Friday, November 17, 2023

Overheard at Table 1: NaNoWriMo Shuts Down Forums

Why we can't have nice things.

No idea if any of the grooming accusations are true, but let's just all admit that there are no safe spaces anywhere and it's very sad when some of the spaces we hope were safe turn out not to be ... or at least are accused of not being safe.

But then, I haven't been using the forums anyway. I just use NaNoWriMo to try to finish my novel.

To The NaNoWriMo Community,

We're dropping in to communicate to a broader audience about concerns that were brought to the attention of the Board. The concerns we received related exclusively to activity on our online forums. Though individual issues were varied in nature, they led us to a singular conclusion: that closing down the forums until issues could be properly resolved was the right first step. 

We are aware that a great deal of misinformation and innuendo on the matter is circulating. Though we cannot control speculation and sensationalism, we can be transparent about the questions we’ve received and the action that has been taken. 

The issues brought to our attention include:

  1. Inconsistent moderation and lack of attention to resolving complaints

  2. Concerns about the safety of minors (one volunteer moderator accused of grooming was complained about for not being removed from the forums in a timely fashion)

  3. Dynamics between moderators and community members; concerns about inclusiveness and staff conflicts of interest

The decision to temporarily shut down the forums was made out of a desire to stop and investigate, and to exercise an abundance of caution. Online forums cannot serve as safe and welcoming community spaces without a large-enough team of well-trained moderators.

We are also a 25-year-old community whose growth has outpaced that of the resources in place to support it. It is the Board's opinion that now is the right moment to pause, meaningfully resolve problems, and address complaints and match resources to needs. It's time to press the reset button on the forums. 

This will take time and we appreciate your patience. In the meantime, we need to make a few things absolutely clear:

  • The vast majority of complaints sent to the Board have not been verified, including claims about child grooming. It is important to draw a distinction between the voluntary, precautionary measure of proactively shutting down the forums and measures that might be taken if our thorough investigation confirms the truth of any of these complaints. 

  • The Board received its first complaint on November 7th. This was the Board’s first knowledge of these issues and the first community member outreach that any current Board member had been sent. 

  • Since that date, the Board has been transparent and responsive. You are welcome to view our official statements and findings on the NaNoWriMo main forums

  • We have primarily communicated on the forums about this, but we realized that some commentary was warranted more broadly, which is why we're sending this email. 

Maintaining the Magic of NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is a rich, dynamic, global community that reaches far beyond our online forums. Around the world, countless authors are writing amazing things. NaNoWriMo has tremendous reach beyond the forums that continues to lend support and resources to writers. 

Though some of what is being said about the organization is unflattering, we hope you will review our responses and conclude that we are operating to the highest standards of integrity in this matter. We have volunteered to serve on this Board from an abundance of love for the organization, its people and what it aims to do. We will work hard to regain your trust.

We'll end with a Fred Rogers quote we like about what truly happens in challenging situations. "Look for the helpers. There is always someone helping." We want to acknowledge the hundreds (if not thousands) of community members who step forward every day and who have stepped forward in this moment. For every concern we've received in our inbox, we have also received words of encouragement and offers of help.

In Partnership,

The NaNoWriMo Board

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