Weisskopf Announces Hiatus for Baen’s Bar

Baen Books publisher Toni Weisskopf told participants that the company’s online forum Baen’s Bar will be “taking a break” as of midday February 16. The announcement came in the aftermath of Jason Sanford’s February 15 article “Baen Books Forum Being Used to Advocate for Political Violence”, a public post on Patreon.  

Weisskopf said:

It’s been brought to my attention by some helpful folks that speech not everyone agrees with, and that may have become unlawful speech, has occurred on Baen’s Bar. In order to fully investigate those serious allegations, and any violations of the Bar “no hitting” rule, we will be taking a break from the Bar as of noon February 16th, and encourage all our readers to enjoy their lawful conversations elsewhere for the time being.—Toni Weisskopf, Publisher

Source: https://bar.baen.com/index.php?t=msg&th=171954&start=0& (login required)

Sanford’s report of the disturbing number of right-wing users calling for political violence on Baen’s Bar has been met with retaliation in social media. He tweeted, “Instead of anyone dealing with my report on the Baen Books forum by, you know, simply banning advocacy of political violence there, I’m now getting death threats and harassment.”

When asked by a user how long Baen’s Bar will be on break, Weisskopf replied, “As brief as is possible. But no, not sure yet how brief that brief will be.”

 [Thanks to Ben Bird Person for the story.]

135 thoughts on “Weisskopf Announces Hiatus for Baen’s Bar

  1. @Hampus, you’re probably not wrong, but I am willing to give Discon a day or two to figure it out, before condemning them. No statement can be made, effective or weak sauce, without a fair bit of internal communication, between people who are in different time zones, have jobs, and are otherwise up to their asses in other alligators. I mean, I don’t expect to like their final response, but I do think they should be given the chance to not fuck up.

  2. Some karmic blowback for Asimov’s message board, maybe, finally.

    I wish Sanford strength and fortitude, and the hope that it’s all bark from these sh!ts.

    Rcade, thanks for relating that story.

  3. Asimov’s used to have an online forum similar to Baen’s Bar. I enjoyed some of the discussions, and participated sometimes. But there was also an increasing amount of extremist/hate/racist speech being posted. Eventually, sometime around a decade ago iirc, the Asimov’s forum (and I think Analog had a forum too, with some similar problems) was shut down. For years, there was still a button to access the forum, but it only led to an “Under Renovation” notice of something similar.

    (Just checked the Asimov’s website. Looks like they finally eliminated the forum button.)

    Toni Weisskopf needs to question whether the ROI (Return On Investment) of maintaining a largely-unbridled forum is worth the blowback when forum members eat the locoweed.

    Stronger moderation and moderators (not drawn from the extreme ends of the political spectrum) would help. Possibly paid moderators rather than volunteers. (I’m assuming they’re volunteers. “You get what you pay for” applies.)

    (tor.com seems to have pretty effective comment moderation, with questionable responses stepped on quickly.)

    There are plenty of other sites to argue and rant about politics on. Baen’s issues are complicated by the fact that they’re identified as a (largely) right-wing publisher, and an ideological bent toward unrestricted speech. “Stand on principle” sometimes comes with a cost, and TW needs to decide if that cost is too high.

  4. Baen’s Bar has been replaced with this message from Toni Weisskopf:

    To Whom It May Concern:

    What is it we do at Baen Books? We publish books at the heart of science fiction and fantasy.

    Science fiction has traditionally been a unique kind of intellectual pleasure, a process of glorious intercommunication and inspiration, with ideas flowing from scientist and engineer to writer and artist, to reader and viewer, back and forth, in a delightful mélange of shared thoughts, wild speculation, cautionary tales, reality checks, and the sheer fun of playing with boundaries and ideas. It is not for everyone. But those who enjoy it, take great pleasure in the dialogue.

    When the modern form of SF began, with Hugo Gernsback and the other pulp magazines of the early 20th century, the publishers fostered that interaction through letter columns in the magazines and by encouraging science fiction readers to organize in clubs and meet in conventions. Baen Books continued that tradition with Baen’s Bar, a kind of virtual convention and on-line conversation that has been around in some form for over 20 years.

    The moderators are volunteers. The readers, editors, and writers post and interact on the Bar at their own desire. Some conversations have been gone over so many times, they’ve been retired as simply too boring to contemplate again. Sometimes the rhetoric can get heated. We do not endorse the publication of unlawful speech. We have received no complaints about the content of the Bar from its users.

    That said, it has come to our attention that allegations about the Bar have been made elsewhere. We take these allegations seriously, and consequently have put the Bar on hiatus while we investigate. But we will not commit censorship of lawful speech.

    It is not Baen Books’ policy to police the opinions of its readers, its authors, its artists, its editors, or indeed anyone else. This applies to posts at the Bar, or on social media, on their own websites, or indeed anywhere else. On the Bar, the publisher does not select what is allowed to be posted, and does not hijack an individual’s messages for their own purposes. Similarly, the posts do not represent the publisher’s opinion, except in a deep belief that free speech is worthy in and of itself.

    Most sincerely,
    Toni Weisskopf
    Publisher

    P.s. Here’s an Archive.Is copy.

  5. In re the new statement, seems like a double down.

    “I’m not legally liable, by call for mass casualty events in urban areas to reduce the population of ‘libs’ is ‘a unique kind of intellectual pleasure, a process of glorious intercommunication and inspiration’ that ‘is not for everyone.’”

    In fact, it really seems like a double down.

  6. We have received no complaints about the content of the Bar from its users.

    That said, it has come to our attention that allegations about the Bar have been made elsewhere.

    Well, obviously there can’t be a problem if none of the Baen’s Bar users have a problem with it, right? Right?

    And those “allegations” made “elsewhere” included quotes which, as far as I’m aware, haven’t been denied, but rather defended. I suspect this letter means that Weisskopf is looking for ways to double down, rather than solve the problem.

  7. Time to acknowledge that Weisskopf isn’t merely an enabler, but a full blown supporter of this kind of speech.

  8. Bruce Arthurs, in my recollection it was these same Baen persons who precipitated the demise of the ‘mov’s forum, probably intentionally.

    That was my third place for many years. I miss it. I learned from that incident that there is nothing I can cherish which someone with an axe (to grind) cannot smash to flinders. It’s a lesson I’d believed I wouldn’t need to learn, being ascetic, modest, and introverted. I was mistaken.

  9. Was Baen’s Bar wide open, or did you need an account to read messages? Because I suspect the line about “We have received no complaints about the content of the Bar from its users” requires a different definition of “user” than “anyone with an account”, and if so I wonder what exactly her definition is.

  10. Doesn’t surprise me. Baen seem to some extent to cater to people who have pretty extreme opinions, which of course emboldens the latter.

    And when I say cater, I mean I can count with the fingers of one hand the Baen book covers I know which have non-Caucasian human characters in them.

    (Characters in the books themselves are more diverse, ofc:)

    And the reason for that seems to be that a big enough part of their normal readers wouldn’t buy a book with a diverse human cast on the cover.

    Which also means that all Baen books I buy are second-hand.

  11. @rcade: Thanks for the info! And oh how unsurprising, she equates forum moderation with censorship. Nice try, Weisskopf. Also: Policing what’s posted on your site isn’t the same as policing people’s opinions. Free speech has limits and anyway, it doesn’t mean free from consequences.

    @NickPheas: I’m not sure I agree, but you get bonus points for “DTMFA.” 😉 I’m still curious if they actually do anything other than a short hiatus.

    @Rob Thornton: Thanks for the TL;DR version, heh.

    @Johan P: Didn’t someone (here or elsewhere) say they complained in the past about this stuff, actually? That said, it doesn’t need a complaint from a user to be illegal or even immoral and problematic. (I imagine past complaints were deleted with an eye-roll, at best.)

  12. Kendall: Didn’t someone (here or elsewhere) say they complained in the past about this stuff, actually?

    I know that they’ve received some complaints from users. There have been people who posted objections in the forums who were then either shouted down or banned. But I’m sure that Weisskopf doesn’t consider those people “members”.

    When a forum is the place to which all of the RWNJs flock after Parler gets shut down, that pretty much says what sort of place it is.

    I suspect that Baen’s attorney, if worthy of their Bar registration, will tell Weisskopf that the forum is likely to be an ongoing source of legal liability and needs to be discontinued.

  13. Kendall,
    To avoid doubt, DTMFA isn’t mine, it’s lifted from sex advice columnist Dan Savage, as a shorthand for get the hell out of that abusive relationship.

  14. @JJ

    I suspect that Baen’s attorney, if worthy of their Bar registration, will tell Weisskopf that the forum is likely to be an ongoing source of legal liability and needs to be discontinued.

    OTOH, if this has been going on for 20 years, and they haven’t had legal troubles yet, it’s not obvious why they would start now.

  15. What the management of Baen Books needs to realize is that message boards can become linked to acts of political violence and mass shootings. The more comfortable users are posting extremist content on a site, the greater the chance nuts will find a home there who are determined to commit heinous crimes like the Christchurch, Chabad of Poway and El Paso shootings. Those three attacks were perpetrated by people who posted on 8chan. It had become known as a place where free speech meant “anything goes.”

    Jason Sanford has done Baen a favor by calling attention to extremist threats while they’re still just discussions. They can take care of the problem before something unthinkable happens and the publisher and brand are forever ruined.

  16. bill: OTOH, if this has been going on for 20 years, and they haven’t had legal troubles yet, it’s not obvious why they would start now.

    The forum is now going to be under heightened scrutiny. If it reopens, and more of the same gets posted, people will be pointing that out very publicly. There’s not going to be any more running under the public radar.

  17. @JJ,

    Jesus Christ on a popsicle stick. Any press that reprints Second Column in 20-fucking-21 has announced loud and clear whose side they’re on.

    Damn it, now I’m going to have to figure out how to get the new Liaden books without giving Baen money. Second-hand, I guess.

    My husband owns the audiobook of Jones reading the Old Testament. It’s superb.

  18. @ JJ

    The forum is now going to be under heightened scrutiny. If it reopens, and more of the same gets posted, people will be pointing that out very publicly. There’s not going to be any more running under the public radar.

    And after the US Capitol insurrection, a lot of the far right words and attitudes that characterized Baen are going to attract the FBI and other law enforcement types.

  19. While it’s always been heavily right-wing, stuff like advocating doxxing a cop so they can be assassinated for resisting a coup attempt is kinda new and specific compared to previous free-flowing hatred, is my impression.

  20. @bill–

    OTOH, if this has been going on for 20 years, and they haven’t had legal troubles yet, it’s not obvious why they would start now.

    I don’t believe they’ve previously hosted a call–a fairly detailed and explicit call–for the violent overthrow of the US government, in the immediate aftermath of an actual violent insurrection aimed at making the losing candidate in a presidential election, president again.

    This is an escalated level of violent talk, and it’s been called to the attention of people outside Baen’s Bar, and recent events are going to make it a lot more interesting to people outside that fever swamp than it would previously have been.

  21. Standard disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.

    The CDA Section 230 Safe Harbor no doubt protects Baen’s Bar from any sort of legal repercussions. As for “illegal speech” that is a pretty high bar in the US, outside of commercial fraud and stuff far worse then the comments cited by Jason Sanford. As in pornographic images of minors and human trafficking (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Enabling_Sex_Traffickers_Act). These are weasel words.

  22. Madame Hardy: Jesus Christ on a popsicle stick. Any press that reprints Sixth Column in 20-fucking-21 has announced loud and clear whose side they’re on.

    It was 2012, but your point is still right on the money.

  23. Some of the sites I frequent have a lot of commenters, but they don’t allow advocating violence of any kind, and the commenters will tell people when they reach that line. (They also don’t like trolls.)

  24. @Lis Carey – I don’t know specifically which post you are referring to, but [edited because Chris Hensley did an excellent job of making the point — it is extraordinarily difficult for the kind of speech that gets thrown around on internet fora to rise to the level of “illegal”.]

    What I would add to his post is that THIS IS A VERY GOOD THING. A society in which people suffer legal repercussions for saying stupid things on the internet is much worse than a society in which they don’t.

    @Madame Hardy — Keeping a lesser work from one of the most important authors in SF in print for paying customers doesn’t express any Point of View other than “publisher”. And FWIW, the title as published was Sixth Column, which JJ got right, and the year was 2013, which JJ approximated. And the obvious example for “Heinlein works published by Baen which demonstrate that they are racist” would have been Farnham’s Freehold, 2011.

  25. bill: FWIW, the title as published was Sixth Column, which JJ got right, and the year was 2013, which JJ approximated.

    That 2013 run is just a third print run of their 2012 edition, which I got correct.

  26. I would be a bit concerned if I was one of their remaining leftish authors, personally. The fanbase of their publisher effectively calling for their death can’t be comfortable.

  27. bill:

    “A society in which people suffer legal repercussions for saying stupid things on the internet is much worse than a society in which they don’t”

    Nope. We have hate laws in Sweden where lots of the stuff said in Baen’s Bar would be illegal. And we have less problems with storming of or parliament than US has.

    What you are saying is that a civilized society is a worse society which of course is pure nonsense.

  28. t will be interesting to see if any of the non-rightist authors that Baen publishes have any reaction. Off the top of my head I can think of M. Lackey, L.M. Bujold and Eric Flint, who’s pretty SJW-ish in an old school socialist/union kind of way. Particularly since Flint’s been migrating a fair amount of his 1632/Ring of Fire stuff to his own small press.

    I actually checked Flint’s blog for a first time since last year after hearing about this situation. Turns out the site is dead since August of last year, including a message that snippets from his and his fellow authors books will no longer be posted there.

  29. Section 230 aside, there’s also the question of what the terms-of-service are for whoever Baen’s hosting is (appears to be Rackspace?), and if they’ll start feeling any heat.

  30. After I read Jason’s article, I logged into Baen after a ten-year absence. (Surprisingly, my account still worked.)

    I spent about an hour looking through the forums. The Bar itself seemed okay to me; all the objectionable stuff was in the Politics forum. That one was pretty thick with far-right, conspiracy-theory nonsense, but I didn’t see anything there that was worse than what I see in the Fox News comments. There were even one or two people making sensible posts.

    There were also a lot of people there insisting that Jason had misrepresented them. I didn’t think their arguments were particularly convincing, but it did make it clear that the Politics forum was what he was talking about; the other forums didn’t have any posts on the topic at all.

    What I didn’t see was anything that looked like collaboration–not even at the level of, “We can’t talk about this seriously here, but go to CivilWar2.com and we can chat there securely.” Yes, 95% of the posts there were “bat-shit crazy,” but not actually scary–other than the fact that it’s scary that there are people who really think like that.

    It’s possible someone went through and deleted a bunch of seditious stuff, of course, but as of, say, 8:00 PM PST last night, I didn’t see anything that merited shutting down the Politics forum–much less the couple dozen innocent forums they shut down at the same time.

  31. The more I hear about Baen’s Bar the more disturbing it gets. Hearing from the denizens thereof is… not actually reducing the disturbingness quotient, honestly.

    One of my friends used to spend a lot of time on Baen’s Bar but I don’t ever remember him mentioning anything like this. I’m going to have to look him up and find out if he never saw it, or just didn’t think it was unusual enough to bring up, or whether this is maybe Trump-era stuff, and he hasn’t read much since Trump’s first year.

  32. I think that Weisskopf’s handling of the Bar and her statement might run afoul of Discon III’s code of conduct, with the “advocating and encouraging” portion of the code of conduct what I am thinking here.

    https://discon3.org/about/coc/

  33. @bill–

    @Lis Carey – I don’t know specifically which post you are referring to, but [edited because Chris Hensley did an excellent job of making the point — it is extraordinarily difficult for the kind of speech that gets thrown around on internet fora to rise to the level of “illegal”.]

    Yup.

    But openly advocating the violent overthrow of the US government, with specific suggestions, and the suggestion that large cities should be rendered “uninhabitable,” perhaps by shooting out transformers, in order to kill off enough liberals that “they can’t rise again for fifty years” is at least damned close.

    And no, it’s not just “a different opinion.”

    Also, if anyone gets hurt or put at serious risk due to fools or thugs acting on these “suggestions,” civil suits are possible even if criminal prosecution is rejected.

    And at a minimum, Baen’s Bar reopens in anything like its existing form, it’s going to be getting a lot more scrutiny.

  34. You know, “I didn’t see anything there that was worse than what I see in the Fox News comments” is not the defense you think it is.

  35. I am still not a lawyer, and maybe Weisskopf and Baen Books aren’t at legal risk because of the death threats against Sanford, nor because of the more general advocacy for killing large numbers of their political opponents by destroying infrastructure, but “it’s not actually illegal to say this” isn’t exactly an argument in favor of any position.

    Freedom of speech may allow Weisskopf and Baen to host such content, but it doesn’t require them to (as they clearly know, having taken Baen’s Bar offline at least for a little while).

  36. @Hampus: They still had to go to multiple levels of court and spend time and money on lawyers and fear for the consequences. In the US that might ruin your life in and of itself, between fees and the way being charged follows you around whether or not you’re convicted. Any encounter with the law has a best-case scenario of a Pyrrhic victory here.

    You might also consider that omitting Safe Harbor laws is what the DMCA does, for a specific class of post, and the end result of that was a lot of malicious takedowns which are never punished, and people weaponizing it against people they had a grudge against, and the ruining of completely innocent people’s livelihoods as content producers.

    Baen is unquestionably in the wrong here, and should lose customers and have their reputation destroyed, and anyone making actionable death threats should get gone after– but making Baen legally liable for it would have a whole lot of knock-on effects that are really, really bad. (There are a lot of things, as Vicki Rosenzweig has pointed out, that you shouldn’t do that are not actively illegal; I really wish more conversations could be like “That is bad; they shouldn’t be doing that” without jumping to “it should be illegal.”)

  37. Tolerating a difference of opinion, even a heated difference of opinion, and allowing people to say harmful things and advocate violence. Take File770. The users, individually and collectively, have their bias even if it is one overstated by the comment section’s critics, but there are all manner of positions that are political in nature expressed here. Mike manages that, even when there are clear limits to the speech he’ll allow and users who are banned for repeatedly violating those limits. It’s perfectly fair to hold Toni to the same standards for the Bar, even if she is less actively involved in moderating it. Part of that standard is recognizing the moderation policy of the respective sites in the context of the patterns of behavior demonstrated by the people responsible for them.

  38. Discon got some ‘splaining to do, but running a con is like herding cats so I’m willing to give them a couple days to round up the moggies.

    I think @rcade (and others) nailed it — Toni/Baen don’t regret it, they only regret that it got a bad reaction. So they shut it down before this story could spread beyond fandom. Shows up on blogs? Eh. Ends up in the NY Times where their physical distributor Simon & Schuster (subsidiary of Viacom/CBS) would notice it? Bad.

  39. And when I say cater, I mean I can count with the fingers of one hand the Baen book covers I know which have non-Caucasian human characters in them.

    There’s the one where OBL is about to be run over by a tank and Night of Power, and that’s all I can think of.

  40. Pingback: Weisskopf, Correia, Weber Defend Baen’s Bar; Jason Sanford Subjected to Harassment Over His Report | File 770

  41. Baen publishes some of the most entertaining and imaginative books in the sff category, and they often have the most well-designed, eye-catching covers. Their product line and author stable has expanded and improved since Toni took the reins. I proudly wear an “I Read Baened Books” button. As long as nobody in their online forums gets by with overt calls for believable criminal actions against enemies, I will keep supporting this publisher. Being offended does not equal being injured. If it did, everybody in this country would probably be dead dozens of times a day.

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