Thursday, October 22, 2009

Internet and AA - recovery social networks

(Context: for a few days I'm thinking through some perspectives on AA and the internet in preparation for a workshop)

Yesterday, I wrote about AA members' participation in the current technology of online social networking.   I was tempted, in this article, to simply write "the same, only more so" and drop it at that.  That still may have been the best idea.

However, most of the people reading this are probably aware that, of the rapidly growing specialty networks and groups, "recovery networks" are among the largest and fastest growing of the social networks.  One "authority" has a guess of about 1,000 recovery social networks online today and several more popping up each week.  We drunks do like to meet.

Unfortunately (or, fortunately if you're in the business), addicts and every other variant of substance abuse or folks who use 12-step or other recovery programs also like to meet.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've decided to not mention any of these web sites or networks by name here.  They're easy to find and are referenced often in others' blogs and recovery articles.  One of them boasts over 140,000 members and includes tools like graphs that link your sponsorial lineage much the same as heritage sites link up family trees - sometimes all the way back to Bill and Bob, if all the links are in place.  Another of the sites has, I'm told, over 40,000 members - all with what purport to be actual picture of members in their profiles (it's strongly encouraged there).  In my AA community, it's probably unlikely that you'd find a meeting without at least one member advocating one of these online networks.

All of the sites/networks that I've investigated (probably about 15-20 total so far) have many of the items of concern that I raised in yesterday's article about AA in generic social networks/online communities.

That said, there are people who are getting and staying sober as a consequence of the generous participation of real drunks and addicts in these forums.  Thank you God.

However, the license that's presumed of talking only with "people in recovery" in a community or a partitioned part of a larger health or special interest community, I think, might leave us as AA members at less than our best.  Therefore, I'm only slightly reluctant to delineate some of the concerns I have about AA members' participation in these networks.  I know there are some networks that avoid some of these pitfalls and there may be some "perfect" sites out there that I'm not aware of yet.  I will keep looking.

In the mean time here are some gross generalities about what I think might be wrong with participation in these sites as an AA member (in no particular order):
  1. The presumed "closed-ness" of these sites seem to give some people the assumption that personal anonymity is not necessary or useful.  People use full names, pictures and, sometimes, location information that seems reckless even for privacy concerns, especially given some of the details that they reveal about themselves.  Clearly, for some, there are agendas well beyond "recovery" in the social interactions.  I can imagine there is some real connecting beyond the online social network - in the carnal sense.
  2. This open-ness can be good and harmless.  But, much as happens with 13th-stepping in face meetings, you can see people "hitting on" newcomers.  I've entertained the thought  of posing as a newcomer on some of these sites ("...anyone can be a Las Vegas showgirl on the internet...") and ensnaring some of these predators.  Question is, what would I do when I got them?
  3. All of these networks are paid for by something and the message gets muddled as a result:
    1. Some are clearly partitions/sub-groups of other social networks where the goals may or may not be well articulated (a church, a "health network", a treatment center, etc.).  The bias of the membership and leaders is clear in some ways and hidden in others so that I always expect someone is subtly trying to sell me something.  I've known people who have attempted to parlay their participation in a recovery social network into a career.
    2. Many of these networks are paid for by advertising.  I may be prudish but I find it disgusting to have adds for treatment centers, books, other online services or, electronic smokeless cigarettes on the page where I'm sharing my experience, strength and hope in AA.
    3. Some purport to be (at least partially) self-supporting but, in my limited investigation, I've not found any site with any current and credible disclosure of expenses and contributions.
  4. As of yet, I've not found any of these networks that support any sort of primary purpose or singleness of purpose in accordance with AA traditions.  Even those forums and sites where there is implied strong AA affiliation (e.g. guidelines posted of "please limit your sharing in this forum to alcoholism and the recovery from alcoholism only "), sharing is not effectively constrained.  It reminds me of a local group that had closed AA meeting that would, if a non-alcoholic showed up, take a quick vote and open the meeting to all.  Every time.
    One can clearly see the utility of this - you get more members in your network if you include everyone and some of these sites really encourage you to maximize your "identification" across all programs/fellowships they try to serve.
    If you're concerned about AA's singleness of purpose in the world of recovery (I am), you might be marginalized in these forums/networks.
  5. As far as I know, there is no common, open, technology today that will eliminate what you say in one forum being copied or placed in some other part of the web.  Even those proprietary systems which protect data and images can generally be thwarted by novices.  As recently as this morning, something I posted in one Yahoo! group was copied to another group that I'd deliberately not placed this information in.  It's just the nature of the beast that what you share online can and does take on a life of it's own.  This includes your pictures and your personal information as well.
As I stated yesterday, this technology is changing rapidly.  I've not even mentioned in these articles the huge number of "online meetings" based on email lists or other "bulletin board" platforms as I think the new social networking platforms have largely overtaken these in a very few years (at least in terms of numbers).  These current platforms are not static either and will more toward yet better ways of establishing and maintaining contacts.

Again, as I said yesterday, I don't think these negatives should keep us, as AA members, from participating in some of these forums.   I think we should, however, give the same prayerful consideration of how and where we apply all our principles in this arena - knowing full well that there is both a persistence (this information that I'm sharing might outlive me) and a scope (when I post this message, it will be available all over the world for anyone to use or misuse as they choose) that is new in this generation of AA to this type of sharing.

God's purposes in AA will surely be done in this arena at least as well as they've been accomplished until this time.

I hope so.


Scott said...

I try (but don't always succeed) to just share the simple AA message, my experiences drunk, all through sobriety up to today as honestly as I can. I try to keep things as simple as I can, unlike a lot of what I see out there, taht you're referring to.

I pray that the people out there who need the message, get the message and not al the nonsense that surrounds it.

Mary Christine said...

I have a strong distaste for those fora (plural for forum??) A couple of years ago, one of them hijacked my blog, without my permission and it was hell to get them to remove it. It was horrifying to me to see my experience, strength, and hope on a page with advertisements, like you said, for treatment centers, et al. Some AA members think this is just fine and a lovely way to expand their fellowship, but I am not among them. If we don't know who we are or what we are doing, what good are we?

Steve E. said...

Ed, you present a lot of food for thought, and you certainly make sense.

I will not defend anything nor anybody, including me!

It is, however, SO easy to slip (bad word?) into a nonchalance way of thinking on this topic, when the "others" are just EVERYWHERE, including in our ranks.

So thank you for the "wake-up. Now it's time to GET up --grin!

Love, and PEACE!