ONLINE COMMUNITY AND BULLIES: A STORY & APOLOGY
I want to share with you what I think is the worst mistake I ever made in facilitating an online community. Other online community facilitators and moderators out there: TAKE HEED!
My mistake was I tolerated a bully.
First, some background. I facilitate an amazing online community (I say amazing not because I’m running it but because of the quality of the members). It’s called The Lasting Supper (TLS). It is mainly for those who are disillusioned with the church or with their beliefs or with their faith or with all three. Many have experienced abuse, especially spiritual abuse, and some have not. But we all share a common, deep desire to be spiritually independent. Basically, it’s made up of those who are deconstructing or who already have. We are incredibly diverse, from church-going believers to atheists to agnostics to everywhere in between. We all get along great. I love it. It has been a lifesaver for me and for many others.
A few years ago we had a crisis in TLS. Without going into detail, I let a man stay in TLS longer than I should have. The community experiencing some conflict. He displayed inappropriate behavior towards women in the community by privately messaging them to express his anger with them. This man was expressing his opinion in ways that was aggressive and frightening to the women he was privately contacting. Hoping he would quickly change, I allowed him to stay too long. He made some women feel unsafe. In fact, I now believe his behavior traumatized them. I tried to moderate the conflict but failed. Many of us knew him and thought that deep inside he was harmless and that he would change. In fact, he terrorized some women before he was removed. That was my mistake. I was wrong. I need to own that. I’m so, so sorry.
We lost members: some because they no longer felt safe, and others because they were removed for bullying others.
I learned a huge lesson. Now, my policy is decisive. TLS needs to feel as safe as possible for people to freely express themselves without fear of being attacked. Especially women! It is not a place for people to be educated on how to be safe or to rehabilitate those who’ve proven they aren’t. In other words, it’s not a place for bullies in any way. TLS is to be safe, period!
Should there be groups for repentant bullies who want to change and rehabilitate? I think so, but it has to be the expressed purpose of the group, and all the members have to be clear that this is the purpose so that true education and hopefully lasting change can occur.
However, TLS is not that kind of group! We cannot tolerate bullies at all, ever! I suppose some of us still had religious residue clinging to us that perpetrators should be forgiven and reinstated as soon as possible and that victims should forgive and forget to speedily facilitate this process.
Wrong! I now know that as soon as a person exhibits unsafe and bullying behavior, they are swiftly removed from the group. I may try to help them privately, but their membership in the group is terminated.
TLS is a new kind of thing. It’s much safer now. There are other groups similar to TLS, I’m sure. But TLS is unique in that members are investing in a safe place to be themselves on their journey to spiritual independence. Even though it was launched six years ago, we’re still learning how to do it well. I want it to be perfect, and that takes progress. I’m so sorry people got hurt in this process. I lost some good friends. That episode was a huge and painful lesson for me. But I did learn the lesson: bullying will not be tolerated. Zero tolerance! Otherwise, the safety of the group is compromised, and we can’t have that at all.
For other community facilitators out there, please don’t learn the hard way if you haven’t already. Put this policy into effect right now. Zero tolerance for bullies. Do not compromise this.
Thanks for listening and for hopefully accepting my apology.