ChristianForums: The fortress mentality


Categories: Religion

A major shift in CF occurred in 2003-2004. Staff began to adopt a fortress mentality, in which they viewed themselves as being under constant attack from all sorts of sources. One of the funniest examples of this was masks.

CF, like many graphically-heavy sites, allows people to select little images which go with their posts. A couple of the regular participants in General Apologetics adopted avatars which had masks on. By coincidence, they were atheists. They began making a joke about it, and other atheists added masks to their avatars. A couple of Christians did too, possibly just because it was funny.

Staff proposed active efforts to crack down on this clear attack on the site. I am not kidding. People concluded that a pattern of users whose avatars had a running joke in them were clearly a threat to the site’s ability to be an effective “ministry”.

The fortress mentality has generally gotten worse over time, and the most visible form of this is the ever-increasing secrecy of, well, just about everything. The rule about criticising staff actions grew and morphed until it became “you may not comment on specific staff actions”. No exceptions, no places where it’s okay; all staff actions must be kept entirely secret. (For quite a while, there was no attempt at all to enforce this as applying to other sites.)

The most visible example is probably the Shaman’s Place incident. One regular poster, who went by SqueezetheShaman, opened her own forum where a number of CF folks hung around, and some of them were banned members or ex-members, and some of them even went so far as to create new sock accounts to stir up trouble.

Needless to say, after the level of worry inspired by people doing nothing at all, an actual attempt to disrupt the site, however playful, merited a serious response, and a CF staffer broke into the Shaman’s Place by guessing someone’s password. What ensued was a substantial bit of drama, as CF staff egged him on and encouraged him to repost information, including information from the private administrator-only forums at Shaman’s Place. As it became clear that information from these forums was leaked, the Shaman’s Place admins looked into things, and identified the compromised account… But they didn’t realize it was compromised. Recriminations, hurt feelings, and anger ensued.

At the same time, a user broke into CF, using a more subtle method, and got all sorts of information from CF staff forums. When this information was made available – some of it posted on shaman’s place – the CF staff went wild, with the same sorts of anger and accusations, only without any specific person being identified.

Drama ensued.

Eventually, the CF staffer who had broken into Shaman’s Place came clean, and apologized, and was encouraged to “step down” from staff. (Very few people have ever been fired from CF staff; I can think of two, both liberal.)

The person who broke into CF was convinced to come clean to Erwin and reveal the security hole he’d used.

There is some followup to this, and it’s one of the things I’m happiest writing about, because it’s a genuinely good thing. The guy who broke into Shaman’s Place, after a few months, and after offering sincere apologies, ended up getting back on staff on CF, under a new user name. After a bit of drama, it was revealed that staff knew it was him, and had decided to forgive him and give him another chance. The notion of forgiving someone who has visibly repented is a good one, and he turned out to be an excellent staff member. He’s no longer active on staff, and he’s always been sensitive to the desires of the people who aren’t in power. He also has a much more personal view of privacy questions, and the famous confidentiality of staff forums, than many other members. He has never denied that he screwed up, and that what he did was wrong, and he has also never repeated it. He is, these days, one of the most sincere and thoughtful participants in discussions of CF policy.

Still, the stage was set; even when it became clear that CF had been broken into, staff were set to worry about leaks. Of course, this was nothing new; CF staff have been leaking things to their friends since the forum was founded, and still do today, at every level of staff, up to the top. Still, it has become a gradually bigger and bigger deal when other people do it, and even accusations that someone has leaked may be enough to get them in serious trouble, with or without any evidence. Conspiracy theories continue to abound.

Another major outcome of this was the growth of a widespread belief that CF is “under attack”, in that there are people who actively oppose CF and wish to see it destroyed. We’ll see more on that in coming episodes; there’s a lot of paranoia out there, and some of it is really quite funny.

Comments [archived]

From: ravenscape
Date: 2006-11-09 18:24:35 -0600

When I joined CF, the masquerade was in full swing. To a neophyte, it seemed a sign of CF’s health, that people of a variety of beliefs and non-beliefs could get along enough to participate in such a game. I felt more welcome there as a result of this “attack”. Several of my earliest acquaintanceships on CF were amongst the masquers.

There are sometimes very nasty partisan arguments that break out on Pagan sites. Being conflict-averse, I tend to stay on the outskirts of such upheavals, and watch. In the sites where I have participated, the moderation of inter-religious disputes and even all out wars have not been based on the staff’s religious beliefs. The moderation was based on name calling and repeated refusals to heed requests, and then demands, to temper the tone.

My first experiences in CF flame wars indicated something else was up. The flame wars I first observed were Christian-on-Muslim. I was aghast at the way Rahma was treated in the NCR forum. Then I found out that her well thought out and POLITE responses to flames were garnering point-bearing warnings.

Just one, and in some ways the least, of the many occasions I’ve almost wished I were Christian while at CF. Though I know from observation that a Christian who dissents over CF’s policies and practices, as well as individual CFer’s attitudes and behaviors may be treated even worse than a non-Christian, I can’t get rid of this irrational belief that somehow that maybe an “Us” could have more of an influence on such goings on than a “Them.”

There are concentric circles of “Thems” at CF.

CF’s Christianity as demonstrated in official actions is a different Christianity than the one I ceased to believe in 20 years ago.

From: Anon
Date: 2006-11-09 18:25:21 -0600

I know of at least two far-right conservatives who have been fired. Myself, and a fellow named Paul S

From: seebs
Date: 2006-11-09 18:36:17 -0600

Hi, Anon!

Although I know some far-right conservatives who have been ordered to resign, the only people I can think of who have been “fired” are Rising Tree and E-beth. Everyone else has been “asked to step down”.

I’m not disputing that some conservatives have been given a very firm boot; just that it’s always been euphemised, so far as I know.

From: insaneinthebrain
Date: 2006-11-09 19:11:26 -0600

For the record, I was never actually asked to step down. It was probably coming, but I made the choice before any higher-ups said anything to me.

From: Anon
Date: 2006-11-09 19:47:40 -0600

Without going into who I am;

Paul S made some posts that said he agreed with some things (specifically, execution of heretics), and that it still ought to be an, at least available, option. He did this without suggesting the execution of any specific heretics, making it questionable if it was actually a rule violation.

And he was flat-out fired. Not asked to resign, fired. And the definition of the rules was ret-conned to make it a violation. Ex Post Facto, anyone?

From: BigToe
Date: 2006-12-15 00:01:38 -0600

I’m going to vouch for insaneinthebrain in that he asked to be off staff and not asked to step down. I PMed Erwin after we figured out my account on SP had been accessed by someone else and at the same time insaneinthebrain also sent Erwin an apology.

And the account you gave isn’t entirely accurate. There were a few folks who had socks, but there was never an organized attempt to disrupt the site. Not even in the “admin” forum on Shaman’s site. Most of the members didn’t have a sock on CF and by the time the drama got bad, most had stopped posting about CF at all.

From: Texas Lynn
Date: 2006-12-15 00:24:40 -0600

I remember that shaman’s place. They recruited me and for a while it was like IIDB CF exile thread but more pointed. I got tired of their messing around and dropped out. I had forgotten the name of it. I wondered whatever happened to them. Thanks for archiving this anecdotal history. Maybe sometime in the future this’ll all mean something. I like your asseesment of the dynamics.

From: Brent
Date: 2008-05-14 02:55:40 -0500

Back when I ran a Christian forum, I became aware of that fortress mentality. I had a couple of insiders (CF staff) who kept me informed on the matter, and soon discovered that CF rules evidently apply to my site as well. That was news to me…lol. To cut a long story short (I’ve forgotten most of the details by now), several members of CF were penalized for what they posted on my site.

My site was assimilated into another site awhile back, and I’ve tried to learn from it. Once I get my business line, I’ll likely host a new forum. I’ve been looking for fresh ideas. Any suggestions?