Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

E-sangha and Control Freaks

I’ve used the site E-sangha over the last year or two off and on. It is one of the few web forums for Buddhists that has a real critical mass of users. This makes it a great place for people to get together and speak about issues, have discussions, even debates.

The last is the problem though. E-Sangha is run as a dictatorship. Individuals are appointed to be moderators over forums or sub-forums. Those moderators have almost complete authority over these forums. If they dislike a thread, its tone, or just a the way a user is discussing things, they have the power to lock or delete a thread, delete posts, or suspend a user from the site.

How are moderators selected? Who knows? It certainly isn’t by popular acclaim and there is no transparency into the process. How do you appeal a moderator ruling? Well, you can try to find another moderator and ask them. If you’re banned or temporarily suspended, there is no appeal because you’ve been blocked from the site. Basically, E-sangha is about as anti-democratic or populist as you can get in a web forum. Heck, you can’t even find a list of contact points to discuss any of this on the site and, actually, discussing decisions by moderators that one disagrees with in a forum is specifically disallowed and can get you suspended…

In practice, this means that if the moderator dislikes a discussion or a user, they have complete authority, without any recourse, to put a full stop on things or bounce the user. This leads to abuse, which I’ve seen on a number of occasions where a moderator or a popular (with moderators) regular contributor doesn’t like where a discussion is going and gets the thread locked down so it has to stop. Occasionally, people just disappear from the site along with their posts (or even your posts with them).

Of course, what is prompting this post is that I’ve been suspended from E-sangha for three days as of this morning. I received a one way e-mail which from a “Todd” stating that I showed “a general trend of disruptive posts” and a “general lack of respect for the moderators…” This forces them to give me “a few days off.” What this means is that they suspended my account on E-sangha, across the board, for three days.

Who is “Todd” and how do I contact him? Not a clue and no mechanism is given. I’ve never even heard of this guy but he clearly speaks as the Voice of E-sangha. Attempting to go to E-sangha shows me that, yes, I am suspended from all access. The one hyperlink in the e-mail is to the e-sangha home page which, if I try to visit, informs me that my account is banned from the site. How do I appeal this? Apparently, I don’t. I either suck it up and don’t do what I did in the future or I leave E-sangha.

What prompted this? Well, recently, an East Asian Buddhism Forum was created. This forum included a subform for Tendai Buddhism for the first time ever on E-sangha (you won’t be able to visit the link though since the forum was locked down from unregistered users at the same time as I was suspended…). This is a big deal for those of us who want to discuss Tendai because we haven’t had a place before. This forum (and the Shingon one) is moderated by a Shingon priest living in Japan.

On the forum over the last couple of days, there have been some discussions about Tendai in America. In these, I have directly asked the moderator about his motivations based on his posts and things he said in them. It seemed like he had some opinions in regards to Tendai (which has often been at odds with Shingon in Japanese history) and America. I wanted him to explicitly state whatever it was that he was trying to say or to tell me that I was wrong and that he didn’t have an agenda. It just seemed like a hostile environment. I asked him on the forum about it, to which he chose not to reply. That was last night. Today, I get the boot and the forums are locked down from guest users so posts cannot be viewed. I’ve been told by other parties that my posts with the questions have been deleted without any explanation.

This definitely seems like some sort of reaction though I am not sure what it means. I really did not think that my questions were rude though they were very direct, which was probably not diplomatic. I even think that he could simply choose not to answer these questions or move on. After all, we’re all equals in the forums and having discussions except, of course, he’s the moderator.

At the end of the day, it is typical web forum BS where people have disagreements and get thrown off of sites, etc. etc. There is nothing new about this on the Internet in the slightest.

I do wonder and have for some time if E-sangha is really a good vehicle for Buddhist discussions on the Internet. There is no transparency in the decision making. Heck, you don’t even know who makes decisions, nor can you contact these people or appeal decisions. It’s all very clique-like and control oriented. They have a vision of what Buddhist discussions should be and they enforce it in a dictatorial manner.

I’ve had the domains “OpenBuddha.com” and “OpenBuddha.org” for quite a while. I’ve been thinking of putting a MediaWiki on it and maybe a web forum. The question is whether it is worth the effort and if it would be well received. It seems like there might be a reason to create an actually open forum, such as many Wiki sites and associated forums have, rather than the control-oriented one that E-sangha is currently.

Of course, by saying this in public, I’m risking a permanent ban on E-sangha. We’ll see.