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February 13, 2021 2:31 PM   Subscribe

How to set up a whisper network to warn of wreckers in a geographically far-flung, mostly virtual recovery group?

I belong to an international recovery group that has a governing body but whose activity mostly takes place at the small individual group level. Unlike AA, the governing body imposes a "no-ban" rule on its group leaders. "We NEVER remove people from meetings."

This policy, while it probably is in place to protect the international organization itself from lawsuits, does little to protect the trusted servants of individual groups from having their good names impugned and every decision and initiative second-guessed by... wreckers.

So, some of the groups I'm involved with or know about have attracted a wrecker type. More than one Zoom host has removed this person for activities like attempting to re-litigate group business during regular recovery group meetings, impugning the intentions and actions of the group leaders in the meeting chat, all kinds of fun stuff.

And the person is now busy trying to get those groups de-listed at the national and international levels. If this were AA, the de-listing would not take place, in respect of the Fourth Tradition. But it's not AA.

How can individual group leaders best protect themselves and their groups, and groups like theirs, against this kind of termitic activity?

The phrase "whisper network" comes to mind, but... how do you build a solid one? And how to protect against the ever-present risk (in the United States) of a defamation suit?

Tomorrow I am having a conversation with another group leader who has had to deal with this person. We'll talk about how we are moving forward as well as how to handle the matters discussed above. I will be saying very, very little specifically about the specific activity.
posted by Sheydem-tants to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've been in AA in the past. Still sober, just don't go to meetings anymore. I recall the chair at our meeting would say "If you've been drinking, we ask that you just listen." Can't you just mute this person if they are out of order and don't comply with requests to cease?
posted by rudd135 at 4:40 PM on February 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have to admit I'm a bit confused by this request, and it seems kind of over-the-top for a simple "we don't want this person in our virtual group" type thing.

Why is it not possibly to just say "your behavior has made you not welcome in our shared space" to this person, ban them, and leave it at that?

I mean, really, legal defamation? Lawsuits? "Impugning the good name" of virtual leaders? What on earth are we talking about, here? Is this Scientology or something? Why does a "recovery" group have such an international presence, governing body, and such local-level drama?
posted by erst at 5:37 PM on February 13, 2021 [38 favorites]

How can individual group leaders best protect themselves and their groups, and groups like theirs, against this kind of termitic activity?

Schism and form an international recovery group exactly like the first one, except without an ill-considered rule that you can't ever kick anyone out. Organizations that can't kick people out can't survive. What's to stop me from finding out about these meetings and deciding that they should be Shitposters For A Brighter Tomorrow meetings instead and inviting all my SFABT friends to brigade them? Sounds like getting delisted would actually be for the best.
posted by hades at 6:15 PM on February 13, 2021 [27 favorites]

Organizations that can't kick people out can't survive.

Yep. It's the Nazi Bar concept, again (expand the "thread" if necessary, hell if I know how to link to Twitter, I'm a moron, sorry).
posted by aramaic at 7:11 PM on February 13, 2021 [17 favorites]

Full Nazi Bar Story.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:09 PM on February 13, 2021 [23 favorites]

This organization badly needs a code of conduct, and "we NEVER remove people from meetings" is inconsistent with having a code of conduct.
posted by heatherlogan at 8:21 PM on February 13, 2021 [26 favorites]

If you had a whisper network what would you do? You still can't kick them out.

Why can't we know which organization this is? Maybe someone here knows the org and can help untangle a misunderstanding.

How bad would it be really to be de-listed? And if this person is already trying to get you de-listed, then isn't the damage already done? Are you saying "whisper network" when what you really mean is a way to plead your case behind the scenes with the national and international decision makers?

This is all really hinky, are there alternatives to this organization you could explore?
posted by Horkus at 9:45 PM on February 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to clarify: Delisting isn't great, but at this point I'm more concerned with this person shit-talking among people who belong to an alternate umbrella organization. That org is the likely destination for the group I run.

Agreed on the main org's policy ultimately being self-destructive.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 2:02 AM on February 14, 2021

Best answer: Your going to need to ask people if they've been to other meetings at other times and places, and invest time in getting to know them. Maybe you need to visit other sessions so that people can form good bonds with you, so you can get their help when you ask. Ultimately that's a lead-up to ask your question "What do you do about hecklers and bad-faith interruptors of meetings? There's more people online now and there will be a time when we have to look after people working nicely within the meeting from people who don't care or want to damage the meeting -- or maybe you've already had that experience, let me know what happened and how you handled it."

You'll also need to build a back-channel to people holding the trademarks and domain name for this organisation -- so you can ask for help with this attendee revisiting the past and so you can plead your case against their allegations.

The supportive relationships you've formed are the reason why people continue to come to your meetings. It may well be that you need to take those friendships elsewhere while this gets sorted out.

The "Nazi Bar" story is illustrative, but there's more you'll need to impress upon the upstream outfit:
* Twitter, Reddit and Metafilter teach us that moderation is essential to curate an online space -- making reputation an important part of participation is key to deterring sh_t-posters
* You can use a pattern to engage, but only positively, like "Your words are excessive. I'm going to take the positive parts of our interaction and restart our interaction with those in mind."
* If this is really abput helping people, you need boundaries to protect the people collaboratong inside the group from those -- and it's on that people with responsibility for curating those groups to achieve that helping effect to keep people safe.
* If I showed up and monopolised a session with innoffensive talk, say about Pokémon in an arena not at all about Pokémon, I would expect censure because my contributions are denying others service,
* We passed 10,000 days of The Eternal September in January: people need to know how to behave around other people.
posted by k3ninho at 2:06 AM on February 14, 2021 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: Last comment so as not to threadsit: the organization in question is Overeaters Anonymous. No good reason not to have that known.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 3:05 AM on February 14, 2021

The standard that you walk past is the standard you accept. While you all sit by and do nothing in an effort to keep the peace and not rock the boat, this person will completely dismantle your organisation and drive away anyone you’re trying to help. Why would you give them that kind of power? Stand up to them, stand for something.
posted by Jubey at 3:21 AM on February 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

I'm in an online 12-step group that's been going since the early days of the internet (I've been in it for 21 years). There aren't 'moderaters' per se, but there is a Chair (rotating annually) and a Secretary, and there's the option to ban people temporarily for disruptive behaviour, talking about politics, religion or other contentious issues - either temporarily or, rarely, permanently. I don't know why your meeting wouldn't have some kind of moderation. In a f2f meeting, if someone's disruptive, they would be taken outside or asked to be silent. In a Zoom meeting, surely they can be muted.

We did have an interesting scenario a few years back where someone who had a strange grudge against our online group, having been a member years before when he was still quite unwell, came back several years later under a sockpuppet identity and ended up getting himself elected as a Trusted Servant. I was only dipping in from time to time during that period so I don't know how he ended up being outed, but it caused some of the old-timers considerable upset, as for many of them this is their only meeting and they felt betrayed. But things moved on from there, and there are still the occasional people who can't or won't abide by the Group Conscience, but the meeting's still survived.

I say use the mute button, as the common welfare of the group must come first and if someone is there with any other agenda, then they've effectively forfeited their right to participate.
posted by essexjan at 3:55 AM on February 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you want to try changing the minds of organization’s leadership on the no-ban rule, you could draw some talking points from Geek Social Fallacy #1 (from this oft-referenced blog post by Michael Suileabhain-Wilson):

Geek Social Fallacy #1: Ostracizers Are Evil

GSF1 is one of the most common fallacies, and one of the most deeply held. Many geeks have had horrible, humiliating, and formative experiences with ostracism, and the notion of being on the other side of the transaction is repugnant to them.

In its non-pathological form, GSF1 is benign, and even commendable: it is long past time we all grew up and stopped with the junior high popularity games. However, in its pathological form, GSF1 prevents its carrier from participating in — or tolerating — the exclusion of anyone from anything, be it a party, a comic book store, or a web forum, and no matter how obnoxious, offensive, or aromatic the prospective excludee may be.

As a result, nearly every geek social group of significant size has at least one member that 80% of the members hate, and the remaining 20% merely tolerate. If GSF1 exists in sufficient concentration — and it usually does — it is impossible to expel a person who actively detracts from every social event. GSF1 protocol permits you not to invite someone you don’t like to a given event, but if someone spills the beans and our hypothetical Cat Piss Man invites himself, there is no recourse. You must put up with him, or you will be an Evil Ostracizer and might as well go out for the football team.

This phenomenon has a number of unpleasant consequences. For one thing, it actively hinders the wider acceptance of geek-related activities: I don’t know that RPGs and comics would be more popular if there were fewer trolls who smell of cheese hassling the new blood, but I’m sure it couldn’t hurt. For another, when nothing smacking of social selectiveness can be discussed in public, people inevitably begin to organize activities in secret. These conspiracies often lead to more problems down the line, and the end result is as juvenile as anything a seventh-grader ever dreamed of.

The context is a bit different, but I think it’s easy to see how something initially stemming from good intentions and a spirit of inclusivity (we want everyone to feel included and not be afraid of being excluded) can turn into a nightmare (we have a bully in our midst and because we never exclude anyone, we are enabling them to abuse the other members).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:30 PM on February 14, 2021 [8 favorites]

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