Within a private Facebook group, dozens of writers for the disability-focused publication The Mighty recently held impassioned debates: How should the fledgling site learn from a recent mistake? Could its editorial guidelines be improved? Should there be more stories from disabled adults, fewer from parents of disabled children?
The conversations were important, some members said, because they addressed the challenge of unified advocacy in a group with so many different perspectives.
The conversations were exhausting, others said, because they had devolved into accusations and insults, and some people felt bullied.
And then, suddenly, the conversations were over: Last week, The Mighty abruptly removed dozens of people from the Facebook group — eliciting relief from some and anger from others.
Editors at The Mighty said they decided to limit the “Mighty Voices” group to writers who had recently contributed to the site, and the move had nothing to do with particular people or their comments. But some former group members took their dismissal personally and argued that The Mighty is effectively silencing its critics.
The Mighty Voices group had originally served as an outlet where frequent contributors to The Mighty could share story ideas, positive feedback and thoughts on disability advocacy; it was a “safe space,” members said.
But that changed last month after The Mighty found itself at the center of a controversy sparked by a post called “Introducing: Meltdown Bingo,” about the writer’s autistic son, that many felt was inappropriate. The site had already been charged previously with publishing “inspiration porn” — condescending stories that applaud the disabled or succeeding at ordinary tasks — and featuring too many essays by parents of disabled children.
In response to the outrage, The Mighty removed the story, apologized to its readers and asked for honest feedback. Many disabled writers offered that feedback through Mighty Voices.
Until many of those voices vanished.
For members of the disabled community who already felt slighted by the website, seeing their posts deleted and their group access revoked sent a clear message: The Mighty was no longer interested in what they had to say.
“Obviously, I wasted my time and my breath trying to educate people, including The Mighty editors,” wrote disabled blogger Cara Liebowitz. “It’s clear that The Mighty does not care.”
Blogger Carly Findlay echoed Liebowitz’s frustration. “The Mighty editors have removed many of the disability self-advocates (and non-disabled advocates) from the very community they’re trying to serve,” she wrote in an open letter on her blog. They were shut out, she said, “with no warning and a very poor explanation.”
About 70 writers were removed from the group, said Megan Griffo, editor in chief of The Mighty, because the Facebook page had become difficult for a small team of editors to manage. A new moderator will join the site this month, Griffo said, and in anticipation of her arrival, The Mighty decided to limit the Facebook group to those who had contributed stories within the past four months. They settled on that time range because “three months felt right and we decided to give an extra month of leeway.”
But that distinction is problematic, Liebowitz argued.
“The new rule does not do anything to address the actual problems of both the Mighty Voices Facebook group and the larger site as a whole,” Liebowitz told The Post. She agreed with another contributor who argued that the rule discriminates against contributors with cognitive disabilities who might find it especially difficult to write regular posts.
On one point at least, all sides seem to agree: Without a dedicated moderator, discussions in the Mighty Voices group had gotten out of hand.
Findlay said that she and Liebowitz and other disabled writers who were later removed had tried to educate other members about ableism (behavior or language that devalues disability) and inspiration porn.
“A number of writers were very grateful for these resources, and we had rigorous discussions,” Findlay told The Post in an email. But some parents of disabled children didn’t want to hear it, she added.
Kerri Goff, a Mighty contributor who suffers from chronic neurological illness and is the mother of two disabled children, was among those who felt offended by some of these attempts to educate. She especially objects to the term “inspiration porn,” which she thinks minimizes the importance of basic accomplishments for disabled people.
“My children and I have been through 25 surgeries,” she said. “And for me to be able to share something positive, it is not inspiration porn. That’s advocacy and spreading empathy.”
She wasn’t the only one who was distraught to see Mighty Voices devolve into bitter disagreement. Lauren Swick Jordan, a writer whose son has autism, wrote in The Post that she was heartbroken to see the forum divided between disabled adults and so-called “mommy bloggers.”
Some of the comments were hurtful, she said, but she wanted to listen and learn. So she was alarmed to suddenly see so many writers disappear from the group. She told The Post in an email that she doesn’t think that specific people were targeted, but it could seem that way because “the most assertive self-advocate voices were removed.”
Mandy Ree, a legally blind blogger who writes for The Mighty, said she felt torn by the battle in the group. She understood the need of parents with disabled children to share their successes and vent their frustrations. She also agreed with disabled adults who felt that parental essays shouldn’t make up a majority of The Mighty’s stories.
She thinks that the Mighty wants to listen to suggestions. “But at the same time, the bickering and the fighting kind of prevent our voices from being heard,” she said.
Since the group was downsized last week, Ree said, the discussion page has been quiet. She hopes that Mighty Voices will return to normal with the new moderator.
“I hope we can put this behind us and keep going from there,” she said.