Thursday, March 15, 2007

Something I Needed To Get Off My Chest

I was not crazy about the recent addition to the rules on one listserv I read, but I have to say if you’re going to have rules, for crying out loud, enforce them.

In many respects, I’m still an internet babe. As in newbie, not hottie. There are those who’ve been on listservs since the 90s. Me, I went on my first forum less than 3 years ago.

It was an author forum, long since shut down. The reason?

Well, I got off it when posters started making disparaging remarks about the author and… things of a personal and private nature. If you were there, you know. And if you don’t know, you don’t need to.

The solution, instead of moderating it or deleting comments, was to close it down for a while. This was the second shut down in my existence over there. When it came back, I went read only. Which is when someone went on and began impersonating the author. After that the plug was permanently pulled.

And I’ve seen problems elsewhere. These days I hang my hat almost exclusively at Mark Billingham’s Talk Zone, which has an exceptional, professional moderator who makes everyone feel welcome and maintains the wonderful atmosphere. There’s a real community spirit over there, and even if I don’t post much, I read.

And, of course, now there’s Crimespace.

But other than those two places I’ve whittled my reading down to blogs or listservs. Why? Because most of the other forums don’t moderate. And the result is, people start flaming posters, authors and the atmosphere is horrid. It’s like going into a bar where your book club meets and having to duck punches, or push your chair back when someone smashes a bottle against the table. They’re unpleasant experiences at least, and at worst you get drawn into a fight.

Believe me, if I felt a commenter was being intentionally rude and insulting to another person who reads my blog, I'd delete the comment. I don't care if I lose a reader - I don't need a reader like that. That's not community, welcoming behaviour.

I was royally pissed off with something I read on this list and that’s what I need to vent some angst about today.

It’s a list that has posting rules. I have seen people threatened to be disciplined. I’ve known people who were disciplined. One got in trouble for mentioning Methodist jell-o…. because there’s a no religion (unless it directly relates to a book) rule. One was cautioned with a warning they’d be disciplined if they did it again when they said they were having problems with their email and not getting the digest.

Someone posted about a school shooting that happened in Montreal and they were threatened with discipline because it was off topic. See - they're that anal about the rules, and I know several other great people who've been disciplined there. So, it seems like they enforce the rules... right?

There is another rule on this list – no flaming.

What, exactly, is flaming? Flaming is the act of sending or posting messages that are deliberately hostile and insulting.

So, if I went on the list and called an author a moron – no qualifiers, just said “Mr. Bookwriter is a moron,” would that be a flame? I would think so.

And if I went on the list and said that my protagonist had written a review of Mr. Bookwriter’s latest book and that Mr. Bookwriter was a moron… in my opinion, still a flame.

And tacky, tasteless beyond belief. And this is hot on the heels of a recent discussion there about an author who ran off with his assistant. People wanted the name posted to the list - it happened some years ago. I didn't want the name posted - it has nothing to do with me. What the fuck is this, Author Gossip And Bashing Central? Whatever happened to doing your whispers to one or two people at a time, not several thousand?

Now, because at the bottom of the rules it says, “If you have a problem with a topic or feel someone is beyond the pale, please come to us. Topic vigilanteism is frowned upon” I decided to go to the moderators with a complaint about the post.

In this case, the author of the post declared that their protagonist had determined an author was, in a past life, a mass murderer and racist. Someone actually considered to be one of the worst mass murderers in history.

In my opinion, that’s a flame. I mean, if going on a public list read by thousands of people and stating an author is the reincarnation of a mass murderer isn’t “deliberately hostile and insulting” I’m not sure what is. Since this (apparently) doesn’t qualify I guess you can pretty much go on there and call anyone a fucking cow, a whore, slut, imbecile or otherwise with no fear of repercussions.

I don’t believe in reincarnation, but that’s part of the problem to me. This is something that pertains to religious beliefs. I can make it no clearer than this: If some psychic posted on there that they’d probed my psyche and determined I was Hitler in a past life I wouldn’t just be offended about the Hitler comment. I’d be offended because you keep your religion/witchcraft/voodoo/psychic bullshit philosophy for yourself – you don’t impose it on me. Kind of the same way I feel when JW’s come to the door. Religious freedom: Great. Imposing it on others: Pathetic and offensive.

Now, I addressed the moderators on this, and they tell me they find nothing offensive about the post. Part of the reason is that it can’t be taken seriously because it was posted as though the author consulted their protagonist, and their protagonist came to these conclusions.

Which is absurd. This is a list for readers to discuss mystery books. In fact, permitted topics are:

Announcements, by the Author, of their Forthcoming Books
Reviews, criticisms, comments, and appreciations of mysteries (books, plays, films).
Great mystery book shops.
Awards. It can take a long time to learn which are the annual prize winners.
Mysterious events. Mystery travels, mystery walks in cities, mysteries of life.

Where does it say that characters from books can post opinions about authors? If that’s the basis on which this kind of thing sneaks under the radar then it means my reporter can post scathing reviews of books that include personal attacks on the author, as I already said.

It also means anyone who writes a religious series can post their minister character’s sermons (because the exemption to the religion rule is when it directly relates to a book). This would also mean if a character in a book was racist or a Neo-Nazi, they could post their dogma on the list. I mean, once you open these doors, where does it end?

And in my opinion this is 100% bullshit.

What’s worse is, I took this to the moderators instead of posting a comment on the list, specifically out of respect for recent arguments there and because they have the rules, they’ve always seemed to enforce them rigorously… There should be no problem, right?

Nope. It’s okay for authors to post that their protagonist has made an absurd determination about a person.

And if this is okay future psychic protagonists will be able to post that they’ve determined who’s having affairs, who slept with a reviewer to get a good review, etc… Even if there is no factual basis to the comments whatsoever.

See, 100% bullshit. 100,000% bullshit.

The problem with other forums I left in the past was that readers and posters were left to make their own determinations about what was acceptable, and when insulting posts were made against authors they were also left to argue it out.

Back to the bar brawl scenario.

I have been of the opinion for quite a while that the main reason people lurk on some of these lists is for fear they’ll be attacked. I’ve certainly experienced it myself, so I am completely sympathetic.

But this is a real problem. I mean, even just yesterday I had an email from someone saying that the reason they don’t post on this particular lists is that they’re afraid, because the atmosphere isn’t welcoming.

I completely fail to understand why anyone would want to have a forum they didn’t want people to feel comfortable posting on. I always save my stronger opinions for my blog (and lord knows I have ‘em).

It’s also funny, because on the weekend I got an email from someone I hadn’t heard from in a while, responding to a comment I’d made on the list and saying they always enjoyed my posts but I don’t think I’ll be posting any time again soon.

For the most part, I believe in adults behaving like adults. I think most of us can self regulate, and when we do say something out of line we can suck it up and apologize. And things are good.

But when people impose rule on a group, but only do it selectively, that’s absurd. The thing is, a recent new rule was added, in part because of how a topic escalated to include attacks on various authors and reviewers. I don’t see what the difference is. This person may have made their post as a publicity stunt but they insulted a real person when they did so, which is not cool and shouldn’t be allowed.

Now, it’s also a rule that you can’t question the moderators’ decisions on the list. So, since I respectfully went to them with what I still consider to be a legitimate complaint about a post that was a flame against an author who is a respected member of our writing community and they won’t take action, I now can’t say something on the list or I’ll likely be the one who gets in trouble.

What have I learned?

Next time I won’t bother wasting my time taking it to the moderators – I’ll take it to the list.

I mean, this is the equivalent of the old days when I used to get beat up at recess and went to tell the teacher. The solution wasn’t to take the offending bullies to the office. The solution was, “walk with me.” Yeah, like that’s a pretty fucking fun way to spend my break, and like you don’t think that if they can’t beat on me they won’t just start beating on someone else? Hell of a solution.

I don’t want to be part of communities like that. You know what? If that’s how someone thinks they can get ahead as an author – by tearing others down – it definitely makes an impression. Just not a good one.

(To be honest, I think this list is really anal about the rules most of the time. And that's what I don't get. The things they jump all over and the things they ignore. I'd much rather be on a list that occasionally strays off topic than allows people to be insulted. People wonder why the authors leave or don't participate? Hell, we get shredded by reviewers already - do we really need to read lists where people can personally insult us?)


S. W. Vaughn said...

I hate flamers. Forums tend to bring out the worst in people, I think... collective anonymity is a powerful and dangerous thing.

Anonymous said...

I agree. It's all too easy to be horrible to people when you're not looking them in the eye. It's one thing I really dislike about computers, even phones. The nonverbal is lost-even a joke can become a harsh, cruel attack. norby

Sandra Ruttan said...

This stuff just makes me cry. Hey, no rules? Well, buyer beware. You know what you're getting into. But rules, and only enforce some some of the time? It's like having a bar and allowing a brawl in one corner while you police the rest of the premises - it still isn't a comfortable, save environment, even for those not in the crossfire.

Me, I think someone's been ignorant to me? I'll go to them straight. You may not like it, but I think it's a hell of a lot more respectable than slagging them in this manner.

Grrrr. I agree about collective anonymity. And I agree Norby - even phone conversations can be weird if you don't know a person exceptionally well.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Which is why I don't participate in a lot of those lists. It's just not worth my time and trouble.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I agree Stephen. I went on some after strong urging, and have found it educational. And from a learning curve, good.

Plus it's good for everyone when I post about Spinetingler - it brings awareness to new writers and the authors we're profiling and books we're reviewing.

But I don't feel comfortable reading a list where people can be attacked out of the blue and nothing will be done about it. That isn't how I choose to spend what free time I have.

Daniel Hatadi said...

I've obviously been thinking about this a lot lately. My general feeling is for the 'no rules' or 'bar' policy. You're right, adults will mostly regulate themselves. But if someone really causes a serious ruckus, then it's time for the bouncer to get on it.

My fear is about when it's less clear-cut. Say a member feels put out by someone, but I think they're being overly sensitive. What then? I want to err on the side of caution, but I don't want to police the school playground either.

On the subject of people being shy because they'll be attacked, it can go the other way. People might not post because they're afraid of the rules. I know some forums I've posted to where I thought I was saying something funny and semi-relevant, and I've had my post deleted as spam. Only to see someone else post something similar days after and not have it deleted.

In situations like that, it's obvious that there is some favouritism at work, and that's something I really don't want to happen on Crimespace.

The more I get into it, the less hands-on I want to be. That being said, the place is rockin'.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think, in general Daniel, you have the healthiest philosophy possible. And more than anything you're keeping an eye on it.

I also agree rules can be intimidating too. 100%.

Of course, self imposed policing can be an issue as well. Members can take it on themselves to gang up on others. I saw this on the now defunct Rankin forum, actually. There was a gal who was 13 at the time who read the books and liked to post. Her language was a bit more 'teen lingo'. One poster didn't like it and called her a baby. The teen, quite rightly, took offense and gave our pushy elder what for. Pushy elder lodged protest that if all the other posters didn't support her she was leaving. Talk about manipulation.

I said good riddance. Okay, not on the forum, but under my breath.

As I commented on that thread about what Crimespace is and should be, a long list of rules to consult will be a huge turn off. I think you're doing fine, and I don't think you should let anyone dictate to you how to run it. And if you need second opinions you'll always have those who you trust that you can turn to.