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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

The Crux of Online Drama

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

The Crux of Online Drama

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can of worms
The psychologytoday syndicated feed has recently posted a couple of interesting articles about detecting personality and intent from online communications.

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.
  • Okay, I hope something didn't happen just recently....AGAIN, Dawn.

    But on a lighter note, this whole paragraph:

    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.

    LOL! I mean, LOL!

    Okay, Boss, I promise I won't do any of that! However, I can't say that I will never, ever write 'ridiculous bullshit'. Can't promise that!

    LOL!

    • Oh, no! Nothing happened...except psychologytoday posted articles about the seedlings of Internet drama and I was intrigued and had to share my ramblings thoughts with the world. ;)

      I have no problem with passionate conversation. I've been known to engage in that. But some of the tales I've heard about online fights over hair colors et al is simply...amazing.

      I think that SWG is a nice place, in all, although a bit quiet at the moment. (Although the mod doesn't help by being lazy with finishing the webpage. :^/)
  • I was very interested in this particular part of your post:


    This one is about whether details about a person's personality and gender can be determined from online conversation.

    I am not sure if I should be seriously worried about that or not. Do you really think that it could be possible to detect a person's personality or even worse *gasp* gender? from an online conversation?

    What do you think about RPGing?
    • According to the study, women have different "speech" patterns than men in online conversation.

      Personality, supposedly, is harder to detect.

      Yet I think I know things about my friends from their posts. Jenni has a lot of energy...Talban is always horny.... ;)

      As for RPing, I'm pretty sure meryth would be read as a girl. >:^))

      Ouch, he just hit me in the arm, the little brat
  • OH NOES!!! How dare you say such horrible things about smileys!! I quit!!!!

    Anyways. A couple of points.

    One, when I first looked at those articles, I thought, "Hmm. I bet those things apply less to us than to Jane Average-Internetuser, because we're writers and all, and so used to viewing our writing with a distanced eye." But of course all the internet drama that does occur due to misunderstandings would sort of suggest that this might not be the case. (Although now that I think about it, more-or-less-serious writing communities seem to get less drama than, say, shipping communities.)

    Two, I am not sure how valid that experiment with chatroom transcripts is, given that the students didn't know the culture of the place. It'd be much easier to judge personality if one knew the 'average' way to behave. Although, again: we are writers, here, so presumably most of us know how to convey various personalities via first-person POV. I know I *could* sound less neurotic if I wanted to. And less pretentious.

    Three, assuming that people are out to insult one seems like a bad idea in RL just as online--plus, when confronted with velied insults, acting as if unaware of them is kind of fun in that it tends to annoy the insulter. (Hmm. I wonder whether the latter makes me sound mean?)
    • Three, assuming that people are out to insult one seems like a bad idea in RL just as online--plus, when confronted with velied insults, acting as if unaware of them is kind of fun in that it tends to annoy the insulter. (Hmm. I wonder whether the latter makes me sound mean?)

      Oh for certain, satisfying too and I'm mean enought to admit it!

      Having seen more (and I mean that with extra !!!) on drama, I have a finely honed drama detector these days and one sniff and I am gone. I have slipped only once since the Great Sockpuppet Debacle (TM) and now just simply do no get involved. I realise as a mod you do not always have that luxury, Dawn, but I do think your attitude is a sound one and am grateful we have someone so level headed as a mod for SWG.

      As to detecting personality, hmmm, I'm not at all sure it's that easy.
    • (no subject) - dawn_felagund - Expand
  • no fistfighting over Celegorm's hair color

    Well now we have a very dissapointed Celegorm... he was just looking forward to a catfight between two fangurls (yes he has fangurls at least Jenni and me). ;c)

    LJ is acting weird today or is it just me?
  • 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.

    Amen. And I'd like people offline to think about that, too.

    It's easier online to be insulting and to feel offended, but it happens offline just the same.

    I mean - how often does it happen that we take a joke too far and actually say something hurtful and sometimes don't even recognize that?

    I think what I generally see offline and online is that people easily feel hurt, insulted and offended, and are not really careful and considerate about others at the same time. Maybe general egocentric tendencies?
    • Certainly. I know that Bobby and I haven't spoken to some once-good friends of ours in months because said friends were invited to dinner for Dawn's birthday and then scheduled another event over said dinner and nonchalantly remarked that Dawn (who didn't even like the event they had suggested instead) should just be content to go along with the new plans.

      Do I think they meant to be intentionally hurtful? No, they probably just weren't thinking. But maybe they should have also been aware that forgetting a friend's event (that had been scheduled for a month) and not even showing a grain of remorse was probably not the kindest or most respectful response.

      Online, though, I think that more communications are ambiguous. In the example of my birthday, I was standing beside my friend when he shrugged his shoulders and said, "Eh. We'll just celebrate your birthday with the new plans instead." I knew from his tone and body language that he didn't think it a big deal that he'd forgotten my plans and then made his own plans over top of them.

      And I think there's a lot of confirmation bias in both places too: We suspect that someone feels antipathy toward us, and we pick apart every communication with this person to find "evidence." So someone who expects her idea about a community to be greeted with trumpets and praise from on high and receives a big blank *nothing*, I think, is going to interpret later criticism of that idea as sounding harsher than it was intended.

      In the birthday incident, we picked apart every communication with this person to find evidence of general asocial tendencies, expecting (from the original "snub") that they would be there.

      And so drama escalates. And old wounds are always opened anew.

      Not tested, of course; just my own crackpot theory. ;)
  • no flaming slashers or Mary Sues or AUs or people who like Feanor or people who don't like Feanor

    It's always sad how people will go off the deep end on slash or MS or AUs, when the summary says "Warning: slash". Or any topic really. I mean, I'm not reading Juno's Bible entries, because right now, I am just sick of hearing about religion in any way and want to, in general, avoid it. So I avoid it, as I can. There may have been when I would have read it, but for now, I just let it lie. I can always go back and read it at a time when I am not bombarded with the conservative religious sentiments of those around me.
  • (no subject) - levadegratchets
    • I could not agree with you more.

      Especially in a discussion where it is said from the beginning that opinions are going to be exchanged. I mean, WTF? So some people's opinions are sacred because of their fragile feelings?

      I've certainly had my opinions ground into the dirt. Do I care? Nope. People are welcome to disagree with me. And there are certain people of differing opinions who--I've learned--are not willing to bend in a discussion, so it's not worth debating them anymore. It becomes tiring after awhile. So we travel our separate ways with our different opinions. Is that so hard to do?

      Sometimes it really is best to get off the computer and get in touch with reality again.

      *snicker* Yes, well, I've been guilty--when witnessing particularly egregious online dramas--of expressing this sentiment myself using a bit of colorful language.... ;)
  • One of the hard things I've noticed about online communication (and sometimes offline communication) is that the person who's talking also can't always see your reaction as they're talking, and they can't always stop themselves and mend what they're saying before they finish saying it and you read it and interpret it if they notice you don't seem to be taking it so well.

    I have this friend online--known him for seven years, and he's a great, caring guy, but sometimes he says things with this tone of, "I don't like it, and anybody who does is an idiot!" I've had conversations with him that sounded like:

    Me: "I like so and so."
    Him: "Eew, so and so is icky!"

    It's hard not to get rubbed the wrong way by something like that, but despite that, the two of us have never had drama, because we never snap back immediately before we give ourselves space to think. Like, "Okay, he's been my friend for this long--why would he want to hurt me? I bet if I talked to him calmly about this, and at an appropriate time, he'd be more than willing to change his ways with this. If we were talking face to face, maybe he would have said that with a wink and a nudge or a giggle or something, and I wouldn't feel so bad, and even if I did feel bad, he'd notice my reaction (because he could actually see it then) and wouldn't do it again."

    Ack, this brings back memories of that Critical Literacy class I took once... about the theory on how a message doesn't have meaning until it's both been spoken/written and interpretted...
    • One of the hard things I've noticed about online communication (and sometimes offline communication) is that the person who's talking also can't always see your reaction as they're talking, and they can't always stop themselves and mend what they're saying before they finish saying it and you read it and interpret it if they notice you don't seem to be taking it so well.

      Good point. :) I suppose online conversation is unique because two people can be participating in the same conversation and each could have wildly different interpretations of the tone of the exchange. So you and I are talking about something, and you're being sarcastic, but I think you're being genuine and reply in (genuine) kind, then you think I'm being sarcastic too and...bleh. What a mess.

      But in real life, as you said, there are cues that let a person know these things: tone of voice, posture, gesture, facial expression...and all are lacking in online conversation unless we pepper our posts with emoticons and *actions*.

      It's hard not to get rubbed the wrong way by something like that, but despite that, the two of us have never had drama, because we never snap back immediately before we give ourselves space to think.

      I think that this is important too.

      I admit that I get mixed messages sometimes from posts/emails/comments/whatever where I'm not entirely sure the person's intent. It is very easy to succumb to the urge to be wounded and snap back...but I make myself walk away. Knowing what the post/email/comment/whatever contains when I choose to revisit it removes the shock factor and usually makes me better able to "decode" it or less likely to snap immediately into being hurt.

      Also, online replies have a permanance that verbal replies do not. So you and I disagree (in person) and I snap at you and you snap back...then we realize how silly we are, apologize, and within a day, the foolishness is forgotten. But online, we can revisit that "snap" a dozen times; we can dwell on each nuance of it and ruminate long and hard before replying. There is also a delay between replies where we can worry and stew over what the other person is going to say in reply. (And it's rarely as bad as what we think it's going to be, I've found.) And, of course, there's a rehearsal period to coin the perfect ascerbic language to wound the other person just as deeply as we'd like, which is not present in verbal communication, where, "You're a meanyhead!" is the extent of witty retort. ;)
  • Ah, Internet drama! I've come to the conclusion it, like death and taxes, is essentially unavoidable. If you're participating in online communities long enough, it's inevitable you'll be involved in it (even if just as an ogling bystander). It's certainly a good reason to turn the computer off now and then and spend some time in the Real World, where online kerfluffles stand out as the silliness they are.
    • I love to tell my husband about online dramas. Despite being computer literate, he is not much on the Internet and the extent of "communities" to which he belongs is his hockey team's mailing list and the original RPG that I run. Not very dramatic. So online dramas amuse him greatly and his disdain/amusement also keeps me grounded as to how inane they really are.
  • Interesting idea, being able to determine a person's gender and personality form online posts/comments/whatever. Sometimes, in this fandom and when it comes to the type of stories I read/write, I tend to think that we are all women. True, most of us are, but guys read and write what I read&write, too.

    Online drama SUCKS and it's the biggest waste of time I can think of. After all, most of us spent time online to relax and have fun, not to be involved in pointless fights over fictional stuff (as it often is). I remember reading AMC and telling you that Celegorm is NOT blond and that Matimo can't be with ANYONE else than Findekano. And look at me now, thinking of Turko as BLOND and about Maitimo with... many people, not just Findekano. I'm giving this example of my own little slips, especially because you did not go up the walls and snap at me, when I expressed said opinions at said time, even if you disagreed.

    My personal rule is to be respectful when it comes to other people's opinions. If I don't agree and I don't have any serious, non-insulting arguments to support my opinion, I prefer to say nothing at all. If I'm being criticized, that's OK, I don't mind. I've already received feed-back on how Feanor in my fics is OOC and I agree, he is OOC for the people who think him in-character when he's mad, murderous&evil. (Incidentally, the person who told me he's OOC is also a fangurl of his, but not in the slightly cracked version of him that I pictured in "Atar")

    I just hope that I don't get on people's nerves, because I can be quite vocal about some things, too. But I try to be polite and not in the least bit judgmental.

    Thanks so this long and insightful post.
    • I have always found you to be quite polite, never annoying in your opinions. I mean, we all see things differently, and I've always found the many different interpretations to be one of the wonderful aspects of the Tolkien--especially the Silmarillion--fandom. There are no clear answers; there are no new episodes coming out or even an author to ask; oftentimes, we are working with small passages or footnotes to form our "canon"...or even single words! For example, my oft-cited "Maedhros the eldest appeared to be unwed" (emphasis mine). So if he appeared to be unwed it was either because he was unwed or because he was wed but for some reason appeared otherwise. This single word has shaped stories and could be the subject of much debate, and I love that about this fandom.

      The people that irk me are the ones who are so adamant that their interpretation is the right one, no others. And for no stern canonical reason but simply because it is how they personally see the text. Like "Your characters aren't acting Elvish here." Well, last I checked, none of us know any real Elves, so we don't really know how to act "Elvish" do we? And--saying that we didn't have the Silmarillion--if I wrote a story about a group of Elves murdering another group of Elves over a piece of treasure, I would probably be accused of not writing them "Elvish" enough because Elves should be above such behavior.

      I am willing to discuss stories and canon or whatever until my fingers fall off from typing but only if all parties involved are willing to bring an open mind to the discussion. It amuses me how offended people get that someone disagrees with their personal interpretation of things.

      Which is why I didn't care that you saw Turko as dark-haired or preferred Maitimo paired with Findekano. I came to some of your stories with a strong aversion to the Maitimo/Feanaro pairing; I was convinced that it could not be made to work in a way that would feel like something more than random humping. But you convinced me and I enjoyed those stories, so that's what an open mind can do for a reader. :)

      Also, I am of the persuasion that if everyone agreed with how I see things, then stories would cease being fun to read. Because there would be nothing done that I couldn't do myself. I find great joy in discovering a story that opens a new interpretation to me or changes my outlook in some way toward an event or character. If everything was written in Felak!verse, there would be no such surprises.

      So I say, yay for diversity! :)
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