Things I Learned In Forums

If this seems like a strange post out of nowhere- although on my blog who could tell?) I decided I would go through past drafts and try to work on them if they still seem to hold some interest. So here for your reading pleasure are thoughts that something in the past inspired. Originally posted 01/04/06

Lots of bloggers end up running into the social dynamics of large groups interacting in dialogue. Some feel bruised and discouraged. Some give up, or close down, because the group changes the initial intention of the blog. One thing for sure about knocking up against lots of different people: it will change you in some way.

Watch out when the wrath of the pack has been aroused. The pack is something I learned about in online forums. Along with observing affiliations and finding the profile of the “Big Dog”. Forums were[are] a great source of human psychology education.

I don’t know how often this happens in the RL world, maybe it is part of office politics or something, but ‘the pack’ is a very real online phenomenon. Quite interesting. You must not anger a member of a tightly loyal pack…or the whole of them, sometimes led by the Big Dog, will descend upon the scent of “someone who dares”. Maybe it is something we see in our group interactions-without really considering it. Could it be happening in the church pew? It could.

You can determine whether this behavior is in action by the fact that ad hominems have full sway. The merits of an argument are not what is wanted in the discussion. No, the evil daredevil must pay, having trespassed on pack prerogatives…

The sad thing is that this will shut down discussion, and if you think a “nicer way” would have avoided the trouble, you are mistaken. The mere arrogance of questioning a card-carrying member of the pack is enough to make you swing from the gallows. Or be targeted for being eaten alive.

Sometimes I’ve been cut down from the gallows and sometimes left to swing. but I’ve never regretted having had my say. If it is necessary to risk, then it is worth paying for.

The social dynamics of letting things go is what we see in history as appeasement in the belief that abuses will go away. That is exactly what doesn’t happen. It gains endorsement by way of tolerance.

As I mentioned earlier, the personality dynamic is very interesting and enlightening. The pack has actually been studied, as have the individual lone ranger trolls. There is (1) the actual manifestation of these behaviors and then there is (2) the use of that to label and dismiss people. You want to understand the former and not slide into the latter.

If you look at some of the writing on this it is a fascinating topic to follow.
On the idea of “Trolls: A Unique Social Movement?” I quote this:

“Indeed, after months of analysis it becomes plainly apparent that this collectivism in the troll community has become that of a politically socialist group. Sharing of common themes is encouraged amongst them, and quite a few are adherents of the Open Source philosophy which dictates that the products of a man’s labor do not belong to that person, but are in fact a gift to the collective whole. Commerce is scoffed at, profit is disdained, ownership of property is considered useless.

A new socialism is indeed developing in the online communities, mainly in the fringe elements. Thus, the question becomes whether or not these tendencies have the force of social movement or are merely to be relegated to an idle pastime that amounts to little.”

How does this relate to “blogger swarming” ? -Which seems to have grown out of -or emerged along with- the massive email/fax legislative lobbying. When do we cross the line from a force to be reckoned with to mob rule? It is something to think about.

One persons advice on determining who is or is not trolling:

“Who is NOT a Troll?
Just because someone has said something you happen to not like, it does not mean that they are a Troll. They may just not like you, or you may have a difference of opinion. It happens! Deal with it.

If a post is on-topic, assume that it is not a Troll. The more wayward it gets, the more likely it is to be one.

This takes a little bit of common sense. In for example, Off-Topic posts are common, and Trolls are infrequent, partly because of this relaxed attitude. “

In another article the idea of the fundamental attribution error” i.e. inferring that behavior results from a person’s nature or personality rather than examining behavior in the context of events surrounding the behavior.” makes me think about some of the political ranting about red state people and blue state people, AND batting around diatribes about “The Christian Right”.

I don’t really think there is a Christian Right in the sense that the term is usually used. I do believe there is a reason that many people are calling for greater moral accountability, and more conservative measures. Sometimes the term is used in the context of religious reasons for activism, sometimes Christian, but it is thrown into that category more as a shorthand device for the forcing of religion. Not so much a debate on the merits of social accountability, or as a description of an actual situation, that there is an actual cohesive group.

From comes this insightful observation:

“Regardless of the writer’s motives, controversial posts are virtually guaranteed, in most online forums, to earn a corrective or patronizing or outraged response by those who do not distinguish between real physical community, and a mere exchange of words and ideas. Customs of discourse, or etiquette, that originated in such physical communities are often applied naively by newcomers to the Internet who are not used to the range of views expressed online”

How often do we see the blog as our little home on the net? That people who comment are intruders or rude…? To extend this to umbrage concerning someone posting something on their own blog about what you expressed, publicly? I take these things from recent experience, but really, have found them quite common. I sort of consider it like the protest of public figures. Maybe we don’t fully understand the anima of “Public Life.”

I’d go with that. Until the internet, most of us lived on the scale of personal interactions, to whatever successful level we managed (or not).

Well, that is all of this particular digression. The political polarization of the recent campaign year [2004] seems like a fertile source of similar exploration, and really, it is laced throughout here- just not in a direct way.

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