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The trouble with the ambassadors

We’re doing a little experiment in Antwerp, called elections. Once in a while, somebody makes the simple observation that it might better to base any kind of hierarchy in a community on representation instead of appointment. This is one of the core problems as well in CS and something we’ve been tackling in our “Open Organisation” campaign for a long time now. I think it would be very much worth it to see if the Antwerp CS community would support this or not. So, the best way to find out is to actually call for community elections. We could have gone straight after the city ambassador positions, but since that’s practically uninforcable, we made up our own title: “community elected CS city ambassador”. Sounds cool huh?

What’s the major difference between the CS ambassadors and what we propose?

  1. CS ambassadors are appointed from “above”. Depending on the level you wish to attain, the group that decided changes to higher levels, so it might be other ambassadors, up to LT. Community ambassadors would be elected from the local community.
  2. CS ambassadors have to follow a “code of ethics”, which ironically includes accepting the legally dubious terms of use. Not only is protesting any of that de-facto not allowed (you can only accept or you don’t get to be ambassador), it may require you to agree to semi-legal and ethically dubious rules and systems. Community ambassadors do not have such a code, but would be judged for their behaviour, which obviously includes real ethics.
  3. CS ambassadors get a “job” description, like organizing meetings, etc. Community ambassadors would be required to outline a program before their elections.

In general, I would say the official CS ambassadorship looks much more like a corporate job than anything else. There is a job description, an appointment process (including fairly subjective selections) and even a contract (“code of ethics” – cough). Or, in other words, a CS ambassador is representative of the Couchsurfing corpganization. By contrast, a community ambassador would be much more about being a representative of the local community instead.

The resulting proverbial shitstorm that resulted from the announcement was both predictable and suprising. Predictable because it obviously threatens some people’s positions (even indirectly). Suprising because so many of the LT cliché’s popped up in the discussion. Arguments and techniques that seemed to come straight from the LT playbook. Let me give you some examples:

  1. “It is really easy to participate, just apply! Why are you complaining?”
    It’s easy to participate as long as you agree to everyting yes. Groupthink example nr 1.
  2. ” We are just doing the best we can here! Why are you complaining?”
    The sympathy card. Avoidance tactic nr 1.
  3. “We’re not a closed group (the ambs), we just didn’t make an agenda because it was a private meeting/we didn’t have time/…”
    This wouldn’t be accepted in any other non-profit. Meetings behind closed doors? Please. Groupthink nr 2.
  4. “Democracy is a wonderful thing but it is not applicable to all organisational structures.”
    The poster did apologize for this, but still one of the major points seems to be that democracy for some weird reason can’t work in CS, the evidence of countless democratic non-profits being discarded in one swift stroke. Avoidance tactic nr 2.
  5. “Please give us feedback instead of complaining.”
    This basically is the brainstorming red herring: allow people to “provide input” to be able to ignore what you don’t like while still looking like you “care”. Whatever. I disagree with the way ambs are choosen, period. That means I don’t want to provide legitimacy to what you’re doing by giving you suggestions. Although, I do have one suggestion: resign and participate in the election instead of clinging to your current position. Avoidance tactic nr 3.
  6. “I don’t support the whole election but I will not block it in any way.”
    This is basically claiming ownership over something you don’t have. Elections don’t need amb support, it needs people support. Groupthink nr 3.
  7. ” You will always get a quick and honest reply for us, as we are the CS freaks.”
    How this can be claimed in any serious way is beyond me. You’re probably not even allowed to talk about certain things.
  8. “You’re just being paranoid.”
    Thanks buddy, but I don’t think you’ve met a real paranoid person in your life – I have. Personal attack, yay!
  9. And then came the stuff that really reminded me of the LT:
    “Would you please stop this discussion? It damages the CS project a lot. [...] for us, CS-members, it seems a lot of bullshit! and a lot of spam too !!!!!”
    immediatly followed by:
    “I’ll create a group within the antwerp group about the election so we can have our discussions over there without bothering the people too much…”
    This made me so angry, to see that same argument “you’re all a bunch of haters, go away!” followed up by the same kind of censorship “please step over here sir, so the good people can’t hear your complaints”.

The only tactics that haven’t been tried (yet):

  1. Permanent silencing. (Deleting posts and or manually moving threads.)
  2. Discredit the people/movement behind this. (Although point 9 is pretty close to that.)
  3. Direct threats (remember the “your account will be closed if you make vague legal threats thing?”)

Shameful. Shameful and painful.


112 Responses to “The trouble with the ambassadors”

  • Here are more examples how the ambassador management group destroys the local community by adding ambassadors they do not know .The meddling of foreign global ambassadors in local communities are destroying the communities everywhere.

  • @Daz
    That post in “Independent women” is interesting (Where do you get this stuff? How much time do you spend on CS anyway?).

    Connected to the original blog post here, it is rather sad to see that Martine (one of the Belgian country ambs) is complaining that they need a tool (!) to be able to find/reconnect ambassadors, even though a group of active local volunteers offered a very simple and direct way of getting more interest in such a position: elections. But she doesn’t mention that at all, no, the only thing that could possibly help is a tool and of course they can’t create that themselves. Jeez.

  • The related thread about the new cityamb of Hamburg at the CS-HH-group:

    Parts are in german, especially the quotes from the amb’s mail to a group member.

    d.) die sache mit dem ambassador bezog sich rein auf die /grundfunktion/ von cs, reisenden tips und infos zu geben, nicht mehr. große hamburg-interne meetings und/oder spendenaktionen halte ich für nicht sinnvoll. man kennt sich ja und kann sich bei bedarf mailen.
    e.) ich glaube schon das hamburg einen ambassador benötigt und ich glaube auch das das nicht andere hamburger-cs’er zu bestimmen haben was benötigt wird und was nicht.

    A rough translation:

    d) the ambassadorship is only related to the basic function of CS, giving tips and infos for travelers not more. i don’t think big internal meetings of hamburg and/or donations actions are i meaningful. we know each other and could mail if necessary.

    e.) i believe hamburg needs an ambassador and i don’t think other cs’ers from hamburg have to decide what’s necessary and what not.

    So, superlufti qualifies very well for being an ambassador. And the active part of the local mob salutes him with a warm “fuck off!”

    (BTW: the hamburg meetings are not internal, but open – too open? – to everyone. there hasn’t been any actions to get donations so far. one thing is right: the locals know each other and uses the group/mail for communication. but the amb is nor known nor part of the network.)

  • I don’t need a tool to “find” ambs, I don’t even need a tool anyway, but it would be kinda nice to have the possibility to send out “renewal” emails to existing ambassadors: to ask them if they are still fine with BEING an amb. Actually there’s for me no need for a tool as we are only a few in Belgium, so I can just send a message. In countries like the US, it would be helpful to have some custom message for that.
    Here in Belgium we don’t need to “reconnect”, we connect just fine.
    So I’m NOT complaining.

    By the way, there are still NO candidates for a new ambassador in Antwerp, or representative or whatsoever. You guys are probably very happy/relieved now Luca resigned.

  • Meanwhile back in CS Ambassadorland all is not well and happy…

    Yet again, lack of communication and unilateral action is causing anger – this time amongst Ambassadors.

  • We now have a super bully country ambassador called lady Raina( knighted by some pompus queen liz) who is bullying all the ambassadors and also poking her nose in groups she has not idea about. It also shows how ambassadors think they can get away with anything and also think their word means something. Raina from south africa a relative newbie elevated to power by the LT?

  • However, I was more surprised by the amount of complaints in the ambs forum.
    Some requested that all the ambassadors should be added by default to the NMW group. I do not agree!
    There are hundreds (thousands?) ambassadors who do not greet new members. So why ALL the ambassadors should be added automatically to the NMW group? Some mentioned *power* …I guess it was just the wrong word to use here because I cannot and I do not want to think that ambassadors have POWER!

    Dont you just love the unlimited fun of virtual power.

  • Looks like the ambassadors fell they are NOT responsible for anything on couchsurfing and ONLY the LT is responsible.
    This is good becuse when the LT closes CS. The ambassadors can say HEY NOT MY PROBLEM!!!

    In the ambassadors public Roland Wollweber from Ludwigshafen, Germany writes.

    The problem we have at the meeting is, that we have only city/nomad/country ambassadors there and no official one for LT. It makes no sense to discuss more about cs politics and philosophy about it, when no responsible one is there who can change something or is responsible and/or give answers.

  • There is a possible breach where a banned woman harasser has got access to his buddy the ambassadors profile . Very very scary .

  • Has anyone been following the going on’s in the Penang Group?

    There are allegations that ambassadors are removing long-standing members of communities from groups without explanation, encouraging surfers to leave negative references for other amabassadors (and leaving misleading references to bolster these references, such as marking the surfer as a “Good Friend” after a fifteen minute conversation), and merging groups without any communication or explanation.

  • now a crotch surfing ambassador from Delhi India who gets drunks and gropes woman and crotch surfing meet ups .

  • about the above text introduced with ‘CS-hamburg’. these lines someone has copied out of a message of me (CS: ‘superlufti’) to the CS hamburg ambassadors or the so called CS hamburg ‘excellence team’. i was writing to become an HH city ambassador which i was for three months late in the year 2007.

    a.) the hamburg group (meaning the ambassadors) are a little problematic, ‘behind the moon’, can although be friendly! in my eyes they see themselves a little too -anarchic- or so called -alternative- what diverse ‘iron-on’ stickers on their clothes (or bags) sometimes show.

    b.) back in 2007 when i was a hamburg ambassador (the copied text is from this time) the hamburg CS team had the main idea in creating some sort of ‘fun games’ or ‘bar meetings’ for CS-locals where travellers -could- participate as well.

    c.) what is mentioned in b.) (above) is not my idea of couchsurfing

    c.1.) still today (in sept. 2009) i can say that the text translation (ger. – eng.) someone formulated is right! to quote the translation about my own message: ” (…) the ambassadorship is only related to the basic function of CS, giving tips and infos for travelers – not more.”

    d.) quote:”(…) the local mob salutes him with a warm “fuck off!””
    is not entirely – but almost – true. the hamburg community (the so called ‘excellence team’) can be very nice and open – but you should not interact in any way that is unwanted – you receive the described reaction during minutes or hours via e-mail.

    e.) when i was an ambassador in 2007 (or 2008, i forgot) i mostly reveived SPAM-mailings, dozens-and-dozens of them per day. whosoever wanted to tell wheresoever about whatsoever, not in a few lines, orderly, in some well formulated phrases but in almost ‘book like’ texts together with copied, forwarded, added text-pieces which took me hours and hours to read.

    f.) most of those messages where -not- about the needs/thoughts of travellers or people that needed a place to stay or were just interested in CS in general but about internal affairs & the ideals of a few CS-intern-thinkers (meaning: boring! WHY? because i have my own thoughts about CS).

    g.) i could not stop these (SPAM like) messages from comming in – additionally, i always had the idea they were just created that some people ‘had something to do’.

    h.) i love CS, but, as someone has found out about me before, will leave my fingers away from the idea ‘beeing an ambassador’.

    i.) the CS ambassador (also communications) systems works well today althoug i believe there are some individuals that should rather do something else than to sit around – beeing worried about the network the whole time. in my belief: CS almost became a job for them – not a ‘travellers needs – host meets guest’ tool anymore.

    feel free to mail at

    ‘superlufti’ (or: martin) from couchsurfing

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