win-win photography forums

For the record: I'm not interested in participating in groups where people are selectively censored by self-interested moderators, and you shouldn't be either.  I'm going to explain why, but first read this:

I posted the following in a supposedly "professional" Edmonton photographers network and share group yesterday, but requested that it be deleted so I could avoid drama. I now regret asking for it to be deleted.  Not pointing out injustice because I was afraid to deal with bullying wasn't a good reason to put a gag order on myself.  Standing up for myself wasn't about causing drama; it was about standing up for myself.

~paste~ ADMIN A wrote: 

For those selling or self promoting: in order to keep the group more of a chat group, if you have self promotion things , events or things to sell, please add them to a file in the above tab.

HOPE wrote: 

I'd just like a little clarification from ADMIN A or ADMIN B regarding what this means. I have had the last two posts I made regarding a social event (a party) I am hosting on June 7th DELETED but was not contacted or given any reason. Then the above notice pops up. I'm curious why my posts, which were NOT selling anything, were deleted when these other recent posts were allowed to stay?:

~paste~ ADMIN A wrote: 

If any of you have friends who need to learn how to use their camera, can you please share this, we have 2 seats to fill ---> (insert event link here)

~paste~ POSTER Q wrote: 

I'm helping to organize an event with a guy who is a marketing expert, and specializes in helping photographers learn how to MAKE MONEY! interested in attending an evening workshop? Learn more here (insert event link here)

HOPE wrote: 

I'm also not the only one who has invited people to attend a social gathering in this forum.

~paste~ ADMIN A wrote: 

Looking forward to meeting some new faces today!!! (insert event link here)

HOPE wrote: 

and I don't know what "self-promotion" looks like, but I'm assuming that this looks a lot like this:

~paste~ ADMIN A wrote:

Pretty exciting stuff!! (insert link to unsolicited promo piece submitted to an online magazine by ADMIN A)

HOPE wrote: I guess I have two questions.

  1. Are members randomly selected for censorship?
  2. Is ADMIN exempt from following its own rules?
I look forward to an answer.

ADMIN B was unaware of any posts being selectively deleted.  ADMIN A, sadly, had no good explanation, but there wasn't any needed.  I had clearly been singled out for exclusion from sharing my event.  I have every reason to believe that this had nothing to do with trying to keep things chatty and everything to do with ADMIN viewing me as a threat and censoring my event to protect personal interests.


As feared, I did in fact receive a bullying cease and desist note from the moderator of the forum.  I'll paraphrase.  "Why yes, you were indeed selectively censored due to a legal clause for something that isn't related to your party at all.  PS you hunch was right - the forum really IS for my/our/my company's own use even though it's not specified in the terms of use, but don't you dare go public with this because I'll tell everyone it's defamation of character."

What's that saying about karma?  Leave someone enough rope and they will always find a way to hang themselves? I'm so glad I didn't try and make a macrame hanger with it. Never macrame angry.


Here's why, when your spidey senses tingle, should pay attention to your gut and stay away.

The above act of censorship was presented in such a way that people would get the impression it was merely a policy change.  It's sneaky and sloppy but is not an uncommon tactic used when moderators of a forum have decided to clean up their membership.  They will put new restrictions in place or redefine existing ones to target an increasingly smaller demographic that oddly excludes people they look down upon or don't get along with in the forum.  The policy might be, "Anyone who has less than 3 years of experience is not eligible to join..." and the next year they might update it to, "Anyone who has less than 4 years..."  Not only does this allow them to keep their elite group intact but it permits them to block the people they previously ousted from ever being able to rejoin.  When an individual or group of individuals suddenly disappears from a forum, it's not a bad idea to ask them what happened - people often have a good reason for leaving.

At the core of reputable online forums is the spirit of creating win-win business relationships.  The forum owners benefit from the sense of goodwill they build for themselves within the community, as much as the community at large is raised up by sharing of resources, information, and knowledge.  Ideally a support network develops where people can both seek and offer advice, find a second or back-up shooter, learn about upcoming professional development and networking opportunities, and exchange or circulate equipment, gear, props, and more. Beyond this, strong interpersonal relationships engender a warm, accepting community rich with people we can not only geek out with about gear without their eyes glazing over, but with whom we feel comfortable enough to vent or unleash about professional challenges.  

A good moderator or admin team should work like bowling bumpers, not umps.  They should ensure things are heading in the right direction and let people know when they are headed for the gutter so they can self-correct.  They should redirect people without using public humiliation or intimidation.  Good mods will only censor as a last resort and banish someone when they have proven themselves to be intentionally hostile and toxic within the group. They moderate with diplomacy, transparency, and equity.  And people enjoy participating because they feel everyone's interests are encouraged, supported and protected.

If you belong to a community where there is clearly an "in-group" with rubbery rules, it is not a win-win photography forum.  You will forever be on the fringe of a handful of people who control the conversations, pat each other on the bum, gang up on the same people, ignore or exclude specific posters, and censor others whose opinions they dislike.  You in fact may feel as if you are sitting in a bucket of scorpions who are as likely to sting one of their own as you.  I outgrew this kind of nonsense in junior high and repeat: I am not interested in participating in groups where people are selectively censored by self-interested moderators, and you shouldn't be either.


After receiving the note from the moderator, a further and perhaps more important question is raised about honesty. This kind of unethical promotion of a hidden agenda reminds me of the scandal with David Jay's "Opensource" forum, which was actually a platform for promoting a photographer tool called "showit." The ironic thing is, if Mr. Jay would have just opened a forum called "David Jay's networking forum sponsored by Showit" people would have joined anyways. People are so strange. I just don't get it.  

I know this industry can get really cut-throat, but anyone who knows me, knows how steadfastly I champion the ideal of a win-win community. There is room for ALL of us. When we start spending less time worrying about how to crush or belittle or invalidate those we perceive as potential threats to our own success, and more time focussing on bringing everyone else up around us so we ALL succeed, the industry becomes a much healthier, happier place to be.  This moderator clearly needs to take a deep breath and revel in his or her own beautifully successful business, which has at its core the same mandate: everyone wins. Perhaps then he or she will see that life is too short and people are too precious to spend a single second turning allies into enemies.