Our decision to instate the #minors channel and switch out DMs for minors
Our mission is to make sure that MSC remains a strong, safe, and secure community where MAPs can receive the support and community that they need and deserve. Recently we have taken a step towards improving the safety and long term viability of the community, with the advice of the experts we work with: limiting the ability for MSC to be misused for sexual grooming of minors.
We believe the feelings people have right now – among staff and our membership – are completely valid. We did not adequately communicate all of what we considered in reaching the conclusion we did, nor did we adequately prepare for the questions people would have. To make it worse, staff has been struggling to resolve internal disputes for some time that are interpersonal and ideological, and a lot of people on our staff are hurting right now.
None of that is an excuse for the way we sprang this on the community, and we are sorry we did not take more preparation in communicating our decision or considering how people might react. This is a big change – a big change we never could have anticipated when Ender and Oliver formed MSC almost 5 years ago. We have experienced explosive growth since December and have struggled to put years of precedent into writing, policy, and communicate those adequately enough to train our staff and make our expectations to the MSC community as transparent as possible.
Reasons and Considerations
There was a significant incident that MSC admins and moderators discovered quite by accident via a tweet published on January the 27th: The possibility that someone from MSC was silently taking screenshots of conversations in onboarding going back to the time period of August to November. We looked into the account that shared those tweets and compared it against the interests and writing style of our members. We uncovered three suspects, viewed their direct messages, and found inappropriate messages that violated our rules.
Since February 11th, 2021, we have considered many different possible paths forward to resolve these issues and prevent further issues. These are listed below.
Before those, though, we have heard one thing loud and clear from this. MAPs did not appreciate a sudden announcement of the change and would have preferred some kind of prior consultation.
We understand that we did not explain all of the below reasons to you when we announced this change, and we should have. We also did not explain that we were likely to make changes in response to the incident we noted in #announcements in January 2021, or ask for the wider community’s suggestions at that point. We apologize that we did not do so.
For the future, we will make a better effort to consult with the community on important changes and explain the reasoning for those changes before we announce their implementation. Sometimes our hands will be tied anyway, and sometimes we will have to make quick decisions without consultation, but we recognise in this case that there is no perfect solution and that suggestions should be considered.
What Factors Did Staff Consider In Making This Decision?
Parting ways with Prostasia Foundation: This was not an option because they provide financial proxying so that we can cover our hosting costs without putting our staff's financial and therefore real-life name and information in the public sphere, and because they provide legal protection and advice to us. They have also assisted us in forming an arrangement with Stop It Now! to provide the sessions we have in the channel currently named therapy, and another arrangement is currently in the works.
Scanning direct messages rather than removing them: This, as the membership can see from the #dm-scanning-terms channel which many are a part of, has been considered for quite some time. We determined it was not feasible in the short term of several months, in part due to the upfront cost involved in writing a unique program to do all of what we need it to do, and because of the vast time and resources it would take to implement. We also found it challenging to define a simple list of words that “gave away” whether a conversation was appropriate or not. It is not an immediate solution to concerns of sexual harm occurring on our platform and it is reactive, not preventative. That would likely take from many months to years to develop, let alone properly fund.
Concerns that the support our minor members receive would be impacted: It is true that this will change the way we offer support to minor members, and that some of you will miss the kind of support you received in DMs, most of which we believe was positive. However, a question we had to deal with was whether we made the right decision offering unrestricted DMs when MSC started on Rocketchat. In our Discord days, MSC had no responsibility for what went on in DM chats as they were not part of MSC. This changed when we moved to Rocketchat. While we could not see a way to reconcile a reasonable duty of care with unrestricted DMs, we discussed the idea of forming private rooms at minor request that fit a 2-staff-to-minor ratio in order to continue providing support to our minor members. We also decided to allow minors to choose who is in a private group with them to ensure they remain comfortable with the persons involved, and can make that choice themselves under the 2-staff-to-one-minor framework. 1-on-1 situations in volunteer organizations are not the best practice – at least one other adult must be present, and that is how most volunteer organizations run things and professional organizations have much higher standards. Continuing to allow 1-on-1 situations is not viable for us as a community where minors are involved.
Ceasing to allow minors: This goes directly against the reasons MSC was formed, and was an option that one person suggested as a technical possibility, but one that nobody on our staff supported in any form or manner. This option was merely brought up to ensure we had all the viable options to choose from.
Balancing our duty as a platform to protect members against our ideals of education and communication: We commit to ensuring that younger applicants are aware of the risks and the opportunities to seek support from our staff or elsewhere, however it is common for victims/survivors of abuse to not report that they have been harmed for many years.
One staff monitoring two people is sufficient This was considered, but we tried to find a balance of observation so that a staff member could not make a decision by themself to either ignore or delete messages that clearly break the rules (this is particularly important if there is a serious rule-breach). Having a channel overseen by two staff lowers the risk that a staff member acts alone or against the rules and covers it up by deleting. Imagine if two minors were in a chat with a staff member, the staff member wrote something inappropriate then deleted their comment, and the two minors were both very new and felt intimidated about raising the concern by themselves. We think a second staff member’s presence should deter that. We have tried to balance the risk of adding more and more staff (and making the chat feel less private) against the risk of DMs being abused, as above. We are also aware that conversations on MSC can be fast moving and members of staff may not be checking in frequently. Finally, should a chat be requested with a specific member of staff, the only other adult present would be an additional member of staff.
The concern of being shut down: Because of the very unique and niche nature of MSC, this risk is greater because we provide services to minors by people who many in society see as risks to minors. Nearly all MAP communities are adult-only and some openly share stories of them harming children, many more than people realize in comparison to places like Virped or MSC. These are the kinds of communities that law enforcement is aware of and monitors for the chance of arresting the worst of the worst, if not running them directly as the FBI and Australian law enforcement has been found to do. MSC is not the kind of community that law enforcement would merely monitor, and the level of backlash if we took no actions to safeguard our minor members would set back not only our mission but, by association, would tarnish the efforts of other sites in the anti-contact MAP community. It is both about operational security and about the fear of public backlash and the effects that backlash can have on our ability to continue operating and providing support to MAPs.
The concern of people going off-platform: This is mainly a concern for the minors we have in our community right now. While we cannot stop people or expect them to not share off-platform communication methods before implementing this change, that is also not a decision that we would like to see people make, even while it is somewhat inevitable. We are not concerned with invading the confidential conversations that are required for support; we are concerned mainly with ensuring that these conversations remain appropriate and harm-free so that people can be safely supported.
Staff concerns about our own ability to adequately support members: 2020 has been difficult, and the effects of the pandemic are further-reaching than any of us is individually aware of. The reality is, being on staff in MSC is balanced against the needs of our own lives: work, school, friends and family, and partners outside of MSC. We also see MSC members as part of our family. To see any part of that family struggling hurts, and those hurts add up, especially knowing that there is a limit to the amount of support we can provide to people. We must balance the realities of our own life as staff.
Fear of a law enforcement investigation: We value our members' privacy and we must balance that value against the harsh realities that a law enforcement investigation would bring upon MSC. That is, no member's private information would remain private and would be viewed by law enforcement and if charges were brought, the court, and even the general public. We do not want to see a violation of that manner ever happen in MSC.
The context in which MSC operates: This is a complex reason that starts with the big change Twitter made in October 2020: They effectively decided to ban MAPs via policy, which they decided with many big names in sexual violence “prevention.” We put that in quotes because those big names are largely hostile to our cause of getting support for fears that such “support” in their eyes can become a method for radicalizing people into sexually abusing children. They have a lot of fear around us. These organizations are organizations like Canadian Child Protect, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the End Child Prostitution and Trafficking, and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, all of whom we can tell you do not pay attention to facts or reason, but fear and emotion. We have a very low opinion of these organizations. This is an important fact because it demonstrates the resolve, organization, and power that these groups have to effectively silence organizations, advocacy, and ideas they disagree with. That is the environment Prostasia Foundation is working in, as the very reason Prostasia Foundation was formed is to protect the idea that support for minor- attracted people is a fundamental human right. It is in that environment that the very first major community that serves both minors and adults is attempting to gain a foothold. That's us. We do not have the luxury of operating as if we exist in our own bubble. Without Prostasia Foundation's partnership, first established in November, 2018 and publicized thereafter, MSC would not exist today because our administrator team would bear the full responsibility of what happens on our platform, both positive and negative, without the financial proxy that Prostasia Foundation provides and without the legal expertise that Jeremy has to offer, and certainly without the ear to the ground that they have in knowing how the aforementioned organizations operate.
We did consider all of the options above when we reached the conclusion we did, and we weighed the concerns seriously while balancing them against our needs. During our conversations in map-talk in the last 24 hours, we heard very clearly almost all of the concerns we considered in our process of reaching the conclusion we did, which is why it was presented as a final decision. We do not like the position we found ourselves in, but we are not in a situation in our lives in which we can take upon ourselves the full legal, social, and financial responsibilities to run MSC without a partner like Prostasia Foundation, and not having that kind of a partner would severely limit the amount of support MSC could provide above and beyond the level to which revoking solo DM's with minors would.
We would ask each and every one of you to read this over carefully several times and, of course, ask any questions you may have and pose any suggestions you can think of. We are firm in our resolution to ensure that 1-on-1 situations with minors must not happen on our platform. In how we best go about that to balance the concerns, we are happy to consider all the perspectives so that we can continue being MAP Support Club.