ChristianForums: Confidentiality

2006-11-16 01:04

There’s a lot of talk about confidentiality and secrecy, not to mention privacy.

These are three closely related concepts. All three are involved, somewhat, in any discussion of the stuff that gets kept secret about ChristianForums.

Staff often defend the policy of absolute confidentiality of staff forums on the grounds of the privacy of individual members. If Bob gets a warning, it’s private, and other people don’t have a right to know that Bob got a warning. Okay, fair enough. If staff check Bob’s IP to find out whether he’s a reincarnation of previously banned user Robert, well, his IP address could be used by a stalker to track him down. Private, right?

Now, that’s privacy. There’s also confidentiality, which is the way in which people feel safe discussing some things only when promised that they will not be publically taken to account, or reported to anyone. Confidentiality has a long history in Christian thought; for instance, the seal of the confessional, which many governments recognize simply because they got sick of locking priests away for refusing to violate it. Most CF staff discussions look at leaks of top-secret information in terms of confidentiality. To leak something from staff violates confidentiality. (There’s some interesting cases; for instance, if I am on staff, may I post material that I wrote myself for staff forums?)

Finally, there’s secrecy. Secrecy is the general case of keeping information restricted. It doesn’t necessarily imply any kind of reason or justification. There may not be one. CF staff stuff is full of secrets, kept not only from non-staff, but also from junior staff, or from senior staff, or from non-Catholics, or from non-Protestants.

A lot of concern has been raised because flesh99 recently reposted an entire thread of staff discussion. That’s seen by many as a breach of confidentiality. Of course, technically, he’s not the one who broke confidentiality; the original leak (well, leaks) did. Some people complain about betrayal, and no small number of people have told me that this hurts innocents.

I’m trying to understand that, but it ain’t happening yet.

What innocents? How are they hurt?

Let’s take these questions separately. What innocents? Given that the people on staff whose abuses and lies are made visible when things like this get exposed are still “getting away with it”, in that they still have their staff powers, and they have not been required to admit that certain claims were false, it seems to me that, at a bare minimum, everyone there is at least complicit in wrongdoing. About the only people who could claim otherwise would be the ones who have resigned in disgust.

Staff often assert that there is no way for us outsiders to know that nothing has been done. True. Much hand-wringing could be happening.

Until the public lies are followed up by public retractions and public apologies, whatever’s been done has amounted to a whole lot of nothing. The users who were lied to have not yet been told the truth.

Now, how are they hurt? Several staff members have asserted repeatedly that staff should not be saying anything that would embarass them. Duh. According to most Christian beliefs, every last bit of this will come out in the end. There will be no anonymity, there will be no secrets. These actions will be on the record in a fairly absolute sense. So, what of it?

If the secret records being revealed were the IP addresses or real names of individuals, they might have a claim to being “hurt”. So far, in fact, many staff have specifically affirmed that they are okay with being quoted. Others have said they aren’t, citing to “confidentiality”. Only, that’s a mechanism; it’s not a reason. The confidentiality agreement is not a moral goal in and of itself; it’s a means to a moral goal. Most people would admit that there exist at least theoretical circumstances where they would break a previously-given promise based on new information making it clear to them that the promise would be deeply harmful.

In fact, something I find quite interesting is the degree of overlap between people that I know have leaked stuff — and in some cases, directly lied about having done so — and people that are now complaining vehemently that someone else has leaked. There are some people that I don’t think have ever leaked. In some cases, I think their reasons for doing so are basically sound. In others, I think it’s more a powerful social norm, which is actually contrary to sound doctrine on the matter:

The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Chapter 18, Verses 15-17

   Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

The problem here is that people view the confidentiality agreement as trumping this. We are not just talking about random watercooler chatter; we are talking about clear and compelling evidence of consistent patterns of malfeasance on the part of some fairly senior staff over a period of years. Many people have talked to these people individually; many have come to them with witnesses. Nothing has changed.

So now what? Now we tell the truth, and if that means an agreement is broken, that was a definite flaw in the agreement; a Christian site’s policies should not be mandating behavior contrary to Scripture.

What’s interesting is that CF has long had firm and entrenched hostility to groups that require any kind of confidentiality. For a month or two, CF had a policy that no one who was a freemason could be on staff, and many CF staffers have said that no freemason could ever be a real Christian. Why? Because there’s third-party rumors that say that masons are very occult, and because they are required to keep their practices secret.

Obviously, it is problematic for the staff of a Christian site to join any group which demands of its members a prior commitment to keep everything they learn during their tenure secret, even after they leave, and never to disclose it even if they learn of practices they consider gravely immoral. Inexplicably, many CF staff feel that precisely such a commitment not only can, but must, be expected of fellow staff, and that failure to keep to such a commitment, even after discovering systematic and premeditated abuse, is a horrible thing.

Interesting to note how many of the most vocal opponents of such disclosures are precisely some of the people whose actions look worst when disclosed.

Peter Seebach

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Comments

  1. So tell it to the church means blab it on Internet Infidels or post it on the world wide web?

    And you say you are doing this because you believe CF can be redeemed. Some "redeemer" of CF you are, Messiah Seebs.


    — buzz · 2006-11-16 09:15 · #

  2. You pulled a false dilemma on this one bro.

    "Given that the people on staff whose abuses and lies are made visible when things like this get exposed are still "getting away with it", in that they still have their staff powers, and they have not been required to admit that certain claims were false, it seems to me that, at a bare minimum, everyone there is at least complicit in wrongdoing. About the only people who could claim otherwise would be the ones who have resigned in disgust."

    You have presented only two options here:

    1. Being complicit
    2. Quitting in disgust

    There is at least a third option that I may or may not have evidence concerning. Staff, certain staff anyway, might be going to Erwin or to other members of Exec and trying to have something done about what was brought to light. They may be combing through other threads and looking to see if there is anything that needs resolving and trying to get things resolved. Some staff may even still be willing to quit if nothing is done about it. Some may be trying to directly get the responsible parties to apologize publicly.

    Many things could be happening outside of the "be complicit or quit" ideal. While I agree with the overall treatment of the topic I just had to dice this one point a little bit.

    — RomeoSidVicious · 2006-11-16 15:14 · #


  3. However, while at any point I could say "well, maybe they JUST started today", given the four-year history, it's quite clear that no one has ever taken the process past the private-discussion phase.

    There is a third option, but that third option eventually meets its own dichotomy: Repentance or public confrontation. Since neither is in evidence, we can rule it out as not what is happening.

    — seebs · 2006-11-16 16:47 · #

  4. Given what I've seen on CF, I would think anything resembling public confrontation or call to repentance would be shut down as flaming.

    — Joy · 2006-11-16 20:56 · #

 
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