Did that get your attention? Did your blood start pumping? Did you think about how badly you were going to rip me once the article opened up? Maybe get sweaty palms or think "Oh great, another arrogant jerk on a crusade"?
Good. That was the point. Now we can get down to business in a way that will make more sense.
Chances are you are reading this electronically. Most probably on a PC, laptop, or a mobile device. Our world has become largely electronic and communication is at or very close to the center of that electronic world. Want information on something? "Google it" is what you will be told. So vast is the information that if you can imagine it, you can probably find it on the Internet. Personally I'm glad I'm not an inventor, I just don't know how they do it anymore.
Along with that information and our hunger for communication is the desire for immediate gratification. Yes, electronically most of us are like 5 yr olds in a candy store. The only better piece of candy is a faster one. So we have forums, chats, blogs, discussions, and a dozen other options for communicating faster, more conveniently, and creatively about a plethora of subjects as we see fit.
What a lot of people don't realize however is that a comment on one of these sites is like an STD. Yep, it is the nastiest, ugliest, and one of the most persistent diseases you will ever find. It will infect you and others around you. It will hide away only to come back months or even years later and infect all over again. If you are lucky the damage will be minimal, if not you will pay the price in devastation for a very long time.
I know, you think I'm nuts. Wouldn't be the first time, right? Let me give you an example. I say in a chat room that someone has an STD. As we all know, you can't delete that message. Once the chat scrolls away it will be gone, assuming nobody is logging the chat. The person I'm talking about will try to defend themselves and people who know them will believe they don't have an STD. Those who don't know them won't believe them. Or, maybe some will and some won't. But their reputation has been tarnished forever. There is no way they can ever erase that. Same example in a forum but instead of chat scrolling away into the ether, the post becomes older and older falling down on the list until most will never see it. That is until someone who is bored and reading through old posts finds it and makes a comment, resurrecting the thread. Or maybe the forum is search engine indexed and pops up in searches for years down the road. The bottom line once again is that conceptually a comment on the internet in a public place is very much like a virus. The right comment can live in infamy almost forever.
The problem I'm seeing lately is people starting chats, forums, etc. for some very honorable purposes. They are trying to build a sense of community, foster open communication, build relationships, and many other good reasons. But at the same time these people often don't have a clue what they are doing. They create these sites then walk away assuming little moderation is required or even worse, that a site will self-moderate. If you are starting a site about a specific topic and don't mind letting the conversation go where it will that is fine. If you start a site hoping to build something, you have set yourself up for potential disaster. Back to the STD analogies, acting in this way would be similar to never wearing condoms for sex because after all you "only pick the nice partners". A nice game of Russian Roulette anyone?
The other day on a forum I saw a comment in which the poster had used a derogatory term. I wasn't offended, it was no big deal, but this was a site about fostering community and bringing folks together with a common interest. I quickly replied to the comment indicating it was questionable, which generated a reply from the group owner asking why I said that. I took the conversation private and explained how the comment could be questionable and inflammatory and should probably be removed which he did rather quickly. In all, I believe the comment was only visible on the forum for an hour or two. Not a big deal right? A few days later I happened to be socializing in real life with people from the forum and guess what one of the biggest topics of the night was? That's right, the mysterious disappearing post.
What people don't seem to realize is that on the Internet arrogance, ignorance, or even inflammatory statements can often provoke a greater response than mild, happy, loving statements. A simple mistake such as using the wrong word can lead you to being labeled, judged, and outcast faster than you can hit the spell-check button. As a moderator of one of the type of sites I'm talking about we need to be aware of this in order to proactively maintain reasonable conversation. Not to protect folks from their own ignorance, but to keep the conversation flowing in a well intentioned direction. If not for the reasons mentioned already, then to simply avoid having your site destroyed by someone with nothing better to do than meddle. Yes, there are people out there who get perverse satisfaction from posting purposefully inflammatory remarks to sites simply to see if they can evoke a hearty response. If they do well enough and cause enough disruption that the site is no longer used it makes them even happier and is considered the most prized victory. I've seen it happen more than once in my long history as both a paid and volunteer moderator.
I'm saying all of this because I want you all to succeed. Whether you are a site owner, moderator, or simply a contributor. Think about what you are saying and how you are saying it. Individual words are important but tone is as well. And if you are an owner/moderator, pay attention to what is being posted. Don't ignore your sites or you may come back to find them in ruin. If you see a questionable post, copy and delete it. Then contact the poster and tell them your concerns. If you end up making a mistake and deleting something in error, the copy you made will allow you to repost it while explaining your mistake, or allow the original writer to repost. And finally, think about where you are posting. Some sites encourage lively discussion and it won't scare anyone away. Other sites that are trying to create or build community or communication may be much more fragile. Adjust your communications for your audience.
Don't be an electronic STD, but don't catch one either :)
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