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I had an experience with "The Christian Left" over the weekend that I'd like to share with you. A good friend of mine (who happens to be an atheist) was a member of this Facebook group and sent me an instant message Saturday morning telling me he had been banned from the group. I was stunned. I've known Mike for several years (as well as you can know anybody solely through Facebook) and while he is an atheist, he's not one of those atheists. Mike has always been respectful of Christianity (and all faiths) in his posts on his wall, my wall and mutual friends' walls. Mike has always been pretty supportive of Christianity often responding positively to my posts about my church, etc. So, when I heard he had been kicked off of The Christian Left I wondered what the misunderstanding could possibly have been. Mike told me that he had asked some questions about a posting on their wall- it was a clip from Dumb and Dumber and the people who posted (the Christian Left moderators?) had compared the characters from the movie to the Bush family. Mike apparently questioned the tastefulness of this posting and instead of receiving answers to his inquiry which included the biting question "Which reading of the gospels leads to the conclusion you should mock those you disagree with?" (or something to that effect). We'll never know because not only was Mike's comment purged from their wall, they dumped him from their roles and he's not allowed to post there any longer. Mike has sent emails to them and gotten no reply.
My first reaction was I was going to quit the group because I really wasn't reading a lot of their posts or interacting there anyway. But, having over 60,000 members, I knew simply "disliking" their page wouldn't serve any purpose. So, I decided to add a comment to a post which was already there asking about why someone would be booted off the way Mike was. That comment did not draw a response. So, I created my own post asking three questions. I don't recall them verbatim and I can't find them (you'll know why in a moment). I asked "Are atheists welcome here?", "Is respectful dissension allowed here?" and "What type of infraction would lead to someone being booted out of the group?" Again, I did not receive a response. I made some comments to a few people who responded to me, including one guy who said he is a gay atheist and a proud member of the group. That was encouraging. However, a few minutes later my friend Mike informed me it looked like I had been booted too. Sure enough, my comments were gone, the "Like" button was back on their page when I visited it and I can no longer comment there. Now, I asked if atheists were welcome there because one person, apparently speaking for TCL had made the remark something to the effect that the only reason an atheist would be there would be to make converts or stir up trouble. I asked about the dissension because that seemed to be why Mike was booted.
I posted an account of this on my Facebook. Two friends decided to ask questions about their policies and what had happened. Long story short. They were both booted too. No warnings. No explanations and not a lot of time. The moderators there are quick no the trigger. No longer than a few minutes to purge any of our posts and our names.
After this little skirmish, we at least got the acknowledgement (indirectly) that we had gotten their attention. They reposted this blog post stating The Christian Left is a "troll free page". The policy reads, in part:
Trolls will be banned from the group without warning. It just has to be that way. We realize there are plenty of people here who aren't "Christian" or maybe aren't even "Liberal." We've talked to many of them. They are here because they enjoy the page. They aren't here to taunt us. People who come here to taunt us or talk down to us because they have all the right-wing answers (or for any other reason) will be banned. Sorry, we're not changing this policy. It's a flat out waste to time to debate with them. We have far bigger things to accomplish. As we've said before, if right-wingers want to have a polite discussion and ask questions, that's a whole different cup of tea. Frankly, we haven't met very many right-wingers like this. They usually know it all and are not open for discussion of any kind. We've seen what they've done to other pages like ours. They move in, take over, and the whole thing becomes a big mud fight of endless one-upsmanship and bickering. Then the name calling starts. Not going to happen here.
This policy applies to Concern Trolls as well. For more on trolls, please see Troll (Internet) Concern Troll = "We're just concerned about the way you're running this page, and we think you need to X,Y,Z."
The Wiki article they refer defines a troll as:
In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[
Based on TCL's policy and their implementation of the policy, I do no think they understand what a troll is. Trolls exist and trolls must be dealt with. I have moderated more than one on-line message board and I have had to remove posts and twice remove "members". These were members who were not universalists (they were universalist) boards and who were only there to tell us how wrong we were. They engaged in personal attacks, off-topic messages and were warned numerous times to stop or be banned. They actually challenged me to ban them before I did because they really wanted to be banned.
TCL has the right to define a troll any way they want for their page. They have a right to implement their draconian policy of giving people zero chances before removal and zero explanation. After being banned a friend found an "amnesty application" that TCL has where we could apply to be reinstated. Uh, not gonna happen.
Us liberal Christians are few and far between (here in Southwest OH anyway). I was thrilled to find a group called "The Christian Left" and I've made several friend through this group even though I don't really participate on their page. Their page can be biting and there is a lot of criticism of the right on it. I get that. And, satire is rarely, if ever "respectful". The stuff Mike commented on was not necessarily over-the-top. My concern is this. By banning people and purging any record of their discussion, they are not giving a true representation of what is going on in the community. I am a liberal Christian and I have concerns about their policy and the way they implement it. But, their is no way for me to express that concern to other members of the community. I saw one place where the moderators compare their message board to their house and said something to the effect that you wouldn't allow someone to come in and trash your house. I think that is an extremely flawed analogy. Moderators don't own the message board, they run it for the good of the community. And, someone disagreeing with you or expressing "concern" (using their own word) is not trashing your house, he's trying to help you keep it clean.