|Image from xkcd|
It probably won't surprise you that I'm a member of a fair few internet communities and have been for years. Some of the ones I've been a member of have come and gone, others are still in existence. I have made some amazing friends through these communities and I have had a good number of wonderful debates, learnt some interesting and sometimes important things, and generally had a good time.
Sometimes though, the internet turns ugly. So here is my straight up guide to making your way through forum life.
1. Tone is everything.
93% of our language is made up of behavioural cues. So, only 7% of what we say is about the actual words we write/speak/hear. Which makes natural conversations on a forum really difficult, because you can't hear the tone of the other person's voice. You rely on other markers to make the distinction between angry and happy, positive and negative, like smileys and the use of punctuation.
2. Disagreement is not bullying.
I have seen so many threads where a few people have disagreed with the original poster, who has then come back and cried that they are being bullied or jumped on. Actual bullying, be it on the internet or elsewhere, is very serious and must be treated as such. However, someone voicing their difference in opinion does not constitute bullying (unless they are known for repeatedly and deliberately voicing differing opinions in a forceful manner). Healthy debate is a flow of ideas, a give and take of opinions. Facts and figures should really be used as far as possible, or at the very least a rational explanation of the opinion.
3. Multiple replies are more helpful than a handful.
In a medium to large community, there are bound to be many people who share an opinion, or some knowledge. Once one person has posted that on a thread, does that mean that no one else should post their thoughts on that subject if they are the same as a previous posters? Absolutely not. Sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth, but I am firmly of the belief that the more experiences on a topic you get, the better informed you are to make a decision.
4. Consistency is really important.
Nothing shows up a troll, or a PITA more than inconsistency. It is ok to change your mind, everyone is entitled to do that, but consistency of approach is always welcome.
5. When you ask for opinions, be prepared for the answers you don't want to hear.
So many of the threads that I've seen go downhill are the ones where the original poster has asked a question, either for help or an opinion, then doesn't get the answers that they wanted to hear. They usually then feel jumped on/bullied/ganged up on (delete as appropriate) and then of course all the posters who didn't agree with the original poster have to explain themselves, whilst the people who agreed with them don't. Fair? Not much.
6. Be prepared to defend your opinion well, especially if it goes against the grain.
Following on from number 5, always be prepared to defend your opinion against the tirade of the masses. I've been there so many times and it is so frustrating sometimes. But perseverance and a good knowledge of your subject and reasoning will see you through. And remember point number 4!!
7. The fastest way to annoy people is to be passive aggressive.
No one likes a passive aggressive comment. We're all guilty of making them at times (I hold my hands up and say that when I do it, it is very deliberate), but like many things, they are ok when used sparingly, but if you constantly post in that manner, then people will get really really annoyed.
8. Hugshunni has its place.
The real world is a shit, horrible place at times. It really is. And sometimes you want to just go online and seek a bit of reassurance from your online pals. And asking for hugs is totally ok. Its what we're all there for right? But there is a time and a place for the hugs hunni brigade, and if someone is looking for support and practical reassurance, that isn't it.
9. There will always be a woe-is-me brigade.
Every forum has one. There will be a bunch of people who stick together through shared 'problems' and if anyone dares suggest any other course of action than the one they are on, they will be accused of bullying or having a go (see point 2.). They may all have similar health conditions, or family situations. They may even try to out do each other on the woe levels... and then of course the scariest ones are the ones with Munchhausen's by Internet.
10. No matter what happens, someone is always wrong.
Take comfort in that fact. And that there is nothing you can do about, no matter how hard you try. When you've mastered that, go get a nice cold beer, a bowl of popcorn and watch the drama unfold.
Of course all these points can be forgotten by even the most rational and logical person, and that is ok. We all have days where we get a little heated, or upset, because ultimately how we interact on the internet will vary dependent on our mood. But by remembering some of the points here, you can hopefully make sure the good days outweigh the bad!