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Sep 17 2012

Zena Ryder of CFI responds

Zena Ryder sent me this response to what trinioler said in..“What trinioler said”:

I am one of the administrators of the [name omitted] branch of the Centre for Inquiry, based in [ditto], Canada. In response to trinioler’s comments about our branch, I would like to explain what has been going on over the last few months.

Our branch is very active. We have a number of regular events: the purely social monthly “Skeptics in the Park”; a monthly discussion group for kids, “Kids for Inquiry”; monthly informal talks, “Café Inquiry”; and a new monthly discussion group, “Round Table”. We are also associated with a couple of independent local groups — including a local women’s discussion group, Chick Chat, with whom we are co-hosting a lecture by Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada next month.

The topics of our Café Inquiry events range widely — from astronomy to math to humanist rituals. They have also included  “Dismantling the Gender Binary”, “Digital Hatred: White Supremacy in the Information Age” and we have one coming up in October, “Addictions”. Our Café Inquiry talks are usually held at our local LGBT Centre, and when they are there, we always collect donations for the Centre.

In addition to these regular events, we hold a number of special events. We have volunteers who care deeply about social issues. We want to make the world a better place, and we are working hard — as volunteers — to do our share. (In addition to working at our jobs, doing our studies, raising our kids and all the rest of having lives.) We did a winter clothing drive last year — collecting winter clothing for a couple of local charities. We protested Sylvia Browne, concerned that she was ripping off vulnerable, grieving people. We co-hosted a debate on assisted suicide. We held a mini-conference in May, “All About Vaccines”, to help educate people about vaccines because there is an outbreak of whooping cough here in BC, which is of course incredibly dangerous for babies. This event raised money for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. We held a summer fundraiser for our branch, at which we also collected donations for our local Food Bank. Along with CFI Canada’s Executive Director, Michael Payton, our branch co-signed a letter to the Mayor of [omitted for now], objecting to his recent pro-life proclamation. We are holding a Halloween blood drive, and in the spring we are holding an event that will raise funds for a mental health charity.

But we also have a public Facebook discussion group, which anyone (not just CFI members) can join. It caused us major headaches in the past. And it is this Facebook group that trinioler is largely judging us by. While we never had problems with hate speech, rape threats, or anything like that (such comments would not, of course, be tolerated and would result in an immediate ban) there were indeed issues with sexist comments, there were issues with belligerence and hostility. People understandably got sick of the fighting and, with the support of the national leadership, a number of us — volunteers who care about our group, and care about decent online behaviour — drafted, refined and installed a set of guidelines for posting. We ditched the Facebook group, and started a new one from scratch, with the new rules in place. Volunteers have spent hours moderating the group, and discussing whether we thought rules had been broken and what to do about it. One particularly egregious case, which trinioler mentioned, was a thread in which a number of inappropriate comments were made about breasts. This thread triggered a real life meeting — more volunteer time — when we discussed what to do. This was back in June, soon after we had instituted our new rules. We knew that there would be teething troubles, while people got used to the new situation. (The new situation being that, no, it’s not the case that anything goes just because you’re sitting anonymously behind a computer. There are real people, with real feelings, who read your comments. Your words do indeed matter.) We decided that rules had been broken and we issued warnings as a result. Unfortunately, the fighting and unacceptable comments didn’t magically disappear over night and the Facebook group continued to cause us problems, but we have tried — tried very hard — to make it better. We have not just ignored the problems. We worked on them and continue to do so. We have issued warnings and we banned someone who made threats in a different Facebook group. And our Facebook group is much better. It’s not perfect, but we’re working on it.

Some volunteers (and non-volunteers) weren’t happy with the speed of our progress on the Facebook discussion group, and decided to leave the Facebook group. That’s healthy. If a Facebook discussion group is causing you stress, and isn’t pleasant for you to engage in — it makes sense to leave. But these same volunteers have not left CFI-[omitted for now]. They come to volunteer meetings, they come to our events, they work on organizing events, they contribute to our fundraising activities, they help out in various ways behind the scenes. A great deal of CFI-[ditto] energy goes into our events — creating a real life community (as well as a Facebook community), doing some real life work, making the world a better place. That’s where most of our volunteers are inclined to direct their energy.

I  completely agree with trinioler that ignoring sexism can be divisive. It’s no doubt true that if the administrators of CFI-[ditto] had ignored the sexism in our Facebook group, then we would have lost volunteers and CFI members. But the facts are that CFI-[ditto] did not, and does not, ignore the sexism on our page, and so we have not lost volunteers because of it. I am proud of our volunteer team and their hard work. I also enjoy working with them and I care about them as people. Their concerns are certainly not ignored.

CFI-[ditto is currently in the process of arranging a presentation by Desiree Schell, who will be talking with our group later this month about what the atheist movement can learn from the social justice movement. I sincerely hope that trinioler will join us. The more people with energy and enthusiasm working to get things done, the better.

Zena Ryder

[branch omitted for now]

[location omitted for now]

28 comments

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  1. 1
    Pteryxx

    Ophelia… trinioler chose not to name the branch publicly for their own privacy concerns, and stated as much in comments of your previous post.

  2. 2
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    That may be the case, Pteryxx, but they have obviously chosen to out themselves, since I seriously doubt that Ophelia would have posted this without permission.

    That is, I certainly hope not…

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    I posted this “without permission” because I didn’t know I needed permission. The article doesn’t name anyone. I didn’t know a location amounted to outing. Your hopes are dashed.

  4. 4
    Pteryxx

    Ophelia, FYI the entire post is still reachable through the comment links on the Recent Comments sidebar, along with the original URL.

  5. 5
    Lauren

    The location shows in the title in my RSS reader (but not the body). In any case, why would the administrator even send this to Ophelia except to be made public in response to trinioler’s public comment?

  6. 6
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    I’m glad all that is now covered. Any error or misrepresentation of some tangential items has now been addressed, so we can now move on with what Ron said. Thanks, Zena.

  7. 7
    Richard Austin

    Lauren,
    While there is a legitimate need to present the counter-position the administrator brings up, it can be done without information that legitimate effort has been gone through to avoid. It doesn’t weaken the administrator’s points in any way to leave the specifics out of it, since no specifics were mentioned in the original post to begin with.

    When dealing with any highly-visible online community, the balancing act between necessary disclosure/information and maintaining the privacy and comfort of pseudonyms is very delicate. The efforts by Ophelia and others to help maintain that balance is extremely appreciated.

  8. 8
    Brian Engler

    It sounds like Ms Ryder, her fellow branch administrators, and the volunteers & members of the unnamed CFI Canada branch, are very active, involved, and have done exactly what they needed to do in the face of those instances of sexism. Brava!

  9. 9
    dshetty

    off topic : Ah DJ here is how you could have responded.

  10. 10
    Stacy

    Thank you, Zena. Hope everyone who read what trinioler said will read this.

  11. 11
    julian

    Glad to hear this organization is not only taking this seriously but listening and putting real work hours into improving the situation. Kinda wish I knew which branch so I could check them out (if I ever get to Canada)

  12. 12
    Ophelia Benson

    Trusted people can just ask me.

  13. 13
    Crommunist

    Yeah, redacting the name of the organization doesn’t protect anyone in this case. I can Google the name and immediately find out who Zena is and where she works. It’s even in the searched title of this post. It probably would have been better to redact the name of the person sending the e-mail as WELL as the branch she works at.

    There’s also more than enough information in this post (including names of specific events) that anyone could piece this together with almost no effort.

  14. 14
    Ophelia Benson

    trinolier is ok with it. Could everybody please stop jumping on me? I didn’t know the location was supposed to be secret, I don’t see everything because there aren’t 60 hours in the day. This day has sucked already. Enough.

  15. 15
    Stacy

    Well, this post is complementary to the branch, and it doesn’t reveal trinioler’s identity, so unless I’m missing something there shouldn’t be a problem(?)

  16. 16
    Stacy

    I posted #15 before seeing #14, even.

  17. 17
    melody

    This is what we wanted to hear from CFI Canada. That’s what we should be focusing on.

  18. 18
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    I recently dealt with an issue like this on my blog, so I’m a bit nervous in that regard.

    I apologize, Ophelia…

  19. 19
    notanasshole

    So the asshole-riven CFI branch that has been destroyed by libertarians and does nothing about rampant misogyny in its Facebook group turns out to be a highly progressive group that has done a great deal to stamp out misogyny. I’d be shocked, if that weren’t exactly what I predicted. It’s a good thing everyone took a deep breath and waited for actual evidence before they accepted trinioler’s wild accusations wholesale. We wouldn’t want to just trash the reputation of a whole organization on the basis of malicious lies, would we?

    Oh wait. That’s exactly what you did. I expect the good people at CFI Canada would like to hear some apologies right about now.

  20. 20
    Aratina Cage

    We wouldn’t want to just trash the reputation of a whole organization on the basis of malicious lies, would we?

    Oh wait. That’s exactly what you did. –notanasshole

    Lies? Looks like what trinioler described actually happened but didn’t doom the organization because good people prevailed:

    We decided that rules had been broken and we issued warnings as a result. Unfortunately, the fighting and unacceptable comments didn’t magically disappear over night and the Facebook group continued to cause us problems, but we have tried — tried very hard — to make it better. We have not just ignored the problems. We worked on them and continue to do so. We have issued warnings and we banned someone who made threats in a different Facebook group. And our Facebook group is much better. It’s not perfect, but we’re working on it.

    Left out is just who broke the rules and who was warned and who was banned. Couldn’t some of those people be/have been in leadership positions?

  21. 21
    julian

    Wild accusations? Do you know what that means, notanasshole? Like, what would constitute a wild accusation?

  22. 22
    notanasshole

    Lies? Looks like what trinioler described actually happened but didn’t doom the organization because good people prevailed

    Let’s refresh our memories about what, exactly, “trinioler said”.

    Okay, so, people believe that the slyme pitters are just trolls on “the internet”. Well, disabuse yourselves of that notion.

    Here’s the thesis. It’s not just trolls on the internet.

    So, we have a local CFI branch. It started out as fairly libertarian, focused on laughing at creationists, etc.

    So, some of the original organizers were the branch of libertarian skeptics/atheists we are having so much trouble with now.

    Not sure what’s so libertarian about laughing at creationists, but let’s move on.

    Now, given that, what impact does this have now? Well, its had a pretty severe impact, as several of the younger organizers (nearly all women) have left CFI or stopped participating.

    Have online trolls have driven younger female organizers away from CFI? Doesn’t sound like it. A few may have moved away from a Facebook group, but they are as active as ever. (I’ll assume that what Zena says is true, since she gives clear details, and there has been no denial.)

    The Facebook page for the branch is filled with assholes who mislead, lie, make comments about breasts, lie, use slurs willy-nilly, etc,

    The Facebook group is full of misogynist trolls. Sure. We’ve established that there are lots of online trolls.

    and no one stops them anymore.

    Lies? I’d say so. Sounds like they are doing a lot to stop them. Pretty successfully I think, given that nobody could find any evidence of such comments.

    Everyone who had fought them, while getting in trouble for “causing trouble” has left.

    Unless you count the people who clearly are still fighting, and winning.

    Essentially by NOT throwing out the racists, the sexists, the ones who lie and mislead and are not skeptical at all, they’ve lost most of the next generation of skeptical organizers. They’ve lost volunteers and dues-paying members.

    Evidence needed. From Zena’s description, it does not sound like they have lost many, if any, volunteers. At most, they’ve lost a few ‘likes’ on a Facebook page.

    In effect, they’ve doomed the local CFI branch, which could have been and was starting to do good things.

    I don’t know what they were doing before, but this doesn’t sound like a branch on its deathbed. It sounds like a thriving branch, doing just the kind of activist work Atheism+ is supposed to promote. I wish my local CFI branch were this engaged with social justice work.

    THIS is the cost. THIS is the divisiveness. You lose willing and hard-working young volunteers, who want and expect better from the leaders. You turn them apathetic and cynical. They burn out from the fighting, without a lack of support.

    The leaders here seem to be leading by shining example. Let’s give Zena Ryder a fricking medal for fighting so hard, not dump on her and the other leaders like this.

    So to whoever says this divisiveness is bad? It really is, for your organizations, not ours. It will cost you volunteers and members and energy, because you won’t do what’s necessary.

    Yes, it’s true that if local leaders don’t stand up in this way, it is divisive, and will drive people away. But it is just as divisive to slam an organization that is doing everything right with baseless accusations like this. How many people read trinioler’s comment and decided they didn’t want to get involved with an organization like that? Since the branch wasn’t identified, it could be anywhere in Canada. How many potential members have been lost in Ottawa? In Vancouver? In Toronto?

  23. 23
    Stacy

    We wouldn’t want to just trash the reputation of a whole organization on the basis of malicious lies, would we?

    Oh wait. That’s exactly what you did.

    That’s not a fair description of what happened.

    Somebody saying “I saw an unnamed branch of an organization overrun by trolls” is not “trashing the reputation of a whole organization.”

    Especially when the accusation is immediately corrected the minute more information comes in.

    How many people read trinioler’s comment and decided they didn’t want to get involved with an organization like that?

    And how many have read Zena’s and now do want to?

    ~~~

    Suggestion: Ophelia, you could add a note onto the “What Trinioler Said” post, and link to this one.

  24. 24
    Aratina Cage

    @notanasshole

    Let’s refresh our memories about what, exactly, “trinioler said”.

    Now that is a laugh because after reading your “I told you so!” comment here, I went back and read what you wrote and then what trinioler wrote, and you are wrong about predicting anything and wrong about it being a lie as I QUOTED from Zena Ryder above. The rest is just you not thinking this through: if trinioler was driven off the groups Facebook page and away from the group by the sexist trolls, then how would trinioler know it was being (i.e., ongoing) dealt with?

    I will agree with you on this part:

    Let’s give Zena Ryder a fricking medal for fighting so hard, not dump on her

    Yes, let’s!! It was already said above, but this is how you respond to this kind of thing. Thank you Zena Ryder!

  25. 25
    julian

    if trinioler was driven off the groups Facebook page and away from the group by the sexist trolls, then how would trinioler know it was being (i.e., ongoing) dealt with?

    Exactly.

    Skeptics like notanasshole are why I’m finding it increasingly annoying hanging out a skeptic boards. They have a couple of “gotchas” that spares them having to actually look at an issue or situation.

    trinioler reported the situation that drove her from the community. You could offer (somewhat legitmately) criticism for not checking to see what the community was currenty like or what was being done. But that’s irrelevant to the main thrust of trinioler’s point that “trolls” can come to dominate a space (a new page even had to be formed because the old one was unsalvageable) and drive out active members.

    And no, notanasshole, explicit detail in someone’s account is not evidence in their favor. It makes a story more readily verifiable. It makes the account much easier to fact check but it doesn’t offer any points in the speaker’s favor. You perceive it as more reliable because we’re easily wowed by detail and respond positively to forceful clear speech but that’s it.

    Yes, let’s!! It was already said above, but this is how you respond to this kind of thing. Thank you Zena Ryder!

    Aye. Very heartening to hear (though knowing me I’d probably just tick all these people off :p)

  26. 26
    trinioler

    To clarify, yes, there were attempts to clean out the assholes.

    It wasn’t until after these two posts that things actually changed. Moderators decided to actually enforce the rules, and banned two people, which triggered an exodus of the rest.

    They’re now in their own complaining about “uneven” adminstration, power-hungry mods, and us being fascists.

  27. 27
    Zena Ryder

    What trinioler said in comment #26 is a misrepresentation. Trinioler was obviously unhappy with the fact that almost nobody had been banned until very recently, and trinioler is right that the admin team of CFI-[branch omitted at trinioler's request] were probably not decisive enough sooner – but we’re learning and we’re trying, and we’ve been trying for some time. It’s HARD to ban people – because decent people generally want to give other people the benefit of the doubt and give them an opportunity to learn to behave better. We want them to learn to refrain from making sexist comments, we want them to learn to refrain from being hostile and disrespectful – without having to wield the ban hammer. Trinioler’s misrepresentation is to say that we did nothing before and that only now are we doing anything. Our admin team has been working on our Facebook discussion group’s issues for a few months, as trinioler is aware.

    But trinioler is correct that we have been inspired to take more decisive action after his comment and my response to it. That’s the good that has come of his misrepresentations of our work, and for that I am grateful. A number of members of our admin team were inspired to take more decisive action – and to ban a couple more people from the Facebook group – in order to build on our previous work, and not let it go to waste. (Whereas I personally was inclined to give up and ditch the discussion page.) So in that respect, there’s some truth to what trinioler says. I wish he could have stated the *whole* truth.

    Our Facebook discussion group has over 130 people in it, and the vast majority of those who participate in discussions do so in a respectful manner. They do not make sexist comments, they do not behave in a hostile, aggressive fashion. Having rules for decent online interaction is not an issue for most people in our discussion group, and the vast majority of them have no problem following the rules. I am pleased that (despite my own pessimism about it working) other people in our admin team have badly wanted a Facebook discussion group to work and are putting a lot of effort into making it somewhere that CFI can be proud of. We’ll still run into problems, of course, but we are on the right road – and have been for some time, despite trinioler’s misrepresentation.

    I generally do not read blogs (sorry, Ophelia!) and I really don’t wish to spend more time commenting further on this issue, even if trinioler has more to say.

  28. 28
    Zena Ryder

    PS I’d also quickly like to add that the participants in our Facebook discussion group should of course take much of the credit for making it a great discussion group! The admins work hard, but without the engaged participants, there would be no lively, interesting conversations.

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