Freethought Blogs Clarifies Values and Procedures for Hiring and Firing

A year ago I wrote my first post at Freethought Blogs (before I found out that my blog wasn’t going to be formally introduced or linked from the front page for another week and a half). It is staggering to think of how much has gone down in the last 12 months in my life, on my blog, on the Freethought Blogs network, and behind the scenes of Freethought Blogs. On net, it has been an extraordinarily exciting, productive, and satisfying year for me and I like to think for the network as a whole. But as is well known there have been some real dark spots for our community.

In the beginning there was such a wonderfully instant collegiality among all the bloggers who were here by the time of the September 1 launch of new blogs. We gelled together quickly and were all so enthusiastic about the prospects for our new venture. We were able for months to reason out decisions by consensus, to trust one another easily, and to simply assume that our shared values didn’t need codification to be reliable. We were a strong community of independently minded people bound informally by common purpose.

But there are reasons that groups need structures, rules, procedures, institutions, and explicit articulation of what they stand for. As we have learned the hard way, you cannot always naïvely trust that every new person who wants to join is simply going to share the goals and ethos that define you as a group. It helps to establish upfront for prospective candidates for membership what you are fundamentally about, and for you to have a clear idea about that yourself  when looking for new members in the first place. It also helps to look at what kinds of practices worked when things were running smoothly and lay them down as general expectations that newcomers should be expected to understand and adopt as norms. It also helps to look at sources of chaos and dissension and figure out how to remedy them.

In the last year, we have grown too big to operate by voice votes and we have had a few bloggers bring to our group dealings a poisonous penchant for instigation that was wholly absent for the first months of the network. In the beginning things ran so very smoothly that when we had our first experience with an acrimonious person we were all primarily bewildered. Now we have had a few more serious meltdowns and realized what all successful organizations that have gone before have–that you cannot rely on people’s good judgment and self-control alone to establish a thriving community. You need to have some explicit guidelines for the confused, the immature, and the weak of will.

As a result, Ed and PZ have devised some very good new rules that spell out the procedures by which we will make sure that the future bloggers we add will be the kinds of people who will fit our community well. They also spell out the kinds of expectations for dealing with one another that we initially assumed in the early days and which we have realized are necessary if we want to avoid having the group be riven by factiousness.

PZ has given us permission to publish our new (provisional) statement of values, rules, structures, and procedures. This is a good idea so that should anyone be fired in the future, it is clear to all onlookers what the explicit expectations that they violated were. This will also be a helpful clarification to readers about what our shared core values are and help prospective new bloggers who might join the network figure out we stand for and how we are committed to treating each other as colleagues.

I’ll also be explicit in saying that while if I had been consulted I probably would have lobbied for some minor differences in emphasis here or there, I am in the main very satisfied and impressed with what they have come up with and am quite happy to endorse the document.

ON EDIT (2:04 am): Well that didn’t take long. I have already gotten my first comment declaring this the end of the “freethought”at Freethought Blogs. Apparently freethought is incompatible with rules for hiring, firing, and maintaining civility among the bloggers in their business discussions. This is absurd.

Skeptikel sarcastically writes:

Time to change the name, I’m thinking… Something other than “Free,” perhaps. “Thought” and “Blogs” are fine as is.

Maybe the top-level domain should best be moved from .com to .gov

Ah well, it wouldn’t be the first misleading domain name. No worries, it’s no biggie at the end of the day. Might as well just keep the current one regardless of the issues, since it’s an established name/domain. I am empathetic to the massive undertaking of changing to more fitting names/domains for sure…

It was a thought, anyway.

There are no need for such changes, we are as much a place consistent with the ideals of the historic freethinking movement as ever. This post of mine explains why genuine freedom requires certain kinds of order. Having rules of civility that allow a functioning working environment among bloggers in our group interactions behind the scenes is perfectly consistent with our thinking freely on our blogs. And our commitment to having blogs that are secularist and humanistic is perfectly consistent with our calling ourselves Freethought Blogs as, definitionally, that’s what freethinkers have always been defined by. (For example, shortly before joining the network a year ago I already wrote about why it was legitimate to call oneself a freethinker and to mark off faith-based believing as not compatible with freethinking.)

PZ made a good video about the connection between freethought and other humanistic values in explaining the dismissal of Thunderf00t:

So, with no further ado, below the fold are the details of the new, more formal, arrangement Freethought Blogs bloggers will be working under:

Freethoughtblogs Rules

These are provisional rules. We’re going to implement them now, and in March 2013, after they’ve had a fair trial, we’ll consider revisions.

Freethoughtblogs is a community of bloggers who share a goal: the advancement of secularism through argument and discussion. To achieve that goal, we also value diversity (reaching every element of society is a priority), social justice, equality, and science and reason. We are skeptics and critics of dogma and authoritarianism.

Our network of blogs is designed to encourage independent thinking and individual autonomy — freethoughtblogs.com itself is a vehicle for giving vocal secularists a venue for discussion of their values and interests. The administration of this organization will interfere in the activities of individual blogs as little as possible, and will not impose any specific dictates on how individual blogs are managed. However, there must be some minimal regulation of the activities of the network as a whole that require some administrative structure, and providing that is the purpose of this document — to define a hierarchy to regulate the network (but not individual blogs) activity, and to lay out a set of procedures for changes to the network.

The official entities in this organization are:

Manager: Ed Brayton, founder of the network, fills this role. The Manager’s job is to handle the business side of the group, selling ad space, disbursing revenues, and managing network hosting.

Webmaster: The webmaster is in charge of the technical aspects of the site. He or she answers only to the Manager.

Executive Committee: The Executive Committee will have the job of making decisions about new additions to the network, and taking punitive measures against bloggers who violate rules. Decisions made by the Executive Committee will be based on feedback from the Network.

The Network: The group of individual bloggers who are hosted at freethoughtblogs will be referred to as the Network. Each blog will have equal input to all decisions affecting the group.

Other committees: At the discretion of the Executive Committee, other committees may be formed from members of the Network to perform specific tasks. In particular, an Admissions Committee will be formed to evaluate candidates for new blogs.

The Executive Committee

The membership of the committee will consist of:

Ed Brayton

PZ Myers

Two members to be appointed by Ed Brayton, with renewable one year terms

One member to be elected by majority vote of the Network, to have a renewable 6 month term.

The Executive Committee will meet by Skype or phone conferencing at least once a month, to discuss the state of the organization and to evaluate any pending action items. Minutes will be taken and published to the Network mailing list.

All decisions of the Executive Committee will be made by a majority vote in a conference call or email conversation.

The Network

Every blog on freethoughtblogs.com is considered a part of the Network. Each blog (not each blogger, since some blogs have multiple contributors) will have one equal vote in all decisions. Any questions submitted to the Network for voting will be announce on the network mailing list, with a specific deadline for voting; a 2/3 majority of the members that actually reply is required for passage.

The Network Mailing List

The network mailing list is maintained by the webmaster; it includes every member of the Network who wishes to be on it, except those who have had access restricted.

All emails sent or received on the list are considered to be private. Disclosure of the contents of discussions on the mailing list to others outside the Network is grounds for revocation of mailing list privileges; continued or egregious violations of privacy will be grounds for removal from the Network.

Since the purpose of the mailing list is to encourage open communication between members of the network, all discussions must be civil and drama is frowned upon; disagreement and criticism is encouraged, but only in the spirit of constructive improvement of the content of the Network. Other kinds of disagreement must be taken off-list, so that they do not disrupt free and friendly discussion. The mailing list is not to be an arena.

Threats, harassment, and personal abuse will not be tolerated on the mailing list. If personal conflicts are interfering with your ability to discuss matters politely, take it to the Executive Committee by email for mediation.

The Executive Committee can revoke mailing list privileges in response to any violations of privacy. The purpose of the mailing list is to allow discussions, however, so revocation should never be made lightly or permanently; losing internetwork communication is a very serious issue.

PROCEDURES


Admitting new bloggers to the Network

There are certain criteria a blogger must fit to belong to this Network:

  • They must be a freethinker, not a proponent of a specific religion or dogma
  • They must have demonstrated quality and reliability of output, with good reason to think they will be active bloggers
  • They must share a commitment to the values of the Network, which include diversity, equality, and social justice as well as atheism
  • They should be collegial, and willing to participate enthusiastically in the shared goals of the network

As a Network, we’ll also aspire to recruiting diverse bloggers to the cause; differences in background, values, and priorities within the broad framework of our mission are to be sought out and valued.

The Admissions Committee

A committee of at least 3 members will be formed by nomination of the Executive Committee. The role of the Admissions Committee is to mediate nominations for new members, conduct preliminary assessments of candidates, and to carry out interviews of potential new Network members.

At any time, the Executive Committee can dissolve the current Admissions Committee and request the Network to form a new one.

Any Network member can suggest new bloggers (Nominees) to the Admissions Committee. The Admissions Committee will maintain a list of suggestions, and carry out preliminary investigations of the suitability of Nominees.

The Admissions Committee, and only the Admissions Committee, can at any time request that the Executive Committee consider a nominee for admission to the Network. The Executive Committee is then obligated to make a decision within two weeks about whether the Nominee should be taken on.

A request to the Executive Committee to consider someone for admission requires:

  • Documentation of the current writing skills of the candidate
  • References from at least 5 Network members other than those on the Admissions Committee who approve of the Candidate
  • Results of a poll of the Network that show a majority approving of admission
  • A summary of a direct, personal interview of the Admissions Committee with the candidate to assess the suitability and collegiality of the candidate

The evaluation will be submitted to the Executive Committee for approval.


Dismissal of bloggers from the network

Removal of unsuitable bloggers from the Network is never to be undertaken casually. The criteria for asking that someone be removed are:

  • Multiple violations of privacy
  • Persistent disruption of the mailing list with violations of etiquette
  • Harassment — continuation of a behavior when requested to stop
  • Criminal behavior, such as the posting of child pornography
  • Active violations of the mission of the network: using a blog to set up an anti-atheist, racist, or anti-gay center, for instance
  • Prolonged abandonment of the blog, without suitable explanation (for example, a soldier sent off on active duty, or a blogger with a book commitment are reasonable excuses)

The following conditions will not be considered valid reasons for expulsion:

  • Personal animus
  • Disagreement on tactics, style, or focus
  • Change in philosophy or religion, unless it actively conflicts with the mission of Freethoughtblogs

Any blogger can request the expulsion of another, given good grounds. However, these requests should not be made on the mailing list, nor should the mailing list be used to threaten colleagues with expulsion. This is not behavior conducive to uninhibited communication, and can poison the well for further discussion. All suggestions for expulsion should be sent to the Executive Committee by email.

Consideration for expulsion will be made entirely at the Executive Committee’s discretion. Do not nag the Executive Committee; requests will be tallied and discussed privately.

If the Executive Committee decides that there are reasonable grounds for expulsion, this fact will be disclosed to the offending blogger, and they will be given an opportunity to explain and correct their behavior. This will not be subject to public discussion. That a blogger has been censured will not be disclosed to other members of the Network, and if the problems are addressed, will never be revealed to the community.

The blogger may request a conference call with the Executive Committee to discuss the issues.

If the offending blogger is recalcitrant or in any way refuses to address the concerns of the Network, the Executive Committee will vote to determine if the blogger should be removed. If a majority agree, the Webmaster will be asked to immediately remove the blogger from the mailing list, remove the blogger’s posting privileges, and close all comments on their blog.

Because continuity on the network is important, the blogs of expelled bloggers will be retained on freethoughtblogs (without the option for adding new posts or comments) at the bloggers choice. If they decide otherwise, the blog may be deleted. A backup of the archive will be provided for the blogger.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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