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A new era of leadership for Bluelight.org

Bluelight has reached a point of importance in its existence, one that brings change which in turn can give a mixed feeling of hope and uncertainty. With Sebastians_ghost retiring and moving on in the real world, we thank him for all he's done in getting the site to a point of financial stability with a clear direction and purpose. As he steps down from his role of Executive Director, the torch is passed to his two closest allies in the effort to ensure Bluelight's mission is sustained and improved upon. In his place, @Tronica will assume the role of Executive Director, expanding her role from Director of Research to a new level of responsibility being the face for Bluelight in the real world. She will continue to coordinate with the Academic realm, while looking to expand our presence through other media and resources so as to extend our reach. Meanwhile, @TheLoveBandit, now Director of Site Operations, will serve as her right hand, managing the traditional site from both a technical and staffing perspective.

We have reached a turning point in Bluelight's diary, a time when we have grown from a niche community of people who use drugs helping one another and are now looking more broadly to find new opportunities, new channels, new ways to expand and improve our harm reduction efforts. We, Tronica and TLB, would like to take a moment to share our thoughts with you - to give a bit of background on each of us so you know who is at the wheel, but also to share our vision so you know where we intend to take this endeavor.

While Bluelight.org is a non-profit organisation that has been operating for over 20 years as an international online harm-reduction community, we have focused on the community chat format of our forums within the existing site. This has provided a haven for those lost and in need of information, and has established a long standing community of people who use drugs (past and present) helping one another, compiling both anecdotal and hard facts related to drug use, the dangers, and how to approach drug use as safely as possible while not judging the people involved. This community has thrived for over two decades, staying online financially through the generosity of a private donor initially, then upon his passing we have opened the door for donations while building relationships with researchers to provide them access to our community, allowing us to work in collaboration to generate new knowledge, both at the experiential and academic level. These researchers have been located in many parts of the world, mirroring the global reach of our community itself. Our community and the research we support is centred in the United States, as well as the United Kingdom, European Union, Canada and Australia.

We are really proud of what we have achieved at Bluelight, but we can also see that for Bluelight to continue to grow and be useful into the 2020s and beyond, there is much work to be done. Our work in the coming years will be framed by the following commitments:

As Bluelight’s new Executive Director & Director of Site Operations, we commit to:
  • taking overall responsibility for the Bluelight website and community forum, including maintaining the site and community, as well as attracting new members and growing the website’s reach and influence;
  • focusing Bluelight activities on achieving our mission statement;
  • managing the financial health of Bluelight (ensuring we have more income than outgoing expenses, as well as maintaining a productive relationship with our fiscal sponsor, MAPS.org);
  • leading, inspiring and retaining a committed network of staff volunteers;
  • leading research opportunities aligned with our mission statement and ethical commitments (see our research portal [link]);
  • using external presence and relationships to develop new opportunities for Bluelight;
  • providing a public voice for Bluelight; and
  • developing new ways of Bluelight positively contributing to on-ground harm-reduction efforts across global communities of people who use drugs.
We know that Bluelight has been built by its members, with the information they share to help one another and the community we have all grown together to support each other. We have held the reigns in various fashions over the years, but it is the community that makes Bluelight what it is. In our new roles we will continue to guide Bluelight's direction and build upon our mission. We will do so with the strength of our community by looking for input from our amazing network of staff, as well as our wider group of community members (or former staff!), about ideas you have, or skills you may want to contribute. We remain open to ideas and suggestions from all, and will adapt those best suited to our direction, then rely upon our membership to help us bring those ideas to life as we continue to grow, to become more than we dreamed Bluelight might achieve in its early years, and to tap into the potential that is already here.

Below we have written our personal stories of engagement with Bluelight so our community can know a bit more about who we are.

Thanks a lot for your continued support
Tronica & TheLoveBandit

From Tronica:

I'm a 42 year old woman who lives in central Victoria, Australia, with my husband and two kids on a bush block with kangaroos up the hill and kookaburras laughing at dusk. I live and work on the land of the Dja Dja Wurrung people. I wish to acknowledge that this land was stolen and never ceded.

Outside of Bluelight, I'm an academic researcher who has been working in the drugs field since 2002. My own use of substances in my early 20s was what prompted me both to join Bluelight as a regular member, and also what prompted my interest in drugs as a research topic. In the early 2000s, working in junior research jobs, I found myself wondering why internet forums and other online spaces where drugs were being discussed were mainly absent from the research literature. After studying psychology and gaining my Honours degree, I was privileged enough to get access to a PhD scholarship and to be able to propose my own topic, and so I followed my interest, and completed my PhD in 2011 on the topic "Beyond internet as tool: A mixed-methods study of online drug discussion".

In the decade since completing my PhD, I've worked as a research academic across three Australian universities and worked my way up to a Senior Research Fellow position (I'm not quite a professor, yet!). Currently I'm funded to conduct a program of research investigating psychoactive drug use in digital society, with topics of interest including digital drug trading, digitally enabled communities (like Bluelight), legislative responses to drugs - in particular, new or novel substances, drug checking and festival harm reduction, drug checking in the community, and psychedelic use - including microdosing. I've published over 90 academic research papers and attracted over $4M in competitive grant funding.

I first joined Bluelight in 2002, then joined staff in 2007 as a moderator - this was when I first chatted with TheLoveBandit, who I worked with to launch the Drug Studies forum. Then in 2011 I became Bluelight’s Director of Research. We created this role to encompass the work I was doing to connect Bluelight with potential research partners. We recognised the value of the Bluelight community to research groups - (a) as a way of reaching target populations for advertising surveys who can be otherwise difficult to access, and (b) via the content we as a community create through our forum interactions. Through both of these channels, we have generated income for Bluelight which has meant that for the last decade we have been financially healthy without the need for community donation drives, membership fees or advertisements for sketchy products.

The Director of Research role has also been an excellent way to capitalise on my two 'hats' - one as a community member of Bluelight with my own experiences of drug use, and the other as an academic research in the drug use and policy space. Due to holding these two roles, I was keenly aware when I first began my research career of how it often felt that research was being done 'to' people, without their collaborative input, by others who 'knew better'. I found this pretty infuriating, for example, being in rooms where 'drug users' were talked about as if we weren't there, by others in positions of power. While some progress has been made regarding better inclusion of people who use drugs in research and in policies about our lives, there is still a lot of work to be done to help community groups and networks have greater say. While acknowledging that Bluelight's Drug Studies can't change the world, it's a small step to encouraging open and meaningful dialogue between researchers and community. I'm very grateful that the Bluelight leaders liked and supported this idea when I first suggested it nearly 15 years ago, and am proud of the research we have contributed to over that time.

In addition to my academic role and my Bluelight role, I am also the Australian lead for the Global Drug Survey, and the Research lead for The Loop Australia, a not-for-profit organisation aiming to conduct drug checking interventions both at festivals and in the community. I am also an editor for two leading journals in the drugs field: International Journal of Drug Policy and Drug and Alcohol Review.

Basically, I'm a drug nerd who has somehow managed to find a way to get paid to produce research about my passion. For this I am very grateful.

- Dr Monica Barratt / Tronica

From TheLoveBandit:

Entering the party scene in 1999, I signed up to Bluelight with a username that got lost in the first real upgrade. After that, I rejoined with the account I have now and was an active member in several forums until I was able to join staff around 2002. My first moderator job was for the regional American forums, and I added to my list of modsticks wherever I may be needed. In the ensuing years, I served as moderator for a handful of various forums, spreading my time around to gain a better understanding of our diverse membership, building some lasting friendships along the way while learning the ins and outs of this community based upon forum discussions. Around 2004 a handful of us got promoted to a new role of 'Super Moderator' somewhere between regular mod and admin, then in 2005 the founding admin had all moved on leaving the site in our hands to run. I take pride in being one of the founders for our recovery forum known as The Dark Side, and have enjoyed the opportunities to lend a hand, learn, and be a part of Bluelight's growth over the years.

With my time here, I've learned a lot from Bluelight in many aspects of life beyond drug use and harm reduction. The impact and affects of drug use are diverse, and so is our membership of people from all walks of life around the globe. I've built friendships, a network from all corners, upon which to rely no matter what challenges arise for Bluelight. I arrived with an Engineering background and an desire to learn - about the software, about the dynamics of managing staff and member issues, and about navigating the world wide web as a means of helping others. In doing so, I've been fortunate to be a part of nearly every step of our timeline, and can serve as that wise old man who knows how we got to where we are, and why, as well as what works and what doesn't as we look to move forward. Seriously, I've got perhaps the best knowledge of anyone on any Bluelight history and am happy to bore people to death at every opportunity, just ask me!

I served as an admin until 2011, then left the site for a few years to wander in the wilderness they call 'the real world'. I returned in 2017 to that role, guiding the site out of the steady death spiral we were suffering from the combination of search engine algorithms de-ranking us, our aged software falling down, and a general shift of online discussions from the forum format over to this new blossoming arena known as social media. We relaunched on a new platform, and have worked to add enhancements to the experience of being among our community. My background with Bluelight combined with my current skill set of Project Management allows me to jump in and assess what the community needs next, and how to get there. I'm excited to know our beginnings, to have had a hand in our evolution, and to be at the helm for what opportunities lie ahead for our members, and for Bluelight's mission of harm reduction.

- TheLoveBandit