DU Boothill

A fellowship of unjustly "tombstoned" DemocraticUnderground members. We use this space to talk about our feelings in reaction to the experience of first joining in the wonderful DU community and then expelled with no warning, no reason given and no response to our pleas for reinstatement. We feel this constitutes Anti-Democracy by DU Admin.

JBIE &/or another TombStoned Friend on

Sunday, January 02, 2005

What's Up with DU?

I was a member of DU for about six weeks until I was "tombstoned" two weeks ago for reasons only the admins at DU know.

My tombstoning occurred on the weekend of what another banned DU'er termed the "Saturday Night Massacre". During that weekend, and for several days prior, at least 10 good DU members were banned, and none of them were given prior warning or were given reasons after the fact.

For me, the most striking aspect of DU was the overwhelming distrust long-time members had of "newbies". This distrust seemed almost impossible to overcome as any dissenting viewpoint a new member posted was typically torn apart by those members who did not agree, with comments about the poster such as "low poster", "disruptor", and "freeper". This was so common, in fact, that an admin stepped in while I was there and posted a message about not "calling out" newbies. While I have since learned that this behavior is by no means limited to DU, it is my opinion that it is exaggerated there, and I believe it is aided and abetted by the admins and moderators themselves.

DU has a policy that indicates that a member may be banned at any time, and for any reason, soley at the discretion of the "administration". On the surface, this is certainly a reasonable policy as this is a political board, and, as such, there are bound to be members who sign up for the sole purpose of degrading and debunking the threads posted there. These types of members usually "blow their cover" fairly early on, and no one is surprised when they find these members have been banned. The problem with this policy, however, is that, as in my own case, a member can be banned for ANY reason, and, unfortunately, the rules are so vague that it is impossible to know just what (if any) rule was violated. The "offending" member is banned under mysterious conditions, and the remaining membership is left wondering what happened to that member.

From what I could see, this practice led to more distrust and paranoia, because, if a seemingly "good" member was banned (and, of course "we know we should trust the judgement of the admins"), then "how do we know that we can trust anyone here"? This effect is compounded when, as is typical, the admins do not provide any reason or justification to the banee, and remaining members continue to be in contact with that ex-member. The thinking might then be "I had better be very careful because I don't want whatever it was happening to me". Of course, since the "whatever it was" is unknown, it is not difficult to imagine that some might tend not to post important opinions or news because the pall of secrecy has effectively censored them in advance.

The banned member is left dealing with confusion, loss, and anger -- feelings that are a direct result of, or compounded by, being rejected for no apparent reason.

If we look at how DU is set up, there is yet another problem with "banishment at will". While many of us are employed under the same conditions (firing at will), there is one very distinct difference between employment and DU membership -- the employer pays the employee, but at DU, the members pay for the website and it's operations through voluntary donations. And, these donations entitle the member to privileges not available to those who do not donate such as use of the search feature and being able to post in certain forums. Each donation grants the member a full year of privileges, and, after my banishment, I wondered why my recent donation was not refunded. I no longer have the privileges a donation grants, so, it would make sense that my donation should no longer be used to help run a website I can't participate in.

There's more. There is a forum entitled "Ask the Admins" in which members post direct questions to the administrators. I have seen members, time-and-again, be chastised there for posting what a particular admin subjectively considered either a disrespectful inquiry, or one in which the tone appeared disrespectful. I am a big proponent of treating others with respect, and, in fact, this orientation was very much a part of my posting behavior at DU. But, what I don't understand is how the admins can demand respect from the members when, in fact, they afford members no such thing. It is very disrespectful to terminate a membership without so much as a brief explanation. It is disrespectful in several ways: (1) It is treating the member like a non-entity, and (2) It does not afford the member an opportunity to defend against the reasons (real or imaginary).

As a mother, I can vouch for the fact that, even in dealing with very small children, I respected them enough to provide an explanation for a punishment such as a "time out". The DU admins, on the other hand, seem to think that they owe no one respect, but, they, by virtue of site ownership and administration, deserve and demand nothing less. Is this a democracy? Sure doesn't sound like it.

Another problem, which goes hand-in-hand with respect, is DU's apparent refusal to honor the First Amendment rights of each member. Given the degree of censorship I personally witnessed wherein posts and entire threads were deleted without explanation, it seems that DU doesn't think these constitutional rights apply to it's members. And, if a member questions these actions, one runs the risk of being banned. I personally know of a few people whose last actions at DU were those of questioning the admins on why another member was banned. While they received no explanation from the admins, it isn't too far fetched to assume that they were considered "disruptors" simply because they questioned the "powers that be".

DU could be a great board as there are many members there who are very serious about improving the democratic party, and who actively engage in worthwhile endeavors. There are some very intelligent posters who challenge lazy thinking, and who I felt honored to "know". In addition, it is the members who make any board what it is, and therefore members should be considered important in determining the success or failure of a given community. But, at DU, the administration determines what should and should not be spoken about, and it is the administration that arbitrarily decides who is or is not a disruptor, often disregarding the thoughts and feelings of the community at large. The overall membership is therefore not the problem at DU, but, it is, rather, the way the board is run.

Since each member has the opportunity to become a donating member, each member should also have the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process of DU. This would include allowing members to vote on rules, and it would include providing members with a means of appeal if they find that their posts are deleted, or if they find that they are banned. DU does have an informal (and superficial) "appeal" process, but, as noted above, they largely do not honor it as most of their disciplinary actions are performed with no interaction with the perceived "offender". In a truly democratic board, this would not happen as the membership would hold the admins responsible to demonstrate that their actions were fair and unbiased. And, if the DU admins do not agree with this type of democratic environment, then they should not solicit funds from their members, or they should solicit them with the warning that DU does not refund donations, and that the donation does not entitle the member to fair or democratic treatment.

While my association with DU was very unpleasant, I now realize that it is just one more board in a sea of websites, and as such, it is neither more or less important than any other. It is good to be able to choose to belong to boards that are respectful of their members as this is what America is all about -- the freedom to choose, and the freedom to say "No". And, it is also possible to collaborate with like-minded people to create a new board -- one that is truly democratic, and one that can effectively contribute to this great country of ours.

This is what I intend to do.

9 Comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought you wrote an excellent OpEd intelle! Obviously we have a somewhat different take on some of the issues with DU and one thing I was encouraged by this week was the reinstatement by TruthIsAll and RandomKoolzip. Instead of out and out tombstoning people in cases like this they could just give them a time out as you mention. That makes a lot of sense. Here's hoping that in this new year we'll find a way to reconcile with DU and improve the quality of interactions and working relatioships across all the progressive movement. Only by doing this will we be able to defeat the NeoFascist coup.

JamBoi

8:53 PM  
Anonymous said...

I agree that it was a good thing that the two old-time posters you mention were reinstated. But, they were old-timers, Jamboi. I think there is some discrimination against new members there, as I mentioned, and I think that the admins also discriminate. They provided reasons for banishment to the two reinstated members -- they did not provide the same to us.

I wouldn't count on reinstatement. But, what I would like to count on is that we can make a difference ourselves, and DU is not a necessary vehicle in order to accomplish this.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous said...

The trouble with DU is that it is way too big a forum, and they have far too many moderators who can just ban people for whatever reason.

The site has mostly become a joke, although it still has some use for me in providing links to obscure sites and the like.

I lurk there only for that reason. My opinions would NOT be welcome there because I do not subscribe to a lot of their thinking, although I am a liberal.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous said...

While I agree DU practices censorhip on a near-constant basis, I disagree with the premise that it is a violation of anyone's First Amendment rights. Congress made no law abridging your freedom of speech, the owner of the website simply decided not to allow you to express yourself on his property. The Constitution does not say that private owners are required to provide you a platform from which to exercise your right to free speech. It's no different than if someone was standing on your front porch loudly proclaiming that dogs should have the same constitutional protections as humans. Sure, they have a right to say it, but you also have the right to throw them off your property and make them say it somewhere else.

That was really my only point of dissent with your post. I've been banned from DU (although for good reason, I was only there to disrupt them) and fully believe they are almost all completely without any sense of reality.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous said...

Kevin, your analogy isn't apt. We're not on David "Skinner" Allen's front porch. He represents DU as a public forum and uses it to solicit donations to operate it as a cooperative, of sorts, enfranchising members financially to make it their "front porch," too. Or, think about if you went to a McDonald's and the clerk took the money for your order, then the owner came out and threw you out without your food or refund because he decided he didn't like something about you that he wouldn't say.

I can sympathize with Intelle because I'm also a harmless, well-meaning mom who was "revoked" after a couple of weeks and posts I can count on one hand -- all positive, breaking no rules. I agree with all you say here, Intelle.

I asked and pleaded for understanding in email to Allen and didn't even get the courtesy of a reply. A friend of his I'm acquainted with tried to intervene: nada. I tried a new logon with my daughter's email: one post and "revoked" (I think my post, which gave a link to enhance someone's idea, was deleted, too!) I used my son's email AND computer: "revoked" before even posting once.

It makes me wonder, even worry, if Allen has the capacity to spy on our very computer line into our home. Is he tombstoning the member or the computer name (how would he get that) or the IP address? Would he unknowingly be banning nearly every comcast.net email (our server changes IP addresses automatically either daily or weekly)?

It matters, because some people ask questions I can answer. I'm in a position to be uniquely helpful in a few topic areas. There's a lot of good dialog going on at DU, and the members who are allowed to post don't know help is right behind a door that was closed on our faces.

I, too, donated money to use the search engine and was almost immediately revoked. I emailed several requests for my money back, without reply. So, I found Allen's phone number and left a message saying he needed to respond or my next step was to report him to my credit card fraud unit. (I would hate to do that to him -- Allen obviously has some emotional, paranoia problems -- but what he's doing isn't legal where he solicits money on false pretenses.)

The same day, he emailed me that my credit card would be refunded (I haven't checked yet to see if it was). But, he would tell me nothing still about why he won't let me on DU!

I know without a doubt I never violated any rule. Did I reply positively to someone who he later declared offensive and get swept out, too? This is nuts!

Allen is hanging himself with this arbitrary tombstoning thing. He has forgotten who is the enemy and is dismissing friends he may need someday. Thanks for setting up a place for us to vent, Jamboi.

Here's Allen's phone and office listed in the domain registry, if you want to try to get your "donation" back, Intelle:
1612 20th Street, NW, Suite 401
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: 202-667-2404

6:53 PM  
Anonymous said...

Thank you, anyone, for your comments and the information about Skinner.

I, too, have been wondering about what method DU uses to "flesh out" former bannees. As you mention, it can't simply be IP addresses because these addresses can be dynamic. I do know that the site plants a cookie even if you just visit. I recently installed some good spyware, and, everytime I visit the site, it removes a cookie. I wonder if the cookie has something to do with it.

I can't imagine that they are banning all comcast.net email addresses, although mine is also a comcast.net address.

I do wonder if they possess private information about us that we haven't given consent for. And, if so, is there anything that be done about it?

12:28 AM  
Anonymous said...

It's not cookies. The "revoked" comes up on three different computers in my home. Three weeks ago, one suddenly lost .dlls and the other caught a virus first ID'd in forums in November but unknown to any AV company.

So, I tried again with both computers totally reformatted, renamed, everything....revoked within 5 minutes of setting up an account on a new email address. WTF?

Unless he's just banning anyone from comcast.net, Allen seems to have some kind of very unusual accessibility. Very, very unusual, indeed. This isn't adding up.

I can think of no reason in the world he'd have a grudge against me, if he is who he says he is.

8:28 PM  
Anonymous said...

Anyone, don't you think it was probably just your IP number they were tracking???

JamBoi

2:06 PM  
Anonymous said...

The IP, yes, maybe, but only in as much as he'd be blocking random Comcast users, because Comcast IPs are dynamic. Our IP changes continually, at least weekly.

Intelle says she has Comcast for Internet, too, so that moves up on my list of possibilities.

But, in some of the several emails I sent David "Skinner" Allen, I suggested that if he's using IPs, he's blocking innocent Comcast customers and, more importantly, is NOT blocking the one he wants to bar. Mr. Passive "Skinner" Agressive didn't reply, of course.

Somewhat higher on my list of possibilities is that he has some extraordinary (to me, not too computer savvy) access to ID us, and that I got swept out in DU's krystallnacht.

Guilt by association tops my list of possibilities.

I likely made a post the night you, JamBoi, had a live onlive thing going with reporter Wayne Madsen. I have useful sources in the bid-rigging scheme. Of course, I had no direct contact with you until now.

Also, the night he banned Bev Harris, I made a post pleading for cool heads and tolerance of members with different means to the same ends. But I have no connection to Bev, either. In fact, Bev spiked the one post I made there, too -- guess she didn't like hearing the truth that her organization needed to take criticisms seriously and communicate better.

When did the left get such thin skins? Hasn't anyone ever heard of the "divide and conquer" war strategy, or read Lincoln's "a house divided cannot stand"?

My opinions are merely my own, and my skin is thick if Skinner or anyone else wants to say I'm full of crap. My few attempts to post were almost exclusively factual references to other sources, though.

I really resent being "revoked." I even offered, in my phone message, to fully ID myself to him or a member of his staff confidentially, but his passive-aggressive nonreply told me to fuck off. So, I find I don't even go there often anymore.

It's a shame for DU, and stupid on Skinner's part, because little does he know he is keeping out someone with access to information that is frequently valuable to his members' interests.

5:40 AM  

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