Monthly Archives: June 2010

Civility a lost art?

Website Editors Aspire to Rein In Nasty Comments

Well, somebody had to say it.

For the past seven years or so, I’ve been a volunteer moderator on a site called Beliefnet. Generally I like the job, but I’ve noticed this same thing lately too. I thought it was just the fact that the boards I work with are about religion (debating Christianity and Judaism), and thus are naturally going to be more ‘highly charged’, although some things I’ve seen are just ridiculous. If I see one more person come on and say they know more than anyone else about God/Jesus/whatever and that everyone else is going to hell (outright or implied), I’m going to scream. I’m sure you probably expected me to say that I was going to shoot myself, but I won’t say that because I fear I’ll see it the moment I click over to the sites and then I’ll have to make good on it. Um, no.

Like I said, mostly I like my job, and Beliefnet isn’t the only forum I’ve used. However, I’ve seen the quality or civility of discussion about certain things take a nosedive in recent months. It seems that anything regarding President Obama-for or against, mostly against-should be marked with a ‘hazardous’ sign because it’s only a matter of posts before someone starts fussing about him and his healthcare reform ideas, regardless of what the discussion started off about. I’ll be honest, I voted for him and am hopeful, but even if I weren’t, there’s no excuse for calling people names if they simply disagree with you. The same goes for subjects like the Iraq War and Islam (to a degree). I think a big part of it is the fact that you’re typing to a computer screen and thus can sort of ‘hide behind’ it…anonymity makes a lot of people much more brave and willing to say insulting things online than they would to someone’s face. I’ll admit I’m guilty too. Also, some subjects like religion are things a lot of people don’t talk about except on those boards and thus you’ll see a side of them you wouldn’t otherwise see. I’ve spoken with and met some people ‘in person’ that I’ve known from various forums and, while I try to be roughly the same person in both situations, there are always going to be some who are completely different in person than online.

Of course, some topics are more volatile than others. On Beliefnet, we have had to relegate all discussions of abortion and homosexuality-religiously based or not-to specific boards set aside for it. I’ve had people complain about this, particularly the latter, sometimes seeming like they expect me to make exceptions. I’m not going to, because I think I’m partly responsible for the policy being made to begin with. I say this because I am a moderator of a Christian debate board (Christians debating each other) and, when discussion of homosexuality was allowed on religious debate boards, the subject would completely dominate the board. It was usually the same two or three posters, but sometimes the conflict spread from thread to thread in a completely off-topic, disruptive fashion.. One thing Beliefnet specifically rules against are ‘ad hominem attacks’-personal attacks against other members. I get that it’s a highly charged subject, especially in the previous administration with a more conservative president, and especially in some parts of this country. There was some pretty hateful stuff posted, enough for me to have trouble keeping up with it, but it was hard to get another moderator to come and put their hands into the mess. This came from both sides of the debate. It ended up turning away members who enjoyed discussing issues related to Christianity in a civil manner because who would want to be around stuff like that? If I weren’t the moderator and weren’t there to try to make things better, I wouldn’t. We ended up suspending the worst offenders but over time it was determined that the subject could not be discussed on our boards without having an overall negative effect on the community. I would say I constantly lobbied my supervisors for the change, but the truth is, I didn’t have to because others had done that for me. At first there was only debate board for sexual orientation, but the need came for several other, faith-specific boards to be created to keep up with the ‘demand’. I found the whole thing rather sad because a lot of the posters were people who had other things in common and would probably have been able to be friendly if not for the arguments about that one particular subject.

There are some forums I used to frequent but that I don’t anymore because some people seem to be rude just for the sake of being rude. I don’t understand people like that. I figure, life is full of enough stress and bitterness, why add to it? But then, I think some people are just miserable and want to spread it around. That seems to be the case with some of the most nasty posters I’ve come across.

This has been said so many times it’s ridiculous, but ‘where is the love??” Whatever happened to being civil to people, even if you disagree? Whatever happened to agreeing to disagree? Like I said, I understand some subjects are very highly-charged, but the principle your mom taught you about dealing with the school bully could probably be put to work here too…just ignore it and walk away. The scroll button is our friend. Although I’ll admit I’m guilty of letting some jerk ‘have it’ on occasion, it’s not something I enjoy doing. Sometimes we all need to just turn off the computer and watch some Mystery Science Theater 3000 to calm down.

Speaking of which….see you later!

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