Vampire Accountability and the Politics of Civil Dissent

In July, the Voices of the Vampire Community (VVC) posted a questionnaire to its site to name community problems both concrete and abstract as well as what could be done (if anything) to try and fix those problems. The survey generated 230 responses. As soon as the survey results went live on the Vampire Community News Facebook, people began to dissect the results.

I was one of those people. I’m professionally trained on how to create surveys, and how to collect and analyze data overall. I like filling out community-related surveys because I enjoy giving my opinion on vampire-related topics. Plus, I wanted to see how the metrics broke down. How many responders would pin problems on known groups or people? How many responders would take advantage of the anonymity to be honest with the community or even themselves?

The numbers are telling. (And off by one; I need to re-tabulate the breakdown.)

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This is a snapshot from the VCN FB page. I came up with the fourth and fifth tab before I even read the survey and added the others later. The sixth was an afterthought; it seemed like every response I read claiming the inclusion of donors/ therian/otherkin, energy workers, etc. ruined the community was quickly followed by another responder claiming the inclusion of such like-minded non-vampires helped the community grow.

After tabulating responses, I went back and read the comments. I posted some responses to the VCN. I wanted to reach out to people with questions and direct them to where they could find answers. I wanted to comment on some of the more thought-provoking responses. And I wanted to give my honest opinion about things and why they are the way they are and do so without sugar-coating or obfuscation. And I wanted to do so for two reasons.

One, I’ve been a part of the community in one way or another since 1998, albeit with a hiatus here or there, and I’ve been an active offline participant since 2008. Longevity gives you insight, not only about yourself and your own energy consumption but also how the community works and doesn’t work. There are long-standing problems in the online vampire community (OVC) that have yet to be solved. I hoped to provide background and suggest future action.

Two, I wanted to stand behind what I said, especially after reading the responses. I was surprised to read the number of obtuse answers in the survey results; even in an anonymous survey, folks weren’t willing to name names. To me, there’s no point in trying to name or fix known problems anonymously. I contribute more when people are open with each other–perhaps others will participate if I am equally candid.

Participate indeed.

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I agree with this message. In my opinion, a site with “news” in the title has no business passing off unsubstantiated opinion as fact. Psion does this at South African Vampire News (SAVN). Tim does this at Real Vampire News (RVN). Even the moderators of VCN, Merticus and Isealdor, allowed question and opinion threads from group members to take hold on the wall, something inevitable with the fluid and accessible nature of Facebook but mildly annoying nonetheless. Someone navel-gazing about the true nature of whatever is not NEWS. There’s a blogosphere for that.

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A bit of history on Real Vampire News, for the curious.

In 2010, John Reason started the Real Vampire News blog to provide the community with news, editorials, fiction, and the like. Soon John encouraged other authors to write for his site. Archive.org has a snapshot of the site from February 2011. (The content from February to April 2010 is accessible–the rest was never captured by archive.org.)

As the year went on, there were more contributors yet fewer news articles. The fiction and media vanished altogether. Editorials and opinion pieces became commonplace. The “RVN admin” contributor occasionally posted one, as did contributor “Hawkmoor.” A contributor named T’Nite started a feature called Crossroads, essentially a 2K-5k word opinion piece on philosophical points like community values and so forth.

After speculation and a breakdown of both contributors’ posts, Hawkmoor (a self-admitted community outsider) admitted to being T’Nite. He claimed to have used the name and the take-no-prisoners persona of T’Nite to post material that might have been judged subjectively had he posted the material as Hawkmoor.

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Finally, citing real world obligations, John Reason stepped down as RVN’s main admin and passed the duties on to Hawkmoor.

In late 2011, Hawkmoor introduced his vampire interview series “Chatting With Vampires” to RVN after running an interview or two on his personal blog.

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In 2012, Hawkmoor announced he had changed as a person so much that the Hawkmoor persona no longer fit him. He began to post under the name Tim.

Unfortunately, the RVN had a server crash in early 2012. What little remains of this transitional period exists in screenshots and, if you’re willing to scroll backward on Facebook for over an hour, on the VCN FB wall. Tim/Hawkmoor’s WordPress blog no longer exists. RVN’s current incarnation only goes back three months.

I share this background to provide history as well as back up my point: RVN used to be so much more than 1-3 contributors posting their opinions and email interviews. Why has Tim abandoned his personal blog to post similar content on RVN? If the site’s direction has changed so much since its inception, why not change the site’s mission statement to reflect that? Why does Tim persist in calling RVN “John Reason’s Real Vampire News” when the site’s founder has been absent from the project for over a year?

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Objective, pointed questions have no easy or painless answers. In my line of work, you ask a lot of those questions not only for a response but to study how that person gives answers to tough questions. These are not vitriol-laden jabs made to provoke negativity. They are sharp scalpels formed to get right to the heart of the matter, a matter personal and probably painful, but questions long pondered that I finally dared to ask.

To solve the community’s problems, we cannot be afraid to ask these probing questions of ourselves, each other, and the community structures that surround us. As someone who posts two interviews a month, Tim should know this.

I wrote a short, civil dissent on the VCN’s FB page responding to #179 concerning the vampire news site that immediately came to mind, and moved along. I thought nothing more of it until I received the following message on Facebook a day or two after my original posting.

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I added the black boxes to provide him some privacy–everything else is untouched.

My first thought was, he probably had a rotten day and came home to find what I said and he dove headfirst into the deep end. When someone criticizes me, no matter how polite, I have a split-second gut reaction of pure, unbridled rage. For a split second.

I chose not to respond to him. To me, “I think it’s drifted far enough away from its founding parameters that John Reason should just hand over the keys so Tim can rename it” did not warrant “what the fuck is wrong with you you psychotic retard.” I figured with a little time to calm down and think things over, he’d post something more reasonable. I didn’t expect an apology. I figured once he stopped being angry, he would be more rational, and then we could have a discussion.

What I didn’t figure on was this.

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The first one I chalked up to a bad day. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that even begins to excuse the second message. Tim did not like what I said about RVN on the VCN’s Facebook wall, so rather than posting a public response or ignoring the message entirely (as rational and mature adults do when confronted with such situations) he contacted me through a private FB message to make me regret saying it (I didn’t then and don’t now) and bait me into responding to his childish and derisive message (without success), and then taunted me for staying silent while intimidating me yet again for saying what I did.

This is cyberbullying, plain and simple.

Tim has quite a bit to say about cyberbullying, some of it even recently. (Alas, his Hawkmoor/T’Nite posts on the matter are long gone.) In June 2012, Tim hosted an email interview on RVN with members of House Rakoczy as they discussed their new Vampires for Freedom of Expression initiative, intending to provide community policing against bigotry, harrassment, and bullying.

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Sounds solid enough to me. Be civil to one another, even when you disagree. All sides need to accept that healthy debate between sane and rational requires trust: you won’t change or mock my opinion but you’re free to disagree with my opinion and explain why, and I have every right to do the same with yours.

Tim’s follow-up article on RVN discussed how the community would be better off calling itself a group other than a community, as “community” implies some sort of shared purpose as well as screening process, and the OVC currently has neither.

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Perhaps Tim should bring this up with #175 from the accountability survey, as that responder spoke of a name change from “community” to “mosaic.”

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On the VCN survey thread on FB, I responded to that message right before the one that kicked off this entire blog post.

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For once, Tim and I agree on something.

Tim then concludes his article by saying that individuals need to examine the existing community, its political structure, and its power players, decide how best to participate, then do so. Once the community networks on a person-to-person basis rather than by groups or houses or other similar entities, individuals will have greater control over their environment and interactions within it, including elements the individuals deem negative like cyberbullying.

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Tim interviewed a trio of anti-bullying advocates and, in a follow-up editorial piece, he advocated how to work around the problem of cyberbullying and other hate speech. This sentiment is from the same man who, when I said in a public forum that RVN’s owner-in-name-only should just give him full rights to change the site or he should restart his own blog for his opinions, felt the need to send me a private message saying I should be the poster girl for a new euthanasia campaign.

No one, I repeat NO ONE should EVER be shamed, intimidated, harassed, or bullied for civil dissent. No one should be afraid to politely disagree with anyone in this community. No one should hesitate to discuss controversial topics for fear of retribution. I lead with my actions: I will never shy away from courteous debate, especially on public community sites. Not with Tim, not with anyone.

I posted this on my own blog not to shame Tim for his actions or coax an apology from him but to provide others with insight into his character. So often it is impossible for community members to build opinion on anything other than rumor or hearsay. I wanted to provide this information as objectively as possible from my own viewpoint so others could take away whatever morals or meanings they wished.

I also wanted to illustrate one of the ten choices on the survey: hypocrisy. When people act one way in public and another in private (or one way in an environment they can control and another way in an environment outside their control), expect dishonesty from them, as one of those faces is false. Maybe even both.

Today, Tim updated his Spruz network site with the following message:

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Consider this bringing the problem to you, Tim. I await your respectful, and wholly public, response.

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