A Note on the IIDB Situation

There are many reasons why I didn’t want to write this post. Unfortunately, they are outweighed by the reasons why I did have to write it. A serious wrong has been done to a friend of mine, a once-thriving atheist community has been mortally wounded by an unaccountable few whose actions reflect poorly on the freethought movement, and I fear that if I don’t report on this matter, those same few may erase the fact of its occurrence from history. I detest politics, gossip, and drama, and alas, this post contains all three, but these things have to be said.

Here’s my conclusion, and if you read nothing else of this post, read this:

So long as the current management persists, I will no longer be supporting the Internet Infidels organization (www.infidels.org). I will also no longer participate in or support the Internet Infidels discussion board (www.iidb.org). I strongly recommend that all my readers do likewise.

If you’re still reading and are interested in the gory details, I’ll try to summarize what brought me to this point.

The Internet Infidels organization, and secondarily the IIDB, is owned and run by a Board of Directors. In November 2005, the Board voted to approve the addition of a new member: Janice Rael, a.k.a. “EverLastingGodStopper”, the president of the Delaware Valley chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.* (Full disclosure: Janice is a personal friend of mine.) In December 2006, she became the Board’s official PR representative and their liaison to the larger atheist and freethought community, representing Internet Infidels at conferences and other events, organizing fundraising drives, and soliciting donors to help support the II.

Consistent with her mission of helping IIDB grow and reaching out to former and prospective members, in early October 2007 Janice raised the issue of whether the IIDB should allow theists to act as moderators of its forums, or whether it should seek to have an all-atheist staff consistent with its mission of defending metaphysical naturalism. This was a perennial hot-button issue for the IIDB, and Janice’s bringing it back up was not well received by some members of the Board.

In the meantime, conditions were deteriorating at IIDB, which had recently taken on several new moderators who were criticized as being overzealous and inconsistent in the enforcement of forum rules. Janice felt (correctly, I believe) that this issue reflected on II’s public image, and that as their PR rep, she had the right to suggest some policy changes that would improve matters. These suggestions drew a heated response from fellow Board member Michael Moore (not that Michael Moore), a.k.a. “The Other Michael”, who was the Board of Directors’ official liaison to the IIDB and felt that these suggestions were “intruding on his turf”. When the issue was not addressed and Janice persisted in bringing it up, Moore made a motion to have her expelled from the Board.

This motion was seconded by Scott Wittman, the Board’s president, and drew enough affirmative votes to succeed, probably thanks to residual ill will over the theist moderator issue. Another issue was some derogatory comments Janice had made on a separate, private forum some months prior expressing unhappiness with IIDB moderation. I haven’t seen these specific comments, so I can’t pass judgment on them. In her defense, a personal friend and longtime fellow activist, Clark Adams, had recently committed suicide. (Clark was also a former president of the II Board.)

Janice was offline during these events and didn’t find out about the vote until it had already taken place. She’s since said that she would have been willing to resign if they had approached her about it. When she sorrowfully announced on IIDB that she had been removed from her position on the Board, the remaining members, in a stroke of supreme spite, banned her from IIDB altogether for “revealing confidential information” about Board proceedings – despite the fact that her change of status was already publicly visible on her user profile. (Here’s Janice’s own timeline of all these events. I’d present the II Board’s version of events if I could, but they haven’t provided one.)

When these events were discovered on IIDB, it set off a firestorm of criticism. This was not just because Janice was one of IIDB’s best-known and most active members, but because many IIDB administrators and moderates were themselves not told about the Board’s sudden action and could not explain what had happened or why. Making things more explosive, the Board and the IIDB administrators reacted to the community’s fury in the worst imaginable way – remaining tight-lipped about events, making a few vague and jargon-heavy public statements, and clamping down on dissent by moving or deleting dozens of angry posts. One IIDB administrator, Spherical Time, was demoted for his support of Janice; the Board claimed that this was due to a repeated history of insubordination, although he had only been made an administrator eleven days prior.

As of this writing, literally hundreds of veteran IIDB users have left to seek other forums, numerous moderators and administrators have resigned in protest, and a petition demanding The Other Michael’s resignation is running approximately 20-to-1 in support. The Board continues to be hostile and intransigent; thus far, their only response has been to assert their authority and claim (correctly) that IIDB is private property and therefore they can treat its users any way they wish. A recent announcement disturbingly escalated their demands for loyalty and obedience among the remaining users:

Anyone at IIDB (staff or not) needs to act to support II’s goals or at least act in a neutral fashion that doesn’t interfere with the reason for II Inc existing.

I’d like to make it clear that this is not a factioning of the freethought community; we are not splitting into sects. What has happened, instead, is a mass community revolt against an unaccountable few who have unconscionably abused their power. Even setting aside the validity of Janice’s banning, the Board’s subsequent behavior has justified every complaint ever raised about hostile and arbitrary moderation at IIDB. And the Board’s secretive and defensive reaction implies that they seem more interested in asserting their own power than in truly helping to build a freethought community by being responsive to the wishes of that community’s participants.

I’m greatly saddened and dismayed by all of this. I’ve been a longtime member of IIDB, and I considered it a wonderful and informative forum for atheists and freethinkers of all stripes, but it seems the Board of Directors is uninterested in any of that and is doing their best to run it into the ground. In the current climate, absent a dramatic change in management or policy, I will no longer participate. I’ve donated money in the past to support its upkeep, but I will no longer do that either.

If you’re seeking a new source of atheist community, I recommend either Rants ‘n Raves or Freethought Forum. Both seem like promising boards and both have seen an influx of disgruntled IIDB members. I’ve registered at both and may check in from time to time. A grassroots effort is also underway to buy control of IIDB from the II Board, but success seems unlikely. I’ll keep this thread updated with new information as it becomes available to me.

* Lest anyone have reason to doubt Janice’s commitment to the freethought community, she is also on the board of directors for the Secular Coalition for America, the board of directors for the Atheist Alliance International, and the vice-president of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, in addition to her work at DVAU.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.