Rules To Live By

Cheryl Morgan has distilled her experience of online communities into a few short and useful observations on online discourse.
1. Your blog is not “personal space”. If you say bad things about people on it, there’s a good chance they will find out and come calling. If you want your thoughts to stay private, use a privacy feature such as “friend-locking”.

2. Using sarcasm and irony after you have got people angry with you is generally not a good idea, because angry people don’t have much of a sense of humor.

3. Sometimes the best thing to do with someone who disagrees with you is to let them have the last word. Accusing someone of bullying you because they can’t see your point of view doesn’t help, especially if you appear to be using that accusation as a means of preventing them from responding to your points.

4. If you complain about someone’s behavior to your friends on your blog, don’t be surprised if your friends then go and crap all over said person’s blog in a much more unpleasant way than you would have done. You might not have intended to spark a mob, but these things can happen.

5. If you call someone a “Nazi” then people will think that you are unpleasant and an idiot.

6. If people do crap on your blog, don’t delete their posts. Being rude makes people look bad. Deleting posts makes you look bad.

They also correlate nicely with Cheryl’s observations on fannish and human behaviour.

1. Never accept accident or incompetence as an explanation when a bizarre and complex conspiracy can also be advanced to explain the known facts.

2. One data point indicates a dangerous trend that must be resisted; two data points indicate a sacred and holy tradition that must be preserved.

3. If a tree falls in Central Park, New York, is seen to fall by 100 New Yorkers, is captured on film by CNN and the video of the fall is broadcast around the world, but I wasn’t there to see it, then it didn’t fall.

Here is probably a good space to throw in Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s experience in moderating her own webspace and boingboing.

1. There can be no ongoing discourse without some degree of moderation, if only to kill off the hardcore trolls. It takes rather more moderation than that to create a complex, nuanced, civil discourse. If you want that to happen, you have to give of yourself. Providing the space but not tending the conversation is like expecting that your front yard will automatically turn itself into a garden.

2. Once you have a well-established online conversation space, with enough regulars to explain the local mores to newcomers, they’ll do a lot of the policing themselves.

3. You own the space. You host the conversation. You don’t own the community. Respect their needs. For instance, if you’re going away for a while, don’t shut down your comment area. Give them an open thread to play with, so they’ll still be there when you get back.

4. Message persistence rewards people who write good comments.

5. Over-specific rules are an invitation to people who get off on gaming the system.

6. Civil speech and impassioned speech are not opposed and mutually exclusive sets. Being interesting trumps any amount of conventional politeness.

7. Things to cherish: Your regulars. A sense of community. Real expertise. Genuine engagement with the subject under discussion. Outstanding performances. Helping others. Cooperation in maintenance of a good conversation. Taking the time to teach newbies the ropes.

All these things should be rewarded with your attention and praise. And if you get a particularly good comment, consider adding it to the original post.

8. Grant more lenience to participants who are only part-time jerks, as long as they’re valuable the rest of the time.

9. If you judge that a post is offensive, upsetting, or just plain unpleasant, it’s important to get rid of it, or at least make it hard to read. Do it as quickly as possible. There’s no more useless advice than to tell people to just ignore such things. We can’t. We automatically read what falls under our eyes.

10. Another important rule: You can let one jeering, unpleasant jerk hang around for a while, but the minute you get two or more of them egging each other on, they both have to go, and all their recent messages with them. There are others like them prowling the net, looking for just that kind of situation. More of them will turn up, and they’ll encourage each other to behave more and more outrageously. Kill them quickly and have no regrets.

11. You can’t automate intelligence. In theory, systems like Slashdot’s ought to work better than they do. Maintaining a conversation is a task for human beings.

12. Disemvowelling works. Consider it.

13. If someone you’ve disemvowelled comes back and behaves, forgive and forget their earlier gaffes. You’re acting in the service of civility, not abstract justice.

Failing all else, you should always fall back on the classics.

You got to learn to play it right
You got to know when to hold them
Know when to fold them
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sitting at the table
There’ll be time enough for counting
When the dealing’s done
Kenny Rogers, The Gambler

One Response to “Rules To Live By”

  1. Caoimhin Says:

    Great post and interesting reading, thanks! :)

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