I read a fair number of online geek forums, but none more frequently than 40Konline, where I am a regular poster and where I go to discuss Warhammer 40,000, which is a favorite hobby of mine. The reason I prefer this forum to the others dealing with the same topic, is that there the moderation staff insists upon civil discourse, keeps the threads tidy and on-topic, and generally do their best to make sure the stuff you read there and the discussions that you engage in are as free from the idiotic spam, trolling, and flaming that makes other forums so distasteful to me.
The problem, though, is that this moderation creates a degree of tension between the moderators and the community, who sometimes feel slighted or insulted if they get a note from a mod indicating they are violating the forum rules. This regularly flares up into various members huffing and puffing about how their ‘free speech’ is being taken away or how the mods are ‘Nazis’ who are driving forum members away with their overzealous adherence to the rules. This regularly pisses me off and, since I have a blog, I’m going to rant about it a bit.
The internet, you may have noticed, is an unpleasant place full of very unpleasant people. The phrase ‘don’t read the comments’ is almost a truism at this point. If you read an article about a woman who has done well in <insert field>, the comments will be filled with sexist vitriol. If you see a picture of two men kissing, homophobic diatribes won’t be far behind. If someone expresses an opinion on anything, the opposite opinion will be quickly offered (which is all fine and good) but accompanied with insulting language, aspersions cast upon the poster’s parentage, and a fair amount of profanity. You can see this on any forum, anywhere, anytime of day or night.
That this is childish and antisocial behavior goes without saying. Of course, if you confront such antisocial behavior, all this typically does is engender even more antisocial and rude responses. No amount of tongue-lashing on your part will keep the seething masses of douche-baggery from wailing and gnashing their teeth at your door. Indeed, if you delete, modify, ban, or otherwise punish people who behave in this manner, it is seen as some kind of affront to their sanctified self-image. You are decried for being a hater of freedom, a fascist pig, a fool, and an ideologue (not that most of them would know that word).
To this behavior and the purveyors thereof, I say this: Fuck you, you insufferable scabrous douchebags.
Forums are not governments. If they edit your speech, this is not transgressing upon your rights anymore than if a priest scolds you for blasphemy in a church. You’re in a church, there are social rules to be observed, and you can get in trouble if you violate them. The idea that you have ‘free speech’ on a privately-owned forum is ridiculous. The newspaper doesn’t have to publish every asinine letter to the editor it receives, and neither does an internet forum need to tolerate your pointless name-calling and profanity. If you act like an ass and are treated accordingly, this is called ‘justice’, not ‘oppression.’
Furthermore, and more importantly, the Internet is a social setting. As much as you feel like you’re alone, sitting in your desk chair and typing away, you are actually in interaction with lots of other people. Just as you wouldn’t run around being a jerk in public, you shouldn’t run around being a jerk to people online. Disagreement is fine, argument is fine, but when you spill over into verbal abuse, there should and needs to be somebody there to say “cut that shit out, ass.” Likewise with spam. If you’re having a conversation about sailing and somebody butts their way into the conversation and starts talking about waterskiing, this is considered rude. Likewise online, if somebody is talking about salad dressing and somebody butts their way in to pick a fight with vegetarians, this is also rude. The internet is not a soap-box, it’s a massive dinner party. Behave accordingly.
Finally, the fact that so many are affronted at being called out on their bullshit is, itself, a unique and odious form of bullshit. In the vast majority of cases, we are not posting anything of importance or value on the internet at all. The idea that we are so insulted when given a warning notice from moderator is ridiculous. So what? Those are their rules, now you know them, and continue on. You don’t have to post there anymore. If you do, obey the rules. That’s it. How is this the kind of thing that engenders pages and pages of self-righteous diatribe? How can your self-esteem be so caught up in your post count on an internet forum about toy soldiers that you feel the need to invoke the US Constitution and start whining about your ‘rights?’ Calm down, buddy – it’s just an internet forum. Get over it. Move on. Nobody really gave a crap about your opinion anyway; it won’t be missed, especially not given how rude you were being.
On the whole, I wish the entire internet had more moderators like they have over at 40Konline. I’m really tired of having to wade through post after post of eye-blistering jackassery just to see some interesting commentary on the latest Bioware video game. Keep it civil and keep it clear and we’ll all be able to get along better.
Late Addendum: Just came across this article in the Daily Beast. Read it. Very relevant to the above and distinctly enlightening.