Re: BSA Internet Policy -- long discussion
Ted Burton (tedburtn@CRIS.COM)
Sat, 2 Sep 1995 17:30:34 -0600
There has been discussion, pained, heated, cautious, pick your writer....
about National and the Internet.
Now let us step back a moment and think a bit about the actual situation.
The National CSE wrote (and I'll stick in a comment or two as we go:
> A memo from the Chief Scout Executive Jere Ratcliffe, dated
> June 29, 1995.
> Subject: Computerized Communications Networks - The Internet
> The position of the Boy Scouts of America regarding the
> Internet is as follows:
> At this time, the National Council, Boy Scouts of America,
> does not sponsor, provide or hold official space for the
> disseminating of information of any kind regarding programs,
> activities, resources of lists of names of leaders or
> chartered organizations on the Internet of other
> computerized networks.
In other words, the National Council is not on line. A simple truth.
> The Boy Scouts of America disseminated information through
> regional offices and local councils to chartered
> organizations, unit leaders, and youth members.
In other words, BSA already has a network for communications, which I would
analogize to the 'Adidas net' we all used to have in our offices -- a young
person in tennis shoes taking papers around, then later taking disks
around. This is very true.
> For example, the Exploring magazine published and
> distributed four times annually is the official national
> communications tool for unit leaders and youth members
> registered in the Exploring program. Similarly, Scouting
> magazine provides a more generalized format for BSA programs
> and activities.
We have a real newsletter device going that is a very polished class act. True.
> Individual units, youth, and adult members act on their own
> as private individuals and do not represent or serve as
> agents of the BSA at any time, especially when disseminating
> information over computerized communication networks
> (Internet, etc.).
In other words, not everyone who cares to speak up on the Internet about
Scouting knows what the National policy on his topic really is.
> At this time a national council task force is evaluating the
> issue of alternative communication methods such as the
> Internet. After a full and thorough evaluation, the findings
> of this task force will be made available to all local
In other word, we are looking into this tool.
Now let's string that together. The National Council is not on line. BSA
already has a network for communications. We have a real newsletter device
going that is a very polished class act. Not everyone who cares to speak
up on the Internet about Scouting knows what the National policy on his
topic really is. We are looking into this tool.
Now let's get off National's back. All that above is perfectly reasonable
for people not yet conversant with the 'net.
Those of us who are actively talking Scouting on the 'net need to realize
and accept that the Internet is the world's largest rumor mill. Stories can
get started and spread like wildfire, that have little basis in fact. It is
a whole new dimension where the marketplace for ideas is really getting
started. The idea that free speech is safe because the wildest story can be
counteracted by the truth, meets its real test on the 'net.
On the other hand, the difference between your neighorhood gossipNet and
the Internet is that, unlike the GossipNet, the target of the gossip is
very likely listening. Rumors about Scouting could always get started from
1910 forward. The net merely spreads them quicker and farther. Unlike those
other rumors, National does not need to wait for enough DE's to tell enough
CE's to tell enough, etc., etc. for the story about untrue rumors to filter
up to Irving. Someone watching Scouts-L or rec. scouting can find out about
the stories or misinforation immediately.
As a government officer in my small town I am sensitive to the local
gossip. For example, at the same time that we were adopting a budget that
held the line with inflation, and no more, a local activist wrote a letter
to the editor that our real estate taxes would be going up by 40%. Had that
been on the net, had our budget discussions been on the net, the error (and
I am persuaded this person believed what she wrote) would not have been
made. I am sure the 40% error is continuing to make its way around town. We
have official publications. We have employees in charge of answering public
questions. But the rumor will continue to spread until people get the by
then 'good' news in December with their bills. In some ways BSA is like
that. BSA has always met this risk by saying that your DE and CE are the
sole sources of gospel. Ask them. BSA has been afraid of creating greater
credibility for the uninformed by permitting a belief that a variety of
people know the gospel. If they mailed the National statements & new
policies to the general public, any member of the public (having read the
stuff or not) becomes a credible reporter of the content of the mailing.
This must be the nature of their real concern.
What they need to realize is that the Internet can be the solution to this
problem, as opposed to the cause of it. If National put up all its written
policies and guides on the net in hypertext format, for example, there
would be no possibility of misunderstanding.
Then there is the element of debate. The net is a place where among other
things the 3G's are hotly debated. This may be something national would
prefer not to get drawn into. They would not wish to be endlessly defending
their policies on various topics, which could be immensely time consuming.
There would be defense to this, however; they could from time to time post
a message to the effect that they stand above the debate, are really
looking for good ieas within the debate, will be delighted to see
consensus, etc. etc.
Another problem national may perceive is that they would arm people who are
not Scouters with all the correct indicia that they are associated with the
program. The simple answer to that is that anyone who spends enought time
on rec.scouting or Scouts-L, and buying things in Scout shops, can do
As noted by one of us, possibly national is concerned that if they
encourage Scouts to get on the net they will expose them to bad things.
Anyone who worries about the 'net in that regard should spend ten minutes
in a High School and come to realize that Scouting is a refuge from the
courser side of life to which Scouts are exposed daily. I have never found
'free' on the 'net anything anywhere near as provocative as publications
available in their local fast-serve markets. Now there are some fairly
obnoxious newslists, but many of them are not accessible through their
As the 'net grows, and as folks at National get more familiar with it, they
may suddenly get the idea they can get really useful feedback from the
'Net. Suppose they had posted a message on Scouts-L that they were
thinking of taking the cargo pockets off the field pants to save every
purchaser two dollars, and what did we all think....
who is netAddressed for, personal use, as: email@example.com
and for business use as: firstname.lastname@example.org
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City