It sometimes happens that you feel a single virtual space is your home with no alternatives and the people who created it determine every aspect of social interaction within it via rules, rewards, and punishments. That is how I started feeling once I became a mod at the Official WikiLeaks Forum . There was never a more powerful motivator to conform to dictates when the owner of that space proclaimed to dedicate it in support of a bunch of persecuted heroes who are changing the world. People you admire and want to support. Acquiescence to its rules as defined by owner then became a daily test of your support to these heroes.
So, I go back to the self proclaimed “Official” wikileaks-forum.com at the end of April 2012. A volunteer translation project was at full swing and it filled my days with activity as a co-ordinator.
A new crisis shook the forum and threatened to once again implode it socially. “Not again!” I thought to myself as it engulfed me in a spiral of sadness, fear, empathy, frantic action to protect/save, abandonment, disillusionment, acceptance of failure and finally the realisation that I had slowly compromised my principals for the sake of keeping the peace and propping up a space and its owner who was once more destructive.
On the 25th of April 2012, an article that appeared in Al Manar on line Newspaper was posted on a Board called ‘The Poison Cabinet’. This Board had been created to host controversial articles that could then be debated. First Cabledrum posted it and it was gone, then Z (owner’s alias) posted it again and it disappeared once more.
At the time I used to go into the forum and tweet links from it whilst using the Forum’s twitter account. At this point, when I saw Z had re-posted the article (albeit from a different source), I tweeted it. Oh my goodness, all hell broke loose. We had a proper “Who did it” at the Facebook Forum Staff Room and I had to explain privately my actions. In a jabber conversation Mark wanted to know my connection to the Al Manar article. He explained that this article was putting the forum at risk, he had received legal advise, the paper was affiliated with Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organisation.
I said I had no connection. Whoever was posting links to Al Manar he was putting the forum and himself at risk, he said. Then he produced a forum link that led to the thread graveyard (where we used to put all undesirable posts like spam etc). It was one of my very own posts of the same article. I could not for the life of me remember that I had also posted this. Everything that I read about WL releases and news I used to put up at the forum, since we were not allowed to liaise freely with the members, posting articles was a safe way to pass the time whilst looking out for spam. Did I remember putting this article up? No, but there it was, in front of me. Suddenly, fear possessed me. This mysterious post of mine could be the end of me at the forum.
Paranoia took momentarily over, only a few weeks ago I had realised that certain permissions could allow an Admin access to members’ profile information including their password. Could someone else had used my account details to post this article and implicate me, compromising my position? But I could not accept this as fact and dismissed it, instead I took the blame entirely, feeling inadequate and ignorant. It would not be the first time, I was a complete novice in this world of wonder.
I asked to be taken out of this board that Mark had given me to moderate. But he re-assured me with the most generous words. Whilst the posting of this article had apparently become the reason for stripping Cabledrum of his mod status for endangering the forum, he was letting me go scot free. I should not worry about a thing, all he wanted to know was if Cabledrum had asked me to tweet it. Of course he hadn’t. I was fully aware that any dealings I had with him had to be reported back to Mark, as he never liked him, so I kept him at arms length as a sign of loyalty to Mark and not to get myself into trouble. I had in the past ample example of how deep Mark’s animosity went towards Cabledrum and the prejudice he had created against him held strong with many mods, who felt protective. From that moment I retreated entirely from the conversation over Cabledrum and reduced my communications with him, feeling that to do otherwise was pushing my luck. Then I received this in my forum inbox on the 9th of May:
Dear WLF team,
As you probably know, my moderator permissions got revoked and the “cabledrum” board was taken offline without prior notice. Why?
On April 25, I posted a highly controversial article from the Lebanese media organization Al-Manar, regarding the Nasrallah interview on “World Tomorrow”. Al-Manar, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, is banned in several countries, including Germany (where WLF is operating from) and the US (where WLF server is hosted). I’ve also posted an opposing article from Jerusalem Post.
As a result, I have been accused for posting illegal content “in spite of Z’s warnings about it’s anti-constitutional character”. I’m accused to have “grossly violated” the board rules and to have endangered both WLF and Z this way.
But: This posting was made with Z’s approval. I informed him in advance and asked for his permission to post this article. We’ve discussed the posting details for over an hour, particularly the legislative situation (which wasn’t mentioned by Z but by me). Finally, Z explicitly permitted me to post the Al-Manar article.
Shortly after it was posted, I asked Z again, if the posting is ok this way. He told me that he worries about it and wants to discuss the issue with the other admins. During this chat, the posting was removed by C. On this point, I’ve stated again that I accept this decision.
Over the next three days, we dicussed the legal situation and possible alternatives. Finally, on April 28, Z posted a copy of the Al-Manar article from another website on his own and without my knowledge. This posting was removed 3 hours later.
Assuming that I did post that article “in spite of Z’s warnings” (which in fact isn’t the case): Why did Z post a copy of it afterwards?
In response to this issue, the “cabledrum” board was taken offline. This board contains a number of valuable postings, all mentioned by WikiLeaks on FB/Twitter, and got more than 10,000 page views. There was never any problem with this board. Even if any of the above accusations against me were true (which isn’t the case): Would it justify this degree of censorship? Even the postings of banned users remain online.
I am punished for something I haven’t done. And even if I had done it (which isn’t the case) it would not justify the sentence.
Since I have been accused and sentenced without any opportunity to defend myself, this internal PM should be an acceptable remedy and should not be understood as offensive intervention.
I still try to hope on some strange misunderstanding.
The above message was accompanied by long quotes in German & English from Cabledrum’s communication with Mark that proved without doubt how truthful Cabledrum was in his assertions above. Mark had given the green light for the posting of this article.
Despite my upset feelings and empathy for his predicament, I stayed silent and did not reply to him, offering no support or help. I knew I had no influence what so ever and there was no one else to turn to. I had no trouble with any other admin did neither did I have a close relationship of trust with any of them, the only one I spent a little time talking to was Ariana and I knew by then that she was Mark’s closest associate (couldn’t get any closer than that). My only reaction I shared with the mod which I spent most of the time with after Mark, her reply gave no encouragement:
You have just been sent a personal message by isis on The Official WikiLeaks Forum.
The message they sent you was:
Quote from: Green on Today at 05:46:50 PM
4 every decision there are reasons… and i wasn’t there to value.
i trust and respect the decisions of the forum.
eventual discussions to clear the “why”, concern the involved ppl ONLY and it’s not an issue of “accusing” or being wrong or right.
hope things can improove only, and we can cohoperate To Support Wikileaks that is what we are all here for.The Official WikiLeaks Forum firstname.lastname@example.org via soul.websitewelcome.com – 09/05/2012
You have just been sent a personal message by suspect on The Official WikiLeaks Forum. 10/05/2012
This is Cabledrummer. I have to write from another account since the cabledrum account got banned from sending messages, in response to my attempt to contradict.
Quote from WLF Mission Statement:Quote from: Z on May 24, 2011, 11:08:07 AM
The forum stands for the values Wikileaks has defended since its creation, such as freedom of speech and information.
We encourage constructive dialogues.
Unfortunately, WikiLeaks Forum fails to comply with its own standards. Decision-making lacks any transparency, dialogue is unwanted, criticism is forbidden, complaints are silenced. This is not what WikiLeaks stands for. And this is not the spirit of a free open community I’m dreaming of.
I strongly support the idea of WikiLeaks in the best possible way, I did before WLF and I will continue. Sadly, I’m prevented from sharing my work on WLF now and I’m not even allowed to ask for a reason.
At this point, I stop wasting my time with begging for fair treatment.
Eventually, Mark said he not only banned Cabledrum but also in anger he had accidentally deleted all of Cabledrum’s posts! I was astonished. In our telephone conversations his rage was evidently all consuming. I felt both fearful of him and what he might further do but I also felt pity, an immense sense of pity that he was once again failing in his role, at least in my eyes, and this saddened me. I was still convinced at this stage that he was the number one WL supporter. I tried hard to find excuses for him but they would not stand up to my own scrutiny.
His rage was unending and it started engulfing everyone remotely involved. He admitted it was his error to delete the posts. He could not accept the consequences of his actions, deeming himself blameless, could not see the damage and hurt he was inflicting on Cabledrum and others including the credibility of the forum as a platform. He felt insecure, wanted all other platforms’ boards off the forum. At this point he pressed my panic button. Although the forum had nothing to do with WL work, or its actual people as far as my experience told me (despite Mark’s claims) as long as it had the word ‘Official’ in its title any of Mark’s actions could be viewed by the community as somehow implicating WL. If Mark got rid of all the platforms, what message was he passing to the community? This anger was so dangerous.
Blessed be the peacemaker …Not!
And his actions had consequences. The deletion of over 400 posts did not go unnoticed and Cabledrum was not ‘going quietly into the night’. Other voices within the community started asking questions. Mark asked at the FB Staff Group Page for a spokesperson to step in and defuse the tension. I kept quiet, knowing what will follow…and it did. There was a drawback with having telephone contact with Mark, whatever my feelings were when I picked up the phone, I found myself agreeing to help in the end.
I wrote posts under his direction sealing him off the conflict zone, and tried to offer advise whilst deflecting tension. It was very difficult position to be in because Mark wanted this to work only as far as not experiencing the consequences of his actions. I reached out to WLPress who had complained about the deletions, and since Mark could not even allow direct talks with Cabledrum I agreed terms with them for the restitution of the posts. It was easy for me to find agreement as all parties were willing and able to find solutions. But what I committed myself to do on the part of the forum I failed in carrying out. Mark would not co-operate in facilitating the automatic loading of the posts. Despite the fact that Cabledrum offered to recover the deleted posts at the cabledrum board from his backup system Mark refused this. I started doing it manually but after the first couple of dozen ones were done, I stumbled on a technical issue. Cabledrum’s posts had html coded format beyond what my automatic html to bb converter could handle. My requests for help were answered by Mark with annoyance at the amount of time I was spending on this. No one else could help. I soon realised that the agreement would not be kept on the part of the forum.
Furthermore, I discovered the real reason of his rage which explained why he had reacted so violently and unfairly towards Cabledrum over the posting of the Al Manar article but so mildly towards me. He said that he had asked Cabledrum’s help with Ariana’s translating site (it was actually owned by him at the time, I later found out). Cabledrum had indeed delivered programming work to Ariana but she was furious. She had called Mark in anger fearing she would have to pay Cabledrum money that she did not have. As Mark kept going on about financials that hardly made sense, in the end of this conversation I understood entirely that this anger that made him attack Cabledrum over the Al Manar article had absolutely nothing to do with ‘endangering the forum’. It was an emotional reaction, prompted by Ariana’s feelings. I was once again speechless. The entire crisis was over a personal matter. It was the second time I was confronted with the same loop: Mark’s relationship with his friend, their financial interests culminating into translation activities on and off the forum.
Very quickly it became evident that he did not care to have the posts restituted, repeating again and again his feelings that he is being attacked, with no concern for the feelings of others and I started suspecting that he or his friend may have deleted the posts on purpose and not accidentally. I felt increasingly uncomfortable. I saw that all my efforts produced nothing other protecting Mark from the consequences of his actions. I also saw that he had manufactured a believable lie to achieve his objective.
But I accepted my failure to bring about an honourable settlement and made myself busy with the volunteer translation project. I kept Cabledrum blocked on all fronts fearing any communication with him would go back to Mark as it often did. At the back of my mind I started thinking that although it felt almost impossible to disassociate myself from what had become my first and only virtual home, I should plan an alternative future for my WL support outside the forum. I had heard and experienced before that he was very successful in stamping over his authority at the forum, persuading others to act on his behalf, encouraging discord by spreading negative information about others.In the end his every victory in securing his authority over others by hurting them meant that dozens of WL supporters left the forum in bitterness or disgust, often unable to find another way of supporting on line.
With the benefit of hindsight
In less than three months from the events I describe above, Mark abandoned any pretence of real support for WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Aug/Sep 2012, confused but determined I left. He retained the forum and blog support-julian-assange.com and used them in a sustained campaign of open misinformation, smear and blind criticism towards WL/JA. I have described all this in detail at this blog in other posts. 99% of forum posts are copy and paste submitted articles about WL releases. In between these there are opinion posts exclusively debated among the admins/mods always critical and undermining of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Other remarkable facts have become known about the forum. Mark tried to sell it three times, Twitter followers appeared out of nowhere, possibly bought, Facebook Likes also appear to have been bought.
With the benefit of hindsight I would suggest that the Al Manar case is indicative of what happened at the forum. It was created to bring people together but it was emptied from real support by the manufacture of believable lies, hurting members who then left or were banned. When it was emptied internally from real support for the organisation and people who it was supposed to support, then it was turned into a vehicle of hurting the community outside the forum that supports WikiLeaks, at the same time as smearing the people directly doing WikiLeaks work.
There is now more than ever the need to understand as far as we can that private ownership of WikiLeaks named expression platforms can be easily manipulated by owners for their own purposes.
Resources for the The case of Al Manar Revisited can be found here: http://wp.me/p2MRYW-lg