Nerds Running Amok

Flame War Ahead!

Last night was an absolutely classic moment in Nerd Club Crisis Management. I find it not only entertaining, but a moral tale, so I’m going to share.

There are many many clubs in Pern Fandom. By and large, it’s a non-competitive environment. Many people belong to several clubs, and different clubs cater to different interests. There are clubs where anything goes. Gophers riding purple dragons? You bet. There are clubs where the canon is very strict and traditional. My club is much closer to the latter than the former.

One of our members used to belong to several clubs, but eventually quit all the others because she liked us best, and we are rather full-time (as in, it takes a bit more time to keep up with what’s going on). Let’s call her Lulubelle. One of Lulubelle’s old clubs (let’s call them Cookie Club) asked her to come back and help them get active again, which she did with the best intentions and very bad results. Our club’s high standards had influenced her, but Cookie Club wasn’t interested in giving up their laid-back style in favor of a more structured one.

And thus began the Flame War at Cookie Club. I didn’t read it all myself, but I understand it was pretty vile. Lots of name-calling, swearing, shouting, and on and on. Poor Lulubelle, needing to vent, put up a post in our forum bemoaning the happenings at Cookie Club, and made the mistake of calling them by name.

You can guess what happened from there. Members of Cookie Club found her post in our boards and got even more upset. Internet Skills 101: Don’t insult people who can find your insults by searching.

One member from Cookie Club (let’s call her Sarafina) came to our forums to give Lulubelle a piece of her mind. Fortunately, myself and one other moderator were online and were able to put the fire out before it started. We took down Lulubelle’s posts, and then, lest we be accused of trying to hide our bad behavior, I added a disclaimer that Lulubelle’s post shouldn’t have been posted in the first place and that we are very interested in staying on good terms with all other clubs.

From there, the discussion with Sarafina about why she couldn’t defend her club on our boards moved to Private Messages, and it was all very civil. I think Sarafina had a badly bruised ego, and she didn’t want to cause trouble, she just wanted an apology. Well, we found out that Lulubelle was in a very similar boat. Half an hour later, apologies had been passed all around and the formerly disgruntled Sarafina was asking about opportunities to join OUR club, with Lulubelle happily providing suggestions on how best to accomplish this.

Well why not?

The primary lesson I’ve learned from managing this club so long is that if you respect people, they behave. On Cookie Club’s forum, the argument got very quickly out of control because accusations were made publicly, and it didn’t take long before everyone with an opinion joined the fray. Here’s a lesson from People Skills 101: if you publicly air someone’s shortcomings or mistakes, the effects will be much more damaging than if you confront them in private. 99% of the anguish caused by personal disputes happens when other people get involved and start adding their opinions. (I made that up, but I’m convinced.)

So the first thing we did when Sarafina showed up was take the discussion out of the public forum and she immediately calmed down. I was pleased with that result, and absolutely tickled pink when the situation completely turned around and the two members at odds started helping each other.

This art of online diplomacy doesn’t seem so very difficult to me, but apparently it is not easy for most people to grasp. In a world composed of nothing but words, it is so easy to create misunderstandings. There is no body language to be read, or facial expressions to be studied to help figure out whether a person is trying to be funny or really did just insult your goldfish. Here’s a lesson from Internet People Skills 101: adding a smiley face to a rude or offensive comment does not make it better.

As with all other walks of life, when attempting to communicate with someone online, you do well to ask yourself, “if I was the person reading this, how would it make me feel?” Or, when something someone says to you seems inappropriate, offensive, or uncalled for, ask yourself, “is there another way I could or should try to understand this?”

Though we online folks don’t really have faces, we all have feelings. Recognizing and respecting each other as humans, despite the text veneer, is just one more way to make the world a better place.


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