How I Got Myself Kicked Off of Chowhound...
...by upholding my sense of honor, my dignity, and my self-respect Chubbypanda-style.
Chowhound is a San Francisco-based discussion board that was purportedly created to allow food lovers from around the world to share their favorite "locals only" spots with others. While the goal of their organization is laudable, draconian and often capricious decisions on the part of their moderators have effectively turned a project with much promise into a combination hype-machine and echo-chamber. The Chowhound Team's insistence on weeding out "insiderish" posts has directly worked against their aim of bringing lesser-known eateries into the public eye. If fondness for, and familiarity with, a restaurant marks you as an "insider" with an "agenda", how are locals to share their favorite secret spots with others?
They can't. Here lies Chowhound's Achilles Heel. As a result, you'll see ten posts in a week on much-hyped celebrity restaurants like Cube, Bluefin, Mozza, and Jar, but few unique hole-in-the-wall or mom & pop recommendations for the "Chowhounds" who "blaze trails", "comb through neighborhoods for culinary treasure", "despise hype", and "appreciate ambiance and service" but "can't be fooled by flash". In truth, I've gotten more good leads from This Hole-in-the-Wall Life by the OC Weekly's Gustavo Arellano than I ever have from Chowhound. So much for bucking hype and blazing new trails.
Long-time readers of this blog will remember that I first tangled with the Chowhound Team in October over this post about Frenzy Sushi.
(Click to read the whole text.)
Shortly afterwards, I received an email from the moderators (practically unheard of) that explained they had removed my post because they felt it was "insiderish". Fair enough. I know how discussion boards work. While I didn't agree with the mods, I knew there wasn't much I could do about it.
(For the sake of full disclosure, I've been a once-a-month customer at Frenzy Sushi for over a year. I'm not personal friends with the chef, I am not a publicist, and I do not receive any compensation for my work. However, as a regular customer and a fairly big spender, I do occasionally get comped items when I'm dining. In addition, the chef and I are on friendly terms due to my deep appreciation for his food. My goal in recommending the restaurant to others is simple. It's good. Really really good. In an area with more sushi bars than dry cleaners, a really good sushi restaurant is hard to find.)
(Click to read the whole text.)
For two months, I was a good little muzzled panda, just like the moderators had asked. I occasionally mentioned Frenzy in response to posts about sushi, or when it seemed apropos, but I didn't attempt to post other reviews for it. Then, yesterday, I responded to a survey asking for everyone's top five Ultimate OC Restaurants in 2006. I replied honestly, and Frenzy Sushi was at the top of my list. Within a few hours, my post had been deleted. I couldn't understand it. I didn't think I'd done anything wrong, or against what the moderators had demanded. Compared to my other posts, it was quite innocuous; just a name and a city in a list of names and cities. The deletion seemed utterly whimsical and capricious.
At this point, I knew I had a choice. I could continue to kowtow to the censorship of a high-handed group of moderators who wouldn't explain themselves to the very users who drove their business and kept them employed, or I could stand up for what I believed in, give my honest opinion, and take my punishment like a man. As cheesy as it sounds, some words from the Hagakure, one of the seminal texts in the school of Iaido that I practice, helped me make my decision.
A samurai who is not prepared to die at any moment will inevitably die an unbecoming death. But a samurai who lives his life in constant preparation for death - how can he conduct himself in a despicable manner? One should reflect well on this point and behave accordingly.
- Hagakure, the teachings of Jocho Yamamoto.
I reposted my list without any additional explanation. It was my pure, unvarnished, and uncensored opinion. My post was deleted again, so I reposted again. Another deletion. For the next two days, the Chowhound team and I repeated this dance over and over again. Since I work in IT, I'm in front of a computer 10-12 hours a day. It was easy for me to check the discussion thread regularly and to repost my list if necessary. The Chowhound Team couldn't keep up with me. My opinion was read. My voice was heard.
(Click to read the whole text.)
This evening, I received the terse email above from the Chowhound Team threatening me with expulsion if I didn't stop posting about Frenzy. I found myself at a crossroads. If I continued on my path, I'd be expelled from Chowhound forever. I'd lose the ability to interact with a number of fine people that I'd met on the board and a portion of my readership. In all honesty, the traffic to this blog would probably suffer. On the other hand, what did it say about me or my principles if I caved to an uncompromising dictatorship and censored myself on the board? What weight would my posts have if they didn't reflect my true opinions?
(Click to read the whole text. Depending on your browser, you may have to click on the image again to view it at actual size.)
I sent this email back to the Chowhound Team explaining in a very reasonable and structured manner why I could not comply with their demand. Then, I reposted my list for the last time.
A few minutes later I refreshed the page and was asked to log in. When I tried to do so, I received the message, "Login unsuccessful. Please check your Username and Password". The Chowhound Team had deleted my account. No explanations, no reply to my email, no attempt at further communication. I had failed to follow their orders and been excommunicated. It wasn't unexpected. I had lost a battle that I knew I wouldn't be able to win against a foe who, in that situation, held every advantage over me. Yet, I'd made my stand and stuck to my principles. I was done with Chowhound, and they were done with me.
It felt great.
The Chowhound Board Nazis Saga:
- Chowhound Board Nazis - [Crazies]
- Chowhound Board Nazis Redux - [Crazies]
- Chowhound Board Nazis (the Conclusion) - [Crazies]
Chowhound Board Nazi Commentary from Fellow Bloggers:
- Chowhound Confounds by Sam of Becks & Posh
- The Chowhound Sandbox by Fatemeh of Gastronomie
- Adventures in Chowhound by Alice of Alice Q. Foodie
- The Incredible Shrinking Chowhound: censorship at work again? by Pim of Chez Pim
- Deleted Posts on Chowhoud by Jonah of la.foodblogging
- Community Kvetch by Anita of Married with Dinner