Manchester skeptics annexed in hostile digital power grab

Meetup.com takeover by mysterious 'Sophie' reveals flaws in site organisation rules


The Greater Manchester Skeptics Society (GMSS) has been obliged to start up a new group on Meetups.com, after someone with a very different agenda took over its profile on the social networking site.

A glitch with the renewal of GMSS' Meetup Subscription allowed a non-committee member called "Sophie" (not her real name, we are led to believe*) to assume the organising role.

She proceeded to purge the committee, removing all of them as organisers, before promoting health and wellbeing sites (Manchester Raw Food and Manchester Therapeutic Art, both organised by Sophie on Meetup) to the group's membership.

Sophie subsequently turfed out around 300 members of the group.

GMSS was established in 2009, and since when it has organised scores of events featuring talks by scientific luminaries including Richard Dawkins and particle physicist Jeff Forshaw, as well as investigative journalists and authors.

The group's organisers have been left incensed that Sophie was able to pull off a "digital coup" on Meetup.com, simply because she was the first to pay a £15 renewal fee.

Sophie described the established organisers of GMSS as "failing", "overly bureaucratic", and "authoritarian" in her initial messages after taking over the group. She also criticised the quality of photos uploaded to the group.

The established members of the group reckon that Sophie has never been to any meetings.

Great Manchester Skeptics Society has a website, as well as a presence on Facebook and Twitter, but no reference was made back to these points of contact before the change was effected by Meetup.com – another point of contention.

To fix the mess, the original McrSkeptics group has been ditched and a new group – GMSkeptics-Meetup – formed. In the process, some records of past meetings, as well as an archive of photos, have been lost. Contact with hundreds of less-involved members has been interrupted, although the core of the GMSS group remains intact.

In response to questions from El Reg about the incident, David Anderson, senior community specialist at Meetup, expressed sympathy but defended its Step Down procedures, which are invoked when changes in the organisation of an established group are made.

I'm sorry to hear about the strife this has caused the Manchester Skeptic Society and the members of the community.

Please know that becoming the new organizer of a Meetup group gives a person control over the group and not the previous organiser's account.

In cases such as these, we recommend the original organiser contact the new organiser to see if they will be willing to step down. Otherwise, we recommend starting a new Meetup group.

The upshot of this policy would seem to be that established profiles on Meetup.com can be taken over without the consent of the people who have run groups, as has happened with the Greater Manchester Skeptics Society.

Meetup.com organisation of how admin rights are handed over has caused all sorts of inconvenience for GMSS, at least.

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