A Censored Forum is an Oxymoron: Why the Expat Forum is not a safe place for conversation and what we can learn from our experience there

Until now, I’ve been cheeky and sarcastic in my tone.  Now I just want to say a few honest words about what has happened, and the history leading up to it.

To the great sadness of many who participated at the Expat Forum, the Tax Forum was closed two days ago.  The Tax Forum is now open again, but with such draconian rules as to make it impossible to have any meaningful conversation.  Apparently, some of the important threads have also gone the way of the dodo bird.  I saw this coming over a month ago.

I started to participate at the Expat Forum in November–partly because I saw so many people struggling with issues on which I had done some fairly interesting research.  In my first post on the subject, 25 February 2010,  I announced my intention to relinquish my United States citizenship, and I’d had already written my first article, with Monty Pelerin, at the American Thinker.  So I hoped that the other participants at the Expat Forum, who had come lately to the subject, would benefit from my participation.

Then, around the beginning of December a few things happened at the Expat Forum that alarmed me.  First, all the threads related to US tax, FBAR, FATCA, and renunciation of US citizenship were shunted to its own sub-forum, taking it off the main page of the Canadian Expat Forum.  Secondly, the Expat Forum completely erased two threads:  (1) Nobledreamer started a thread, critizing American exceptionalism; (2) the second (if memory serves) criticized a new law which would endow the President of the United States with the power to arrest terrorist suspects, even US citizens, and to suspend their habeas corpus rights.  When I saw these actions by the moderators, I concluded that the Expat Forum was an unworthy venue for our discussion. We were bringing a lot of traffic to the Expat Forum, and traffic means money in the internet world, when you run a commercial site like the Expat Forum.  But they were determining the limits of the conversation.

That is when I began to contact other members about creating this website, so that we would have a safe place to carry on the conversation.  On December 12, we launched the Isaac Brock Society website.

Now let’s be clear.  The issue isn’t one of some rule breakers, as Bob Sheth, the Expat Forum owner, has announced.  It is about censorship.  If ignorant moderators, who know far less about our concerns than we do, have the right to come into the threads of our conversation, insult us and our concerns as “hysteria”, and they also have the right to determine that our conversation is “off topic” and eliminate or marginalize our threads, then the Expat Forum is obviously not a safe place to hold any conversation (even about Nanaimo cookies), much less one as important as ours.  As a writer, I will not tolerate the arbitrary editing or elimination of my posts by a moderator or a forum owner.  Moreover, I will not place myself in voluntary submission to anyone who knows so little about my problems and/or who disagrees with me on political or commercial grounds.

I believe that the Expat Forum has made a tactical error.  Perhaps it would lose certain sponsors offended by our conversation, but then it could have gained others, e.g., lawyers and tax accountants or alternative vacation resorts outside the United States, who would have been able to exploit the conversation with content-related advertising.  Instead, it has damaged its own business reputation and has lost the trust of many people; it did this by creating an internet space for an open conversation but then arbitrarily censoring it.    Such an action is repugnant to all free people everywhere.

There are plenty of venues on the internet where this  conversation can take place.  This site, the Isaac Brock Society, is one.  But the Expat Forum can no longer be the place for any conversation whatsoever, not even Nanaimo cookie recipes.  It is time to move on and forget about any grievances that we have with the Expat Forum.

What can we learn from this?  Someone has suggested we move the Isaac Brock Society off of our WordPress host and onto a server outside the United States.  Frankly, we have no idea why the owner, Bob Sheth, has done what he has done: is it complaints from the United States government, from expats loyal to Obama, or from commercial interests with ties to the US Federal Government?   The real reason can’t be my telling Expat Forum Moderator  jokes,–can it?  Since they have not told us the real reason, I think we need to be careful about ever trusting a third party host again.

This thread is now open for comments.

41 thoughts on “A Censored Forum is an Oxymoron: Why the Expat Forum is not a safe place for conversation and what we can learn from our experience there

  1. It doesn’t really make a difference where you host your site at– all if takes is a judge to say “take it down” and it will get taken down. I think new SOPA law will give the US access to shut down any website around the world. (they say if the site is dealing in pirated materials, but I’ll bet they expand that to anything.) – I think the most important thing is to always use factual information and NEVER anything illegal, and I think you will diminish the liability significantly.

    Secondly, I wrote this in another comment, but I think Bob was ignorant on these issues, and feared breaking the law. If this were the case, he should have just done 5 minutes of research to confirm these things.

  2. Thanks for the response. The WordPress hosting is very cheap, $25 US for the hosting and the domain name, per annum. Moving this site will require resources, that at this point we don’t have, since we are only an informal association of free individuals.

  3. Peter, who said to take the site out of America, because I didn’t say that? The best (and cheapest) hosting companies are in America. That’s where my databases are hosted. My domains are at 1&1 because they are only $10/year.

    You could *SAVE* $18 per month to move to a more sophisticated host like Hostgator or Bluehost, both based in America. Personally, I like Hostgator, but not for domains, hence the reason I keep them at 1&1. A complete “baby” package with hostgator is $6,95/month and you could host ALL of your websites (issacbrock, righteous investor) for this price .

    About moving, just live chat with them and tell them you need for THEM to move your websites and they will do the work for you. They are professionals, so they won’t mess it up.

    I don’t know about you, but saving $18 month isn’t bad!!
    Later, once you’ve made this transition, I will be more than happy to assist you in configuring anything, including a forum if you so desire.

    The last thing I want is a website or blog, especially tied to something as controversial as the topics are here. Since you’re the “ringleader” everything should be in your name 🙂 I’ve got enough business-related issues to keep me busy.

    I just think this is a great place and I would like the site to reach its true potential, and not see a lot of comments and information get ‘lost in the cracks’.

    Anything you need tech-wise, just let me know! I’ll be happy to volunteer my time and creativity to the projects!

  4. Scream at me all you want to Peter, but I just read some of the latest comments and I think people ** should be able to send private messages to each other through a forum ** and not here for the whole world to see.

    Obviously, based on comment-count, people want interaction. I urge you to provide the most secure way possible for people to have this. I’m out for tonight!

  5. Perhaps you could set up a donations site via alertpay. I’m sure people would be happy to contribute.

    I don’t think any of us posting on here are going to be harassed by the IRS unless we were defiant tax protestors. It’s legal to criticize our government’s policies but that’s not the same thing as having a f*ck y*u attitude to them.

    Petris, I do believe you could face problems, yourself;I am only telling you my honest opnion. But that’s because you’re openly defying the fbar and US tax laws. On the other hand, I am critical of their policies but am nonetheless still obeying the laws and being compliant. See what i mean? I fear you’re only going to wind up beig slaughtered butI sense you like the idea of beig a martyer. I want a quiet life, lol.

  6. Hi Mona, Thanks for your concern, and I have thought this through. I came out in the open about FBAR only after the Canadian government said it would not collect FBAR fines. All my assets are here in Canada. I am now a Canadian citizen and no longer US. The statute of limitations is 6 years if I am not indicted. If indicted, in abstentia, I would never be able to return to the United States because then the statute of limitations would never expire. If they indict me however I would never have to fill out FBAR because of Fifth Amendment rules. So they would have no knowledge of my accounts or their balances (except an RRSP which was legally reported in my 1040 filings). Under the USA/Canada extradiction treaty, there is no provision for taxes or FBAR. So I am safe here in Canada, at least for now. And if I am no longer safe, then no one is safe.

    I’m not trying to be martyr. I am only trying to protect my small fortune and my Canadian wife. In many ways, you are the martyr. You have agreed to pay the unjust taxes, and have laid down your life. But I would agree that I am flaunting their authority over me (which is my character, as you can see perhaps with my responses to the Expat Forum!).

    So what do I give up? The ability to travel to the US. What do I save. All my money and my relationship with my Canadian wife.

  7. I don’t have that option though because of my parents and other relatives in the states. And though I care about my spouse, as we never had children my primary loyalty has to be my parents, as awful as that may sound. I am thus tied to America in a way you’re apparently not.

    Yes, they may decide to try and strip me of all my assets and even our flat becsuse, again, we stupidly put it joint names whrn we should have kept it just in His name. But as it was his money, perhaps he was foolish not to be aware himself of the liability he was taking on by marrying an American. It’s too late now, I’m a deer frozen in the head lights. To be frank, I also think I was stupid not to have been aware of ny reporting and tax obligations I suppose my life as I knew it is over.

    But as we had no children perhaps it’s not so tragic if I wind up destitute. This whole fatca thing terrified me so much that I concluded I had no choice but to compmy and report everything because the fines are so draconuan for lying.

    Yes, my dreams are dashed. i’ve lost all ambition to strive; simply can’t seethe point.

    You may feel scorn for me but I also believe in doing the honourabke thing, it’s how I was raised.

    This all caught me completely off guard, never saw it coming. But I blame my and his naivety. It makes me bith sad and angry, even bitter.

  8. @Mona No, I feel no scorn for you at all. I feel deep outrage at what has happened; and believe it or not, it’s stories like yours that motivate me to fight, not just for myself, but for thousands of people who are like deer caught in the headlights.

  9. I will always be grateful to brave crusaders such as yourself. I feel genuiely bewildered by the world, not just thus tax thing. I actually got swindled by some customers yesterday at work and what awful about it wasn’t just the money I lost but the way they tricked me by distracting me and making me feel small. It’s too much to go into here but I realized to my shame that they bullied me, made me feel frightened by demanding my name and to check my ID.

    They were young German women in their early 20s and brisque; I just at first thought that they were sort of uptight students who weren’t used to large cities and were just being wary before parting with their money.

    A minute after they left I realised they hadn’t paid me so pursued them and found them; but instead of them being apologetic and paying, they coldly denied everything and insisted they’d paid. I concluded in the end that it was now my word against theirs and that I felt such a fool, plus risked them making an official complaint about me if I had really had a showdown with them, especially as I wasn’t absolutely sure.

    It was all a subtle use of bullying and manipulation and being tricked that upset me even more than the money I lost to them; but it’s another example of how this world is a jungle and how you have to have your wits about you.

    I can see sumilarities when dealing with accountants and the taxman. If one is not careful she could be caught off guard and even inadvertently agree to signing away many of her rights, etc. It’s as though you have to keep your wits about you. Even attorneys will milk clients if they are unscrupulous enough.

    I’ve learned that because I was caught off guard, that my (actually really my spouse’s) investments were largely wasted simply due to lack of tax planning. We had only considered the UK angle when finacially planning. Such is life. At least I’ve learned a harsh lesson.

    Petros, I sometimes wonder if it may be safer for me to no longer post on here, especially as I don’t want to be singled out during the midsts of a disclosure. I will continue to follow with keen interest but am realistically just trying to get through each day right now and don’t want to risk unwanted attention.

  10. It’s really discouraging to hear some of you say you’re afraid to speak out about the IRS bully, but I can certainly understand. That said, if this is no longer a safe venue for us I hope we can find one that is. I would hate to lose this resource and I’m sure others feel the same way. Would it at least be possible to find a forum-type website that would allow private messaging?

  11. I guess my view not having been on the expat forum is that if you are in favor of policies such as FATCA, FBAR, citizenship based taxation etc please explain your justifications in light of the stories of personal hardship told here and elsewhere instead of just refusing to engage in any discussion. I think it is very telling that many of these left wing civil society groups that have been past FATCA supporters have not been willing to talk that much about FATCA since last September when the first complaints started to come in.

    I am somewhat optimistic this issue might even get some traction in Washington however, I am not sure it will get traction with the right people i.e. Senators. I’ll go out in make a prediction that when the Canadian parliamentary delegation(including MP John Williamson of YouTube fame) travels to Washington in March to discuss this issue and others that Carl Levin won’t be meeting with them nor will many other Senate Democrats(House Democrats are another story and I think actually a few like Carolyn Maloney(co chair of the citizens abroad caucus)despite being relatively uneducated on the issue might turn out to be allies in the medium term.

  12. Petros, I was not part of the ex pat forum because I didn’t know about it and because I don’t consider myself an expat, just a patriotic Canadian citizen. I stumbled across Isaac Brock Society on Friday when I was searching for something else–and I’m glad I did. Thank you for being our modern day warrior in establishing this site.

    Mona, I didn’t see Petros comments as scorn at all. I’m so sorry to hear of your situation from yesterday. Petros does say “we are not at the point where we have to be paranoid.” Petros, that’s the only comment you’ve made that I don’t agree with. Considering how our country of birth (or in some cases, just a parent’s country of birth!), is now treating us, I think we all have full blown paranoia–for just cause.

    Like you Mona, my only reason for crossing the border is to see my 89 year old mother I have told family and friends that after Mom’s death, I will never again visit the U.S. Like others, I never expected to be in such a situation after 40 years of Canadian citizenship, working for a provincial government, saving for my retirement, faithfully paying my taxes here, etc., etc. I will continue to maintain I am NOT a US citizen and hope to find a lawyer who can help me make that case without having to go to court. As I said in another thread, I’m terrified to call the US Consulate myself to see if I can get a Certificate of Loss of Nationality–although the US Consulate clearly told me in 1973 I was losing my US citizenship by becoming Canadian.

    The important thing is we stick together and respect each other’s choices–which I see happening so far on this site. Thanks again Petros.

  13. Private messages in the expat tax forum are also being my referral ti this site was **** out
    my reply was that my correspondent should seek out Canada’s hero of the war of 1812

  14. Hi Rivka: could you be a little more specific: what do you mean that this site was *****. Do you mean that links to isaacbrocksociety.com, you found them to say ************.com? This is a serious privacy breach. Forum owners aren’t supposed to go into their members private messages, are they?

  15. That is exactly what I mean, the 1812 reference slipped through and was understood.

    also had msg from compassiongrrl, she wanted to post about renunciation in HCMC, I wanted to know how she managed in one appointment. Have had no reply. I suspect msg was deleted before delivery

  16. @Rivka: I suspect that they had caught on to our little conspiracy then. We used private messages to create little secret meetings behind their backs in which we told Expat Forum Moderator jokes. So they decided to put a stop to that.

  17. @Blaze, like I said somewhere else on here (don’t ask me where though!), I pointed out the case of the Canadian government saying NO to China over the extradition of a rich Chinese national. Canada is protecting him, so why can’t Canada protect the dual citizens?

  18. Just had a quite look and it seems like they successfully “culled” the forum of all the old members too. I only recognise two of the usernames still posting in the Expat Tax forum who regularly posted before the site was censored. The Forum Administrator and friends must be thrilled.

  19. Actually, many names are gone because we asked our account to be deleted. And maybe some people are taking a bit of a break?

  20. Just checked and my account is still there and I was able to post a message. Not planning on doing many posts but I’ve sent a number of people there which is very frustrating!

  21. My thread about Form 8854, which nowhere mentioned the R-word, has vanished without trace.

    Also my (very mild) followup to Ladyhawk’s post in “US taxes: Declaring Foreign Financial Assets” was removed: “416
    This message has been deleted by Bevdeforges. Reason: politicizing ” Though all I said was that OVDI is a program for tax evaders, and if you’re not a tax evader, you don’t belong in it.

    There’s no ban on political discussion in the forum rules themselves.

    keywords: Bob Sheth, expatforum

  22. @416

    The Expat Forum are the ones “politicising” and hypocritically so: they only are censoring discussions relating to US citizenship and taxation. I no longer have an active account there, but if you or someone else is willing, I bet that we could point out this hypocrisy immediately: Someone go to the Singapore forum and post something about renouncing Singaporean citizenship to avoid military service. See if it gets censored…

    But then again, I think that the mods there are asleep at the wheel, since a post about renouncing citizenship has been in the Canada forum for almost 12 hours with no reaction from them:

    http://www.expatforum.com/expats/canada-expat-forum-expats-living-canada/100079-renounciation-relinquishment.html

  23. I think we’re all overprocessing some clumsy decisions by the mods at expatforum (including me), but it bears mentioning that a well-informed discussion of renunciation might well lead someone to give up on the idea – there are real down sides. In my own case I think it’s a 70:30 judgement call. There are days when I think it’s 60:40

    Making it a Banned Subject, so that even threads referring to it indirectly are vaporized without trace, implies that it’s irresistible and should never be mentioned in case everybody wants to do it. Even I’m not that bleak about US citizenship.

    keywords: Bob Sheth, expatforum

  24. @ 416: Please tell me you weren’t telling Expat Forum Moderator jokes in private messages.

    But in all seriousness, I think the only thing left is to try to gather any lost sheep who think that the Expat Forum is still a place to discuss our very serious issues. The Expat Forum has itself become a joke, trying to control the discussion. This why I said to everyone in my post on the new Isaac Brock Forum, that if you wanted to use it as a place to plan a coup against this website, just go right ahead. We have nothing to fear. If everyone left Isaac Brock, I would just go back to my quiet life as a Expat Forum Moderator joke writer.

  25. Also, there is definitely a ban on political discussion related to the US in that forum: I started a thread about the dangers of the NDAA which disappeared and also criticised the US ratings agencies in another post that I can no longer locate. Nothing to do with US taxes or renouncing citizenship.

  26. @DonP Yes, it was one of your new threads with political content (I couldn’t remember exact details) that you created in late November or early December that I was referring to in the main post above.

  27. @416 : Lovecheese’s thread on renunciation is now gone.

    New Joke:
    How many Expat Forum Moderators does it take to censor a post? Just one, but she has to find it first.

    The Expat Forum reminds me of the Ministry of Magic, and Bevdeforges is Dolores Umbridge. J. K. Rowling understands human nature–I didn’t think something this ridiculous was possible.

  28. I have a list of threads that somehow have remained and am keeping track…..some even have the “R” word! Some on the general forum, before we became the exit tax section…..

  29. In any private message I use “R” word for you no what. Also refer people to this site by advocating they seek Canada’s hero of 1812 for assistance

  30. I’ll be brutally blunt and honest. I think I will be taking my leave of the Expat forum. They’re all advocates of the “IRS will be lenient”. when what ACA has seen has been nothing of the sort. I think I will be pulling my wife (the US expat in the family) off that forum and mentioning the Isaac Brock Society to her as well. I don’t want my family’s finances going to hell in a handbasket. After getting censured for commenting on the family situation and why we need to watch where we step, I ,like Petros here, no longer feel that it’s a safe place for frank and unbiased discussion of the situation at hand.

  31. Furthermore, my question is that Bevdeforges, a US national living in France is trying to counsel Canadian expats on US taxes and becoming compliant. What may work for her in France (where there’s an ocean between her and the United States may not work for us who have just an invisible border at the 49th paraellel. For those of us spouses of US citizens, you kind of have to wonder if they really take our concerns seriously. Or are we to go along our merry way like rats into a trap?

  32. As an interesting aside I found several obscure bloggers in the US that were knowledgable of and favorible to FATCA. I posted several responses outlining all of the issues raised here and await with great anticipation whether my posts are responded to, deleted, etc. I will let everyone know what I hear back.

  33. @the_Animal Do you mean you were censored? “Censured”, well that seems stronger and weaker at the same time, if you know what I mean. What exactly did you write that got censored? Tell you what, you can say it here if you like.

    No one on the Expat Forum is now allowed to contradict Bevdeforges, and so she is pretty much the Queen bee over there now. “Oh, ask bevdeforges, she knows everything”. But she has written that renunciation of citizenship is off limits–I have nothing to say to her except Expat Forum Moderator jokes.

    Free discussion is permitted here and at the Isaac Brock Forum. Indeed, I say that if you wanted to use the forum to do a coup against this site to take traffic away from us, you would be welcome. But that is a not allowed at the Expat Forum. Once they realized that Isaac Brock could take away their traffic, they kiboshed all the links to this site (even in private messages!). We get no more hits from them.

  34. Bevdeforges should be very careful counselling Americans that it is illegal to renounce and relinquish because that is completely FALSE. Moreover, imagine the consequences for her and the site if someone heed her advice suffers a huge financial loss to her advice.

  35. @calgary411, yeah somebody asked if it was now no longer a banned subject. That seems to have kiboshed the discussion; now this guy’s comment has been removed.

Comments are closed.