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Forum Guidelines - Swansea Branch proposal and response from the Internet Committee

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Forum Guidelines - Swansea Branch proposal and response from the Internet Committee


A detailed response to Swansea Branch’s proposal has now been received from the Internet Committee.

Guidelines for users

Preamble


The Socialist Party of Great Britain prides itself on its internal democracy where all members are treated as equal and have access to shape the governance of the party through altering and amending the existing rules or by introducing a new rule through a ballot of the whole membership. Obviously, no rules are cast in stone and are subject to scrutiny, assessment, and relevance.

This concept of democracy is ongoing and evolves has and when the party membership decides that due to the dynamics of class struggle changes in how we propagate the case for socialism invokes a sub-set of rules being introduced to include workers who are not members of the party.

In this regard the forum is a case in point where attendance and discussion are much like a public meeting organised by the party where a topic is introduced and subject to discussion by those who wish to raise a question, make a suggestion, lodge a complaint about the running of the meeting or appeal against a ruling by the chair.

Unlike a public meeting, a forum is not restricted to time constraints or the number in attendance, or have a visible chair. This forum is an online discussion space with multiple discussions going on at any one time, sometimes within the same thread. Albeit, without the need for a chairperson for it’s essentially regulated by the forum members themselves who have agreed to abide by the guidelines/rules and only occasionally require moderator intervention.

Hence, all discussion on the forum is subject to the guidelines and rules and supervised by moderators appointed by the Executive Committee to ensure users and posts conform to democratic principles and internet etiquette. Thus the EC allows moderators to take action when the rules are being ignored or abused by users on the forum.

This is not to say that the guidelines/rules are not subject to change by all users of the forum. In fact, changes in moderation action and how the guidelines/rules are regulated and applied have come about through dialogue between the moderators and users.

Such a process of democracy is rarely found or implemented on other websites. And it’s in this spirit of democracy the following processes, procedures and protocols are drawn up and implemented.

Moderation suggestions, complaints procedure and appeals procedure
 
Moderation suggestions


Any suggestions to the moderators – including changes to rules - are done through the facilities available on the forum. Some users prefer using the PM function so a conversation can take place off thread. To use this function click on ‘Messages’ in the right-hand menu. Then click on ‘Write new message’ to access the message box. Click on the To: box and then type in the options: moderator1, moderator2, moderator3; or alternatively the individual moderator, then type in the subject and finally type your message. On the other hand, some users feel the discussion warrants a broader discussion and prefers to take advantage of posting a suggestion in the Website/Technical section of the forum – usually in the ‘Moderation suggestions’ thread.

Whatever method is used, all suggestions then get discussed by the moderators and a decision reached on whether or not the suggestion is valid. If it is a valid suggestion the moderators then inform the forum on what action they have decided to take to implement the suggestion. Be aware a “suggestion” is generally directed at improving moderation
functionality (see the ‘Moderation suggestions’ thread) and is not regarded as a complaint, although it may arise from a complaint.

Complaints procedure

The Complaints Procedure is usually invoked after the moderators have decided to issue a warning or a suspension. When such moderator’s action is taken the post in question includes the rule specific to the action and is posted on the forum.

When a suspension occurs a moderator contacts the user involved by private email to inform them why they have been suspended and the duration of the suspension. The user is entitled to request the moderators to reconsider their action. However, when the suspension is considered to be of a severe nature the user will be advised to take their complaint directly to the Internet Committee for appeal:

e-mail: spgb.internet@worldsocialism.org

Other times a user may wish to make a complaint or query on:
 Why the rules are being applied.
 Unfair treatment.
 Why reminders, warnings, or suspensions have not been issued in accordance with the rules/guidelines.
 They consider another user is being insufficiently moderated.

If the moderators decide the complaint is valid and changes are required they will inform the complainant what further action is needed so it’s appropriate and acceptable to all users on the forum. When, however, the complaint is rejected the complainant will be informed they can escalate the complaint in the form of an appeal to the IC.
The complaint will be acknowledged within 2 working days and a decision endeavoured to be reached within 10 working days.

Appeals Procedure

When a user decides to make an appeal to the Internet Committee they need to list the reasons – along with any evidence - so the IC can decide on the validity of the appeal. A working group consisting of 3 members of the committee who are not involved with the complaint under appeal will decide on the validity of the appeal and decide on the justification for upholding or rejecting the appeal, and the complainant and moderator’s informed of the decision.

The appeal will be acknowledged within 2 working days and a decision reached within 10 working days.
If the appeal is rejected and the complainant is a party member they have the right to appeal to the EC and if need be to Conference/ADM and ultimately a Party Poll.

Moderation best/good practice

In line with good practice the moderators do not issue a warning for every breach of the rules. Only when a particular rule has been breached on several occasions is a ‘Reminder’ posted so all users are aware a rule has been breached. If this reminder is then ignored the user is issued with a ‘1st Warning’. 2nd and 3rd warnings then incur for further breaches. The remit for moderation is as follows:

1. The purpose of the Web forums is to promote discussion of matters related to the Socialist Party, the World Socialist Movement, and socialism. We encourage open, free, and rational discussion among WSM members, among members of the public interested in, sympathetic to, or opposed to WSM ideas, and between WSM members and the public.

2. The purpose of moderation is to maintain an open, free, and rational discussion on these topics, and to prevent its disruption by individuals or groups.

3. The sole remit of the moderators is to apply the forum rules. The remit of the moderators is to monitor the posts and ensure compliance with the forum rules.

4. The sole purpose of taking action against posters is to prevent disruption expected to continue or recur. Action taken by the moderators is not intended to be applied punitively.

Moderators interpret and apply the rules with the above democratic principles in mind. These guidelines are not rigid rules, but a statement of best/good practice for the general case. Moderators act pragmatically in consideration of the unique circumstances of each case, but are prepared to justify any deviations from these guidelines or other established procedures. Moderators make every effort to act with the consistency that comes through experience of interpreting these
guidelines.


Report of the Internet Committee to the August 2017 EC Meeting 19 July 2017

This report is our response to your request for our reasons for rejecting the proposed forum guidelines from Swansea Branch (Motion 3 of the July 2017 EC minutes).

The proposed guidelines were discussed among the Internet Committee and moderators by e-mail from 18 September to 24 October 2016. The proposed guidelines were generally supported by Cdes Johnson and Davison, and generally opposed by Cdes Culbert, Miller, Poynton, and Stafford. Cde Lansbury also opposed the proposed guidelines, but mostly because he didn't have enough time to review them and compare them to the current rules and guidelines. Cdes Anderson and Johnstone did not take part in the discussion.

The objections to the proposed guidelines can be summarized as follows:

* The proposed guidelines proceed from the incorrect premise that theforum is like a party business meeting.

* The proposed guidelines encourage, and in some cases even require,detailed explanations and public discussions of moderator decisions, whereas this is something that has proven to be disruptive and which we should be discouraging.

* The proposed guidelines encourage public criticism of internal Party bodies (such as the EC or other Committees), whereas this sort of criticism would be better directed to the bodies themselves, and/or discussed through more official and more effective decision-making channels such as Branch meetings.

* The existing forum rules and guidelines, and the existing moderator guidelines commissioned by the EC, are already sufficiently comprehensive.

* It is unclear what problem the proposed guidelines are intended to solve, or else the problems could be more easily solved via other (technical) means.

* The proposed guidelines commit the entire Internet Committee to deadlines that it is unlikely to be able to meet.
Below are some quotes from the conversation that describe the above objections in more detail.
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MC: I think they are proceeding from an incorrect premise. The website is not like a party meeting with a chair elected etc. except when it is a set up meeting, such as a branch or specially convened meeting and so on, exceptions.
There shouldn't be any discussion about moderators decisions, or threads set up to this end in my view.
The procedure is clear, To moderators by PM, then appeal to IC, then to E.C..

Similarly criticism of the EC or Party departments should be taking the same route, directly to the bodies concerned, via established existing procedures, via individual, or branch etc and not cluttering up our website in a circumvention of procedures because someone has screwed up their posting rights or because some individual member won't go legit through their branch with a formal protest.
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MC: The Rules and Guidelines are already quite comprehensive.

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/forum-rules-and-guidelines

I think we are entitled to *expect *a higher standard of self discipline from party members, than from the casual non-party member, visitor.

I think everyone in the party is well enough aware of the appropriate behaviour and procedures and it needs no further elaboration.

I think there is way too much discussion about moderation and this should be discouraged, suggestions about improving the site always welcome, but more posts on current issues or topics about socialism. Any complaints to or about moderation should be via the PM function.

I think a link from rules and guidelines, then into a shorter PDF statement should suffice, without any necessity for a comment section beneath.
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TM: My initial impression is that these guidelines are overwrought and introduce some extra bureaucracy that I don't think we're in a position to enforce. More importantly, it's not clear to me what specific problems the guidelines are intended to solve.
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TM: I can't support these because, among other reasons, they bind us (i.e., the entire Internet Committee) to schedules that we can't keep. And it's still not clear to me for whose benefit these guidelines are supposed to be. If it's for the moderators, well, what's wrong with the existing moderator guidelines that the EC went to the trouble of commissioning? Darren recently drew everyone's attention to these but I don't see that anyone responded.

I agree with Matt's suggestion that the moderators should avoid indulging the forum users with overly frequent or elaborate explanations about their application or non-application of the rules.
I'm afraid that adopting additional, more detailed guidelines would only result in further opportunities for users to question their interpretation and application.
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DP: I'm not against the idea of some guidelines for forum users, with the purpose being to help facilitate productive discussion about socialism.
I don't think the suggested text is that though. Some of it is factually incorrect, much of it not relevant to the purpose, and it seems to be actively encouraging users to disregard rule 15. "Queries or appeals relating to particular moderation decisions should be sent directly to the moderators by private message. Do not post such messages to the forum. You must continue to abide by the moderators’ decisions pending the outcome of your appeal."
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DP: [In response to BJ's comment, "In short, the draft guidelines are an attempt at a more democratic forum where scrutiny of the forum is formalised within a democratic framework, and allows all users to make a contribution to that framework."]

This is pretty much why I am against the guidelines, or at least the introductory part to them.
The forum is not a party decision making organ, and neither is it a "how to run a forum" forum.
*The forum is for the discussion of socialism and for that only.*

Discussions about moderation and moderator announcements should be kept to a bare minimum. These guidelines only encourage more of these types of comment which are a distraction from the main purpose, to discuss socialism *with members of the public*.

*All* users should certainly not be having an input into how the forum is run. Since all users will not be party members and some will even be hostile to socialism and the socialist party.  Party decision business should be conducted through the correct channels. The forum is not one of these (with the exception of the forums for branches).

I'll try and say more about the guidelines but from here it would seem to be a case of back to the drawing board.
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RS: I cannot say I am in favour of them however as I object to this excessively indulgent process: only when a particular rule has been breached on several occasions is a ‘Reminder’ posted so all users are aware a rule has been breached. If this reminder is then ignored the user is issued with a ‘1st Warning’. 2nd and 3rd warnings then incur for further breaches.