Thursday, December 25, 2008's latest "Join the Discussion" has been hijacked by the web

Well that didn't take long.

As I've noted before, one of the big challenges that Obama's web team will face is that once you open up a forum to the broader web community, you give up a great deal of control about your message. In some cases, a small but passionate group will rally and swarm the forum (e.g. Ron Paul supporters during the primaries, or pillow-fighting flash mobs...anytime). In other cases, individuals will bait each other and engage in trolling behavior until the forum has completely lost focus and become a series of personal attacks.

This past week, less than two months after Obama was elected, we got to see exactly these events unfold on The latest installment in the "Join the Discussion" feature was a question posed by transition team member Paul Schmitz: "What social causes and service organizations are you a part of that make a difference in your community?"

It's a great question, and very aligned with Obama's change agenda and efforts to engage a broader community to take action and make our country a better place. But check out the number one response in the discussion forum, which is featured prominently on the page:
Dear Obama Inauguration Team,

Not only has Pastor Rick Warren compared gay relationships to pedophilia and given vocal support to Uganda's criminalization of homosexuality, but he has also had abusive "ex-gay" progams at his church.

As I'm sure you know, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatrist Association do NOT approve or advocate these "ex-gay" therapies as being gay/homosexual is not a disorder and is an innate orientation.

Therefore, "ex-gay" therapies can definitely be viewed as psychological abuse. There are many ex-"ex-gays" who return to identifying as gay because while they temporarily changed their behavior they never changed their innate feelings and attractions.

They usually report that the "ex-gay" experience caused them severe emotional trauma and some even consider suicide over it. Some spend years and a lot of money in these abusive programs.

Despite what he sometimes says, he is against our very existance. He pretty much said as much when he was in Uganda.


I'm going to try and be careful not to get into the politics here, but regardless of your view on the issue, you probably agree that this topic has become a fairly prominent and controversial one. And now, it has been voted up to the top of the official forum for communication with the transition team. This is not the only issue to get major attention on - there have also been many up-voted comments about legalizing marijuana and demanding more transparency from Obama about the Blagojevich scandal (Blagogate? Blagola?).

On the one hand, I'm sure that the transition team, and Paul Schmitz specifically, wish that Americans could stay on topic. On the other hand, maybe they can see this as a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate what openness, inclusiveness and transparency are all about. These are complex issues, and many of the people voicing their opinions are extremely passionate (and likely a bit partisan). But still, they have risen to the top of the heap, according to the rules that the transition team defined for the message boards.

To the transition team's credit, they have not censored or deleted these off-topic messages. But I'd like to see them take it a step further and at least acknowledge that these topics are important to people. Obviously Obama isn't going to change his stance on gays, weed or paying for senate seats just because a lot of people on the internet have voted for the topic, but the team could at least acknowledge the topic and remind Americans to stay focused on the question they asked.

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