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Dear Readers,

I think I may owe you an apology. I have long been an enthusiastic supporter of a certain Facebook Group which this week showed itself in its true colours when the group founder announced that he intended to charge a membership fee with effect from January of next year. I have no intention of further publicising the name of the group, so forgive me if you don’t know which group I’m talking about – be thankful that you don’t! Suffice it to say that to encourage voluntary contributions from a wide range of professional colleagues over a three-year period on the understanding that the group was a supportive community, promoting positivity and encouraging newcomers to the profession, and then to turn round and seek to use that very same information for the personal gain of the group founder strikes me as immoral, unethical and downright distasteful.

I have no objection to people making money from their own business ideas and entrepreneurship, and it’s not the cost per se that I’m objecting to, whether it’s the price of a cup of coffee or the equivalent of an annual subscription to a professional association. The fact remains that charging a fee for information collected on an entirely different premise is unacceptable. I and many other people who have contributed to the group are translators of many years’ standing. Some colleagues may already run their own chargeable webinars or courses, but they have made quite clear from the outset that they are offering a paid-for service. Many of us are happy to assist colleagues via regional or language networks within our professional associations, other social media groups, by private mentoring or via our own blogs. Most of us do this for free because we love what we do and are happy to give something back to the profession and to encourage newcomers. We most certainly don’t do it to line someone else’s pockets.

I enjoyed the group in question precisely because it felt like a community of like-minded people, where the more timid amongst us could ask questions without fear of having their heads bitten off or being dismissed outright. I loved seeing colleagues blossom and grow in confidence. I liked the fact this was a non-confrontational environment where people could depend on not being abused or ridiculed. I appreciated the fact that people gathered around when others were going through hard times and offered support and encouragement, even to the extent of creating a back-up team for a translator suffering from terminal cancer so that she could continue working to the bitter end – and then setting up a donation programme to create a memorial fund at her university when she died. All that came crashing down last Thursday, in my eyes at least, when the founder pressed the self-destruct button and revealed that it had been a cynical money-making exercise all along. The ensuing discussion and belittlement of colleagues simply beggars belief.

I’d been out attending a (free) workshop offered by a major CAT tool producer on Thursday, so didn’t hear the news until late afternoon as I was driving home. I’d been aware that there were rather more Facebook notifications than usual, but was horrified when I realised what had actually been unfolding over the course of the day. A far cry from the notion of “overcoming strife in the profession”, to quote the title one of the founder’s own presentations at the ELIA Conference in Barcelona back in February…. People’s responses were dismissed or shouted down, others were told that if they didn’t like it, they could lump it, as the decision was irrevocable. So much for a caring, sharing community.

I feel very naive, to be honest – perhaps we should always be on our guard if something seems too good to be true? Yet my recent experiences in San Francisco suggest that there are some truly generous people out there: from the lady I met at lunch one day who offered me guest tickets to a prestigious museum in the city later that week, to the gentleman who thrust ten dollars at me when the card machines weren’t working on the BART system and I had no cash for my train to the airport, to the colleague who cheerily waived the change from our shared lunch because she so enjoyed the group I’d set up on Facebook (I’d still like to buy you a drink when we next meet, Jill!), to my delightful AirBnB hosts who gave me a spare three-day bus pass when I carelessly lost my own weekly card two days in… None of those people expected anything in return, just as I don’t when I offer my advice, refer a colleague to a client, or help out with a terminology query. What goes round, comes round, surely?

Other groups have sprung up in the meantime, but, fingers well and truly burned, I don’t feel able to recommend any at this point in time. It is worth noting, however, that some of the language groups previously under the main group banner have detached themselves from the main group and will continue independently, with a promise to remain free for the indefinite future. Other former admins have set up their own language groups with the same aim. Do seek them out: they provide an invaluable resource. Likewise, the group I founded back in January, Foodie Translators, is most definitely not from the same stable and will also always be free. I may have come up with the original idea, but the group itself is what it is because of its members’ contributions and enthusiasm.

Anyway, to return to the point of this post, I’d like to apologise if I’ve inadvertently pointed anyone in the direction of this particular group and if they too feel as disillusioned and let down as I do. Rest assured that I have now deleted all references/links to the group on my blog, with the exception of a description of the one event I attended in London last year, precisely because it provided the opportunity to meet some delightful colleagues, and was worth it for that alone. However, I’ve added a postscript to that review, explaining my current views. I’d like to think that my contributions have struck a chord with some members, and equally I’d like to thank those who have helped me within the group. For me, the whole point of networking, especially in our isolated profession, is the people you meet. A community is always the sum of its parts, never about just one person, and that’s exactly why the notion of paying one individual for a community’s wisdom is so dangerous. I look forward to meeting many of those same colleagues, and others, elsewhere – but, to borrow a phrase from a well-known TV show, I’m out. Onwards and upwards…