The Crux of Online Drama
This one is about whether details about a person's personality and gender can be determined from online conversation.
This one discusses how the lack of non-verbal "nuances" in online communication can lead to wild misinterpretations of a person's intent in email.
As many of you know, one of the 'gund's chief pet peeves in life is Internet drama. I know that some people are drawn to it--and feed off of it--like sharks to blood, but I get online to relax, have fun, and get away from real-life stresses. So making myself sick or losing sleep over whether DramaQueen1072 doesn't like a story or opinion I've posted or whether IhAvEn0lIfE44 has reconciled with Anita_Grow_Up5 over the "scathing" review the latter left the former really has no place in my life.
Those of you in silwritersguild know that I'm a very laid-back mod. I don't like draconian rules and complex rating systems and posting guidelines that require a PhD to understand and micromanagement of conversation and content. Not just because I'm lazy but because good discussions can start from the most innocuous of postings. (For example, my candy post the other day ended up a discussion of the Bible!)
But there is one rule that I do have and that one rule will stay firmly in place so long as I preside over SWG, so help me Valar: No Internet drama. It's that simple. No quitting every other day in a huff and coming back the next day just so that everyone can beg you to come back and then tell you how much they've missed you when you do...no fistfighting over Celegorm's hair color...no flaming slashers or Mary Sues or AUs or people who like Feanor or people who don't like Feanor or people who think Firefox is a better browser than IE...no getting ticked off because someone suggested that there should be a comma before the conjunction and you prefer to leave it off so they must be calling you an ignorant idiot...none of that--pardon my Sindarin--ridiculous bullshit.
One thing that I try to impress upon people in my online dealings is how easily our good intentions can be misread. Numerous studies have now shown this, but any of you who have spent any sort of time in Internet communities don't need empiricism to tell you what experience taught you long ago. I know that some of you have misread my good intentions. I know I've misread some of yours. Yet very little drama has erupted between any of us (though some of us have certainly disagreed...and vocally) and we discuss everything from the fandom to writing to religion to politics: why?
It is my untested but nonetheless fervent belief that it helps to approach a potentially "offensive" post, comment, or email with the knowledge that the offense that you perceive might--just might--be a misinterpretation on your part. Perhaps the person wrote the email in haste or thought that her sarcasm/humor was adequately conveyed or added one-too-few ";)" at the end of her sentences. I know that when I write in my LJ or comment in yours or dash off an email (and most of my emails are written in what can be called nothing but "haste"), then I hear my voice in my head, as though I am speaking to you. I adopt my normal tone with the vocal cues that let you know that I'm teasing or speaking sarcastically or even speaking sincerely. (Have you ever read a heartfelt post and wondered if you were the subject of mockery? Or if it was bona fide?) However, none of you are in my head--although some of you are damned close--and when you read my words, you can't hear my tone or see my posture or perceive my non-verbal cues. And that's where the misreading occurs.
Some of you, I have learned, don't use emoticons in your posts. Some of you use them to excess, which makes it easier to judge your tone, I'll admit, so a abundance of ":)" and ":P" has never bothered me. There have been times when I've stopped to ask, "Is she kidding about that?" or "Does she mean to sound so demeaning?" It is easy--and sometimes tempting--to type back a reply in kind. And that, I believe, is the beginning of Internet drama.
It is harder to close the window and forget about the post for a few minutes, then return and read it again, keeping in mind that the lack of a ":)" after a bit of criticism that hits closer to home than I would like does not mean that you think my story is rubbish, that I am rubbish, and that I must immediately reply by insulting you in as colorful of language as possible with minimal use of proper punctuation and grammar and, preferably, a heart sprinkling of profanity maybe or maybe not with the v*w*ls c*v*r*d w*th *st*r*sks, as though you don't know what I mean.
I keep in mind that a person can disagree with my ideas without disrespecting me as a person.
I've had some touchy talks with some of you. We've talked about Bush, abortion, Mary Sues, same-sex marriage...hot-button topics on which we do not always agree. Yet, at the end of the day, I count each of you as an online friend.
(As part of this discussion of online drama, I am going to use a real-life example. I really do not want this to be an invitation of comments along the lines of "OMG! You were so right and she was so wrong!" from those of you who know the individuals and were yourselves--to a degree--involved. It is simply an example of how misinterpretation can explode into hurt feelings and--inevitably--drama. The hatchet was been buried on my end a long time ago and I think no less of the persons involved. I believe that some people were truly hurt by this, although my conclusion remains that it was misinterpretation. But I don't think there's a one of us who isn't guilty of misreading an Internet communication at some point in our lives and get our panties in a bunch over nothing, so I'm willing to forgive past rigmarole. But, please, let's keep the slamming of unnamed individuals to a minimum. Bygones remain bygones.)
SWG has had one instance of what I would call "drama." Luckily, it was kept under the rug; few of you know the exact details about it. It resulted from a touchy topic that I brought up, knowing that it was a touchy topic, and introduced with multiple pleas that anyone who was bothered by the discussion or anything said in the discussion to contact me immediately and I'd do my best to find a resolution. It involved one person suggesting an idea and another person suggesting another idea. It involved the first person believing that--because the second person did not agree with her idea--the second person was more or less "flaming" her. The first person did not contact me, as I asked, about her concerns. Instead, she stewed and let it fester and finally sent me a scathing email denouncing me as Teh Evol Mod of the Century and SWG as a place Wholly Unwelcoming and Discriminating against Certain Persons. It involved some people leaving the group and some mud being slung (purportedly, as I did not read said posts) against me.
In other words, it was a drama just waiting to happen. And in the ensuing months, I have thought about and analyzed why this drama occured and have come to the conclusion that it began with the misinterpretation of an email.
When the second person replied to disagree with the first, she did not litter her email with "lol" and ";)" and "imho." And so her tone was then open to the interpretation of her readers. The fact that she disagreed--I assume--put a negative cast on the email from the beginning and was then taken as a personal attack. Not disagreement with an idea--which it was--but a personal attack.
I don't really know either person involved in the incident, but I do know the person who replied well enough to know that it was not a personal attack.
Doubtlessly, she wrote what she thought was an innocuous post addressing legitimate concerns. After all, I had asked people for their ideas. I doubt she thought that her "I don't think that's necessarily practical and here's why" post would cause people to collapse into tears and come down with illnesses (as it allegedly did).
But can I fault her? No. I have read her post twenty times, looking for any smoke indicating a flame even about to erupt; I have had people entirely outside of SWG read the entire thread and give me their opinions. I am a concerned mod, wanting a group where people feel welcome. I don't want brushfires starting beneath my feet, outside of my awareness. (Although I like to believe that I am not so naive to not know a flame when I see one.)
And...nothing. She was expressing an opinion in a clear, professional tone that didn't need emoticons every other word or *little actions enclosed in asterisks to show how heartily she was rolling upon the floor with laughter* (I am denouncing neither, by the way; I use both. However, I do not think that it is required and that a certain amount of maturity--or perhaps, less egocentrism--helps when interpretting posts.) In no place did she refer to the original speaker by name or association; in fact, the original idea with which she was disagreeing had been mine and the first respondent had merely been agreeing with me! And I was not offended in the least.
But this entire incident really soured me to Internet drama. No matter how I tried to stay above it, it is hurtful when people slander me behind my back in a public forum because of a misinterpretation, and while I was careful to avoid such posts and certainly did not reply to them, I must confess a certain guardedness when dealing with people online now. And I think it's a shame: I believe, yes, that we need to be sensitive to how we come across in posts and emails. But I also believe that a little maturity is in order when reading posts and emails as well. It is a tough line to walk, when trying to discuss a topic, make one's meaning plain, and remain inoffensive to all who might possibly stumble across a post; given this, I think that those of us brave enough to post to lists and communities deserve the benefit of the doubt in that we are not trying to slam strangers.
In a perfect world, I would have all Internet community participants aware of how fallible they are as email interpreters. If a person thinks she's being insulted--aside from an outright insult--chances are that she is not; she is misreading something. I will admit that my feelings want to be wounded by something I read at least once per month, maybe more. But I have a brain that tells my feelings how silly they are and prone to misreading, and that is the attitude with which I approach all but openly hostile posts. And I have been unfriended exactly once (because of the aforementioned SWG snafu) and have had many marvelous discussions with my flist about a variety of interesting and inflammatory topics. So such an attitude seems to work for me, at least.
When writing the membership requirements for SWG, I found myself with very little to say in most regards. After all, contrary to the beliefs of some, we welcome anyone who wants to join and I take every person's problems seriously when I know that they occur. But I found myself with a lot to say on openmindedness (or, as an alternative, being careful what one reads) and avoiding drama.
It is my hope that with a keener awareness of how easily our words are misinterpreted on the Internet that we will be--not only more sensitive to what we write--more sensitive to how we read and how fallible we are as interpreters before we go stirring a pot that was never set to boil to begin with.