September 30, 2014 by aggiesez
Since its creation in early 2013, I’ve been very active in the original Facebook group for singleish & solo poly people. In fact, I’ve been part of the moderating team since the beginning, helping it grow to nearly 3100 members.
But I haven’t been a moderator there for a week now, and as of last night I am no longer even a member. Neither change was by my choice or my doing.
Here’s what happened, why I think the recent dramatic (but so far publicly unacknowledged) changes to that group are highly problematic for its members, and why I’ll be participating in a new Facebook group for solo poly people — where I welcome readers of this blog, members of the original Facebook group, and others interested in discussing solo polyamory to join me.
THE SHORT VERSION: There was a difference of opinion between the moderators of the original solo poly Facebook group that led to the sudden, unilateral eviction of the moderator team by the sole remaining moderator.
The original moderator team has launched a new solo poly Facebook group and invites you to join: Facebook.com/groups/solopoly
When Joreth Innkeeper created the original Singleish & Solo Poly Facebook group, she immediately invited my fellow blogger Polly Singleish and I to co-moderate that group with her. Polly and I both greatly respected Joreth’s writing and leadership in the poly community. She was one of a handful of early leading voices of solo polyamory. We jumped on board instantly and enthusiastically, since we agreed with Joreth that there was a strong need for discussions with this particular focus. The vast majority online discourse on polyamory is from a couple-centric (and often hierarchical) perspective; solo poly people needed a space to find their own voice and sense of community.
We all knew that fostering a solo poly online community would take significant effort and time — much more than it takes to simply create a Facebook group. “If you build it, they will come” only works in the movies. Joreth acknowledged this challenge, and that her own time and energy was very limited. Still she did what she could to publicize, participate in, and grow the group. As did Polly and I.
Over time, that group grew to nearly 3100 members — and it gained a reputation for being one of the most thoughtful and high-quality polyamory forums on Facebook or anywhere. This was due, first of all, to the enthusiasm and support of the group’s members — many of whom were thrilled to finally and easily have frank discussions with their solo poly peers, or to have a welcoming place to learn more about solo polyamory.
Good discussion groups rarely pop out of thin air. Behind the scenes and visibly in the group’s discussions, the moderator team was hard at work.
Our main strategies to foster high-quality discussion and a welcoming environment, which evolved collaboratively, were:
- All new members had to be approved by moderators. A moderator checked each and every applicant profile to filter out obvious spammers, as well as people who appeared mainly interested in seeking random hookups.
- All new discussion threads on the group had to be approved by a moderator, to ensure that every thread bore clear, specific relevance to solo polyamory. Every day, we worked privately with members to tweak their proposed posts to keep things on-topic.
- Most of the moderators participated very actively in the discussions: starting threads, liking and commenting on posts by members, answering questions, sharing our own experiences.
- When it became obvious that the group needed clear some guidance and policies, we invited member input and posted that information publicly as documents to the group (as well as in the welcome note each new member received).
…Yeah, that was a lot of work. Especially after Polly and I initiated a big outreach push a couple of months after the group’s creation, when membership ballooned.
All three of the original moderators started getting overwhelmed with the effort. We had a constant backlog of new member requests to process, and proposed threads to review and home. That backlog caused delays that frustrated members.
So we put out a call to expand our moderator team. And we were pleased to welcome aboard, over a few months, Mislav Mahronic, Alan Escreet, and Michael Fleming. Between the six of us, the moderator team kept the group humming along, even when some of us needed to step back sometimes due to other commitments. Over time, we all contributed enough effort.
One of the best parts of the moderator team was that we collaborated so well. We deliberately included moderators who offered a variety of styles, so we could learn from each other. Sometimes we disagreed with each other, or weren’t sure how to make a judgment call regarding a member applicant, post, or comment. We’d discuss privately how to make a decision for the greatest good, to foster an inclusive, supportive but focused environment. And most of the time we all collaborated well toward that goal.
We moderators are human, too, with unique sensitivities and strengths. Sometimes our own personal buttons would get pushed, and we’d privately talk each other off the ledge to encourage constructive behavior in ourselves as well as the group’s members.
…Until a few months ago.
In some threads on the group, members voiced perspectives or raised questions that triggered Joreth’s personal hot buttons. While we all admire her articulateness and forthrightness, her comments on some threads became markedly aggressive, even bullying.
This concerned the rest of the moderator team because it was starting to have a chilling effect on the group. That wasn’t just a theoretical risk; increasingly members were privately telling the moderators that they were now more reluctant to participate because they didn’t want to be attacked.
Behind-the-scenes we tried to discuss this problem with Joreth, to help her find nondestructive ways to make her points. Our goal was to make it safe for all members (including moderators) to air their views and share their experiences, and to foster civility among the inevitable disagreements.
Joreth was, unfortunately, not receptive to this effort to negotiate. She responded with defensiveness and hostility to our private discussions, and her occasional aggressive public outbursts on the group kept recurring.
Eventually, this sparked the moderator team began to privately discuss creating a code of conduct for the moderators — basically to clarify the expectation that our behavior on the group would be at least as good as what we were asking of our members. That we would strive to be at least civil, and that we’d discuss more extreme admin options (such as deleting threads or comments, or even removing members) as a team before taking action.
Polly took the initiative to draft up a moderator code of conduct, based on similar documents from other successful moderated discussion forums. Most of the moderators suggested edits. But Joreth did not participate, despite repeated invitations to this process. We left this process unconcluded for a few weeks, to give Joreth and everyone some time to chill out and think things over.
Last week, my fellow moderators learned that Joreth had suddenly removed admin status from all of us; leaving herself as sole moderator for the group. There was no discussion, or even warning, of this; she took this sudden action unilaterally.
Joreth made no mention of this change to the group. No posts to the group acknowledging or questioning this matter were approved for publication. So this change has been effectively concealed from the group’s members. We remained as members, but we stopped participating in the group to see what would unfold.
Joreth did send a final private missive to the moderator team. In it she expressed her indignance at being asked to behave more moderately. She saw this not just as a personal attack, but as a usurpation of power. From her perspective, since she originally set up the Facebook group, she “owns” it, and thus has an absolute right to impose her will on group discussions. (With the implication: even if this includes bullying members who disagree with her. Even if this includes removing her fellow moderators.)
While her note mentioned vaguely that our admin status suspension was “temporary,” after a week her refusal of further discussion looked pretty permanent to us.
Joreth did have an underlying good intention here. In her message to her former co-moderators, she said that she created the original solo poly Facebook group mainly in order to make a safe space for herself. Most poly discussion groups are not very welcoming, friendly to, or aware of solo polyamory. Also, most poly discussion groups have ongoing problems with maintaining the focus and quality of discussion. Joreth reasoned that whatever preserves her personal sense of safety in the group would generally support the goals of the group.
All of the former moderators of the original group agree that creating a safe space for solo poly people is important. Where we differ with Joreth is that we believe that space should be reasonably and equally safe for all members (including but not limited to moderators); and that disagreement is good and should be handled constructively.
Last night, after returning from a short off-the-grid holiday, I checked in on the original solo poly Facebook group and contacted my co-moderators to see if there had been any improvement in the situation. None of us had heard from Joreth at all since her parting missive. Also no new members had been approved to the original group (usually dozens of applicants got processed per week). However, Joreth had begun approving a few discussion threads unrelated to the admin change — which is good, since historically she’s rarely had time to handle any admin duties for the group.
I noticed a post to the group about an update to the public list of the group’s moderators. That document, as of last night, still listed all of the original team as active moderators. The only change was that Joreth now denoted herself as “owner and creator.”
Concerned that this was misrepresenting to members the current nature of the group’s management, I posted a comment: “Currently, this list of moderators is inaccurate. At the moment, Joreth is the only moderator of this group.”
A few minutes later, I noticed that my comment wasn’t visible on the post. Sometimes Facebook chokes, so I tried again, and confirmed that my comment was published.
… Then it disappeared. Only a moderator can delete comments to group posts.
I sent Joreth a private message asking if she was willing to discuss this, but got no response. Twice more I posted my comment; twice more it was deleted.
After that, I found I could no longer access the group. Joreth had apparently removed me as a member.
This is what happens sometimes with online forums: They have their moment in the sun and run well, and then they go off the rails. Such is life on the internet.
The original solo poly Facebook group had a really great run, which is why I put so much effort into it — nearly every day, for well over a year. And now my part of that great run is over.
I don’t regret my efforts, although I do wish Joreth had disclosed her full intentions for the group up front, when she invited me to co-moderate. Had I realized that I would be perceived more as expendable manual labor assistance than a valued colleague and collaborator, I would have declined Joreth’s request to help her get that group off the ground.
Life moves on. Polly and the rest of the evicted moderators have launched a new Facebook group for solo poly and singleish folk. Here we’ll foster a community that functions as we told members the original group would function.
Yes, creating a new and seemingly duplicative group does pose a risk. It looks confusing. (We definitely need more branding differentiation; that will emerge.) And, if members of the original group remain deprived of information about the existence of and reason for the shift, it can seem needlessly divisive and dramatic. We definitely have some ‘splainin to do. Hence, this blog post.
While many of the most active members of the original Facebook group have already joined us in the new group, that’s a small fraction of the original community. Starting a community over from scratch is always slow, hard work, and it may fizzle. It’s risky. We feel it’s worth trying.
The best possible outcome is that both groups will eventually thrive, developing and differentiating their unique culture and sense of community. One thing we learned is that there are a LOT of solo poly people, and even more people who are interested in learning more about solo polyamory. That’s a great and encouraging discovery. There’s probably room enough for both groups.
Realistically, both groups require a lot of moderator time and attention. In the new group, the team is willing to keep that up. In the original group, hopefully Joreth will be able to make that happen as well. We wish her success with that and bear her no ill will.
Personally, I was disappointed to trip over a major undisclosed condition set up by my former co-moderator. I believe in full disclosure up front of the terms of any relationship, including the formation of a moderator team.
It’s likely if Joreth continues to allow the original group to continue to exist, if she doesn’t let it die on the vine or open it to become a lower-value free-for-all, she’ll need new moderators to help with the workload. This post is, in part, a nudge to those potential moderator candidates to ask Joreth for full disclosure about their perceived role, and how much their voice would really count in that relationship.
Finally, I do wish to acknowledge the many positive contributions Joreth made to the original group: through her posts and comments as well as moderator team deliberations. And while any Facebook user can create a group in minutes, Joreth did take the initiative to create that group, and to invite the help needed for it to flourish, and to contribute what she could to that community. I continue to respect her work, and her as a person, despite this sudden unfortunate turn of events. While I think it’s time for me to move on to help build a new and complementary solo poly community, I hope she does well in her community, work and life.
If you have questions or observations on this matter, please comment below, email me, or message Aggie Sez on Facebook. Or contact any of the moderators of the new group.
You may also try contacting Joreth directly or asking about this matter on the original Facebook group. So far such efforts haven’t gotten anywhere, but hopefully that may change.
We encourage you to share the link to this post, and to the new group, to members of the original group. You may need to do that by private FB message.
Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you on the new Solo Poly Facebook group.
NOTE: This post does not reflect information available on the original Facebook group since the early morning hours of September 30, when my membership was revoked.