It’s not like I hadn’t been warned about AbsoluteWrite before I signed up. I thought (and still think) that there are some great people there. Some of whom I’m so fond of that I do not take the decision to pull the plug on that board lightly.
But there are also some really weird things about that board. And when I started scratching beneath the surface, it got even weirder. Plus, when someone says “watch what you’re doing, or else” and the “or else” part is “you can’t keep providing free content to my website,” well, yea, fuck you. I’ll “or else” myself right out of there for you.
I joined my first internet bulletin board in the 1990s. Though they’ve almost invariably been about fly fishing, I’ve been a member and/or mod on one or more bulletin boards continuously since. As we say where I live, this is not my first trip to the rodeo. Warnings about bullies don’t do much to deter me. Bullies are trolls with homes, and the day I can’t hold my own in a written exchange with a bullytroll is the day I’ll hand in my interwebz learning permit.
Like any BB, AW had a lot of what I would consider bad advice. Plus, being as big as AW is, things were less cordial than I’m often used to. There’s certainly some truth to the clique complaints I’d heard about, and the groupthink observations were not entirely incorrect (though they aren’t entirely true, either). Those things said, there are also some pretty straight-up people on that board with good insights, and I think the onus is on anyone participating on a BB to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of advice. So I posted for several months, undaunted by the warnings I’d received. During that time, I also became quite fond of several AW members.
One thing that caused me a certain level of concern –well, annoyance is a better word – was the tendency of a couple of the moderators to both participate in the snark/drama/bullshit on threads and then delete posts and/or lock threads where they’d been participating. That does not happen on a well administered, well moderated board. In fact, the main reason I hate being a mod is because being a smartass is integral to how I function, and it takes an enormous amount of energy to turn that off if I take the job. But I also realize that you can’t do both, and not being a smartass or weighing very deep into disagreements is part of the job description. Such is not the case at AW.
The funny thing is, while I’ve since discovered people with legitimate horror stories about the same AW admin and mods, nothing particularly bad happened to me there. Certainly nothing bad enough for me to buy a domain and start a webpage decrying the place (yes, that’s happened). Or anything that would warrant rating about AW on a site about internet bullying of authors. For me, it’s much more like I went to a restaurant – my server was rude and the food was meh, so I decided I won’t be going back.
One incident that involved me directly was a thread about a legal question. A poster asked about public domain issues if a poem had been circulating as anonymously written for more than fifty years. The family of a dead firefighter claimed he wrote it, but nobody had ever asserted a right of ownership. Prior to any of the specifics, but having been told that the poem had been around as anonymously authored for more than fifty years, I said it would be public domain.
A rather snarky mod then told everyone that I was wrong about how public domain works, you can never lose your copyright to public domain by having something published, and that is not how copyright is determined.
Then she locked the thread.
That was annoying, since there is some truth to what she was saying under the current state of copyright law, although it is far from as cut-and-dried as she believes. In fact, the US Supreme Court heard oral argument earlier this year on a case addressing this question because the circuit courts are split on whether copyright can disappear under the doctrine of laches if you fail to publicly enforce your rights. But, since the poem in question had been published as anonymously authored more than fifty years prior the US Joining the Berne Convention in 1989, she was dead wrong about the applicable law with respect to the poem in question. A fact I pointed out in a personal message to said mod, who told me that the site administrator, Macallister was in agreement that the thread should be locked.
My response at the time was that it sucks a mod would rather keep the wrong answer out there and have the last word than get the right answer out, but – whatever. It was advice that incorrectly told the poster how to stay out of trouble, nothing that would get that person into trouble, so no big deal.
By this time I had noticed some (by no means all) of the AW mods had a propensity to lock threads after issuing decrees about how right they were, often in downright rude ways. It began to dawn on me that the “bullying” I’d been warned so much about wasn’t about people who posted on the boards, it was a warning about the mods running the place. Which is a shame, since it’s otherwise a fairly rich and interesting community. I also avoided the threads where these issues are much more frequent. My participation was limited to writing and grammar questions (well, and a cooking thread).
Last Friday it happened again, on a thread I hadn’t participated in at all. Ironically, the person singled out to be slammed before the thread was locked was the person I probably disagree with more frequently than anyone else on the interwebz. I also respect him, and there is no personal animosity between us – in fact, I’m fond of the guy – but we have ardently different ideas about writing.
Being snotty and locking threads doesn’t do much for anyone, and if I were an admin on that board, I’d probably want to know this was an issue. So I sent a politely worded PM to the site admin, Macallister, telling him/her (I had no idea what the person’s first name was) that, in my experience, mods generally do best if they stay out of the snark. If they aren’t going to do that, it’s usually a bad idea to have them participating, getting in the last word and then locking threads.
The next thing I hear is a super snarky response to a post from said mod,with a post of my own also deleted. I promptly (read: naively) forward it on to the admin, saying, “This would be the kind of thing I’m talking about.”
In response, I get the following (Cryptic? Nonsensical? I think it was supposed to be threatening, but it doesn’t make enough sense to feel very ominous) message from Macallister:
You seem to be making some assumptions about what happen when you’ve been corrected by a mod that aren’t going to bear out well for you, Mooky.
To which I responded, “What the fuck?” Well, I literally responded:
I honestly don’t know what you are saying. I assume it’s a threat?
I (still, literally) do not understand what that person was saying. Which is pretty rough, if you are supposed to be the person in charge of running a board for freaking writers.
At this point, I’m wondering who Ms./Mr. Macallister is, so I look at the profile and discover that Macallister is supposedly his/her first name. The full name is Macallister Stone.
Needless to say, it took the Google machine about three milliseconds to confirm that MacAllister Stone is not a real person. I also learned that when AW was legally registered to do business (which it no longer appears to be), its registered address was a storage locker (which is a big no-no). Somewhat disturbingly, the fictitious MacAllister Stone was the registered business owner (which is a huge fucking no-no), and MacAllister Stone had also been doing business with people under that name. People who were unhappy, because MacAllister Stone owed them money –which is why it’s such a big no-no to have your imaginary friend own a business.
At this point, I’m getting a pretty iffy feeling about AW. Which sucks, because the wealth of information provided by its members on the “Bewares & Recommendations” portion of the site is extremely valuable. It also sucks, because some of those people are fun, knowledgeable, engaging people who follow this blog and/or whose blogs I follow, and whose company I enjoy. Plus it was a great way to kill time when I was on conference calls, which are how I spend an inordinate amount time.
I don’t want anyone to think I’m storming out of AW, morally outraged. I’m not. I’m mildly annoyed. I just see no reason I should allow myself to continue being mildly annoyed, particularly when someone’s imaginary friend feels compelled to threaten me with…. Well, no longer mildly annoying me, I guess.
Like all bulletin boards, AW functions on an implied agreement. The board provides a place for me to engage on a topic that interests me. In exchange, I provide page views and content, which happen to be the way boards make money. If Remington MacAllister’s human alter ego thinks she is in a position to threaten to take her half of that deal away, that’s fine. You win. I’ll stop providing free content.
Like I said, I went to a restaurant and the server was snotty. The food wasn’t terrible, but the owner was a pompous ass – and a touch sketchy. There are better places to find a sandwich.
Post Script (but it’s not an epilogue, so please READ the damned thing)
There are websites that loathe AW for all the wrong reasons. They are also full of information about AW and the whole sock puppet MacAllister Steele thing, much of which turns out to be correct. Some of those sites (not all) having correct information about this aspect of AW does not mean you can otherwise rely on information they provide. Some of their reasons for loathing AW may relate to how much good information AW members provide on the “Bewares and Recommendations” threads, and how well that section steers people away from being scammed. Other information from those sites should be a matter of significant concern and vigilance. It’s pretty easy to tell the sites I’m talking about from sites that may have concerns but not ulterior motives if you pay attention. Please, if you start wandering through these sites, pay attention.