(As some of you may already know, I’ve joined the administrative team for the AS-NS asexual/aromantic online community. This is the first of a series where I’ll discuss issues that arise as we go about our business. In this way, I hope to set AS-NS apart from other sites, by providing members with direct insight into our decision-making processes.)
Much like the Definition Debate, another essential element of online asexual/aromantic communities is something called The Drama. The formidable question of how to manage The Drama is probably the biggest challenge for those who – fortified by a jug of starry-eyed optimism and a little naivety – have elected to take on the task of organizing a new forum community. AS-NS was founded partly out of concern that AVEN’s approach to The Drama – a safe space approach meant to protect the identities and sensibilities of its often adolescent and LGBT+ affiliated members – is somewhat limiting for a significant portion of the asexual/aromantic community.
Let me elaborate, by way of personal example. I’m 28. I’m left of centre politically. Most of my friends are centre to left-wing politically. I’ve spent most of my adult life in liberal, academic settings, studying humanities and legal subjects. But by AVEN’s standards, sometimes I feel pretty right-wing, especially with regard to what have come to be known as social justice issues. I guess I’m more old left, as I’m sceptical of identity politics and notions like trigger warnings and microaggressions. I’m also sceptical of the trend towards nouveau sexual and gender identities among members of the millennial generation. In fact, until January of this year, I wasn’t aware that this trend existed. I had never even heard of agender, gender-fluid, non-binary, demiboy, demigirl… and yet on AVEN not only does it seem that a large percentage of people identify with one or another of these non-traditional gender identities, but that AVEN’s recent policy directives have focused on providing a safe space for their expression. In particular, two of the last three changes to AVEN’s ToS concern preventing members who have broken its ToS through gender-related comments from accessing the gender discussion and tea and sympathy forums.
Meanwhile, most of the educated, liberal people I know in my age bracket are pretty dismissive of concepts like non-binary and gender-fluid. And I’m under the impression that most of these new identities have yet to be verified by scientific research. I recognize that transgender/gender issues represent the LGBT+ concern that is most talked about in the news today, and there are probably political factors influencing AVEN’s current preoccupation with gender issues. Nevertheless, it can be alienating for older members who don’t subscribe to these self-concerns of the millennial generation. I write “self-concerns”, but perhaps “self-absorptions” would be the better term. From my experience online, there appears to be something of a trend among millennials to threaten suicide or self-harm when they don’t get their own way. My father, who has forty years of experience in the education field, confirms that in recent years this phenomenon has become notably more common among students in schools.
AVEN can also be alienating for older members who simply want to have more fun. I used to work in agricultural research. If we had said on AVEN what we said during an average day on the job, we probably would have racked up enough ToS violations (I’m thinking the vulgar content and bad words rules, in particular) that we would all have been banned for life. Suffice to say, I had a lot of fun those summers.
AS-NS is intended to provide an alternative, particularly for established members in the asexual/aromantic community who want to have more freedom to be sceptical, and more freedom to have fun. We don’t have a prohibition against invalidating identities. We don’t have a rule requiring trigger warnings for politically incorrect content. Instead, we have a community conduct rule which requires that members are respectful in their interactions, while promoting openness of speech and ideas. We are still in the process of fine-tuning our approach. For that reason, we have not been entirely consistent, and with apologies to our members, there probably will continue to be some inconsistencies in the near to mid-future. So it goes when developing a new forum community.
Recently, we had an incident where an AVEN member complained to us on AVEN about a comment on our site which was critical of some aspects of that member’s behaviour. Our ToS prohibits personal insults, such as calling someone in the community a derogatory name, but it does not prohibit criticizing the actions of other members in the community. Therefore, even though the comment in question could have been better worded in order to be more polite, it was questionable to say if it was against our rules. Nevertheless, in the interest of defusing a tense situation, we made a quick decision to redact the comment while we gave further consideration to the issue (unlike AVEN, we will always permanently remove content where it is determined to be against our ToS). It soon became apparent, however, that a portion of the AVEN community is diametrically opposed to the principles that we represent, and will be antagonistic towards us no matter what we do. Furthermore, it did not appear to be fair to our own members to remove content that didn’t actually break our ToS (although, like I say, the comment at issue could have been better worded). Therefore, after careful consideration, we have decided to restore the comment. The member who originally posted it may then decide whether or not they would like to edit it.
Online, as elsewhere, people do not have a right to be shielded from any and all negative comments about their actions. To say that any such negative comments constitute bullying is an undue limitation on freedom of speech. There are different definitions of bullying, but it is usually understood to require a persistent, repeated pattern of organized behaviour which is intended to cause harm to an individual. The sorts of comments in question, made by members speaking in their personal capacity to criticize certain behaviours of other people, do not meet that threshold.
I will conclude by inviting anyone who has concerns about the content of our site to contact us directly. At the end of the day, we may or may not agree with you, but we will take your concerns into consideration, and provide an explanation for our decision. In this way, we hope to provide greater transparency.