Managing the Community
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This is a draft chapter of a proposed book: Greatness and Goodness, Barbaro and his Legacy.
As the Fans of Barbaro (FOB) project developed many people came to the sites of timwoolleyracing.com (There are now multiple sites, the main blog which was the initial site, the Discussion Board which was added once the number of comments became unmanagable, this Wiki, a Facebook Group, Twitter, a YouTube Group and a Flickr Group). In addition to sharing common grief, FOBs came to learn, engage in dialogue and to connect. In the beginning the dialogue was always of a positive nature from a community simply thankful to get Barbaro updates (ACN) and the additional insights that were provided.
As the project developed, however, it soon became apparent that there would be significant management challenges.
Pro Slaughter Concern
As the sites evolved into a horse welfare vehicle, there was a concern that pro-slaughter advocates would infiltrate and disrupt the community, by either disingenuously posing as FOBs, or by being blatantly pro-slaughter. It can be difficult for the administrator of a discussion board to distinguish between an impostor and someone who is simply not behaving appropriately. Someone who is not behaving appropriately can, perhaps, change over time. Impostors, on the other hand, deliberately set out to disrupt the community. Barbaro'sRose was a case in point; she irritated many FOBs by her behavior. She never changed her behavior after repeated requests to do so, yet she never appeared to be pro-slaughter on the sites. Ultimately the administrators chose to ban the username "Barbaro'sRose."
Three Internal Issues and a Mission Statement
Over time, it has become clear that the threat from the pro-slaughter side to disrupt the work of FOBs has not yet really materialized. However we have experienced issues within our own community. The major problems we have experienced to date are the result of one of three issues:
1. Those who are animal welfare advocates that dislike the sport of horse racing. Sadly for some FOBs it was more important to promote the idea of ending horse racing rather than working on the horse rescue and horse slaughter issues and staying away from the horse racing discussions. The high profile deaths of George Washington, Eight Belles, Wanderin Boy and others exacerbated this issue. There are, however, FOBs who are actively working to try to improve horse racing from a horse welfare standpoint.
2. Managing pre-existing tensions within the anti-slaughter and rescue communities. It is clear now that there are some tensions between some anti-slaughter people and some rescues, and tensions within the rescue community itself. These tensions existed long before FOBs came together. Managing tensions with a long history, when you are not a student of that history, is tricky. This issue is further expanded: Peculiar FOB and Rescue Behaviors
3. We need to end horse slaughter, yet while slaughter persists legally, we need to work with those in the slaughter pipeline. Anti-slaughter advocates abhor any kind of rescue work that enables those within the horse slaughter industry. For example, buying horses from kill buyers at auction or at feedlots saves the particular horses that are purchased but also creates profit for the kill buyers that enables them to buy more horses. Since horse slaughter is a demand-driven business, horses rescued from slaughter are simply replaced by other horses. On the other hand, work by anti-slaughter advocates can sometimes compromise the work of horse rescues. Since anti-slaughter advocates vilify anyone working in the horse slaughter pipeline, their disruptive behavior at a kill auction can lead to those effected kill buyers to determine to no longer work with horse rescues that attend that same kill auction. For a horse rescue that rescues slaughter-bound horses to be truly effective, the rescue needs to have a working relationship with all the buyers at a kill auction as well as the auctioneer and so forth.
Managing these conversations, and observing actions on the ground at auctions, while still learning about the horse slaughter and the horse rescue industries made this doubly challenging for the administrators. Essentially the administrators knew very little about horse slaughter before the FOB community took shape. The administrators had to become experts on the topic in order to fairly manage the growth of the FOB community.
The issue regarding buying horses from kill buyers and feedlots was somewhat resolved when a mission statement was created for Fans of Barbaro and alexbrownracing.com (ABR) that clearly stated that FOBs would not forego a single horse for the larger slaughter issue. Here is the mission statement for Fans of Barbaro and ABR:
Mission: ABR, a horse racing site and home to the Fans of Barbaro, is a community dedicated to honoring the legacy of Barbaro by improving the welfare of horses and the humans involved with them.
How: ABR is dedicated to the fight of ending horse slaughter, to finding a cure for laminitis, to sharing horse-welfare and horse racing knowledge within the community, and to promoting action to accomplish these purposes. ABR is committed to helping rescue and support horses at all stages of the slaughter "pipeline" and not forsaking a single horse for the horse-slaughter movement. ABR supports other animal welfare and spiritual interests of FOBs as they evolve.
Nevertheless the tensions between horse slaughter advocates and the mission of ABR has led to a few high profile horse slaughter leaders being banned from the sites.
Peculiar FOB and Rescue Behaviors
There are certain behaviors exhibited within the FOB community that create tensions and result in good FOBs and good horse rescues leaving the community.
A major problem that occurs is the need for an FOB or horse rescue to seek attention.
Attention seeking can manifest in some form of internet bullying, for example, taking on the role of "rescue police". This type of behavior is designed to discredit another rescue organization and also bring credit to the perpetrator's own practices, either as a rescue or as an "expert" FOB. Essentially, if an FOB or rescue organization is able to highlight what is perceived as a wrong, then the "accuser" must only be doing things the right way. This behavior may also simply stem for jealousy by the accuser, with the intent to discredit the accused and create uncertainty among their group of supporters. Jealousy often stems from insecurity. Insecurity about the organization the perpetrator represents, which can include herself. This type of "vigilante" behavior often spills over off the site via e-mailing of FOBs. This is obviously impossible obviously to moniter but since the behavior does impact the well being of the site it is a significant issue.
This above behavior is synonymous to a thief who is the first to secure his own items. The thief assumes others act like himself.
Attention seeking also manifests in stretching facts to fit a story. Exaggerating the plight of a horse to ensure fundraising will occur quickly is one example. This behavior obviously borders on fraud. Well intentioned perhaps, but fraud nonetheless.
Grandstanding on an issue is another example of attention seeking. The result of grandstanding is oftentimes the rescue organization or FOB leaves the community and states so publicly in a long diatribe of all that is wrong with the FOB community. This statement is designed to either draw others away from the community to the perpetrator's own community, or simply to destroy the FOB community. Certainly the FOB community is not perfect, and it continues to learn. However grandstanding behavior adds little in terms of a learning opportunity for FOBs.
Within a community leaders will evolve based on their contributions and the reputation they develop. There will, however, also be those who want to become leaders and will not let their ego go unsatisfied. Again, leadership attracts attention for those seeking attention. Thus these "leaders" do not simply diligently work within the community to share their knowledge and build their support by their contributions, but they will take actions to exert themselves over other FOBs and rescue organizations. Lack of success in this endevour leads to hurt egos and jealousy.
The reality is, FOBs is a relatively new and relatively significant phenomenom in the horse rescue and horse slaughter community. And effectively, the FOBs have changed the status quo of the horse rescue and horse slaughter communities. Those already entrenched in those communities had two choices. To accept the support FOBs can provide and help guide FOBs so they can be more effective, or to try to exert authority where authority was not earned within the community. Some of the latter type of behavior clearly illustrated that these "leaders" presumed to be above the rules of the site. Not so. There is no doubt the community needs leaders with experiences on the horse rescue and horse slaughter issues. That's how the community learns and grows. However that learning cannot come at the cost of behavior that might well be supported by a personal agenda. There is also no doubt that the horse slaughter and horse rescue communities would be far more effective if they could work together.
It is also clear that there are some with agendas, that do support the overall goal of FOBs and the community in terms of ending horse slaughter, run counter to some of the "supporting goals" as articulated in the mission statement highlighted above (FOBs will not forsake a horse for the overarching mission to end slaughter).
Differences in FOB and rescue organization behaviors also stem from cultural differences within the various horse communities. What is acceptable for western people may well be very different from those from english and thoroughbred disciplines. Thus different practices of horse rescue groups are scrutinized through different lenses depending on the cultural backgrounds of the FOBs and horse rescues undertaking the scrutiny ("rescue police"). Sadly there are many FOBs and rescues who believe there is simply only one way of doing things and will therefore use these differences as a means to detract FOB support from competing rescues.
There is also a zero tolerance for mistakes within the horse rescue community. Similarly there is a blurry line between an unintentional mistake and an intentional act to harm a horse or to misappropriate funds. A mistake by a horse rescue, and a mistake that is portrayed as an intentional act to harm, is an opportunity for other horse rescues and their supporters to drive support away from the former to the latter. This is accomplished on the site and via e-mail. And of course the discourse, via e-mail, while impacting the site and community, cannot be directly controlled. Of course those who impact the least number of horses are at risk of making the least mistakes. Surely mistakes should be avoided. But there are also costs associated with not taking risks to help as many horses that can be helped.
From time to time there is a "mob like" feeding frenzy behavior exhibited based on half truths and incomplete information. This usually occurs during times of significant emotion (horses in feedlots awaiting shipment to slaughter for example) where FOBs have contributed to the rescue of horses and the status of some of the horses remains risky for reasons that are not altogether clear. This status is exacerbated by the anti-slaughter folks who abhor those who work with kill buyers, adding fuel to the fire. Sadly this behavior adds nothing to the rescue effort and turns other FOBs away from the effort, accomplishing the goals of those with a deliberate intent to disrupt.
And rescues do compete. Certainly within the FOB community there is competition for attention and that attention translates into FOB support and funding. This competition for attention can certainly foster behaviors that can be underhanded and manifest as described above. It also becomes discouraging for those horse rescues who do not adopt such behavior yet see it in others. Those horse rescues are the ones that are most at risk of leaving the community. Not because they are targets, but they see the behavior and do not want to risk being a future target and nor do they want to be a party to that type of behavior.
Banning, Rules and Reactions
Sadly the reality of running a vibrant and growing community is that some members will ultimately be banned.
Dislike or Disagree
It was quickly learned that banning someone due to a personal dislike is not appropriate. While the site has Alex Brown as its name, it is actually the site for the work of Fans of Barbaro. Just because Alex takes a personal disliking to someone does not mean it makes sense to ban that person, despite his good personal judgment. It is simply not his house. Similarly there are many Fans of Barbaro who have come to dislike Alex and express those feelings either on the sites or in private e-mails, which inevitably get forwarded.
One such e-mail ended with the two sentences:
So, onward with Alex and his high and mightyness.
Barbaro would be ashamed of Alex....
Another e-mail, forwarded to others included:
We don’t need him and should try to do something about it BUT ALEX OWNS THE BOARD - and he is making a nice salary now as a writer (although I never saw him write that well on the board, so I am wondering who really wrote his blog in the NY Times and his book) from everything WE did to keep that board running - and still do. Why should he make all the money and get all the fame? He should have shut-**** off MONTHS ago and anyone who lurks and then posts hurtful comments should be banned too - but they're not because a lot of them are INSIDERS in THE BUSINESS - probably half of them are stall muckers, hotwalkers and wannabes - but so was Alex before we brought him fame and fortune.
(Quick note: Alex is broke and is not making a nice salary.)
Another e-mail, sent to Alex after he asked the person to back-off, included the following:
The ABR forum is not democratic in any way, shape, or form. And again, no problem as you can run it any way you deem fit. But we certainly are having our eyes opened wider and wider when it comes to Alex Brown and those fewer and fewer folks that remain alongside him. My passion is for the welfare of the horses, and your passion is the stroking of your massive ego. I had to wonder how someone who works for the likes of Steve Asmussen can truly care about the welfare of our nations TB racehorses. Well, clearly, you don’t.
None of the authors' of the above three examples is banned on ABR.
Also, banning someone simply because their viewpoint is different from the conventional wisdom of the community is not appropriate. Essentially if you only have conversations among like-thinking people you learn less. Other view points allow FOBs to learn more, and more quickly.
Responses and Reactions to Banning
When site rules are violated, FOBs are banned. Banning a username often creates a reaction. Sometimes that response gets the username, the FOB, reinstated. Sometimes the reaction confirms the decision to ban was correct. Basically sometimes banning a username is simply a temporary action in order to create dialogue and assure whatever the issue is is not repeated. Banning a username can be reversed. Deleting a post cannot be reversed.
Once an FOB is banned, a reaction can also occur among other FOBs who had networked with the FOB who had been banned. The extent of this reaction is dependent on the reputation of the FOB who was banned, the work the person was doing on the site and with whom the person was working. Alex's previous experience running a community in the MBA Admissions space did not exhibit that particular behavior. Thus banning one FOB had broader consequences than simply dealing with that individual. Here is a response to the banning of a "prominent FOB" as an example:
While I can appreciate the hard work you and the moderators have with this board I have to say that the way you just ban a FAMILY member like Dawn and SO MANY other family members with not a word about what it is that was so bad. Maybe a little more consideration for those people that are truly not here for any other reason except for helping horses no matter the breed. You are not fair when it comes to TB breakdowns etc. It's either your way or the highway and our family members are being whacked off like dead corn because it's YOUR board. I have a hard time with that considering your board would not exist if it wasn't for all the good people that followed you. You should take all of that into consideration every once in awhile. I really don't know if you know how much heartache and pain you cause when you delete a true friend and family member but I can tell you personally it is a LOT.
Thanks for listening.
And another regarding the same FOB:
If there is anyone on here who knows Dawn personally, maybe you could mention to Dawn that so many people are going to miss her updates about her gang, and maybe she can start a mailing list or a blog on one of those free blog sites about her horses. I think she would have lots of participants eager to hear about Snickers and her brood!
Her's was one of the threads I followed every day, and I am very saddened that her updates have been ripped away from us for reasons I do not know for sure.
So...if Dawn is willing to start her own blog or mailing list, that would be awesome!
A second error that Alex made was airing his own frustrations publicly when things were not going smoothly (During the controversial rescue organization CBER's issues for example). Threatening to close the project caused anxiety among genuine FOBs and ridicule among outside observers who wished for nothing more. Typically the latter group were former "FOBs" who had been banned but were active on other sites. They were joined by others who simply did not like the site and what the site and community had accomplished (a potential example here). Again, the site and community had upset the status quo of the horse rescue and horse slaughter communities. The latter group's behavior would appear to be likely driven by ego and jealousy.
Some behavior, that was in violation of the site rules, simply never changed no matter how hard the administrators tried. Focusing on the greater good of the community was not acceptable for those FOBs and they subsequently were banned. Egos certainly are involved in cases like this. Some were even readmitted, as their impact on horse welfare was evident. However their prior behavior slowly returned (quickly in some cases) and they were rebanned. There are only a few people active on the sites today who had been banned, were readmitted and determined to conform to the few rules we have.
Other web-sites have developed to either criticize the actions being undertaken as a community or the actions of managing the community. The most obvious example is ICERS. Self-appointed "rescue police". ICER members will discuss particular rescue efforts on this site only to pick faults with the rescue efforts, not to applaud any of the good work of rescues and FOBs. ICER members will also post on ABR, using new usernames (because they have been banned for previous behavior) in order to attempt to derail efforts with their "rescue police" attitude. Again, some of this behavior is driven by our impact on the status quo. Ultimately ICERs was kicked off of Prespero, presumably for violating their TOS: ICERS GONE?? There are also a couple of blogs who actively criticize FOBs, ABR and Alex. Danielle Gowler runs BUC's blog. Danielle is pro-slaughter and was also banned from ABR.
And as new sites start up, they attempt to recruit members of ABR to those sites. The following is an example e-mail, from an FOB:
Title: ***PLEASE READ*** NEW DELPHI FORUM - VOICE FOR HORSES
There is a great new board that I would like to share with you. For those of you that frequent ABR, if are looking for an alternative that is a little more “flexible”, the hope is that this new board will be that alternative. Please share with friends and family that you trust and know won’t bring any drama to this new board. We hope you will take a moment to visit and post anything you feel is important. Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.
Example of typical disruptive behavior (need to place somewhere):
Epona Horse Rescue starts a thread: 11 plus 5 Headed for Sale -- EHR. Lin had issues with hoarding a year earlier. The intial post clearly states: "We have on week to raise fosters and homes and bail and transport." Thus it is clear Lin will not be taking in any of these horses. Post 12, from a members of ICERS, asks: "Are these horses IN ADDITION to the other ones you are taking in from WRRER?" The intent of this post is to create concern related to Lin's past hoarding tendancies.
Freedom of Speech?
There have been discussions about free speech (on other sites) and how we do not allow freedom of speech in our community. A case in point would be the rescue threads for the group named CBER. They are a controversial rescue in Washington State, rescuing off a feedlot. Here we will not address the pros and cons of this rescue organization, but suffice it to say they get a lot of horses off the feedlot and therefore temporarily out of harms way, but by doing so they work with a kill buyer (strike one) and do not provide good follow up to donors (strike two.) There is an apparent internet "witch hunt" that goes after CBER at any given opportunity. For each of their threads we had to ban usernames (new ones coincidentally) and delete posts that asked the same old questions time and time again. Asking questions is perfectly acceptable, and encouraged for donors. However there are limits to reason. Our actions are deemed as actions against freedom of speech by our naysayers.
The reality is we do have a few rules and those rules need to be followed. Without a few rules you will get anarchy and the community simply will not work. Those who break the rules are banned.
Banning Without Warning and Explanation
When a username is banned, for the most part it happens without warning or explanation. Why? It was determined that warnings and explanations would only enable those who really want to destroy the FOB community. It is easy to sign up for a second username and be empowered with the knowledge of how far limits can be pushed. It is also useful to someone who deliberately wants to disrupt a community to know they can continue a certain behavior until they have been warned. Knowing that those banned congregate on other sites to discuss the actions of the administrators and the community in general, and then set up new usernames, further supports why not revealing information, and offering warnings, was the decision to take.
The few times warnings have been provided, which generally happens to long time FOBs who appear to have contributed much to the community, this can still backfire as the recipient of the warning either e-mails her cohorts or posts directly back to the site that she has been threatened with a banning. By publically stating this the user is clearly undermining the intent of the management of the community.
Stay out of the Way
It has been important to stay in the background as administrators to the extent that that is possible. Certainly the administrators engage in conversations when asked questions or when they could help in horse related discussions. But for any fundraising threads it is important to not get involved and therefore show no bias. Early on, Alex made the error of promoting a fundraising thread on the main site. This action essentially enabled that effort, which created two problems. Firstly, Alex was now a part of the fundraising team and if there was any impropriety then Alex was involved with that too. Secondly, by promoting one fundraising thread, Alex was favoring that fundraiser over all others. That lesson was learned very quickly.
Administrators' Ego and Bullying Tactics
Administrators, and Alex in particular, have been charged with running the site with a large ego and using bullying tactics in order to have members conform. A "dictatorship".
Does ego dictate decision making ? Yes. But not in the way that has been charged. We are driven by having all those involved in horse rescue and horse slaughter use the site for those ends. Making the site the singularly most important site to satisfy its mission is the driver. Banning people can only reduce the size of the site and its impact. Banning key people, for example anti-slaughter advocates who have been in the horse slaughter fight since its inception and thus much longer than the FOBs, creates a large and negative reaction (due to their networks) which then hurts the mission of the site moreso. This activity is then exacerbated by discussions on other sites that deal with horse rescue and horse slaughter issues. The point being, while these actions have been taken, it is a loss to the community and its overall impact.
The counter argument is that this is all about Alex and exerting his footprint on the slaughter and rescue communities. Ban those who he fears, those who have been doing this much longer and as a consequence are much more knowledgable. Not so. The site, and therefore Alex's perceived impact, is only as effective as those on the site.
The administrators have made many mistakes along the way, the key has been not to make the same mistake twice.
It has been and continues to be a steep learning curve. This type of management is not easy. Odd really since this community is simply all about the horse.
Throughout all this however, as a community FOBs have survived and continue to grown.