Member Rara Avis
It seems to me there are actually a few issues here. The first and most obvious, of course, is people using multiple names in the forums. And I pretty much agree it's not only harmless, but often serves a viable purpose. Maureen was using an alias because she felt the poetry flowing from her pen at the time wasn't really characteristic and she likely didn't want to worry her friends. I think that's a very valid reason to "be someone else" for a while. The truth is, I too have an alias I occasionally use to post poetry - because sometimes I want opinions not colored by "who" the author is. I think there are a lot of times when anonymity makes sense.
Of course, there are also times, as you alluded to, Bill, when a secret identity can do more harm than good. To the best of my knowledge, there's been exactly one instance where a Member registered an alias just so he could safely make a deriding remark to someone. He had, coincidentally enough, come from a board very similar to the one you describe. And while I didn't reveal his identity publicly, I made it very clear in a follow-up post that I knew who he was and found his behavior very unacceptable. I think the word I used was "gutless." I assure you, Bill, that anyone who thinks they can misuse the system to hurt others will very quickly discover otherwise.
There really aren't very many people who post with multiple identities (which is good, because the Membership database is our weak link - I can archive a big forum, but we're stuck with the Membership files no matter how large they get). I know there's not many because, every time someone registers a new name, the server emails me. Ceres and I are very close and keep few secrets from each other.
There are two other issues which, while separate, nonetheless share commonalties: the removal of posts and private email discussions.
From a practical standpoint, it should be noted there are relatively few people with the ability to delete posts. The Admins can work in any forum, but the Moderators have authority only within their assigned forums. The alternative would be the equivalent of too many cooks in the kitchen and likely result in chaos. Even with these limitations, we've had instances of duplicate posts both being deleted by two Moderators simultaneously, each thinking they were deleting the "extra" one. Obviously, there are going to be times when an offensive post is present and no Moderators are immediately available. The "General Alert" link at the top of most pages will send an email to all the Moderators of that forum, plus one to me. If I'm not asleep I'm usually on-line, and had Maureen used the General Alert the other night I likely would have gotten involved earlier.
But practicalities aside, the question still arises, when should a post be deleted? If we deleted all responses that had nothing to do with poetry, we'd probably be zapping about half the posts made. Members are encouraged to interact at Passions, to get to know one another, on the assumption that an understanding of humanity is just as important as a knowledge of meter and imagery. There are a LOT of non-poetic discussions posted and I, for one, would hate to see that change.
Posts, very obviously, do get deleted from time to time, though really with surprising infrequency. Posts that are grossly offensive or encourage harm to a human being are blatant infringements of our guidelines and are usually removed as soon as a Moderator is made aware of them. And yes, attacks against a person are also removed; I personally deleted two posts by Maureen the other night because they crossed the line from disagreement into personal attack. All removals are necessarily judgement calls, and we simply try to do the best we can.
Athena's post, the one that sparked the debacle, was both rude and unjustly authoritative, but I wouldn't have classified it as a personal attack. Christopher's post made it clear her attitude was unacceptable and, in my opinion, was an excellent example of our principles in action. Deleting Athena's post would have meant either deleting Chris's or, at best, made his admonishment appear out of context - and no one would have learned anything! By leaving both posts, I think all of our Members, both old and new, have a clearer idea of what is inappropriate behavior today than they perhaps did last week.
I personally don't believe that disagreements between people should necessarily be deleted or moved into private email. I do think they should usually be moved out of a poetry forum and into the Alley, which sadly didn't happen the other night, but I see no reason they should ever be swept under the rug. That's the way of the politician, perhaps, but not of the poet. There is nothing inherently wrong with conflict and we learn as much from it (usually more) as from consensus. I certainly recognize that "some" things are better discussed in private, but I don't think a disagreement should always be one of them. That's especially true if the motivation for a private discussion is simply to escape the rules of civility demanded in the forums. If it can't be said in the Alley, it probably shouldn't be said in email either.
Indeed, I see the beginnings of what I consider a serious problem at Passions regarding email and ICQ. I hear hints of people emailing other Members because they don't want to "embarrass" them in public, and I find the practice wholly unacceptable. At best, it is presumptuous, and at worst, it can be hurtful. If someone wants help with their spelling or meter - either publicly OR privately - they will ask for the help. Everyone here posts for different reasons, and offering unsolicited advice comes from assigning your own motivations to someone else. Not everyone is at the same stage of learning. If someone asks for help, any Member should feel comfortable helping them in public. If we can't feel comfortable doing something in public, we should NOT assume private makes it any more acceptable. Those who feel the need to hide behind a veil of privacy are little different than those trying to hide behind anonymity.
The events and subsequent misunderstandings of the other night were very unfortunate. Like you, Bill, I'm very sad to see Maureen leave. And I am particularly distressed at the manner of her departure, and was very surprised by her behavior. I'm always willing to listen to suggestions and am open to finding better ways. But in retrospect, I honestly cannot think of a single thing I would have done differently.