Richard Dawkins Forum – New Guidelines

There has been a change in the guidelines on the forum – which is to safeguard the charitable position of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science – with regards to content. There has always been discussions about moderating the forum between staff members, and I will not allude to the positions we took in those discussions – they were ongoing and with a view to making the site the best we could. Richard has made the position clear, and with the best of reasons for doing so:

THIS site is focused around reason and science, coupled with strong opposition to unreason, including religion.

I acknowledge that it is also a place where people make friends. It is a community, and that is a valuable part of it. Many of our forum threads have an atmosphere of friends going out for a drink and chatting. I think that is valuable, and I don’t think we should insist on sticking to serious topics. That would be a good way to stifle the sense of community, and that would be a real shame (although I can think of better things to be “almost in tears about”).

On the other hand, the parent organization of this site is two charities, one in Britain and one in USA. We fought long and hard (much longer and harder than most charities have to) for our charitable status. You wouldn’t believe how innocent were the things we had on our website that the lawyers made us remove for fear of offending the Charity Commissioners. You wouldn’t believe the innocent things we had on our website that the Charity Commissioners queried, and advised us to remove before we could proceed to charitable status. You wouldn’t believe the money we spent (I spent) on all that legal advice.

Now, the issue of “censorship”. Don’t be so silly. Censorship is PREVENTING people from speaking or writing freely. Censorship is seizing books and impounding them. It is NOT censorship when a publisher refuses to publish a book, for whatever reason. The publisher is simply saying, “Thank you, I don’t want to publish your book. Perhaps another publisher will.” That’s not censorship. Same thing with newspapers. When you send an article in to a newspaper, or a letter to the editor, the chances are they won’t publish it. But they are not CENSORING you, they are just exercising editorial discrimination.

We on RD.net are in the position of publishers and editors. Publishing costs money, believe it or not. We are specialist publishers, specialising in reason, science, and opposition to unreason and religion. As an extra service, we subsidize conversations on topics of general interest among friends who come here in the first place because they are interested in the primary focus of the site. But we are under no obligation to publish EVERYTHING that comes our way. Would you expect a site devoted to ornithology, or model railways, to publish, at their own expense, conversations on fist-fucking? Especially if they are vulnerable, on a year by year basis, to losing their charitable status?

As for the abrupt timing, I feel I should apologise for that. I received such forceful complaints from veteran members of the forum, mostly about a sadomasochistic thread, that I thought I’d better have a look at the thread for myself (I had no idea of its existence before). I read it through the eyes of a charity commission lawyer, which explains the haste with which I picked up the phone to Josh (who also was completely unaware of its existence).

I’d now like to start a constructive discussion on how to preserve the sense of fellowship and community on our forum, without departing so far from our stated aims of reason and science that we jeopardize our charitable status.

Richard [source]

I know that some members have moaned about freedom of expression on the forum, some making their position very clear in signatures. However, the charitable consideration of RDFRS are of greater concern than the lewd behaviour that some people wanted to talk about. Soon no doubt it will be water under the bridge, and I hope people realise that the aims of the Foundation are more important.

OBC, in Washington DC for AAI 2007
OBC, in Washington DC for AAI 2007

It has meant that OBC is no longer the site administrator of the forum. His comment on that is the measure of a man that not only takes responsibility but is a fine guy that has devoted a lot of hours and time on behalf of the website and RDFRS as a volunteer, and for that I am thankful and want to pay tribute to Wayne publicly for that:

I feel that I should make this announcement about the recent controversy and the miss placed attacks. As the Site Admin this is my fault. The subjects, while I did not really partake in them, I did argue on behalf of them. I thought I was acting in the best interest of the community. There were others that expressed there concerns of this. I should have listen to them, if I had none of this would have probably happened. The owners were put in a tough potion, that I unintentionally put them in. They had no choice to act the way they did, which I fully support. By me not tacking action to curb the tone of the threads, we now find ourselves in this situation.

Please try to understand, if I had acted and removed the outlandish threads there would be some unhappy, but we would not find ourselves where we are now. The owners are acting responsibly regarding the content of the forum. Please stop directing your anger at them, it is me that you should place the blame on. I was the one responsibly, the buck stop here. They if anything are cleaning the mess I put us in. We need to move on, and heal as a community, this to shall pass. [source]

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Richard Dawkins Forum – New Guidelines

  1. I don’t actually follow the forum as much as I’d like to, but this seems to be perfectly reasonable behaviour on the part of Richard et al. I would never, even without charitable status, allow unmoderated comments on my blog. It just doesn’t feel, frankly, safe enough — given that I can’t sit there 24 hours a day monitoring what’s being posted. I hate the idea of one of my regular readers coming along when I’m not there and reading something distasteful.

    So, yes, I can certainly understand and sympathise with this position.

    The censorship argument really is quite ridiculous. I’ve heard it time and time again in other places and, as far as I’m concerned, it is quite simple; public fora are not law-free free-for-alls. The host has a responsibility to its users, and balancing freedom of expression and (legal) responsibility will always on occasion ruffle a few feathers. It’s the right thing to do, though.

  2. I have always been concerned that what people post could be wrongly associated with what Dawkins stands for.

    The key difference now is that Richard has become directly involved with what he wants from the moderating team on the forum.

  3. Richard stating what he does and doesn’t want has got to make life somewhat easier for the moderating team. Definitely a good move.

  4. seesDiernDazy

    I’m the only one in this world. Can please someone join me in this life? Or maybe death…

  5. Neat information / hope to come back=)

  6. 7Fred7

    Not before time. I’m behind the cause, and I’m relieved that one potential for huge embarrassment to that cause and its founders has been dismantled. Let’s hope that if the phoenix rises, future participants will keep a wary weather eye on forum decorum (hey, does that sound good or what?).

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