A Wake up Call 2 - An open letter to Jonathan Washburn

By
Real Estate Technology with Carmody and Associates LLC

Over the past few weeks I have watched the staff of Active Rain try to deal with a difficult and complicated issue and in the process I have seen some cherished ideas of free expression and association become more dim as conflicting interests tried to work out the tension that existed between them. 

I have communicated with Active Rain staff by phone and email and within these pages in posts and comments.  Some of my thoughts were contained in the following linked post:

http://activerain.com/blogsview/506296/A-Wake-Up-Call       (5/11/08)

So with the recent history, I was distressed to learn yesterday that Bill Burress had been terminated as a member of Active Rain for violation of AR guidelines.

The reactions of many (including me) to the news are contained in Hugh Krone's post

http://activerain.com/blogsview/519780/-A-DARK-DAY    (5/22/08)

 

I would like to compliment Bob Stewart and Rich Jacobson of the AR Community Builders staff for their open discussion in comments to the above post about the specific reason for Bill's termination.  This is controversial and their willingness to openly talk about the action and the reasons for it is a plus for the community.

their wayQuoting Bob Stewart (his comment to the Hugh Krone post 5/22/08), "The comment..."If Hillary gets the Democrat nomination, expect Blacks to vote for her.  Blacks are like lemmings in general elections.  The vast majority of Blacks vote Democrat"... which Mr. Burress made, we determined to be hate speech which is a violation of our community guidelines and could potentially be a violation of fair housing guidelines. We will not tolerate hate speech on ActiveRain.
That is the sole reason that Mr. Burress' account was terminated."

I commented, with my usual tact and sensitivity, calling their decision ludicrous  (well, we all have off days).

I do not want to rehash all of my comments from Hugh's post (linked above).  Those who are interested in this series of events should be sure and read the more than 100 comments to Hugh's post.

 

What I have to add this evening is that I asked for, and received, an opportunity to talk with the owners to get their direct input into this controversy.  Jonathan Washburn returned my call and was very open in his discussion.  While I disagree with his conclusion, I appreciate his taking the time to talk with me.

First, Jonathan indicated that the Community Builders brought the case to him for consultation before they acted so there is no question of a mixed message here.  Jonathan takes full responsibility for the decision.  In fact, their recommendation had been to suspend Burress, Jonathan's decision was to terminate him.

Jonathan  focuses on the term "lemmings" in the suspect comment telling me that he finds the comparison of a racial group to a rodent to be distasteful and hate speech in his mind.  I pointed out that there is another - more usual - meaning of "lemmings" - that being a group of followers who go along with those around them in an action suggesting a herd mentality.  And in the context of Bill's comment, it seems to me that the only logical meaning of the word deals with group behavior or followers.  Jonathan does not agree.

So I have asked Jonathan to do a search in Active Rain for the word "lemmings".  He will find ten pages of listed AR blog articles where the term is used - and I believe that the meaning will be clear that lemmings refers to followers.  He says he will do so. 

It is interesting that one of the articles using the term lemmings is written by Rich Jacobson - our Community Builder.  Any bets on whether Rich is going to be voted off the island for hate speech? Rich's article can be found at: http://activerain.com/blogsview/384425/-Just-because-You    I believe he is using the term as I describe to create an image of group action.

Jonathan spoke to me of the wikipedia definition of hate speech.  Upon reflection, I have found that if he would have read further into the page he would have found that hate speech is generally protected (absent defamation or incitement to riot) in our nation of freedom of expression and controversial political or social views receive the greatest protection of all.

There is, in my view, no rational connection between Bill's remark and the Federal Housing Laws.  The allegation is absurd.  There is no liability under law by AR for the content of our blog posts.  There is no hate speech in Bill's comment because the common usage of the word (lemmings) has no racial or hate connotation.  And further - in the context of the blog, there is no rational intent by Bill other than to say that black voters, as a group, vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats - a verifiable statement of fact. 

I realize that Jonathan is responsible for the cohesiveness of the community.  He and his partners have spent considerable time and money to create a forum for exchange of ideas and business information among real estate professionals and ancillary professional groups.  I benefit from their creation and I am grateful.  But with 89,000 members and nearly 4,000 separate special interest groups (many of which are not directly related to professional topics) it is beyond my comprehension that there is not room for every one of us and our free expression of ideas that are important to us.

sunsetI believe that a part of ActiveRain is dying today with Jonathan's decision.  I do not find his rationale for his decision to be convincing nor do I find justification for termination of the individual under discussion under the printed guidelines.  That is my opinion - but remember if Jonathan can do this to Bill Burress, he can do it to any one of us on the slightest of pretexts.  It is my view, expressed to Jonathan personally, that his decision and his oversensitivity to the use of the word lemmings says more to me about him (Jonathan) than about Bill.  I agree completely that there has been language used in many of the discussion groups that I would find to be in bad taste - and I believe there are mechanisms available to improve that situation. But this decision was based upon one comment in a single blog, according to the written statements of the AR staff responsible.  And while I appreciate Jonathan's taking the time to discuss his decision with me, I find his decision to be fascist and arbitrary.  I fear that he may do more damage to his community than Bill could ever do. 

I hope that the AR community will respond to this situation with comments or register their opinions with the owners in whatever form is appropriate.  Whether you agree with me or with Jonathan - voice your opinion now.  In this way Jonathan and his staff can take your views into consideration.  Although I disagree with Jonathan, I give him a long credit mark for taking the time to hear me out.  It would be my hope that management would take this opportunity to commute Bill's termination to a short suspension.  If many members express views - one way or the other and if Jonathan reviews the common use of the word lemmings in the many other blog posts of AR as he has agreed, he may moderate his position. 

In closing, I have suggested in comments that the persecution of several individuals over recent weeks has been the result of agenda rather than chance.  All of the AR management and staff have been patient and cordial with me, and I do not make that suggestion disrespectfully.  I have tried to view the facts as they may be available to me and infer a reasonable explanation from the events that I see.  The "conspiracy theory" approach is the result of documentation which I have included in my earlier posts.  (linked above) Specifically the written statement of intent by one of the members who opposes political or religious content in AR and the very chummy response to a post in that blog by an AR staffer.  It appears that those who have a stated biased intent of eliminating content from the community have used the complaint process in AR to achieve their goals.  That is why I have suggested that the motives of the complainers might be suspect.  That the persecution of individuals is continuing after these matters were brought to light leads me to be suspicious of the motives of the bureaucracy which seems to be supporting their cause.  So I have been open about my concerns, but have never suggested that I have been treated with anything but courtesy by all the AR gang.  I know that has not always been easy for them.

Second, it should be noted that the content of our posts has always been declared by AR to be the property of the blogger.  By the time and effort Bill Burress has invested in creating an image on Active Rain for his business in addition to the political or other content that he has contributed, he has made a significant investment in our community (Jonathan's community, if you prefer).  And by the way, Bill created the Silent Majority group and built it up with personal invitations to more than 250 members - more than two thousand posts - and a position in the top ten most active groups in Active Rain.  The arbitrary decision to terminate him on what I view as a minor pretext has economic consequences to Bill and may be actionable.  That, however, is not my decision to make or advise.  But Jonathan says that he does not have time to read the blogs to gain a context for what is being said - and I certainly understand that.  But his decision, as he explained it to me, is based upon a single word in a single sentence - which, in my view is subject to a very different interpretation than that assigned by him. 

Finally, the action taken by Active Rain against Bill Burress is not a government action.  But it is the action of a central authority over a community of 90,000 members.  I recognize the complexity and difficulty in managing such a medium, but I believe that the free and open discussion of ideas is necessary to the health of this medium.  If the membership that reads of this incident view the management action as being arbitrary and capricious, as I do, then the community is damaged and Jonathan's stated goals have been diminished despite his intentions.  The chilling effect on discussion of opinions will be felt by all of us.

I am reminded of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar - "But Brutus is an honorable man."

Comments (83)

Hugh Krone
Weichert Referral Associates - Hamburg, NJ
Realtor, Sussex County NJ

Ted one by product of this whole thing that is making me crazy is if I here one more person use the term 'AR GODS" I think I am going to go postal. It is thrown around so much around.I hope I never have but I may have in anger when answering another post. But I truly find is Idolatrous and Blasphemous.

May 25, 2008 11:16 PM
Jeremy Blanton
Myrtle Beach Homes Blog - Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach REALTORĀ®- myrtlebeachhomesblog.com

Is this a political or a real estate network?

May 26, 2008 01:19 AM
Ted Baker
Carmody and Associates LLC - Winter Haven, FL
MidFloridaMediation.com

Hi Jeremy.  Thanks for stopping by.

That is certainly one of the active questions which the community is trying to answer.

I had hoped that with 90,000 members and 4,000 special interest topic groups that we could be both. 

Clearly, some do not agree - and I may be wrong.  It wouldn't be the first time.

.

 

May 26, 2008 02:49 AM
Kevin Robinson
Twin Falls, ID
Fractional Developer

Jeremy it is obviously a real estate network. But if we are only going to talk about real estate it is going to get very boring very quickly. People enjoy talking about other things and I have found through my customers that they like seeing what we stand for.

May 26, 2008 02:52 AM
Jeremy Blanton
Myrtle Beach Homes Blog - Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach REALTORĀ®- myrtlebeachhomesblog.com

Well, if you want interesting real estate stuff, you can always come by my site, I always seem to find the crazy people....Like the one where an agent moved into her listing without permission for over a year!!!

May 26, 2008 03:36 PM
Kevin Robinson
Twin Falls, ID
Fractional Developer

Yeah there are funny things in RE. But my customers like that I tell it like I am. Not just some numbers about how the market is doing and why they should use me.

May 27, 2008 04:11 AM
William J. Archambault, Jr.
The Real Estate Investment Institute - Houston, TX

Ted,

Wow!

I blinked and missed this! I didn't see the original post, but I've read your quotation.

Who does Bill Burgess think he is a, liberal?

Doesn't he know that "hate speech" is defined by the other side? (It really doesn't matter which side your on or how truthful the remark!) This is 2008 and there are thing conservatives can't say. This is not as disgraceful as the fact that selected people are allowed to say such things.

Bill owes every real estate professional an apology.

This was a stupid remark, real estate professionals can not and should not discuss race! No one has debated the truth of what was said, because it's irrelevant, for real estate professionals to discuss race is against the law. Bill made a major mistake! There was nothing raciest, nothing hateful, but that's not the problem, the remark is stupid for a conservative and illegal for real estate pro's.

If you want to discuss hate speech

read the remark from the anonymous "Real Estate Myth Buster" This is pure hate: "Ding Dong the PIG is GONE !!!" posted by someone with out the courage of his convictions.

Bill Burgess signed his name to each of his post. That says a lot about the man, a good man.

We've all suffered a loss, but while AR is our forum of choice, it is a business and as such it's owners and management have control. I urge them to reconsider, but while I'm in their house I have to accept their rule.

Bill

William J Archambault Jr

PS: Today I'm going to go through my list and down load contact information so that I have e-mail and phone numbers that I normally look up on here.

And, Ted thank you this blog is alot of work, I'm grateful.

May 27, 2008 05:53 AM
Ted Baker
Carmody and Associates LLC - Winter Haven, FL
MidFloridaMediation.com

William - thanks for your views.

I feel that I am repeating myself - but the message is not being received.  But I will try once again.

Blacks vote in overwhelming percentages for democrats.  Period.  Its true and it is not offensive. (bothers some Republicans who can't get a piece of the action, but it is not offensive)

They do not vote that way because they are Black - it is not a trait

THAT IS WHY THE COMMENT IS NOT OFFENSIVE - or shouldn't be.

They vote that way because they share certain values, experiences, priorities, concerns, issues beliefs or decisions - and these factors have been identified and captured by election data or polls. 

The fact that a group of people of a certain description - be it race, gender, age, income, education, occupation, sexual preference, right or left handedness, hair color or possession of two left feet - whatever factors may contribute to voting behavior - is important to the politicians who want to target their messages, news media who want us to be glued to the TV set to hear an explanation of the last election or a prediction of the next one.  It is even interesting to people like me who want to understand the process. 

I thought Bill's comment was a valid point.  Depsite the fact that 92% of Blacks are supporting Senator Obama against Senator Clinton in the primaries, if Senator Clinton becomes the nominee, an overwhelming percentage of Blacks will be expected to vote for Mrs Clinton because, as an identifiable group, Blacks tend to vote for the Democrat in the general election.  That is not an offensive point of view. 

I wish he had picked other words, but he didn't.  But a significant number of other authors on AR have used the word lemmings in their content.  Look it up - Ten pages of references - if you do an AR search for the word (including one by Rich Jacobson, himself).  Those uses of the word are not considered hate speech - because they are not hate speech.  Nor is Bill's use of the word without some other showing of intent.

Thanks for putting up with my redundant rant - and thanks for your support.

May 27, 2008 07:30 AM
William J. Archambault, Jr.
The Real Estate Investment Institute - Houston, TX

Ted,

"I feel that I am repeating myself - but the message is not being received.  But I will try once again."

I understand! I agree with you, I agree with Bill, but that doesn't make a reference to "Blacks" acceptable. He should have quoted a liberal, they're allowed to say and hate indiscriminately! Nor does it make AR ours.

Hate has replaced common sense.

Bill

Mr. Burgess, if you see this write me or call.

May 27, 2008 08:14 AM
Hugh Krone
Weichert Referral Associates - Hamburg, NJ
Realtor, Sussex County NJ

Ted Love the new picture

May 27, 2008 11:46 AM
Ted Baker
Carmody and Associates LLC - Winter Haven, FL
MidFloridaMediation.com

yeah, well, most thought I was a square anyway

Thanks Hugh

May 27, 2008 12:31 PM
Jeremy Blanton
Myrtle Beach Homes Blog - Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach REALTORĀ®- myrtlebeachhomesblog.com

So Kevin you tell all your clients your political & religious views? One thing I learned day 1 in business is never mix business with politics or religion.  It always makes a bad mixture....  Now, I do believe you can help those at your church with business. I am not ashamed to tell my clients, sorry I can't help you on a certain day because I have an obligation at church.  And they are understanding.  If they aren't I feel it is their loss and what I lost will come back to me from another area.

May 27, 2008 02:39 PM
Ted Baker
Carmody and Associates LLC - Winter Haven, FL
MidFloridaMediation.com

Hi Jeremy - thank you for your view. 

I think there is another way of thinking about this topic.  I contribute to the photography and image editing groups in AR.  I hope the groups provide useful technical information to other realtors, appraisers and such who depend on photography for their work.  But that does not mean I am going to discuss lenses and f-stops with a potential client.  Some of our relevant topics are for back office conversation.

If you don't think politics is an appropriate topic for us to be talking about with each other - you are not doing your job to stay informed about your market.  Tax rates impact your business, foreclosure bailout plans, foreigh exchange rates, gas prices - all impact your ability to sell a home.  We should all be joining the legislative information groups at our boards and meeting our legislative delegations.  We need to be attending economic developement meetings with our local county commissioners.  Who is going to be the President for the next four years will determine the direction of the economy, the fate of the home interest deduction and the deductibility of second home mortgage interest.  FHA guidelines will determine the market for mortgages and reverse mortgages.  Jeremy - it is all politics.  That is where the rubber meets the road in this society and it matters to each and every one of us. 

I have listened to a lot of people saying well, it just isn't talked about in polite society - that is pure sophistry.  I don't know if you want to have such a discussion with your clients - that is up to you.  But we better be talking among ourselves with other people in our profession so that we not only are informed about what is happening but we make the effort to learn about it and try to influence the outcomes that matter to us.

May 27, 2008 06:54 PM
Scott Daniels Florida Real Estate 2.0. Agents Earn 100% Commission.
Florida List For Less Realty, Inc. Broker/Owner. - Cooper City, FL

A/R has a set of rules that apply if your not part of the "Inner group".

It`s been like that from day 1 and will always continue to be like that!

If you don`t like how A/R operates there are options.

 

May 27, 2008 11:22 PM
Hugh Krone
Weichert Referral Associates - Hamburg, NJ
Realtor, Sussex County NJ

Careful there Scott,

Speaking the truth on AR will lead to trouble

May 27, 2008 11:48 PM
Kevin Robinson
Twin Falls, ID
Fractional Developer

Be careful Ted. I keep getting attacked by liberals for displaying a flag on my page. I have a feeling they do not like the flag.

May 28, 2008 03:02 AM
Broker Nick
South Florida Real Estate & Development, Inc. - Coconut Creek, FL
Broker Nick Relocation Broker Service

Kevin ~ You just have a feeling. Or it it an actual fact that liberals do not love out flag.

May 28, 2008 07:44 AM
Mary Thomas BH,MB,HB, PV, Estates LA+
Remax Estates Properties - Los Angeles, CA
Mary C. Thomas Your Agent around the Globe

William, I could not have said it better about Liberals myself..We need to start are own version of Political Correctness in the Untied States or continued being trampled. Until the last few years, I never thought I would see the day in this country that the Silent Majority of this country would be so persecuted.....

Thank You!

May 28, 2008 08:40 AM
William J. Archambault, Jr.
The Real Estate Investment Institute - Houston, TX

Mary,

I'd suggest CC! Constitutionally Correct.

You remember that little document and it's 27 amendments.

We could start by reminding people of the true meanings of words "people" and "is"!

Bill

May 28, 2008 09:41 AM
Anonymous
Lance Winslow

Greetings Ted,

Indeed, of course I concur with your comments and see both sides of the issue, and still I am troubled by the unbalanced nature of the findings by AR, because they seem so one sided. On this Blog Network, I have come across lots of Anti-Bush hate speech and even been called a racist myself, which is somewhat laughable, anyone who knows me knows that is truly ludicrous. The so-called offensive comments did not offend me, as I know that many demographics in our society vote in blocks and purposefully so. Bill Burress' comments may have been brash, but they were indeed based on historical voting observations; i.e. - SC, LA, and Mississippi this year. Looks like all this is water under the bridge now, but I believe this action detracted from AR, not enhanced the communities unity. That's all I would like to say. I fear saying anything more, which appears to be the best way to play it in the present period.

 

Jun 06, 2008 01:59 PM
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