Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blowing the Whistle on the SI “Referees”

From the Iron Skillet this morning- At Sharper Iron (SI) under the heading Volunteer Staff the following appears:
SharperIron has a volunteer crew of Moderators who work to keep discussions respectful and edifying.
Then under What to expect from SI Moderators . . (excerpt)
The Moderator role is not a “spiritual advisor” role, teacher role, or disciple-making role. These functions are far better supplied by your local church. When it comes to rules and moderating, the forums should work like a game of pick up basketball (or maybe a Chess tournament) where someone has the job of stepping into the role of referee when the need arises. So Moderators can and do join in the “game,” but mostly do a lot of watching.
This is a fair and acceptable job description of what participants at SI should expect at SI from its moderators. However, do the SI moderators, “mostly do a lot of watching?”

Most of SI’s moderators have operated within the guidelines set out in the description above. However, it is irrefutable that there are frequent examples of moderators tossing aside their zebra striped jersey to join in the game. In some cases, furthermore, openly taking sides in debates.

In old and new SI some of the moderators have done much more than “stepping into the role of referee.” Often times SI moderators bring their personal views into thread discussions, getting into debates and occasionally taking sides in the thread discussions. This was never more stark than when this past summer Aaron Blumer openly took sides against Missionary John Himes over *Kevin Bauder’s unprovoked attack on the legacy of Dr. Bob Jones, Jr. and Himes’s grandfather Dr. John R. Rice.

Let’s now look at a recent discussion thread. Are Rules Dangerous? Part 1 (posted 10/13/09). As of October 15 there were 69 posted comments. Approximately 40 of which were posted by SI moderators, administrators or the site publisher. This is a current and clear case, one of many, in which SI moderators go way beyond the role of observers or referees.

It is irrefutable and the evidence is obvious to any objective observer that SI has dwindled in membership and especially in the number of active participants. That trend began over two years ago and has steadily drained SI of members and active participants. Aaron, in his most recent plea for operating funds, (See And Now This, Oct. 20) disclosed an accurate count of actual members at SI, which is just over 1,000 with very few of these active in the threads. This acknowledgement and editing of previous membership claims at the SI FAQ page is a welcome change. Until very recently SI was **cooking its membership books suggesting to potential advertisers that SI “has four thousand members (several hundred active).”

According to Aaron’s accounting from his And Now This fund raising appeal, SI has lost 75% of its former (SI 2.0) membership. The significance of this is that with such drastic losses in membership the SI moderators and Aaron must join in the game or most SI threads would grind to a halt. Even so, many threads languish with little or no commentary whatsoever.

In summation: It is obvious to any objective observer that far and away the most active voices in the discussion threads are coming from SI’s moderators. In many cases these men and women do not settle for “the role of referee” in a “game of pick up basketball,” they become the game.

There is nothing inherently wrong with SI moderators taking very active roles in the threads. To portray their role, however, as that of a “referee” and then let them control the game, its direction and interject personal bias with impunity is inconsistent with SI’s stated role for its moderators.


*For the companion article see- Kevin Bauder: Even More Than “Nuff Said” For His Removal From the National Platform of the FBFI Annual Fellowship

**More on SI’s pulling back from cooking its membership books in a future article.

For an appendix to this topic see the attached comment thread.