Special Notice: On May 15, 2011 these updated rules adopted by the E-Democracy.org Board below go into full effect. See our blog post for details on changes.
These important rules govern our public Issues Forums and guide the other online communities of practice we host. To file a rule violation complaint contact your local Forum Manager or see Questions for process advice.
- Real Names Required: Register and post with your real name and community.
- Right to Post and Reply: Sharing your knowledge and opinions with your fellow participants is a democratic right.
- Limits on Posting within a Forum's Purpose: Two posts per day per member on most forums. Forum charters determine geographic or topical scope.
- Be Civil: No name-calling. Respect among people with differing views is our cornerstone.
- No Personal Attacks: This keeps the forums welcoming and safer.
- Private Stays Private: Don't forward private communication without permission.
- Avoid Unsubstantiated Rumors: Asking for clarification of what you've heard in the community can be appropriate if issues-based. You alone are responsible for what you post.
- Items Not Allowed in Forums: No strong profanity, pornographic content, chain letters, unsolicited commercial advertising, etc. Forum charters may detail examples or exceptions including allowing commercial exchange and advice.
- Public Content and Use: You are sharing your content under the E-Democracy.org selected Creative Commons license unless you state an alternative copyright.
- Warnings and Suspensions: You may receive informal or official warnings. The volunteer Forum Manager is responsible for facilitation and enforcing rules. With your second official warning in one year, you are suspended for two weeks. You may appeal all warnings after a third warning that brings a six-month suspension.
- Forum Managers: Each forum has a manager with responsibilities and technical privileges to meet those responsibilities. Disputes with Forum Managers may be brought to E-Democracy.org through various mechanisms.
1 Full Rules Introduction
These rules are the basis for E-Democracy.org-sponsored online Issues Forums all other online exchanges hosted by E-Democracy.org except as modified in a forum’s charter or description.
Based on almost two decades of experience, these rules provide a foundation for strong online civility by focusing on public issues to promote participation in public life, strengthen communities, and build democracy. Our forums promote effective public agenda-setting through dialogue, government transparency, and neighborly community building. These online public forums are about sharing ideas and information rather than being right with one's ideology or winning an argument. Our forums are not designed for debating abstract political philosophy or criticizing others for their beliefs, backgrounds, or speculative motivations.
You have a right to participate. The rules of participation define accountability and the limited powers and responsibilities of volunteer Forum Managers and E-Democracy.org.
When you join a forum, you agree to abide by the terms of service.
A forum’s “charter” may establish additional rules, highlight essential rules, and the about/purpose statement on each forum home page further defines the forum's scope. The rules are further supported by E-Democracy.org's mission, Articles of Incorporation, and policies adopted by the Board of Directors.
As the legal forum host, E-Democracy.org seeks to exercise your public trust by responsibly mediating conflict among member rights and expectations for the benefit of the community. While these forums are not hosted by government, we uniquely and voluntarily limit our powers as hosts and approximate a “limited public forum” with strong expectations of decorum. Through our freedom of assembly, these forums represent our collective freedom of “civil” speech that no one individual, group, or government may deny.
Participants are responsible for reading and understanding these rules. By participating you agree to the spirit of a forum's purpose and these rules. Further rights and responsibilities are defined in our privacy and public life policy, forum content and removal policy, and other policies adopted by the Board of Directors.
2 Forum Participation Rules
2.1 Sign Posts Using Your Real Name, Community
All forum posts must be identified with your real first and last name, and city and/or neighborhood by accurately filling out your user profile. You are forbidden from directly posting with a pseudonym, anonymously, or using another person's identity. If you use a false identity you will be banned from participation on all forums for five years; see special penalties described under Warnings. All user profile content is governed by these rules.
2.2 Right to Post and Reply
E-Democracy.org through its independent right of free assembly has further established equal rights among all registered forum members to participate. You may lose your E-Democracy.org-established rights only based on your actions, particularly rule violations. Only forum members may post directly. Any person (or organization) that is publicly mentioned in a forum post has a right to reply upon registration, unless that person has been suspended for rule violations. Public officials and Forum Managers have equal participation rights and responsibilities as regular members.
2.3 Keep Topics within Forum Scope; Posting
Participants must limit posts to topics within the geographic area or issues of a forum's scope and purpose. Requests by the Forum Manager to bring discussions within the scope of the written charter and purpose of the forum must be heeded or warnings may be issued. Participants may not post messages about topics that are specifically prohibited by a forum's charter. If in doubt about the appropriateness of a topic, check privately with the Forum Manager before posting. Otherwise, the Forum Manager may issue an official warning if your post is deemed out-of-scope. Local forums may set a technical limit on the number of posts sent each day per participant (typically 2 in 24 hours). Posting the same or similar message (cross-posting) to multiple forums may generate a warning if not adequately customized within the (local) scope of each forum.
2.4 Be Civil
No name calling, insults, personal one-on-one arguments, or strongly inflamed speech. This applies to all people and groups of people including all other participants, any member of the public including public figures, and groups of people including political groups, and social or racial/ethnic groups. Each Forum Manager shall provide guidance to participants on what is inappropriate and prohibited on that forum through communications on forum or via a forum’s charter. There is no uniform standard of civility promised across different E-Democracy.org-hosted forums due to variations in local culture and expectations.
2.5 No Personal Attacks or Threats
Personal attacks or public threats against the safety or security of participants are not allowed. The Forum Manager may issue warnings leading to the removal of participants based only on their public posts to forums legally owned by E-Democracy.org. If you privately receive an illegal threat from another participant you should contact the appropriate legal authorities. E-Democracy.org and its volunteers are not responsible for any private behavior. You may inform the Forum Manager about troubling private communication, but no action should be taken by the Forum Manager or E-Democracy.org to intervene in private disputes among individuals. If it is determined that a pattern of abusive behavior is having a chilling effect on others’ participation in the public forum, the Forum Manager may request special removal by the E-Democracy.org Issues Forum staff lead. Our contacts may be found at http://e-democracy.org/contact
2.6 Private Stays Private, No Unsolicited Bulk Private E-mail
Forwarding private messages to an Issues Forum is not allowed without the express permission of the original author. This includes private replies to public posts and other private or personal communications including emails without a clear encouragement to share widely. Official communication from governments and government officials are considered public unless it is a direct response to a forum post that is sent solely to you, in which case it may be posted only with permission from the official.
Harvesting email addresses from any E-Democracy.org forum to send unsolicited bulk email is strictly prohibited. E-Democracy.org will immediately suspend a violator from all E-Democracy.org forums or apply another penalty based on the scale of the transgression. This rule does not prohibit direct private emails to individuals or groups of 10 or fewer. Complaints about email harvesting should be directed to E-Democracy.org. Our contacts may be found at http://e-democracy.org/contact.
2.7 Avoid Unsubstantiated Rumors, Respect Privacy; You Are Liable
Rumors of a personal nature are prohibited as are disclosures of personal information about other participants related or unrelated to the topic being discussed (e.g., personal health or finances, relationship status, unlisted telephone numbers, etc.). Your posts must be accurate based on your full knowledge and never intentionally false. Unverified "grapevine" information of a public nature must be within a forum's issue-based scope to be appropriate. You must correct your previous expressions of "known" information via the forum that you later find it to be false or substantially incorrect. Exceptions include assertions already publicly corrected or clarified by others in forum discussions. Corrections must be made within any daily posting limit or via the Forum Manager if urgent. You and you alone are liable for the content that you post. E-Democracy.org is not responsible or liable for the content posted by others to any online service that we host. No one threatening legal action against E-Democracy.org may participate until any threat is clearly lifted. See our Forum Content and Removal Policy and Policy on Legal Threats for details.
2.8 Items Not Allowed in Forums; Exceptions
Chain letters, strong profanity, pornographic content (text, images, video links, etc.) are prohibited under all circumstances. Unless specifically allowed in a forum’s charter, posting unsolicited commercial advertising is prohibited. Forum charters may define what is allowed or not in regard to either free or monetary exchange of goods, services, and advice.
Public event promotions and links to commercial, media, or nonprofit online news, information, and other content related to the scope of the forum are appropriate. Participant "signatures" providing links to the work or projects of an individual are acceptable. E-Democracy.org, its committees, and Forum Managers or designated volunteers may acknowledge sponsors or donors, and may share official E-Democracy.org project news, announcements, and donation requests in messages or on the website. Nothing in these rules prohibits E-Democracy.org from recognizing sponsors or placing advertising on the forums.
2.9 Public Content and Use, Creative Commons with Attribution
Issues Forums encourage public and open use of the content generated through community exchange online. By posting an original message, the author agrees to allow E-Democracy.org to distribute the message, image, video, or file via the Internet and to include it in a publicly accessible online archive in perpetuity. Unless an author specifically claims and lists a more restrictive copyright on content they created or own all posts and content shared via E-Democracy.org’s public forums are usable by others under the Creative Commons with Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) to encourage broad use and public dissemination. Per the Creative Commons with Attribution License, authors grant others the right to publicly quote the text of their message in any medium as long as the specific author and the forum are attributed by name (a link to the source post is required if quoted online). Further, the full text of messages may be forwarded electronically to others as long as the author's name and the forum's name and web address is cited or linked. Content may not be shared without attribution noting the name of the source forum.
Special forums and online events may use alternative copyright procedures as defined in their charters with permission from the Executive Director or the E-Democracy.org Board.
With copyrighted material like newspaper articles, you may post quotations from articles or web sites with the source URL. "Fair use" of excerpts (not the full text) is encouraged as well as the distribution of extended text from government-produced content. A discussion forum posting may only be removed from the public archives under a court order or as a case-by-case decision made by the Issues Forum staff lead in consultation with the E-Democracy.org Board (as governed by our Forum Content and Removal Policy).
2.10 Forums Volunteer Leadership, Forum Management Input Options
These rules empower the Forum Manager to lead and facilitate the forum and to solicit input and management feedback from participants. Send comments or complaints about potential rule violations or forum management decisions directly to the Forum Manager; do not post such complaints to the forum. Communications with any E-Democracy.org volunteer or staff member by a forum participant are subject to all these same rules and violations will be handled accordingly. If direct communication with a Forum Manager does not resolve an issue or if a participant feels a Forum Manager has violated these rules or their local charter, participants may submit official complaints or feedback about forum management to the Issues Forum staff lead or the E-Democracy.org Board at http://e-democracy.org/contact. See the Forum Management Rules for more details.
3 Forum Management Rules
Volunteer Forum Managers serve each Issues Forum and are appointed per E-Democracy.org policies and practices.
Forum Managers guide and facilitate their forum to achieve the goals of their forum description and charter. Within the E-Democracy.org mission, each forum works to build community, public life, and democracy while maximizing total participation. Forum Managers are responsible for interpreting and enforcing the rules locally, updating and serving their forum’s charter, gathering input from participants on ways to improve the forum, following Board adopted policies, and working within the E-Democracy.org network to assist and share experience with their fellow volunteers.
3.1 Volunteer Forum Managers as Participants
Forum Managers retain the right to participate in the forum under same rules as other participants. They may express their opinions but may not allow their personal views to influence specific forum management decisions. Only posts identified as coming from a Forum Manager are to be viewed as official Forum Manager communications.
3.2 Rules and Warnings
Forum Managers have the clear authority as agents of E-Democracy.org to guide forums, advise participants on the rules, and issue official warnings and suspensions. If forum management responsibilities are split among a team, a member of that team shall be designated to receive complaints and issue warnings on a regular or clearly identified rotating basis. Complaints about potential rule violations by Forum Managers or other management concerns must be sent directly to the Issues Forum staff lead via: http://e-democracy.org/contact.
3.3 Notification and Recording Keeping
Copies of all official warnings shall be placed in the internal Forum Management Warnings and Suspensions Tracking System where they may be accessed by Issues Forum staff, other Forum Managers, and the Board of Directors. Further, full copies of warning and suspension notices shall be made available to active (as defined in Board adopted E-Democracy.org policies) E-Democracy.org recognized volunteer teams, committees, or chapters advising forums. These warnings and suspension notices may not be shared publicly or forwarded to others by E-Democracy.org agents or volunteers (members of internal local “team” members, etc.) without permission of the warned or suspended member. Violation of member privacy is grounds to end that volunteer affiliation.
3.4 Concerns Regarding Forum Management
Concerns, not covered by the warning and appeals process below, should be directed to lead Issues Forum staff for E-Democracy.org. Our contacts may be found at http://e-democracy.org/contact.
4 Warnings, Suspension, and Moderation Rules
We know from almost two decades of experience that volunteer-based forum facilitation and management is essential. We make difficult decisions and rein in rule violators in order to protect the public mission of our forums, the reach of and community use of the forum, and E-Democracy.org's nonprofit obligations. If at any point you as a participant feel these rules do not serve the stated mission or goals of E-Democracy.org, you may petition the E-Democracy.org Board for specific changes.
Participation is voluntary on E-Democracy.org and may be done only with your ongoing agreement to participate under these terms of service.
In our Issues Forums, participants themselves keep the forums relevant and on track. There is no government, political group, corporation, or single individual controlling our self-governance system.
As described below, you may lose your right to participate based on your behavior in a forum; you may also regain your E-Democracy.org-established participation rights.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the E-Democracy.org Board of Directors to develop and protect each forum as an organizational initiative within the nonprofit mission of E-Democracy.org.
4.1 Rules Enforcement by Forum Managers
The Forum Manager may send informal advisories to encourage rule compliance. Official warnings are sent to the infringing participant when a Forum Manager determines that a rule has been broken. Such official warnings are recorded by the Forum Manager and kept for at least one year in our internal tracking system in case of an appeal. The Forum Manager is not required to monitor every post. Rule violating posts are not removed from our website except under our very restrictive forum content and removal policy.
4.2 Member Complaints
Forum members may send informal complaints privately to the potentially infringing participants to encourage participant-to-participant accountability. Any forum member may also file an official complaint about a specific post directly with the Forum Manager. They may not post their complaint publicly to the forum – this violates the rules and distracts a forum from its purpose. The Forum Manager will respond to complaints in a uniform fashion and must investigate any member complaint that cites a section of content in a specific post and the specific rule(s) violated with a ruling or advisory action.
4.3 Technical Removal
Technical maintenance, full email inboxes, or an excessive number of bounced messages may cause members to be temporarily or technically removed from the forum or result in a delayed distribution of their posts. In these cases, members may rejoin the forum at any time.
4.4 Warning and Suspension Process
The more official warnings you receive, the longer your participation will be limited. Warnings may be formally appealed after the third warning – see 4.5 Warning Appeals Process.
Warnings and sanctions are specific to each forum. Due to variations in forum purposes, culture, and the authority and discretion given to each volunteer Forum Manager, similar conduct may not result in the same sanction on different forums.
4.4.1 First Warning
The first official warning is recorded but the member is not suspended. The member should consider themselves on probation.
Each warning expires after 365 days (days during which a member is suspended do not count toward expiration).
4.4.2 Second Warning
The second official warning results in immediate suspension from that specific forum for two weeks. The member may either be fully removed from the forum or not allowed to post at the discretion of the Forum Manager.
In lieu of suspension, the Forum Manager may offer to moderate a participant for a limited term per the 4.6 Moderation rules section below.
4.4.3 Third Warning
A third warning results in an immediate suspension for six months from the specific forum. The member shall be fully removed from the forum during suspension.
See section 4.5 for appeals process details.
Upon return, the member may receive a fourth warning if the first warning is still active or within two months, whichever is longer. After two months and if the first warning has expired, another third warning would be issued.
4.4.4 Fourth Warning
A fourth official warning results in full removal from all E-Democracy.org forums for five years.
4.4.5 Suspension Notices on Forums
First warnings, second warnings and two week suspensions are considered minor infractions. To protect participant privacy and limit forum management discussions on forums (as prohibited by the rules), notices sharing names at this level are not published on the forums. Forum Managers may inform the forum in general that actions have been taken and refer to any post or topic in reminders about the rules and scope.
With a third warning, after any appeals are processed, an announcement about the suspension of this member will be publicly posted to the forum of which that person has been suspended.
The Forum Manager shall remind forum participants that public discussion of suspensions on a forum violates the rules and inform participants about alternative feedback methods and options. The person warned or suspended may use warning notices they receive freely outside of E-Democracy.org.
With a fourth warning, after any appeals are processed, an announcement about the removal of this member will be publicly posted to the forums of which that person is a member and sent to all E-Democracy Forum Managers and the E-Democracy.org Board.
4.4.6 Posting Restrictions While Under Suspension
While under suspension, a member may not post on the forum where suspended, nor may they ask others to forward their comments to the forum. Members in good standing may not knowingly post comments on behalf of suspended members. While suspended members may read the postings from the Web, they may not forward or comment on those posts in other E-Democracy.org forums where they still have full posting rights. Those fully removed from a forum(s) may not rejoin until their suspension period is complete.
4.5 Warnings Appeals Process
The first two warnings may not be appealed unless and until a third warning is issued, in which case any or all three warnings may be appealed on their own merits. Fourth warnings may also be appealed.
Warnings appealed in writing via - http://e-democracy.org/contact - under our due process procedure go to the local forum committee if active or otherwise to the Issues Forum lead for consultation with the E-Democracy.org Board of Directors. The local committee or Board may overturn warnings or provide other binding direction to the Forum Manager. A forum member's suspension shall remain in effect during the review process. The review process may last no more than three weeks from confirmation that the appeal was received.
4.6 Moderation Types and Process
Posts of specific members are subject to moderation only under certain conditions. While members are in moderation status, the Forum Manager may not approve posts that violate the rules. Below are the limited circumstances where moderation is permitted:
4.6.1 New Members
By default on most forums, new and returning members may be moderated until approval of a post without a rule violation, until their public profile is filled out as required for posting, until it is clear that they are not spammers or their e-mail account is no longer being used to send spam, and/or until they are sufficiently familiar with forum operations to participate successfully. Such members are to be promptly set to unmoderated upon meeting these requirements.
To support a member’s continued participation on a Forum, the Forum Manager and member may mutually agree to voluntary moderation. Members will be informed with all moderated post notices how to end voluntary moderation. Moderation may not be offered by the Forum Manager in exchange for not issuing an official warning for past actions, nor based on the views or perspectives contained in the member’s posts.
To reduce the likelihood of future warnings the Forum Manager may propose moderation in lieu of the two-week suspension for a second rule warning. Moderation duration is two weeks plus any additional agreed-upon time period. Moderation is not an option after a third warning.
4.6.4 For Cause
On an extremely limited basis, one, some, or all members may be temporarily moderated for up to one week for any reason including multi-member escalations of conflict. Notification of those moderated is recommended, and is specifically required to any participant whose post(s) are being reviewed for potential rule violations. Specific temporary moderation of an individual may not be renewed nor applied to the same person more than once in a 30-day period.
Further, the Issues Forum staff lead may identify a member for site-wide moderation. The terms must be fully laid out to the member, and said cause and terms may be appealed to the Board of Directors.
4.6.5 By Charter
All or specific members of special online groups (non-Issues Forums), announcement services, online events, etc., may be moderated per that online exchange’s charter or description.
4.7 False Identity Process and Removal
If after careful consideration by the Forum Manager or E-Democracy.org lead staff it is determined that a participant's actual identity is in question, that person’s posting rights on all forums will be suspended. Suspension will remain in effect until such time that their identity is confirmed or correct in their public profile. A letter may be requested containing photocopy of a government-issued ID with the full address and notarized signature on the same page is delivered to E-Democracy.org. If no proof of identity is provided within two weeks, the email address(es)/members accounts shall be deleted and banned from all E-Democracy.org forums.
Any identified individual found to have violated this rule with intent will be suspended from all participation in E-Democracy.org forum's and activities for five years. This includes any and all email accounts associated with that person whether real or falsified.
If it appears that fraud, forgery, identity theft, or computer crime laws have been violated, E-Democracy.org will notify the appropriate legal authorities in the political jurisdiction most closely associated with the forum. Based on local laws, creating a false account to circumvent suspension may be a violation of computer trespassing laws.
An exception to this rule is the case-by-case prior approval by the Issues Forum staff lead for the use of an alias by someone under official court protection or participation by individuals in countries where political expression is illegal and/or the serious threat of oppression or retribution exists. In addition, with the permission of the Executive Director or Board of Directors the charters for special time-limited web-based online events on sensitive topics may be designed to allow anonymous participation.
4.8 Actions Violating E-Democracy.org’s Mission
These rules fundamentally limit arbitrary management while clearly empowering local forum leadership as the path for almost all rule enforcement actions. To protect a forum as an organizational initiative within the nonprofit mission of E-Democracy.org, the Board reserves the right to immediately moderate and then remove any participant for extremely serious or egregious actions upon careful consideration. With removal, the Board shall clearly stipulate the terms and duration of that removal in writing. Notice of such removals will be linked from the rules section of the E-Democracy.org website. Further, the Issues Forum staff lead may ask a specific participant after repeat rule violations to verify their continued agreement to participate under these terms of service. Those refusing to confirm agreement within one week may not participate on E-Democracy.org.
5 Rules History
- Adopted 12 February 1996
- Revised 1 April 1997
- Major Revision 28 July 1999
- Extensive Updating Approved 17 December 2004
- Various warning and suspension process clarifications 30 April 2008
- Link to Forum Content and Removal policy added May 2008
- Email harvesting prohibition added February 2009
- Major Review and Revisions April 2011 - Prior rules before May 2011
6 Related Policies and Information
7 Current Special Suspensions
- Kevin Baumgartner, 6 months through November 15, 2012. Violation under rule 4.8 where forum operation is threatened related to rule violating private communication to an E-Democracy.org volunteer.