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Posted August 22nd, 2008 - 5:30 pm by from Oslo, Norway (Permalink)
Hi fellow ambassadors

Lately we have witnessed several open disputes between our members on different groups and many ambassadors wonder how they can help when someone come to them asking for advice.

The Member Dispute & Safety Team would like to offer some information to the questions raised lately on how to help.

THIS will be a LONG post, but it will contain a lot of information hopefully useful to all of you on what you can do if you or someone you know have a problem with another member and where they can go and how the processes of MDST CUQ’s (Contact us questions) works.


First we would like to remind you all that when you signed in to the couchsurfing project and created your profiles, you also accepted our Terms of Use and the CS Guidelines - http://www.couchsurfing.com/guidelines.html

In the CS Guidelines it is stated clearly that
1. it all begins with RESPECT
2. Don’t Spam
3. Couchsurfing is NOT a Dating Site
4. Keep the chat rooms Friendly
5. Photo Posting Guidelines
6. Events are free.

Treat your fellow members with respect and NEVER NAME AND SHAME anyone publicly.
Remember, you also have an obligation to MEMBER PRIVACY and if you need advice from the public, write about the problem in a non-emotional, factual and polite way.


Terms of Use can be found at direct link: http://www.couchsurfing.com/terms.html and at the bottom of every single CS page

As AMBASSADORS be good examples by knowing the Terms of Use and following them.


The Member Disputes & Safety Team (MDST) helps members resolve their disputes and provides for member safety on an ongoing basis. Our role is to be an unbiased third party to help communicate between the disputing parties.


Sometimes members will have problems with each other. No one wants that to happen, but what shall you do if you are experiencing problems.

One ambassador asked...

"I personally cannot do anything with the problems passed to me, but I personally am the one who has to listen when those people dont get responses in months or if ever, what am i supposed to tell people?"

As local ambassadors, you will often see that members contact you if things goes wrong between hosts and surfers in your area.  
The complaining parties ask questions that are hard to respond to and the information is not always easy to find.  
From experience, things get really complicated when the victim doesn't complain directly.
This is why we cannot take 3rd party complaints.  
Although it is a very nice gesture of someone to offer to help out the person that has been offended or that has a problem by contacting MDST for them, this might slow down the process for the situation they are complaining about.
The best advice is to ask them to contact MDST directly as fast as possible.

We know it is frustrating not to be able to act on a complaint from a member, but members have to take their own responsibility.  

You can give them your advice, you can support them, but what happened is NOT your responsibility.  
Be informed and supportive.

When someone comes to you about minor problems, you can: 

** Advise them to talk with each other and try to work out their differences between them.
The best way to help them is to listen to them. Try to give unbiased advice. 
If this does not solve the issue advise them to contact MDST. Even if we decide not to act, there will be a record of what was reported. We keep those records.  
** If someone comes to you with serious complaint involving member privacy: 

** Advise them to contact MD&ST directly 
** Advise them to not publish name or profile links on groups. Even if it seems as a good idea to “warn” other members about what they have experienced with someone, naming and shaming in public can be considered libel.

** The other effect this can have is that the member they're talking about can see it and decide to hide from the community or delete their profile while they create a new profile. This leads to us losing track of problem members, which is more dangerous for members' safety than not warning them. 

** If a crime has been committed, advise them to report it to the police and send a copy of the police report to Safety@couchsurfing.com  

What can you do to keep your local community safe? 
You can make general safety information for your area available by f.ex. creating a wiki document containing emergency information for your area. 
Example of what kind of information you can help CS travellers with: 

(PS: Thanks to Little Green Hobbit for creating the Manchester Emergency info that gave me the idea to the Oslo_emergency)
You can also post some general safety tips for travellers on your groups and flag the posts or put them into the group detail descrition.


How do you contact us? -> Use the Contact Us Questions (CUQ) form to be found at –
http://couchsurfing.com/contact.html (also linked at the bottom of every page)

When the issues are of a privacy related character - Mark the form with "Problem with another member" to assure that your question goes directly to the MDST inbox and member privacy will be kept.

This includes links to profiles, what happened where, references to communication you had etc.


Now, lets present the flowchart of the typical contact with the MDST.


YES, Sometimes it takes a LONG time to get back to the people sending us CUQs with their informations and complaints. Here are a few reasons to why.

1. We are all volunteers. We are not always able to reply immediately.

2. Due to the nature of the complaints we get in MDST it is critical for us to gather AS MUCH INFORMATION as possible and also make sure we have the correct information before we act.

3. Due to member privacy we are NOT able to hand out any information about any disputes to any other parts than the directly involved parts. All members to the MD&S Team have signed the confidentiality policy (See what that includes on the public MDST group - http://www.couchsurfing.com/group_read.html?gid=6220&post=371396)
All Senior members to the team have also signed the Couchsurfing NDA (Non-Disclosure agreement)

If you are not involved in the dispute, but wondering about information, it might seem like it takes an even longer time because there is so much going on behind the scenes.


What the Member Dispute & Safety Team CAN AND CANNOT DO FOR YOU

The MDST FAQ - http://www.couchsurfing.com/member_disputes_faq.html

Safety Guidelines and Tips for Travellers -
Safety Information - http://wiki.couchsurfing.com/en/Safety

Couchsurfing - Advice for hosts

Reference Writing Support

We hope that by this post we are able to clear up a few doubts about how things work and how we can best work together.

Looking forward to working with you in the best possible way.


Posted August 22nd, 2008 - 6:55 pm by from La Paz, Bolivia (Permalink)
I am a little wisser now, thanks Machita


Posted August 22nd, 2008 - 8:34 pm from Oakland, United States
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Posted August 22nd, 2008 - 9:12 pm by from Bangalore, India (Permalink)
Hey Marianne,

This is a cross-post but this question seems more appropriate here than in the Brainstorm thread so here goes :)

5.2 Content Restrictions. You are solely responsible for any content that you submit, post or transmit via our Services. You may not post or submit any content that:

(b) contains nudity or sexually explicit content

Does this relate to only content which is posted on threads or also to just about anything that is on your profile page?

If it applies to content on one's profile page then I recall a very famous surfer who is a photographer and who's on a 'nude couchsurfing' project. His profile contains many pictures of nude couchsurfers. I could add a link here but I don't know if that would be 'defamatory'. I certainly wouldn't mean it as such but I for the mo I shall refrain.

Now please understand that I am NOT impugning his integrity or criticising his or anybody's choice of a lifestyle. People are perfectly entitled to pose nude and surf nude and do whatever else they feel like.

I am only trying to understand this 'legislation' if you like and how it is meant to be applied. I need it straight in my head if I want to be able to advise anyone on it.

Additionally, this is related to a lot of the topics that have been discussed here. I understand the problems associated with privacy and we've been through any number of discussions about not providing links to profiles on public discussions and threads. But, on occasion, do you not think that very specific questions and issues need something concrete (such as an example in the form of a link) in order to clarify a discussion? What if I provide a link to a person's profile in order to throw open a discussion about what is and is not 'infringement' of a rule or acceptable on CS? I would not be accusing him/her of anything like theft, harassment or whatever. But we would be discussing content that is open to the general CS public on a person's profile. A case in point is Kasper's link to Ulf's profile (and a nude pic that is actually far far far less explicit than the one's on the aforementioned nude CS' profile) on the Brainstorm thread. Is that unacceptable?

Again, this is NOT a critique of anybody's lifestyle, just a plea for... enlightenment, if you will :)



Posted August 23rd, 2008 - 12:45 am from Kigali, Rwanda
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Posted August 23rd, 2008 - 12:41 pm by from Seattle, United States (Permalink)
Yes, I think it would be a great idea to make this AND other useful information available under the "amb" tab. I, for one, would find that a lot more useful than many of the other items there now.


Posted August 24th, 2008 - 3:03 pm by from Oslo, Norway (Permalink)
Hi all,

Thank you for all the positive feedback to this information.

Rahul, I hope you understand why we cannot give you any detailed information about the profile you raise a question about.
We can only say we will look into it.

Thanks for understanding.

Please let us know if you need any other information that we can be able to help you with.


Posted August 29th, 2008 - 5:41 am by from Bangalore, India (Permalink)

At no point did I expect to hear details of the case in particular. I'm sorry if that was how it came across :)

Allow me to try and rephrase.

Photo Posting Guidelines:

'We don't allow your primary photo to be nude. Generally, we don't censor gallery photos, but we reserve the right to.'

Ergo, nudity on a profile pic is not ok, but in the gallery it is acceptable, for the most part (at least that's the logical interpretation to me).

But, doesn't this contradict

'You may not post or submit ANY content that:

(b) contains nudity or sexually explicit content'

My question is simply, when exactly is somebody breaking a TOU? Is there not an inherent contradiction between this Photo posting guideline and this TOU? Additionally, I personally have seen a fair amount of sexually explicit text on various profiles and groups. How does that fit in with these? How do we draw a distinction between a TOU and a 'Guideline' (if at all)? Does one supercede the other when they contradict each other (ideally they shouldn't)? At this point do we sort of move into the grey area where we simply use common sense and our own judgement?

Please understand that I merely seek clarification and am not calling anybody out, not accusing anybody of anything, not reporting anyone not not not not not..! :)



Posted August 31st, 2008 - 9:52 am by from San Francisco, United States (Permalink)
Hey guys,

These are some great questions! Thank you all for understanding that we don't talk about specific issues. We often mention it, probably because we feel as though we're asked frequently. We may always mention it ;)


- Vitezslav, we actually rarely check messages between members. We really try not to. A common reason to check messages are for spammers/people who charge for their couch, to confirm consistency in spamming or breaking our Terms of use. Other instances where we need to check messages are generally done on the request of one of the members complaining. In rare circumstances, in case of severe complaints, we may check the messages but that is often right before we let a member know we're removing them. If anyone is curious if we had ever read their messages, they can come to us and we would tell them -it's all logged, so we have that information. As for giving members their "file" there are a few reasons why we currently do not (though we usually tell them what we're doing during a process so they're aware!):

1. Sometimes issues recur long after we believe they're finished. It's not terribly common, but it has been known to happen.
2. For complaints which involve multiple parties, it may be difficult to give a member their file without breaching another members' privacy (this includes our communication with other members involved). A reason for this is:
3. We are designing a new complaint tracking system which will be integrated within the CS system, for ease. We may revisit the idea you present, as it may be possible to separate out parts of complaints.


- OK, Rahul. This one seems like it would be cut and dry, right? But there are certainly several shades of grey! I agree that this should be revisited for further clarification (we'll add that to the to-do list :) There are a couple of thoughts about this initially, that may clarify what probably seems to be a laissez-faire attitude about it:

- We have been drawing the line at genitals. There are naturists on CS, and artists who specialize in nudity. We understand that some people simply identify as being, er, naked. However, it's important to keep in mind that not all nudity is sexual, and not all sexually explicit content involves nudity. Bit of a catch 22. It also brings to light another very important ideology:

- If someone has these super sexy hubba hubba pics of themself, or a lot photos that you personally find offensive, it gives you a better idea of whether you would want to meet this person. For racy photos (not necessarily nude) it could affect whether you have a CouchSurfing experience with them.

- If someone has sexually explicit content written or has a dating profile, it gives you a better idea of the person's intentions, so you can decide to stay away if you are so inclined. If someone is using CS as a dating website and we ask them to change their profile, they might change their content, sure, but they may also hide their intentions! This can turn a negative impression online into an uncomfortable situation face to face! We ask that people be honest about who they are & what they want from CS, and as everyone has different ideas of what they like and don't like, we allow them to express themselves. We ask that members are responsible for themselves on CS - you have to agree to that in order to sign up! Therefore, we try to allow members to be able to make those decisions by giving them access to content that others post about themselves.

- we do not currently have a tool to hide content in user profiles because of this. We are considering such a tool, but it would come with extremely strict guidelines as to when it could be used, and that would most likely only be if they were defaming someone else on their own profile. We are able to remove photos, but we tend to ask a member to remove it themselves, and they usually do so.

Hopefully this answer some of these questions!

Posted August 23rd, 2008 - 3:04 pm by from Nashville, United States (Permalink)
Wow Marianne, what a great job!

Thanks for summarizing and putting all that information together in such a good and organized way. I am sure it will be of major help for the community.

I just wanted to add that, as always, this situations can be ameliorated or solved basically with common sense, diplomacy and understanding of cultural differences. In the end, everyone is responsible for their actions alone, but strengthening the community is for me much more based in making people understand that respect and gratefulness are everything from the very first moment they contact each other.

Promoting understanding through traveling is for me one of the main social tasks that CS helps to achieve in the world just by what it represents and enable. And thus, we boost the quality of the CS network and make the world a little bit a better place as well.

Posted August 23rd, 2008 - 3:10 pm by from Marseille, France (Permalink)
Thanks a lot Marianne,

It'll really help me in the town where I am ambassador since a few days...


Posted August 27th, 2008 - 9:14 am by from Port Moody, Canada (Permalink)
Thanks so much for this Machita! It is very helpful to have all this info in one place. I hope this gets flagged so I can easily find it again should I need to.


Posted August 28th, 2008 - 4:25 pm by from Prague, Czech Republic (Permalink)
Thanks a lot Marianne. This is what most of us want to know.

I have one question regarding reading of private messages.

As it's stated in FAQ
"We will only read messages sent between you and another member if absolutely necessary. We do so as little as possible. Only senior members of the team are able to read messages between members, and there is an automatic record within the CouchSurfing system whenever this happens."

If somebody will ask if his her messages were ever read. Will you provide him/her with answer ?

I mean after police closes the case you have guaranteed access to your own "file".
Is that valid for MDST team as well ?

Posted September 1st, 2008 - 1:02 pm from Pune, India
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Posted September 1st, 2008 - 6:25 pm by from Norwich, England (Permalink)
Marianne and Rachel,
all the MDST team - thank you some much for keeping us all here informed about this CRUCIAL area!

I am sure the Ambs will keep being interested and benefited by your interventions:)

Thanks again,

Posted March 9th, 2009 - 7:59 pm by from Shenzhen, China (Permalink)
Hi Marianne,

Thank you so, so much! I am much smarter now! :)