Back in January, as I was watching the video feed from the SCA’s Board of Directors quarterly meeting, my attention was piqued by a discussion of online petitions.
You can find this conversation at the half-way mark of the video recording, starting at 2:22:12:
As summarized in the President’s Board Report of February 13:
Corpora I.C.7.e, “Communications with the Board of Directors of the SCA, Inc.” reads:
The Board does not accept anonymous communications, and electronic communications with no identifier of the sender other than an email address will be considered anonymous.
By extension, this policy applies to SCA officers as well. Unsigned emails are not considered legitimate communications with either the Board or SCA officers.
Further, the Corporate Policies of the SCA regarding electronic communications with officer’s state that “Messages posted for general attention on any public electronic communications forum are not regarded as formal communications to an officer…”
Since online platforms, including web-based opinion or petition sites, do not contain a way for the SCA to verify the identities of those posting, they are considered anonymous and may not be regarded as official communication to an officer.
In subsequent discussion online, some people wondered whether this might be interpreted as a blanket rejection of all online petitions and similar organizing techniques that members of the populace that shared a common concern might use to pool their feedback.
To ascertain this, I emailed the Society Seneschal for clarification (including my modern name and member number, as I’ve grown accustomed to doing when conversing with Society leadership):
I am writing with a policy question that I hope you can help to resolve.
As you know, the Society’s governing documents describe several circumstances in which petitions may be submitted by the membership, such as Corporate Policies II.D.2, and various offices have policies which call for petitions, such as the College of Arms’ requirements for changes of branch arms.
The President’s Board Report for the January meeting describes a policy interpretation which was upheld by the board, stating that because “online platforms, including web-based opinion or petition sites, do not contain a way for the SCA to verify the identities of those postings, they are considered anonymous.”
One could read this to mean that such petitions may only be considered if they are endorsed in person, using ink signatures on paper — but I suspect this is not the actual intent.
Should officers continue to accept petitions which were endorsed online if they “contain a way for the SCA to verify the identities of those postings,” such as modern names and member numbers or other individual contact information?
(For the record, I am not currently organizing such a petition, but I am trying to understand the Society’s policies on this topic.)
Thank you for your consideration,
— Mathghamhain Ua Ruadháin
An hour later, I received an answer that seemed fairly clear:
The policy interpretation was geared toward the massive online petition sites such as change.org, where it’s pretty easy to sign with a fake identity or even anonymously. Petitions or “pollings” for things like changing a group’s arms aren’t that type.
The policy interpretation was actually based on the provision in Corpora which says the Board doesn’t accept anonymous communications, and that an email with no identifier other than an email address is considered anonymous. As John Fulton has said, we need to be able to verify who is contacting us.
So what you describe would be acceptable, but the public platforms for petitions are probably not acceptable.
I hope that helps clarify.
(My thanks to her Excellency Elasait for permission to include her email here.)
So, as I understand it, petitions remain a perfectly suitable means for the populace to direct feedback to Society officers, and petition endorsements may continue to be gathered online.
However, just posting a petition somewhere online “for general attention” doesn’t mean the Society needs to respond to it — you have to actually deliver it to the relevant officers.
And a list of random names doesn’t particularly carry any weight, because there’s no way for officers to know whether the line that says “Dave Smith” represents an actual Society participant, as opposed to some random person who saw the petition online but has nothing to do with the SCA. (Or, more cynically, a placeholder name made up by a bad actor using a script to spam the list with fake signatures.)
But petitions with “verifiable” endorsements should still be considered, and although there isn’t an explicit test set out for what counts as verifiable, the examples above suggest that a petition would qualify if it includes modern names and member numbers, or names and contact information — and the same is likely also true for one that included other meaningful data that made it possible to link the entries to real people who are actually participants in our game, such as modern names paired with Society names and their local branch, etc.
I don’t expect they’re going to go through petition signatures line by line, checking membership numbers to see if they’ve expired, or making a phone call to everyone on the list to ask if they really meant to sign it… but the point is that in theory they should be able to do something like this, as that’s what distinguishes a qualifying petition from the “anonymous communications” that Corpora says should be ignored.
In conclusion, while the experience of communicating with Society leadership can at times be frustrating, and this policy interpretation does foreclose some of the lowest-effort methods of organizing a petition, it doesn’t appear to create an insurmountable barrier to substantive feedback from the populace.
[UPDATE March 18:] The Society Seneschal posted a revised version of this message to the sca.org website. It prompted a mostly-skeptical response on Facebook.