Calling out unethical behavior and the lessons you learn when doing so.

Chris Heuer and I started Social Media Club (SMC) back in March of 2006 to help bring an emerging community together around a common vision of open business, sharing knowledge and promoting ethical behavior. We wanted to bring awareness to the need for improving media literacy. We thought it important to promote industry standards like Creative Commons. Every time we talk about SMC, we bring attention to these missions as they are our founding platform and deeply rooted in everything we do. 

Over the last four years, SMC has grown from the founding chapter in San Francisco to over 230 cities in 38 countries. Three years ago I could tell you every single chapter leader and when the chapter started. Actually, I was still able to do this two years ago. Now, we are growing faster than I can manage.

We have been a loosely joined organization since we started, encouraging local leaders to use whatever tools they wanted on the social web (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, Wiki, etc). In a recent census we ran, we found most chapters gravitated to Facebook and Twitter so when we launched the new SMC website earlier this year, we put our focus on connecting each of the local chapter's and their online properties with the .org so the community was better connected and easier to find.

I think it important to note here that SMC is a wholly volunteer run organization with limited revenue for the headquarters and not enough revenue to pay salaries for everyone. Chris Heuer and I manage the global .org, and are here to support the 600+ local leaders who champion our shared vision within the local communities. Earlier this year, we made a big step forward and hired a part time Community Manager, Jessica Murray, who is helping us reach out to the local chapters and connect these communities. Over the last couple of months, Jessica has been working diligently with individual chapters to help them set up their portal on SMC so we had a better picture of where the community lives, and what we needed to do to support on a local level. It is a slow process, but an informative one and part of the important listening that is needed.

Another important item to note – from day one, we put our trust in the community to do right by one another as there was no way we could monitor and 'police' it all on our own. Chris and I have tried to stay out of the politics that sometimes happens within local communities, and only step in when absolutely needed to help resolve open issues. I am happy to report, on all but two, we did this privately and amicably. 

Until this year.

We have had two experiences in the last six months that simply put a knot in my gut. The first one took place when a new chapter was forming near an existing one, and someone within the 'original' community started a series of personal attacks that was carving a hole in the local community. I won't go into the nitty gritty details of this situation, but this person was making accusations against other community members, which happened to be his former employer. We spent 2+ weeks trying to get him to stop the personal attacks and drop the argumentative posture. He accused us of attacking him – though all Chris and I, along with several other members in the community, did was ask him repeatedly, to provide proof. He started calling us bullies (I have screenshots of our comments to show we handled it professionally). He went further where he commented on his own blog post, pretending to be someone else, but forgot his IP address and comment identity was on (we have screenshots of this too). He was not only astro-turfing, he then denied he did it.

I finally had it. I called this person a blight on the community. Not one of my finer moments, but this guy was on a mission. And not a good one. He finally stepped down from an active role in the community and now seems to be happily running his own little group. So much chaos and harm caused…for nothing. So much finger pointing…for nothing. Interesting to note, his post that sparked all of this has been replaced by some kumbayah piece to make him look like an innocent. He wiped it all under the carpet like it never happened. 

Photo by Dominic Simpson

I share this story as it took a lot out of Chris and I. We were caught in this crap storm that left us both wanting to walk away. It is funny how one really bad experience can overwrite the 50 amazing ones. Thankfully, we received a slew of Twitter DMs, Facebook messages, emails and phone calls that confirmed most felt we were pushed to the edge and had no other choice but to deal with this guy publicly. There were some who felt I should not have called him a blight, but I stand by that comment. This guy was rotten and based on his recent behavior, never learned the lesson. The majority of folks who reached out (including those in his hometown) were supportive of our actions. While I wish more were able to make these statements publicly, I stand by the support and we move on. 

Fast forward to yesterday. I am going to give a very descriptive timeline around this, as there are important lessons to be learned from all, myself included: 

I received a call from Cara Mandart who was the founding leader of Social Media Club Virginia Beach. I would link to their online presence, but it has all been purposefully deleted. (see more below).

Cara advised she had moved away from Virginia Beach in June to be closer to family and take care of her health (going through some surgery). She wanted to remain a part of the group, and had planned to help promote and get to events when she could (she was an hour away). There was a gentlemen by the name of Mike Key who she was talking to about managing the SMC Virginia Beach chapter while she found someone permanent to run it. Mike agreed to do it and Cara gave him admin access to the Facebook group (834 fans), the Twitter account (over 3000 followers) and the Meetup group (140+ members). Her idea was for Mike to manage the group until Cara could find a permanent replacement for herself, since he was not sure he could commit (his words from an email I have read). 

Over July and August, Cara tried several times to reach Mike to find out what was happening in the chapter. She sent me Facebook messages that confirm her surprise when he removed her as an admin of the page in September (and removed me, the creator of the group, as well without knowing my role in the chapter). He changed the password on the Twitter account. He basically locked her and I out of the SMC Virginia Beach online accounts. 

I asked Cara to send an email to Mike to ask him for the admin access back and to make sure he adds me back on as well. Please note Cara and Mike are in the ET timezone and I am in PT. Their Facebook emails show this took place after 2pm ET, while my email and tweet show a response around 11am PT.

Hearing the frustration and sense of urgency in Cara's voice, I followed with an 'official' request. I told Mike he could not 'hijack' the Social Media Club group and rename as Ignite Hampton Roads. His changing of the logo and changing of the mission statement was not in the community spirit of SMC. I did add I would report him to Facebook if he did not rectify immediately. I did not threaten to sue as he had stated several times. I felt the need to be a little more stern with my message knowing Cara has been trying to get him to respond for three months to no avail. 



Mike responded and confirmed he intended to change the vision of the Social Media Club Virginia Beach group. Again, he and a handful of others in the local community made this decision without even talking to the 800+ on Facebook or the 3000+ on Twitter. He unilaterally took the group of people who joined and opted into a relationship with SMC Virginia Beach for his own benefit.

There is a lesson here: if you don't feel the community is being served by the current organization or structure, a true community leader would ask the people in the group to provide feedback before any changes were made. Do not assume you have the right to turn a community upside down to what *you* want. This community is not *yours* for the taking. Add in when a local group is attached to a global organization, do not assume you can do so without being questioned on your plan by the organization to which this group aligned with from the beginning. Remember: These 3800+ people signed up to be part of Social Media Club Virginia Beach, not Ignite Hampton Roads.  

I think this is hijacking.

We understand not everyone wants to be a part of a more structured organization, this doesn't give someone a license to speak for the 100s and often times 1000s of people who joined a local Social Media Club effort.

And while the inability to change a Facebook Fan Page name has frustrated me on some client pages in the past, the fact that Mike and his new team could not do so now *was* a blessing. I at least felt Cara could recover the group from this new 'leadership' team and start the search for a new team of local leaders to continue what she started.

We move on. 

Not hearing back from Mike, and not receiving word from Cara that she now had admin access, I posted a comment to the wall on the SMC Virginia Beach fan page – that resembled the email I sent to Mike. It was deleted within a minute. I posted another item to the wall, then added a comment to clarify. Those were immediately deleted. 

I now was dealing with a guy who seemingly said one thing, but was doing something else. This was was pissing me off. 

I tried to post another wall comment and Facebook came back with a page not found error. WTF? 

When I refreshed the page, it was gone. Mike had deleted it. Instead of turning the group back over as Cara, the original founding member, and I, as President of Social Media Club, had requested – he deleted the page.

My emotions got the better of me and I called him an asshole on Twitter. Note: He deleted his original Twitter account on his own accord in order to remove his name from his actions and the injury he caused the community. (His new account is @mk3yllc)

I will admit, it was not the most professional thing I have done, and I have apologized to folks around me who were not pleased with my language. But I was floored. What right did he have to do this? Why does he say in his Facebook message that he is ok with splitting off from SMC and forming his own group, and instead – chooses to delete everything Cara had worked for over the last year? 

Chris began to try to engage him on Twitter, but he wasn't responding. Chris was less happy then I was.

In Mike Key's original post on this issue, Mike called what he did a childish act. He has since changed this post in many ways, strengthening the charges to make his deeds look less malicious. Mike now says 'perhaps he should not have deleted the page'. Well Mike, no you should not have deleted this community page or done harm to all those people and us in the process. You should not have deleted the Twitter account. What you did was inexcusable. It was not a childish act. It was intentional and malicious. It was causing harm to the local community you supposedly wanted to serve. Nice. 

You should know that Mike called SMC this afternoon and actually apologized for his actions. While I accepted, I did confirm I was still writing a post to note what happened as we wanted to use this as an opportunity to learn and grow. He said he was going to do a video apology when I suggested all he do is tweet one. That seems to have changed, and now he is all about attacking us instead of admitting his wrong doing and apologizing. 

I thought calling him an asshole was appropriate given his harsh actions. Some agreed. Others did not. I have said many times that Chris and I live our lives with radical transparency – who we are online is who we are offline. We are deeply passionate about protecting the SMC community. We are both humans who wear our heart on our sleeves. Sometimes to a fault. And yes, much to my mother's dismay, I have been known to curse now and then. 

Mike created a harmful act against SMC and the local Virginia Beach community. He intentionally killed the two main channels Cara had to communicate with the SMC Virginia Beach community – Facebook and Twitter. In an email exchange earlier this afternoon between Cara and Mike, he said had Chris and I not gotten involved he would have gladly handed the accounts back over to her? Really? Why didn't he respond to her requests for info/status in July, August or September? Why did he not do so when she asked him yesterday? Why did he not do so when I asked him to do so? He lies about this timeline and many other issues in the revisionist posts he is continuing to write.

After a few ranting tweets about the malicious actions he did and his hijacking of the community, it got more interesting. That guy we cited earlier in this post decided to start piping in on it and calling me, Chris and SMC unprofessional, and going so far as to say we were cyber bullies. What?

How is:

  1. Calling someone an asshole for permanently damaging a community being a bully?
  2. 'Calling out' someone's unethical behavior being a bully? 
  3. Trying to share the true facts backed up by screenshots and time/date stamps being a bully?

I think our friend from earlier is just looking for a fight so we are trying to just ignore that as much as possible. It is tempting to react to his charges as the last thing I would ever consider myself if a bully. In fact, I would challenge you to ask anyone who knows me if I am. Go ahead, dig into my friend list on Facebook or in Twitter and ask a random person. Those who know me know I am usually the one standing up for those who don't feel comfortable doing so for themselves (both professionally and personally). The bully charge is not only bogus, but another sign of maliciousness and bad intentions. And now this other guy has riled Mike Key up to make the same claims when he was not using this language until they interacted with one another.

These bogus charges do bring up a good opportunity to do more research and share resources around cyber bullying. In fact, I will take this as a project to get started ASAP and will publish more on it next week. 

With all that said, I think the most interesting part in this situation is how quiet the overall community has been on this issue. I know many are watching our Twitter feed, but few have been willing to say anything publicly on this – either for or against what happened and our reaction to it. It is like by simply ignoring it, it will go away. 

Photo by Kevin Cheng

A few have told us how much they think we were wrong for calling out this bad behavior in the way we did. We wish we were perfect, but we are not, we are human.

We know, this will eventually go away and be forgotten. It always does. But we don't want to sweep this under the rug, it's an important issue for the community to address, the sort of thing we asked local chapters to help us build out even. 

  • We want to know how the community feels about what happened in Virginia Beach.
  • What organizations like SMC can do to prevent this from happening in the future.
  • How we *should* have handled it, if we should have handled it differently.

I want to know what can we do to engage the community if/when something like this happens. 

This post was to set the record straight as best as we know it. We were asked to step in and help a local leader regain access to the community they started. It turned ugly. Everyone in the SMC community suffers because of it. 

I want this post to be the first in a series where we cover several items pertaining to this issue and what it means to the future of Social Media Club. Answering some of the questions noted above, as well as discussing what it really means to act 'professionally'. There are opinions on both sides around my use of curse words, on calling out someone's bad behavior and for taking this into a public forum. We want to hear it all. 

We want to learn from this. We want to share these learnings with others within our community. We are a small organization trying to bring a wildly diverse industry together and find a way to use the power of the network for a greater good. We are also humans, trying to do the best we can each day and sometimes not always doing it very smoothly.  

UPDATE: I have tried to leave a comment on Mike's blog post with several of these points made, but he refuses to publish it. His choice. I took a screen shot of my comment to him, again, showing I am here just trying to state the facts and get to a resolution. I wish I had taken a screen shot of his original post from yesterday afternoon as he has since changed the title and several items within the post – without noting it had been altered – which is not a good practice in publishing. 

I welcome Mike to leave a comment here if he so wishes. Social Media Club is an open forum for discussion and learning.   

UPDATE #2: I was just advised that Mike Key has deleted his post mentioned above along with several tweets he posted yesterday and today about the situation. I have his blog post in my feed reader and we have saved a copy of it for our archives.