Thursday, April 2, 2009

Let's Talk About Our Beloved Forums...

Ok, I think it's safe to say that most of my readers are also forum users on one (if not all) of the handmade selling sites. I would also imagine that, at some point or the other, we've all seen (or, heaven forbid, participated in) a "not so nice" thread. Each of us has probably also been the victim of a rude comment, a snark, or a blatant disregard for our feelings at some point as well. So we all know how it feels to be on the "ugly end" of a post.

So why does this happen? Why is it that a seemingly normal, rational group of adults can begin tearing into each other like children fighting on a playground? Why must we call names and fling insults? Why can't we say what we mean, politely and reasonably? Why must we make enemies with words on a screen?

Because the internet is evil.

No... I'm totally kidding. LOL

It's because words on a page are just that... nothing but words. There is no body language to read, no nonverbal cues we can use to infer the meaning behind the words. We can't tell if the person on the other side of the words means us harm, or if they are simply seeking a reply. We don't know if that jab someone just made was in jest (because there was no accompanying smile or wink), and we can't tell if we're being patronized (because we can't hear the kindness in a voice).

So what do we do about it? Do we just ignore it and hope it goes away? Or do we actively try to enact a solution? I, for one, vote for the active path.

There are certain rules that exist on the internet. There are entire sites devoted to "Netiquette", and there are some forums that will completely ban you if you break one of these rules, regardless of whether you intentionally broke it or not. Unfortunately, these rules weren't taught to us like "normal" etiquette is. So I'm going to let you in on a few of them:

1. (This is probably the number one rule of posting in forums, yet it's often not mentioned until someone inadvertently breaks it) Never, under any circumstance, post personal information about anyone else. It does not matter if that person has already done this themselves. You may never do this. Do not call someone by their full given name, post information about where they live, work, or play, or provide anything like a phone number or email address. This is for safety reasons, both theirs (obviously) and yours (as they will most likely hunt you down and kill you if they catch you doing it.)

2. Be aware of where you are posting. What may be ok or accepted on one forum may be completely taboo on another. Also, be well aware where the other members are from. This will prevent cultural differences from becoming a source of contention inadvertently.

3. Remember that the internet is still a "real community". Don't lose your morals, ethics or values just because someone can't see your face. Far too often, we are meaner or more aggressive when we are "protected" by miles of cyberspace. But remember, just because they can't see you, it doesn't mean you can't do them harm.

4. Never lose touch with the fact that the people posting are not the only ones who can see your words. This is especially true in business related forums, such as the ones on Artfire or Etsy. Just because someone isn't saying anything, it doesn't mean they aren't reading everything. Ask yourself if what you are about to type would change if you knew your mother, your best friend, or your customer could see it. If your answer is yes, then edit before you post, or don't post at all.

5. Pay attention to your spelling and grammar. It is far more difficult to take someone seriously when you can barely decipher what they've written. You don't have to be perfect, but it won't hurt to reread what you've typed before you post it.

6. If you don't know what you're talking about, don't pretend to. One little bad "fact" can ruin the entire mood of a community. It's ok to speculate, or pass along information you think is correct, but please, for the sake of everyone else, say that you are only partially sure instead of claiming it to be truth.

7. Watch your mouth. As tempting as it may be to use four letter words (especially in times of "forum unease") don't give in. Whether you realize it or not, that one little word may be the difference in a healthy resolution or a lifelong feud. If you must swear, "church it up" a little and say things like "effing" or "b*tch". This will give the reader the feeling that you are serious, but also aware that not everyone uses those words. Additionally, don't swear when kidding. (I.E. use "LMAO" instead of typing it out)

8. Do be polite and helpful if you can be. This serves two purposes: A) you will help your community rather than harm it and B) when you do get brought into an internet argument it will be harder to automatically see you as a "bad guy" (thereby giving your opinion and your position more merit).

9. Don't be a troll and don't encourage a troll. (A troll is someone who posts just to start conflict/drama) Whenever possible, avoid trolls at all cost. Trolls are nothing but internet bullies looking to get their kicks by upsetting others. If you pay them no mind, they will (in 99% of cases) get bored and go elsewhere.

10. Don't flame others who don't deserve it. It's ok to flame when it's merited, but please don't turn it into an all-out flame war. Be the bigger person and walk away when you see it's getting out of control. (If you'll notice, the ones who do perpetuate flame wars are the ones who are never taken seriously by the other members of the community in the long run.)

11. Remember that, once upon a time, you were a newbie, too. As frustrating as it can be to answer the same questions over and over, try to keep in mind that we all have to start somewhere, and we all have probably committed some unintentional offense at some point. Try to be patient with the newbies, and, if you can't do that, just ignore them. It does no one any good when we are rude to each other.

12. Give people the benefit of the doubt before you get offended. Try to remember that the post you just read could sound funny for any number of reasons (like the person isn't a native English speaker, or they are stressed from something totally unrelated to the post). Don't automatically assume that everyone else knows the intricacies of your forum, and keep in mind that it can be intimidating to ask for help from a group of strangers.

13. Use emoticons(smilies) and words to convey when you are kidding. Since readers can't see your face, they may not understand that you were joking. By using an emoticon you can convey this message and (hopefully) prevent ruffled feathers and stepped-upon toes.

14. (If you ignore every other rule here, please at least abide by this one) Remember the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Say please and thank you. Be polite and welcoming. Never forget that there is a person on the other side of that post.

I'm sure there are more rules that would be helpful, but for now, we will start here. It's a good step don't you think?

* See something I left out? Please remind me in a comment! I will be happy to amend the list! *


Ali P April 3, 2009 at 4:25 AM  

thanks Jenn, I have to admit I don't go into the forums much (no time!) but would like to get a bit more involved. Thanks for setting out the 'rules' ~ common sense really, but unfortunately common sense is not always that common ;)

HaffinaCreations April 3, 2009 at 4:26 AM  

Excellent read. One thing I would add is - be polite when dealing with forum staff. They are human too, and on many forums they are volunteers and unpaid. They are also the ones you may need to get help from in the future, and they may less willing to help you if you are rude, demanding or disrespectful.

Jenn April 5, 2009 at 2:35 AM  

GREAT point, Haffina! Thanks for reminding us!


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