NEAR Community Forum Incident - Overview, Learnings, and Next Steps

Hey all,

This post serves to share with the community details of an incident that occurred throughout the end of December into early January. This incident was a dire violation of the NEAR Community Guidelines and left a valued community member feeling attacked whilst certain threads in the Forum devolved into a hostile environment.

We’ll be outlining a quick overview of what happened alongside our learnings and next steps.

Incident

In mid-December an account was created on the NEAR Governance Forum with the username @NEARCOMMUNITY.

Shortly after the account was created, the user began to post inflammatory comments and violate the Community Guidelines.

As a response, they were temporarily banned.

After returning to the forum, they continued to breed a hostile environment for others in a way that circumvented any Community Guidelines.

Earlier this week, admins were alerted to the creation of content, off of the forum, but within a Telegram channel shared here, which directly attacked community members and NEAR Foundation staff members.

Consequently, @NEARCOMMUNITY has been removed permanently from the NEAR Forum and the official community to the fullest extent possible.

However, there have been some failings on our part as moderators, the remainder of this document will outline our learnings and next steps to mitigate the impact, and instances, of these types of scenarios in the future. We can be confident that they will occur, particularly as the community continues to grow.

Learnings

As with every incident of this kind, it’s important that we learn from it. The Community Team at near has conducted a full postmortem which has been reviewed by ourselves and senior leadership.

We’ve found a need for:

  • More active and engaged moderation styles. This is in everyone’s best interest and will help everyone feel safe; and if done with community involvement it’s not a sign of centralized control
  • To cover the gaps. This incident began during a period of downtime for the NEAR Foundation. Any gaps in moderation from the NF Community Team need to be accounted for proactively and with clear communication i.e. when there is a full team holiday

Next Steps

We’re always aiming to improve and, with this in mind, we’ve built out a multi-faceted approach toward improving the Community experience here on the NEAR Governance Forum (and beyond).

Community Monitoring - Dedicated Tooling

It’s no secret that the NEAR Community is expanding rapidly and, despite our desires, it simply isn’t feasible for the Community Team or our wonderful crew of moderators to monitor all activities beyond our official channels (including the forum) at all times.

As a response, the NEAR Foundation team is investigating the implementation of digital tooling which will serve as an alert system when ill-intentioned accounts are created or comments posted.

We’ll share more details on this as we move forward with the initiative.

Expanding Forum Admins

Last month, we launched the NEAR Governance Forum Sherpa Initiative:

The goals of which are as follows:

Currently, we sit at 3 Sherpas (moderators). In light of this incident, and the rapid growth of the NEAR Community, we will be increasing this to 12.

This will ensure we have over 20 staff members and moderators ensuring the NEAR Governance Forum is a positive and welcoming place for everyone in the ecosystem.

Moderator Engagement

Moderators and admins will be encouraged to take a more active role in threads, proposals, and discussions. We believe this will cement their position at the ‘front line’ and enable us to defuse incidents before they occur.

Clarifying Moderation Process

Although the NEAR Community Guidelines outline what to do in the event of a violation, or if you’re feeling attacked, we can do more to highlight and clarify this process.

The NEAR Community Guidelines will undergo a revamp, and expansion, and be messaged directly to every member of the NEAR Governance forum.

Expanding Community Guidelines

Currently, it may not be clear to many what the scope of the NEAR Community Guidelines is. In light of this, and included in the aforementioned revamp and expansion, we’ll be delivering more clarity on what corners of the NEAR Community these guidelines are applicable to (it’s every official channel and medium).

Taking inspiration from Mozilla (h/t @shreyas), we’ll be evolving the guidelines in a manner similar to their ‘participation guidelines’ which cover everything from forum use to conferences and meetups.

Final Remarks

The NEAR Foundation has a zero-tolerance approach to community guideline violation and the development of a hostile environment on any official channel.

Although we value and enshrine openness, be aware that this is not synonymous with total and complete transparency. Community members, particularly on the forum, should be here to support, not interrogate.

When asking questions, give the benefit of the doubt and understand that there is a limit and you may not be entitled to a response for every single question where appropriate.

The NEAR Ecosystem is expanding. Rapidly. And there’s no doubt that scenarios like this will arise again. So let’s make a Community that people want to be a part of. One that unites and never divides.

Let’s make the Community a home, for all, together.

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This is a huge step and an amazing acknowledgement by NEAR Foundation of community needs. It shows the commitment and interest in engaging more and more people to the ecosystem.

Thank you and congratulations for this outstanding position!

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Yeaaaah !!! :rocket: I feel that way, this is a home for all, you all have done that, this is indeed an awesome community full of nice members. Thank you all ! Let’s keep growing :relaxed:


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Hi David, being very new to the ecosystem, I have a couple questions. I apologize in advance if this isn’t the post to attach these questions to. If you think I should start a new thread, let me know. I know since I’m brand new here, my opinion will not carry much weight, but hopefully it can help the foundation moving forward.

Because of the vast marketing and projects happening in the Near ecosystem, it is a bit daunting having to navigate different areas as a “newbie”. It is even more difficult to find out who is the appropriate person to reach out to when an incident like this occurs. And that is assuming the individual is even available to answer, and if they’re not, if they pass it on to another person. Hopefully some sort of organizational chart or “chain of command” can be established and posted somewhere? I don’t know how realistic this is in your organization. I know a lot of people want to just message whoever is at the top of the chain right off the bat, but maybe it is something you can consider?

My experience comes from a fairly large government organization in the U.S. where everything was public knowledge including salaries and contact information. We very rarely had to speak to anyone on an international level unless it dealt with some software contractors, so again, I’m not sure an organizational chart made public would work for you because of the difficulties that come with cross-cultural communication and consistent requests for funding. But from an employee/line staff perspective, it was always very clear who to contact at what level, and if nothing was happening at that level, you could self-escalate the issue to the next person higher on the chain.

Also, do official projects funded by the Near foundation have any requirements when it comes to handling issues like these? For example, if there is a problem with someone at Near University, and the individual doesn’t feel like their issue is resolved, can they take it to someone higher outside of the University? What about a guild like OWS? If someone feels they are treated unfairly there, can they escalate an issue to someone outside of them and in the Near Foundation? These questions can be taken as rhetorical if you like, I don’t need answers to them. I’m just hoping to drive the discussion into finding helpful solutions. But, any details/feedback you can provide would be appreciated.

Thanks!

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wow am so happy that near have come to the full realization of happening like this and are ready to put down guidelines to enable smooth ride, as the community keeps on growing things like this are bound to happen but wisdom is profitable to give us direction. keep doing this great work near.

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@David_NEAR, I want to say that this is very important especially now that the community is increasing. Such wrong attitude could be termed CYBER BULLY. Honestly there is need to prevent this so as to make our community safe for all. We are with you.

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you are absolutly right mate.

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Thanks for the feedback, Thiago. It’s valuable!

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Hey!

Thanks for sharing your insights:

Hear you on this, it’s a part of our findings from the NEAR Governance Forum Revamp Plan and we’re working on improving it:

The process for this is illustrated in the Community Guidelines:

However, like I mentioned in this post, we can be doing more to highlight this and clarify it further.

This would make sense, and definitely something we could fold into the improved community guidelines. Generally, it’s as follows:

NEAR Foundation Employees
Community moderators(sherpas)

Interesting! I think, in an effort to make it as simple as possible, it might be easier if we have a one-stop shop of sorts for these types of incidents to be reported. They can be assessed, individually, and the appropriate action can be taken by the appropriate team member or moderator, depending on the context.

Currently, not explicitly although we do expect a level of professionalism from these projects.

That being said, this is something which could be folded into the Mozilla-esque guideline solution proposed here:

The community team does endeavour to make ourselves accessible around the clock. So, although this is certainly implied, it’s definitely not explicit enough in the community guidelines.

Thanks a million for the feedback, appreciate it :raised_hands:

Looking forward to making this place a home for all :beers:

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Thanks for the reply! I wish there was more engagement like this across all platforms/blockchains.

Those are super high level groups. I was talking about using specific names/email addresses and being able to say, if you have a question regarding X, please contact whoever@xxxx.org. You will receive a response within 48 hours. Again, that may not be possible but it would be great to see and would definitely stand out among other foundations/blockchains. I know with turnover rates being what they are, and expansion in the space happening so fast, managing specific contacts like that can become difficult, but it definitely makes the users feel more important and like they’re actually able to connect with someone, instead of an address or group name that never directly responds to anyone.

I agree 100% that it would be easier. I just hope if they’re not addressed, there’s some accountability, or ways to escalate it? If I flag a post/message and no one contacts me, it feels useless, even though something may have happened “behind the scenes”. And if a new moderator/sherpa doesn’t feel any response is warranted, is there a group consensus that’s needed to NOT take action? Just thoughts here, not actual questions looking for an answer.

I tried to find out who some of the Near Foundation core members are via the web, and can’t I really find anything. Are there individual profiles somewhere? near.foundation just says to visit near.org. The near.org “About” page doesn’t say anything about the people who are building the project. It’s really a bit odd. I know who the CEO, and the CTO are, but where is everyone else? It’s entirely possible I’m just missing it, sorry if that’s the case.

Thanks for taking the time to read. Please don’t take any of this as a direct attack or criticism of your current procedures. I know the foundation/Near Protocol is growing and it’s great to see what is being considered and problems being solved right here in the forum. All of my suggestions come from my experience in a public organization and ZERO experience in a foundation trying to grow a blockchain. So I may very well be talking about concepts that are not relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish long term. If so, I apologize. Thanks again and have a great day/weekend!

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Collaborate Planet Of The Apes GIF

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@ocularmagic this is reach and I believe Near protocol will make meaning of the write up bro, let make it a habit to point out things and bring certain things to their notification they will not know all we are humans we grow together.

Interesting, so almost like a whistleblowing email. Definitely something to think about.

Ultimately, they all land in the inbox of myself and the other Community Team members so this shouldn’t happen. In terms of escalation, it’s something that can be folded into the expanded guidelines, for sure.

Yes, there’s a private channel with the moderators. I expect all reports of this nature to be shared there.

You can check the NEAR Core members who are on the forum here - Near core - NEAR Forum

Some of the moderators here - https://gov.near.org/g/moderators

And the community mods here - Community_Moderator - NEAR Forum

The NEAR Foundation employee headcount is huge atm, so they definitely wouldn’t all fit on a team page. There was, before the website revamp, a team section on the website. However, this was removed. I don’t know for sure the reason why but I suspect in an effort to further distance the NEAR Foundation from the protocol itself, since the long-term goal is complete dissolvement of the NEAR Foundation.

Not at all, the feedback is valuable! :tada:

Have an awesome day!

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Hi David. I know a Developer here locally (Vancouver, Canada) that has built a Discord and social search engine that plugs into servers and social (Twitter for sure) and gives you a “google search” and “google alerts” system. It can be self-hosted as well. Do you want me to put you in touch and get more info?

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Hey! We do have something in the works for this, but nothing is cemented yet. We’re looking for a multi-faceted tool which also alerts us to the NEAR website clones which run as scams (which are popping up a tonne now :sob: ). Feel free to give them my email - david@near.foundation

Thanks for connecting!

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Yeah sure. I was just chatting with him actually. I will share your email. Thanks.

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Hey!

Awesome :tada: Keep an eye out for when we expand our Sherpas for the forum :raised_hands:

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