members who do not base our politics on small-l liberalism and who generally see it as part of the problem? And what would it even mean to try and do it differently, given that there are going to be areas of mutual incompatibility? (Not that I'm necessarily expecting answer here, but those are the sorts of questions that need to be answered at some point...and I certainly don't have a good guess myself around how to handle the last one, at this stage...it's really tricky, which is one reason why the broadest possible input is important.)

And as for opening up the forums...well, there are lots of possible models for how decisions could get made that have the potential to be more participatory and open than closed forums, and a PB-wide free-for-all is only one. At the very least, as I've said in previous comments, why not have all of the moderator discussions at least open for public viewing, as a very basic accountability and transparency mechanism? And why not explore other options for getting member participation around important questions?

As Polly wrote in one of the threads over at her place:

"Why aren't the moderator forums open to the members? Why aren't the members asked for their feedback on guidelines of conduct? Why is feedback on polls totally ignored? There are so many smart members - why not ask them to sumbit polls ideas?"

These are important questions, I think.

Once again, thanks for responding.

Scott said...

Hi Kuri. Thanks for commenting...I was not aware of your own stint as moderator and your resignation, so thanks for linking to some of that context. The fact that both people who have felt it necessary to resign as mods in the face of how things work at PB are leftists and feminist women is very telling.

"How people act towards each other in small collectives like this is often very political."

Yes! Exactly!

And hi Polly.

I guess I'm still mulling over whether I think PB deserves to be called a "community" in any meaningful sense...certainly there does not seem to be a lot of openness to more particpiatory and transparent ways of doing things.

I certainly understand the reasoning behind saying that PB is "a promotional tool and nothing more," and, "I don't think we show the Liberals anything. We lend credibilty to them; we legitimize their claim that they are "left" of centre." Those are some of the risks of such a broad-based approach, both in real life politics and in blogs. The fact that I'm more open to such an approach in blogs than in real life, though, has to do with not being sure what is actually going on...I mean, who are we helping promote the Liberals to? Who is the audience for this increased legisimacy that we bring them? I'm not asking those things to disagree, I'm just trying to wrap my head around how some random reader coming across a post by me -- say this or this or this, to pick a few recent ones -- is really going to encourage the reader to think, "Hey, those Liberals aren't half bad." How the two of you see the cooptation process playing out?

Oh...and:

"Both the Tories and Liberals are neoliberals. (Not that half of them know what is meant by neoliberalism.)

They certainly don't care how they're impacting the world."


Amen.

That makes me think of an amazing recent post that has been getting a lot of attention among bloggers of colour in the U.S. recently, called "The True Font of Progressivism" -- it deals with that in the U.S. context and is a truly inspiring post.

catnip said...

A couple of things, Scott.

I understand your point about the political more thoroughly now as it relates to the interactivity of the moderators. Frankly though, I think I need to remind people again that the major activity we engage in is the approval of blogs. The urls are posted. The criteria are simple. The politics of the exchanges are basically nil. As for the power structure, I signed on when Joanne did and the recent kerfuffle is the only power struggle I've seen. I think people need to keep in mind that Joanne and others have gripes with Scott beyond this latest incident and that's contributed publicly to the anxiety about what moderators do in general. Things are done following the one person/one vote rule. Again, it's a very simple, democratic process.

As for the "code of conduct" and that process, as I said, I believe that assigning a smaller group the task of doing something like creating a mission statement or statement of beliefs is the way to go. I think we're aware of what ProgBloggers in general accept as "values": equality rights, non-discrimination etc.

Again, you raise valid questions but I think they'll be answered once that's presented and, no, I don't know when that will be. I'd suggest you take a look at The Next Agenda's What is The Next Agenda? for an example of what we're working on. It's not exactly the same but it's just a very simple statement of what PBers stand for. (Please don't pick theirs apart as if it's going to be ours. That's just an example of a statement of beliefs.) The discussion around ours focused mainly on semantics/wording meant to reflect PBers.

At the very least, as I've said in previous comments, why not have all of the moderator discussions at least open for public viewing, as a very basic accountability and transparency mechanism?

Again, my answer to that is a question. Since the majority of our work is the approval of blogs, how is that helpful or fair to those up for approval? Is there such disapproval among PB members about the blogs we're approving that this process needs to be opened up? I haven't seen any indication of that.

And why not explore other options for getting member participation around important questions?

I think that's been done although obviously not as much as people would like.

I also think we need to evaluate exactly what PB means to people. Frankly, for me it's basically an aggregator that I check almost every day to see what bloggers are writing about. I suspect it's that way for a lot of people. I rarely became involved in any of the "community" type issue before. As far as I was concerned, as long as the site wasn't down or there wasn't some major scandal going on, that was enough for me. I view it akin to reading a news source online. Just how much time and effort would a regular reader want to put into the nuts and bolts of the site besides perhaps writing a meta blog post or letter to the editor now and then? So I wonder how many PBers are even interested in the political or power issues that go on at PB behind the scenes or between associated bloggers who are having disagreements. I don't know. And then why open the forums when, as saskboy has pointed out, we'd also open ourselves up to trolls and have yet another thing to manage?

I just feel I need to repeatedly make this point: the forum discussions are not that exciting or controversial. Ask any of the moderators - even Joanne. They're pretty mundane.

The reasons I have been given for why things haven't emerged publically, I don't buy...why can't that happen, given that random people who were not involved can be sent another moderator's experience of these events in private emails, as has happened to me?

The number one reason I said the full story hasn't emerged is because there is no longer any record of the exchange. I wasn't privy to it and one of the moderators involved has not spoken up at all publicly from what I've seen. That's a missing piece.

The important thing to me is that as soon as the incident was brought to light, all of the moderators available tried to remedy it in the most reasonable way possible. That could have been the end of it but it wasn't because some history was intermingled with it publicly and here we are.

I really don't know what else to add. This has turned into a huge meta issue when the reality of what really goes on doesn't even merit such an extended discussion. I'm not being dismissive of anyone's concerns when I say that. It's just that this is truly an example of a mountain being made of a molehill. This isn't that complicated and we're not some sort of secret cabal. We're just doing what we're supposed to do as moderators - taking care of the place.

I want to add one last thing since you don't know me: I am not a wallflower or a blind follower. I am a very opinionated, stubborn, independent and strong-willed person. I am non-partisan and have no qualms about attacking the right, center or left. My issues are human/civil rights, justice and peace (in a nutshell) and I am not a pushover in any sense of the word. I'm mentioning that because I don't want anybody to think that if I saw a major problem with what goes on politically regarding PB, I'd just remain silent. I wouldn't go about dealing with it by vioating others privacy, as Joanne did, but people can rest assured that I would be vocal. I believe in dealing with facts and logic and have no patience for those who try to either confuse or conflate issues by using unnecessary distractions or personal attacks (I reserve ad hominems for going after the wingnuts). I think those who know me can attest to that.

Time for more tea.

Polly Jones said...

"How the two of you see the cooptation process playing out?"

Well, for example, last fall we (a group of bloggers organized it) did a "five things feminism has done for me" meme to protest the SWC cuts. Scott linked all the entries to the mainpage of PBs. I also let him know that I was getting it going in the US. (It went around the world by the way...and is stil going). Anyway, Scott then told me he would not link to US supporters because he wants the Canadian blogging community to become more visible. Later, I called him on not particpating in the meme himself. To me this seemed rather inauthentic. Well, that blew open a can of worms as he complained on some feminist boards that feminists are hard to work with, women came forward saying their blogs had been rejected for membership because they did not discuss enough politics and so on.

As far as this code of conduct goes, I essentially wrote it. Here it is:

"Progressive Bloggers aims to create a friendly and inclusive community of progressives to share ideas, engage in informed debate, and connect for community action.

Progressive Bloggers opposes unequal power relations that create a hierarchy of statuses and rights. We oppose racism, sexism, homo- and transphobia and ableism, and all other forms of discrimination that privilege some to the exclusion of others.

The moderators of Progressive Bloggers ask members to foster an environment which avoids marginalizing others, and resists reinforcing and reproducing systemic inequalities. We hope that members of Progressive Bloggers will approach issues of power relations and discrimination in the spirit of fair discussion, and not allow these issues to be trivialized by polarizing rhetoric, partisanship, and smear campaigns. In the event that a member is unwilling to address and/or resolve an instance of discriminatory language or behaviour, we reserve the right to discontinue membership."

I was asked to remove terms like transphobia and ableism because they are "too complicated". I also suggested that the community should be asked to give feedback so it would be more of a "bottom-up" effort, but that also was "too complicated".

As for blog applicants, you see who gets in but not who doesn't. There are also no criteria for judging blogs.

Anyway, I won't be back here, because I just can't waste anymore time on it.

I will of course be back to this blog for other posts that leave me inspired, and not depressed!!!!

Also, catnip, not a word about privacy regarding this code. I have about six versions saved on my computer as I wrote it.

Scott Tribe said...
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Scott Tribe said...
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Scott Tribe said...

I said I wasn't going to comment, because I don't wish to add fuel to the fire, but Joanne's claims need to be countered here.

It's interesting to me that until this blowup by Joanne, no one - not me, not Wayne Chu prior to his leaving, not any of the moderators - EVER heard Joanne complaining about the moderator forums being private or closed and how we should be considering opening them up to the general public.

That has all of a sudden become a major concern this past few days when Joanne has done her grandstanding and tried to make herself out to be a martyr, but I can tell you it never was raised as an issue before a couple of days ago.

(I'll put in a disclaimer - if she raised the issue with Wayne, he never mentioned it to me - and normally I'd get briefed by Wayne as to what issues people had brought up with him. So, if she did raise it with him, he didn't deem it necessary or he deemed it to be an out to lunch idea, hence he didn't bother telling me).

Scott, you should also be mentioning I've already tried to answer some of your questions you're raising. As far as I'm concerned, the moderators need to have a forum set aside to discuss issues like Mccelland. There are many forums and boards that have administrative sections set aside for moderators to discuss things. I don't see the issue quite frankly... and as Catnip said, its normally quite dull in there anyhow.

Also.. with regards to the voting, I think the setup we have is fine and not cumbersome. Unlike some who think we're trying to pervert the Prog Blog community into a Liblogs-lite version with Jason Cherniak as our god of the blogs to worship, we let in all sorts of blogs. There are only about 22% who are Liberal blogs. The rest are either Greens/NDP or - our largest bloc is of those who are non-partisan or not affiliated.
I can count on my 1 hand in 2 years how many have been refused entry because of ideologically being deemed too narrow-minded or regressive or not meeting progressive standards. One blog comes to mind - Peter Rempel's old blog. He actually thought he could be deemed "progressive".

Otherwise.. the only reason blogs get rejected or put on hold is because they aren't posting enough yet for us to make a decision on them.. or because they aren't Canadian based or run by a Canadian... or because they don't have a lot of talk on social or political issues. Wayne has always left it to our individual judgment whether we thought they met criteria or not.. he wanted no echo chambers or narrow limits.

Polly Jones said...

Tribe, your statements are simply untrue. I suggested clearly that people should have access to open forums and Saskboy agreed. I also said that the community should help develop the code of conduct and you disagreed. Of course, you might want to consider not deleting all records in the future so we can refer to them.

I will accept your accusations of grandstanding, but I have never played the part of a martyr. You on the other hand, have nicely played the role of sacrificial lamb as opposed to accountable moderator.

If the position is too tough for you, resign!!!

Scott said...

Hi again catnip.

Thanks for the further elaboration on the PB process and its connection in your view to the context of this specific incident.

My own take is this: Though most PB members probably aren't terribly interested at the moment, a few people who have been paying attention to and/or involved in PB community processes have a history of concerns about how things work. This incident has raised the profile of these concerns a little bit -- some of these concerns relate directly to this specific incident while others are related more to things in the past and presented as context. Though there is definitely interpersonal stuff mixed in there -- as Kuri says above, that's pretty much unavoidable in a situation like this -- there are also clear concerns of a political nature that form part of a pattern of experience for some people. I have tried to learn more about the concerns and learn more about the processes, and while doing so apply my own history of experiences with how groups work and my own analysis of what "good process" means. I have to say, despite you and others pointing to particular things being about person X having a gripe or person Y grandstanding or whatever, that it still seems to me that there is ample evidence that process needs to be worked on. You and I might differ on what we think is needed, but I think in your first comment you agreed that there were things that could use some work too.

One basic thing, and I suspect you would agree with this, is that perhaps some of the things I have learned about the process in the last couple of days really should be written down and put some place where any curious PBer can see them. I think it's almost inevitable that, as an unfunded organization such as the PB grows, it only reaches the point of writing some of this stuff down when someone realizes it should have been done long since. :)

Another quite basic thing (where I suspect we still differ) is around the moderator forums -- at the very least, making it so everyone can see 'em even if only mods can still participate, and everything is archived. If only mods can participate, I don't see why trolls would be an issue. It certainly changes the environment in which the mods are speaking, and would probably change how discussions happen, but as long as applicants are warned, I don't see a problem. Many might appreciate the transparency. And the fact that what goes on in the forums is routine and boring most of the time is besides the point, as is the fact that most PBers would have no interest most of the time, as is the fact that most would probably approve of most decisions -- such measures are meant for the exceptional times, such as this crisis, the debates around giving that blog the boot a few months ago, inclusions or exclusions that might cause an uproar at some future time, and so on.

I think perhaps a more general basis for some of the disagreements here, though many other things are also at play, is a difference in standards for what "good process" means -- not just an agree-to-disagree personal preference difference, but differences in politics that really matter. Both you in these comments and Scott T. in an email have felt it necessary to reassure me that there is no "secret cabal" or "manipulative clique". Okay, that's good to know, but that's not really the focus of my concerns. Dysfunction and even oppression are present in the functioning of activist groups much more often just because than by malevolent design, but that doesn't make them any less real. Because of both past experiences of oppression and past experiences of being challenged, those of us who ground a fair bit of what we do in grassroots activist spaces that are vaguely anarchist-ish and/or feminist, and in politics that include anti-oppression, are more likely to have politicized understandings of good process that might seem unusual to others, with preferences around things like transparency and openness and addressing the micropolitics of power head-on that others are often inclined to dismiss. I firmly believe that there are sound political reasons for such concerns and the practices that result from them, and hopefully as the PB continues to evolve these and other approaches to process can be debated in political ways. (And in saying that, I'm not meaning to disrespect that dialogue that you and I have had -- I really value that you have taken the time to do so -- just to set a goal that in general discussions in the future such concerns be treated as serious political interventions rather than griping.)

And on the issue of the "code of conduct" policy, I'm sure there is much that could be said but I won't begin that discussion here...though Polly's "leak" of a version of the text shows it to be better than I was expecting. I will only say that this sentence that you write is of grave concern: "I think we're aware of what ProgBloggers in general accept as 'values': equality rights, non-discrimination etc." Assuming a "we" rather than building it through a process around such things is always risky, and doubly so with the range encompassed by the label "progressive." Those words sound good, but they can mean VERY different things depending on the standpoint and analysis of the speaker. Building some shared consciousness around what they mean can be crucial if such a document is to have any functional meaning at all when a crisis hits.

And as for your understanding of what PB means to you...well, it has generally meant something similar for me. Like I think I said at some point in things I've written on this issue, the fact that moderators weren't just techies and that they exerted functions with political content, implying at least some minimal existence of "community", was a bit of a surprise for me.

Scott said...

Hi Polly.

Thanks for the additional context for the history of your concerns around how things work at PB. That's some serious stuff.

Thanks also for sharing the code of conduct...like I said in the preceding comment, it is better than I might have expected for the PB. Though as I also said, I have worries about how it will actually be activated when it is needed, and I agree that a more bottom-up process would have been useful.

Anyway, thanks for offering your input in these comments, and hopefully our paths will cross again soon on less depressing threads!

Scott Tribe said...

Polly:

I don't ever recall that statement, and it would have met with stiff opposition from the rest of us moderators. I certainly know Wayne would never have gone for it.

I'm not the one who felt the going too tough. This is coming from the same person who wrote myself and Wayne a month and a half ago an email complaining there wasn't anything going on with the Code of Conduct, and/or people were disagreeing with you.. so you were going to have to consider resigning. Wayne and to a lesser extent I talked you out of it. In retrospect, that was a bad decision on our part.

Scott said...

Hi Scott T.

Thanks for chiming in...I didn't make it as explicit as I could have that you have responded to me in private email on some of these concerns, and I'm sorry if that bothered you. That said, part of the reason why was because I was and continue to be a bit puzzled why you haven't engaged with the issue more publically.

On the forums, see a number of my previous comments in this thread and what I said in one of my emails to you...I don't think what you've added here changes my take very much.

On the issue of "some who think we're trying to pervert the Prog Blog community", for my take see my last response to catnip where I mention "manipulative cliques" and "secret cabals".

And thanks for your additional insight into the blog selection procedure...as I said above, perhaps a fuller written description of how it all happens in some public spot would be a useful thing. As well, I think it's important to point out that the assessment of whether a blog "do[es]n't have a lot of talk on social or political issues" can be quite a political one -- there is a lot of stuff that I would consider to be personal/political writing that others might dismiss as "merely" personal. Not that I have any idea whether this has happened, but I could see it coming up as an issue.

catnip said...

First of all, let me be brutally honest here. These meta issues have snowballed to the point where I'm simply running out of energy to participate in these discussions much right now. Besides the fact that I have my own life, blog and illnesses to deal with (not that I don't enjoy meta discussions to a point), I find some of the concerns expressed to be far beyond the scope of what the realities of the moderators' situation even encompasses. And I have not seen major problems with the overall politics of the site's functioning on an ongoing basis. Issues come up and we try ro deal with them.

Now, regarding this:

One basic thing, and I suspect you would agree with this, is that perhaps some of the things I have learned about the process in the last couple of days really should be written down and put some place where any curious PBer can see them.

I actually made that suggestion yesterday and we're talking about it. I don't know where that's headed yet. Please be patient as we try to sort this out. This has been a tiring experience for some of us - well, for me, anyway.

We'll have to agree to disagree about the process for the code of conduct. I simply feel that if we'd asked for everybody's input we would have taken on too big a task when it came to sorting that out and evaluating it all. Committees and board type structures have subcommittees for a reason - to provide focus and specific input. I understand that you'd prefer a grassroots up kind of effort but I don't see how that would be feasible or workable considering the large number of PB affiliates and the fact that we mods have many other commitments. Being a PB moderator is not and ought not be a full time job. In fact, when I signed on, I did so with the stipulation that if the commitment became too much and began affecting my health, I'd resign. I've spent far too many hours this past week on all of this and I'm not particularly thrilled with the fact that there are still distortions being perpetuated by some people (not by you).

My bottom line is this: I do not see political problems as affecting the moderators' work in any significant way or on an ongoing basis. Some do. Fine. That hasn't been my experience. I also still disagree with opening up the forums (ie. 99% of which is blog approvals) to the entire membership. That's like calling in all your company's employees (and that's not the best analogy) to review every employee you're going to hire. It's unweildy, unfair to the applicant and unnecessary. Applicants deserve some privacy as well and those discussions are minor.

That's all I can address right now. On to other things I need to take care of. I'll just leave it at that.

Polly Jones said...

"I don't ever recall that statement, and it would have met with stiff opposition from the rest of us moderators."

Exactly.

"This is coming from the same person who wrote myself and Wayne a month and a half ago an email complaining there wasn't anything going on with the Code of Conduct"

Yes and that is why I voted to "hold" on releasing the code despite being the one who invested time in writing it.

As I said on the forums, I felt that if the moderators themselves were not ready to engage in discussions and view ourselves as being engaged in a process of conscientization, I thought it unfair to expect that we could somehow apply the code to members. To me it felt less like creating positive space and more like policing.

This is why the forums should be open. If you don't want to allow members to participate themselves they should at least be able to see the dialogue that is happening.

It would also protect moderators with less mainstream views.

Scott said...

Hi again catnip...I'm inclined to agree with you that we've gone as far as we can usefully go in this specific dialogue...I have also found it tiring, and I also have other things that I have let slide that I really have to get to. Once again, thank-you, and I think it has been useful, even if it hasn't been pleasant for any of us!

catnip said...

I appreciate the dialogue, Scott. Anything that makes me think can't be all that bad. ;)

Saskboy said...

"I suggested clearly that people should have access to open forums and Saskboy agreed. "

As a side point, I don't recall discussing that in the Site Improvement forum, but I do think we will be aiming to get a PB forum up for interested people to participate in. But I would not have supported opening up the moderator forum, for future reference. The administration needs a place to discuss sensitive information, and this being the web, we don't have an office to store and share that sort of thing, so we need a private board.