Super Smash Bros

Open letter to organizers and community regarding safety and fairness as live events resume

Live tournaments are likely to return in a significant way this summer and that means organizers will be facing choices about who to ban and how to modify their rules in response to last summer's allegations. With the COC disbanding and no one else in a position to govern the community, the difficult task of policing falls almost entirely to organizers. It's important for the safety of attendees and the future of events that they respond appropriately by setting and enforcing rules that protect attendees. Organizers have a moral, and in some cases legal, obligation to do right by their attendees. Figuring out how to do that won't be easy and I was inspired to start this thread after some initial discussion on twitter as a way to move from some of the conceptual ideas that have been tossed around to more concrete steps organizers can begin to take.

For an organizer looking to put a solution in place, the most logical way to start is with the summary of sexual and nonsexual allegations post. There are well over 100 names there, many of which have already been booted from the community due to the severity of the allegations and validation of claims from a large number of trusted community members. Banning them all from events would be a quick way to ensure that known abusers aren't provided further venues to do harm.

Anyone who followed this topic closely, however, should know that some of the accusations are less credible than others, and a few are outright lies. I feel that most of these fall in one of two categories: A. Bunk allegations that were immediately discredited but still persist online and B. Murky circumstances that had questionable supporting evidence or were eventually disputed by the accused party without rebuttal from the accuser.

The most egregious example of A was the claim against M2K. Sexual assault of minors is one of the most serious allegations out there and it was completely without merit. Not only a fabrication, but one dating back to harassment of Jason from 2011 on smashboards. Skrach and NxtReady were ultimately outed as liars and fortunately it looks like they're no longer involved with smash.

In this case, M2K had the platform to defend himself, he did so in a timely way, and he offered an iron clad defense. I doubt anyone walked away believing his accusers and it was such a rock solid disproval that his name was removed from the list altogether. While he quickly put it to bed, it was undoubtedly a stressful and embarrassing ordeal. It also raises the question of what happens in the event that similar false allegations are levied against an individual who does not have the reach that M2K does to defend themselves, or doesn't have an alibi of sorts that allows them to fully discredit a baseless accusation.

Unfortunately the majority of allegations do fall into the murkiness category. In reviewing redactions, I believe M2K was actually the only person to have his name completely removed from the allegations list. Few players have the reach and definitive proof to exonerate themselves in the manner that he did. Even if someone accused is equally as innocent, that fact might not see the light of day and their reputations may be forever tarnished as a result.

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The allegations against Westballz are the strongest example of this happening that I've seen. When lokraankiin accused Wes of sexual harassment and groping, princesshyrule and uw_leahboo piled on in support. Eventually it came to light that Lauren's evidence not only didn't support her claims, it partially refuted them. Kat and Leah, who backed Lauren's allegations and added their own, were actually ex-girlfriends of Wes who used the situation as a chance to hurt him. Like M2K, Wes refuted the claims. It took him several days of sourcing testimony, but he provided a convincing dismissal. Leah doubled down, suggesting that her feelings were more important than his reputation. Kat outed an initially anonymous alleged victim and made up claims on her behalf. None of the women involved recanted their claims or apologized.

The time it took to clear his name meant many had moved on to the next scandal and didn’t get the whole story. His recent interview with BBB really helped me understand the lasting toll false allegations can have, he’s lost over 700 subscribers as a result and is still clearing up the lies.

With so many allegations coming out at once, all with varying levels of evidence, truth, and intent, it's impossible for anyone to be able to keep track of them all. As a result, some abusers get off easier than they should, some victims get their names unjustly smeared, and, too few, abusers face the consequences they deserve. It shouldn't come as a surprise that many hear only the initial claim and not the full story.

What is a good organizer to do given this overwhelming lack of clarity around the truth and high cost of detective work to figure it out? There is of course no easy answer. But I would propose that they exercise their best judgment, guided by a few principles:

First, do no harm. Simply put, when in doubt, don't risk making things worse for any individual while attempting to make things safer for the whole of your event. Publicly outing abusers feels productive, but carries a high risk. If you publicly ban someone by listing them as banned from your event or announcing it on social media, their reputation is forever harmed. There are cases where this is the right course of action, like EVO publicly severing all ties with Joey. But these cases are rare and such action should be very carefully evaluated. More often than not, an organizer considering a ban is faced with a murky situation of he-said-she-said without a clear correct course of action. Organizers making these judgment calls should be conscious of the fact that they will at times get it wrong. Enforcing bans privately alleviates the risk of making a situation where someone has been falsely smeared worse and leaves open an easier to rectify path towards fairness in the event that they do make a mistake and uncover the truth later.

Be fair and reasonable. If someone you've banned wants to appeal, offer them a path to do so and hear them out. They may have information that they didn't want to share publicly that could change your decision. M2K could have certainly gone this route had he not been willing to share such personal information publicly. Do your best to evaluate all of the information you have available, remain open to new information, and make the most fair and reasonable decision you can. You'll never get it right 100% of the time. But by being open to being wrong, you can help rectify injustices that may be extremely important to individuals in your community.

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Use your attendees as allies. Provide easy and private ways for people to share their concerns with you. As we learned from the megathread, accusations made in public can get results but can also be difficult to verify and turn into witch hunts. By offering ways for people to share their concerns in private, you're more likely to get stronger information that you can verify by tying it to credible sources.

If organizers act with these principles in mind, I think we'll have safer and fairer live events. Putting these into more practical terms:

  1. Organizers, take the time to go through your list of attendees and see if there are any matches to players who have had allegations against them, either made in public or directly to you in private. If you find a match, investigate and do your best to evaluate the severity and credibility of the allegations along with the pros and cons of removing the involved player from your event. These are always judgment calls and differing circumstances can make decisions more or less reasonable.

As examples, if you've aware of allegations that someone frequently gets drunk and causes trouble in overnight venues, but you're running a single day event with no sleepover portion, it may be reasonable to allow them to attend. On the other hand, if you determine an allegation of misconduct with a minor to be in any way credible and you're running an event that allows underage players, you may find it reasonable to ban the involved player.

When making these decisions, use all the information available to you. That can mean asking the accused player for their side of the story, asking other organizers if they have any supporting information, and even asking the accusers for corroborating information if they're open to it.

After silently banning a player, you may encounter victims who want to know for their own safety if an alleged abuser will be present or not at an event. This situation can be handled without publicly announcing a ban by simply responding that the player in question will not be attending, rather than outright sharing that they have been banned.

  1. Be conscious of misinformation and intent. As we saw during last summer's movement, there are opportunistic people who will misuse organizers' well intended efforts to make events safer to "cancel" people they have personal quarrels with. Sadly, identifying these cases can be difficult. Getting as much information as possible, including the accused parties' side of the story when possible, is the best course of action. When you suspect ulterior motives or become aware of conflicting evidence, do your best to evaluate the totality of the circumstances and hold manipulators accountable.
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Anyone who would hijack issues as serious as sexual assault and child abuse to further their own opportunistic motives should face consequences. Due to the anonymous nature of so many allegations, this behavior will often slip through the cracks, but those known should be made examples of in the same manner as the most serious of abuse allegations, like Joey from EVO. It may be reasonable to outright ban Skrach, NxtReady, lokraankiin, princesshyrule, and uw_leahboo from events to reinforce the unacceptability of misusing community safety initiatives for personal drama.

  1. Set and enforce clear policies about minors attending events and drug and alcohol restrictions. Many of the allegations stem from people put in risky situations without oversight. Organizers who allow minors should assume responsibility for providing a safe environment across the entire duration of their event. Do they have a safe place with responsible adults to play/eat/sleep? Do your adult attendees understand that there will be minors present and that appropriate behavior around them is required?

Requiring an adult or guardian to be present to accompany a minor is an idea I've seen tossed around. I'm interested to hear from organizers about the reasonableness of such a rule. It seems like it would solve a lot of abuse issues but could also be difficult to enforce or cause minors to lose interest in attending events.

  1. Make it clear how to get help. So many of the cases of abuse stretched over months and sometimes years. In many cases the victim didn't feel like they had anywhere to turn for help or to at least report what happened. Set clear avenues where people can report problems, risks, or just alert your staff that they need help. Follow through.

I’m not an organizer but I think these make sense and I’m really interested to hear if these sound doable As live events come back they need to do so in a way that's safer for everyone. We have to get it right this time.

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