I've not been in the Scene for that long, relatively speaking; but I've been around long enough that I've been sought out more than once when it came time to "vetting" another potential play partner.
Inspired by a certain Fetlife thread, I thought I'd shed some light on how I, personally, share information with others when "vetting."
Obviously, if I've heard nothing about the person in question, I'll admit that; but I might also know someone who can answer your questions, and steer you to them.
If I've heard only glowing things about the person, I'll say so. The protocols below would still apply for positive feedback as well as negative.
If I've heard negative things about the person you're asking me about, I'll divide up the information I give you into three categories, and be very specific under which category the information I'm about to share falls.
The information will be specified thusly:
1. What I can backup with proof. "Proof" includes receipts, legal documents, screenshots of writings, etc.; in other words, concrete ways I can back up what I'm telling you the person did. If I say, "this person said this, and I have proof," it means I can show you something to prove what I'm saying.
Of course, documents don't always tell the entire story, and screenshots can be doctored. It's your choice whether you believe me or not.
2. What I've seen the person do with my own eyes and heard the person say with my own ears. These things are not hearsay for me; these are things I saw, heard, and experienced for myself.
However, I have no proof to back up my claim of what I saw or heard. It's your choice whether you believe me or not.
3. What I've heard about this person. This is obviously the weakest information to gather. It's all hearsay. I wasn't there, I don't know what happened; I am going by what other people have told me. Obviously, if I hear the same thing over and over again, the information begins to bear more weight.
But it's up to you to make up your own mind.
And that's the point, really: in the end, it's always up to you to make up your own mind. It's not so much the information you gather, it's what you do with it that matters.
If you listen and decide it's all a bunch of hooey, that's your choice. If you listen and decide it's worth being cautious around that person until you verify more information about them, that's your choice. And if you decide it's just not worth taking the risk to play with that person, that's your choice, too.
And if you think people shouldn't be talking at all, because that's not free speech that's libel and slander and Oh Em Gee what are they saying about me,
and fuck you. Seriously, fuck you. Some of us are trying to keep people safe. Consent cannot come without all information given. If you're so afraid of what people are saying about you, try living your life as an honest, decent individual. Eventually, people will realize who and what kind of person you are.
They always do.
If you've made mistakes, own up to them. If you've hurt people, learn from that. Cause you know what I love being able to tell people? Seriously, I'm not kidding, I love being able to say this:
"This person made mistakes, yes...but that was a long time ago. They've learned. They're a different person now."
I think that's probably true for most of us.