Rules before May 2011
ARCHIVED - E-Democracy.org Issues Forum Rules - Prior to May 2011
1. Real Names - Sign posts including your real name and city.
2. Limits on Posting - Two per member per day in most forum charters.
3. Keep Topics within Forum Purpose - Local issues on a local forum for example.
4. Be Civil - No name-calling. Respect among citizens with differing views is our cornerstone.
5. No Attacks or Threats - This keeps the forums safe. If content is illegal it will be forwarded to the proper legal authorities.
6. Private Stays Private - Don't forward private replies without permission.
7. Avoid False 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.
8. Right to Post and Reply - Sharing your knowledge and opinions with your fellow citizens is a democratic right.
9. Items Not Allowed in Forums - No chain letters, etc.
10. Public Content and Use - You are sharing your content forever, but retain your copyright.
11. Warnings - You may receive informal or official warnings from the Forum Manager.
12. Suspension - With your second official warning in one year, you are suspended for two weeks. It goes up from there.
13. Appeals Process - You can appeal a warning(s) once you receive a third warning and six month removal. Rare appeals are not received most years.
These rules are the basis for E-Democracy.Org-sponsored citizen-to-citizen online Issues Forums - including e-mail discussion lists, web forums, and other online events.
You have a right to participate. The following rules of participation define accountability and the limited powers of volunteer forum managers and E-Democracy.Org. When you join a forum, you agree to abide within these terms of service.
Based on over a decade of experience, these rules provide a citizen-based foundation for online civility by focusing on public issues in order to promote effective public agenda-setting through dialogue. These online public forums are about the sharing of 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 ridiculing others for their beliefs, backgrounds, or speculative motivations.
The purpose statement in each forum charter defines a forum's scope. A charter may establish additional rules and highlight essential rules. The rules are further supported E-Democracy.Org's mission, constitution, and by-laws. 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.
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 and our forum content and removal policy.
1. Sign Posts - All forum posts must be signed at the bottom of every message by the author with their real first and last name, and city and/or neighborhood. Posting with a pseudonym, anonymously or the use/theft of another person's identity is strictly forbidden and has special penalties described under Warnings #7.
2. Limits on Posting - Participants must follow any posting frequency limits (often 2 per day per person) when established in a forum charter. Participants must not post messages about topics that are specifically not allowed in a forum's charter.
3. Keep Topics within Forum Purpose - Requests by the Forum Manager to bring discussions within the scope of the forum must be followed or warnings may be issued. Limit posts to topics within the geographic area or issues related a forum's scope.
4. Be Civil - No insults, name calling or inflamed speech. Personal one-on-one arguments, disagreements or personality conflicts are not appropriate on the public discussion forum. The Forum Manager shall provide guidance to participants on what is appropriate and what is not allowed. Attempts at humor or sarcasm should be labeled ... ;-), :-), etc.
5. No Attacks or Threats - Personal attacks or public threats against the safety or security of participants are not allowed. The Forum Manager may issue warnings or remove participants based on their public posts to a forum legally owned by E-Democracy.Org. If you receive private communication from another participant that causes you serious concern, you may communicate that to the Forum Manager, but no action should be taken by the Forum Manager or E-Democracy.org to intervene in private disputes among individuals. If you feel you have privately received an illegal threat via e-mail you should contact the appropriate legal authorities. E-Democracy.Org and its Chapters are not responsible for any private behavior. However, if it is determined that a pattern of abusive behavior is having a chilling effect on other's participation in the public forum, the Forum Manager may issue a warning and/or removal upon advising the local Chapter Steering Committee.
6. Private Stays Private - Forwarding private messages to the online forum is not allowed without the express permission of the original author. This includes private replies to public posts and other private or personal communication including e-mail communication with public officials who may or may not be forum members. Public officials and Forum Managers have equal participation rights and responsibilities in our forums - everyone is a citizen first.
7. Avoid False Rumors, You are Liable - Rumors of a personal nature are not allowed. 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. If in doubt about the appropriateness of a given topic, check privately with the Forum Manager before posting. Otherwise, the Forum Manager might take disciplinary action if your post is deemed to be off-topic. Further, via the forum itself, you must correct your previous expressions of fact or "known" information that you find later to be false or substantially incorrect. Exceptions include your 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 of your own messages. E-Democracy.Org is not responsible or liable for the content posted to any technically unmoderated forum or moderated announcement service.
8. Right to Post and Reply - E-Democracy.Org through its right of free assembly and expression have further established equal rights among all registered forum members to participate. You may only lose those E-Democracy.Org established rights based on your actions, particularly rule violations. Only those who are registered forum members may post directly. Any person or organization that is publicly mentioned in a forum post has a right to reply, unless that person has been suspended for rule violations. In order to post a reply, the individual (or an individual representing the organization) must become a registered member of the forum.
9. Items Not Allowed in Forums, Exceptions - Commercial advertising, virus warnings from members, and chain letters are prohibited from all forums. Comments or complaints about forum management or complaints about member rule violations must not be posted to the main forum. Instead, direct such messages privately to the Forum Manager.
Public event promotions and links to commercial, media, or non-profit online content related to the scope of the forum are appropriate. Participant "signatures" providing links to the work or projects of an individual are acceptable, but the display of specific products for sale are not allowed. E-Democracy.Org and its committees and chapters may acknowledge sponsors, donors, and their fundraising events in messages or on the web site.
10. Public Content and Use - By posting an original message, the message author agrees to allow E-Democracy.Org to distribute the message via the Internet and to include it in a publicly accessible online archive in perpetuity. While original message authors retain their personal copyright, they grant others the right to publicly quote portions of their message in any medium. Further the full text of messages may be forward via e-mail to others as long as the author's name and the forum's name and web address is cited or linked. A discussion forum posting may only be removed from the public archives under a court order or under a case-by-case decision made by a Chapter or the Board. (as governed by our Forum Content and Removal Policy).
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 well as the distribution of extended text from government produced content.
Harvesting e-mail addresses from any E-Democracy.Org forum and sending unsolicited bulk email is strictly prohibited in any form. E-Democracy.Org may immediately suspend a violator's participation across all E-Democracy.Org forums, or apply another penalty based on the scale of the transgression. This rule does not prohibit direct private email to individuals or small groups of 10 or fewer. Complaints about e-mail harvesting should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Warnings and Suspension from E-Democracy.Org Forums
In our citizen-based 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.
You may lose your right to participate based on your behavior in a forum. You may also regain your rights.
We know from a decade of experience, that volunteer-based forum facilitation and management is essential. We make difficult decisions and reign in rule violators in order to protect the public mission of our forums and E-Democracy.Org's non-profit obligations. We encourage those with different ideas about how online discussions should be structured and managed to start and announce such forums via our networks. We are just one voluntary model.
If at any point you feel these rules as written or historically applied do not serve the stated mission or goals of E-Democracy.Org, you have the right to petition the Board for specific changes.
1. Manager Warnings - Official warnings are sent to the infringing member when a Forum Manager determines that a rule has been broken. Official warnings must be recorded by the Forum Manager and kept in case of an appeal. The Forum Manager may at their discretion send informal advisories to encourage rule compliance. They may also at their discretion issue and record official warnings. The Forum Manager is not required to monitor every post.
2. Member Complaints - Forum members may send informal complaints privately to the potentially infringing participants to encourage citizen-to-citizen 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 fundamentally distracts a forum from its purpose. The Forum Manager will respond to complaints in a uniform fashion and maintain records of all official warnings given.
3. Warnings Active - Official warnings expire 365 days after they are issued. However, any period during which a member is under suspension does not count toward the 365-day expiration.
4. Special Moderation - A Forum Manager may moderate the posts of specific members upon notification to that member for up to two months while dealing with rule compliance issues. This may be renewed upon notification.
5. Managers as Citizens - 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 political views to influence specific forum management decisions. Complaints about potential rule violations by Forum Managers must be sent directly to the local E-Democracy Chapter or the E-Democracy.Org Board.
Note: If forum management responsibilities are split among a team, a member of that team shall be designated to issue warnings and receive complaints on a regular or clearly identified rotating basis.
6. Suspension Process - The warning process starts with probation and results in removal periods that grow in length based on repeat offenses. Warnings are specific to each forum. Due to variations in forum purposes and management styles, similar conduct may not result in the same sanction. The initial warning process and suspension level is private in order to avoid public member embarrassment - a penalty greater than that deserved.
While under suspension, a member may not post in the forum from which they have been suspended, nor may they ask others to forward their comments to the forum. Members of 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 on which they maintain full posting rights.
A. First Warning - The first official warning is recorded. The member is not suspended. Each warning expires after one full year. The member should consider themselves on probation.
B. Second Warning - The second official warning results in immediate suspension from that specific forum for two weeks. Another two week suspension may be granted should the initial first warning expire before their third rule violation.
The first two warnings may not be appealed at this time. They may only be appealed on their merits if a third warning is given before a second warning has expired.
C. Third Warning - A third warning that occurs before a second warning has expired results in an immediate suspension for six months from the specific forum.
Notification of the suspension of this member must be sent to the respective E-Democracy Chapter and the E-Democracy.Org Board. After any member appeals are heard, at that member's request, the Forum Manager will post a basic notice to the public forum that that member has been suspended. The Forum Manager shall remind forum participants that public discussion of suspensions violates the rules and may offer a link to the appropriate forum that allows discussion of E-Democracy rules and administration.
Upon returning, the member may receive a fourth warning if the first warning is still active or within two months which ever is longer. Another third warning suspension will be granted after two months assuming that only their first active warning has expired.
D. Fourth Warning - A fourth official warning results in full removal from all E-Democracy.Org forums for five years. After any appeals are processed, an announcement about the removal of this member will be publicly posted to the forums to which that member belongs and sent to all E-Democracy Chapters and the Board. The removed member has the option to provide an up to 300 word public statement that will be linked in the rules section of the E-Democracy web site. This will be linked to a statement from the Board of Directors about the causes for removal.
7. False Identity Process and Removal - If it is determined with careful consideration by the Forum Manager or E-Democracy.Org that a participant's actual identity is in question, E-Democracy.Org will immediately suspend posting for that person on all forums until such time that a one page letter including a 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 e-mail address(es)/members accounts shall be deleted and banned from all E-Democracy.Org forums.
Any identified individual found to have violated this rule will be suspended from all participation in E-Democracy.Org forum's and activities for five years. This includes any and all e-mail 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.
The only exception to this rule is the case-by-case prior approval by the Forum Manager and E-Democracy Chapter or E-Democracy Board for the use of an alias by someone under official court protection or participation by individuals in countries where political expression is illegal and the serious threat of oppression or retribution exists. As an exception to this section, the charters for special time-limited web-based online events on sensitive topics may be designed to allow anonymous participation with Chapter or Board approval only.
8. Appeals and Due Process - Any third or fourth warning may be appealed under our due process procedure to the local E-Democracy Chapter or the E-Democracy.Org Board should a local forum management steering committee not exist. At that time, the validity of the first or second warning may also be reviewed and the total number of warnings reduced if any of the Forum Manager warnings are overturned. 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.
9. Technical Removal - Technical maintenance, full e-mail inboxes, or excessive bounced messages may cause a member to be temporarily or technically removed from the forum or result in a delayed distribution of their posts. In these cases, the member may rejoin the forum at any time.
10. Mission Responsibilities - It is the responsibility of the E-Democracy Board to develop and protect each forum as an organizational initiative within the non-profit mission of E-Democracy.Org. The E-Democracy Board reserves the right to remove any participant upon careful consideration and stipulate the terms and duration of that removal. Notices on such removals will be linked from the rules section the E-Democracy.Org website.
Forum Manager Responsibilities
These notes will form a new governance document applied to Forum Managers and Chapter Steering Committees in the future. They are in effect now.
1. Forum Managers may only moderate discussion posts over a standard size/length, posts sent to multiple addresses or forums, posts with attachments, posts from new members to make sure they are not spammers, upon the notification of those being moderated, or a temporary forum-wide moderation for up to 24 hours applied to all members as required on an extremely limited basis.
2. The Forum Manager may moderate, rename, clean headers, and/or ignore non-member messages.
3. Special time-limited online events, chats, and announcement services may be moderated on a prior and post review basis if clearly described in that service's charter.
4. After removing forum participant identifier information, the Forum Manager will forward official warning and suspension notifications to the following two email addresses: fm (at) forums.e-democracy.org (the E-Democracy.org Forum Managers discussion list) and rules (at) forums.e-democracy.org (the E-Democracy.org Rules Committee distribution list). Forum managers may also be required to notify their Chapter management. The forward should include a brief summary of the context of the warning or suspension. Upon request from E-Democracy Board of Directors or forum chapter management, the Forum Manager will provide participant identifier information to those oversight units.
5. The Forum Manager will inform forum membership in a timely manner that a forum participant has been warned or suspended. The notification will exclude the participant’s name but include the nature of the official warning or suspension (e.g. second warning, two week suspension) and the reason for the warning or suspension
6. The Forum Manager is selected and accountable to the Chapter Steering Committee or the E-Democracy.Org Board if a chapter does not yet exist. A Forum Manager may be removed and the Chapter or Board shall consider and respond to specific complaints from forum participants about forum management. Suggestions on future "vote of confidence" or petition mechanisms to ensure legitimacy of the online public space are of interest to the Board.
Adopted 12 FEB 1996, Revised 1 APR 1997, Major Revision 28 JUL 1999, Extensive Updating Approved 17 DEC 2004, Various warning and suspension process clarifications 30 APR 2008, link to Forum Content and Removal policy added May 2008, e-mail harvesting prohibition added Feb. 2009.
Where did these rules come from?
These rules are based on a decade of direct experience with volunteer-based facilitation of citizen-to-citizen online political discussion.
Imagine designing the rules of debate in the first parliament. These are our basic rules for the online citizen assembly of the 21st Century. They can always be improved, but they are pretty good.
- Former Minnesota Politics Discuss Rules (primary source evolving since 1994)
- Former Minneapolis Issues Forum Rules
- Winona Online Democracy Rules
- E-Democracy Rules Task Force Discussion from 2003
- Public comments on proposed rules in 2004.
- E-Democracy's updated Draft Mission and Core Beliefs
Further research is available on our forum experiences. In general, our rules are designed to strike the balance between freedom and responsibility.
With facilitation and limitations on management power, we have developed an effective and sustainable, low-cost volunteer-driven model for citizen-based civic discussion online.
Try these rules in your community by starting an Issues Forum and local E-Democracy Chapter.
These rules cover all E-Democracy.Org sponsored forums in all places.
Rules are reviewed every other year, although amendments are always possible. Where did they come from?
All new E-Demoracy.Org forums are created based on these uniform rules which provide a foundatIon for local forum charter flexibility.
Public Suspension Notices
Third and fourth warning suspension notices are posted in a specific forum. Only those suspended by the Board under mission responsibilities are listed here.
- Sharon Anderson, St. Paul
- Alan Maki, Warroad, MN
- Julia Gasper, Oxford, UK