When I was still on Rara-Avis, I remember a poster asking to quote another poster. I don’t remember if it was for a blog post or article or just what, exactly, but I do remember the response from several listmembers:
It’s a public list. The comments are public. It’s nice of you to ask, but not necessary.
I share the sentiment (although generally speaking, unless I can provide a link to a forum post I’m quoting I usually do ask before quoting someone). Lists are public. As are most blogs and forums. And whatever is in the public domain is open to scrutiny.
Recently, a blogger posted a critique of DorothyL. I think it’s well worth reading if you’re considering joining that list. In my opinion, it gives a pretty balanced assessment of the good and bad and prepares you for what to expect.
I made a comment over there, adding other issues I’ve had with the list. My comment has drawn some fire, both on that blog, and on DorothyL itself.
By early June, I had essentially decided to leave DorothyL. I set things in motion for the Spinetingler subscriptions. I could go no mail and still post on DL about Spinetingler when a new issue is up, but I strongly disagree with using the list as a drive-by poster. You either participate in the community… or you don’t. That is my personal philosophy. Others feel differently and that’s their right.
The main reason I decided to leave the list was that it felt increasingly uncomfortable to participate in the discussions. I am well aware of my own shortcomings. I am nothing if not passionate about my interests. And when people are passionate, they can come off more forcefully than they intend and let their emotions cloud their judgment. I am guilty of doing that.
The thing is, what makes me most uncomfortable about DL is that I see what it’s brought out in me. I’ve had issues with off-list email for years. This is nothing new, nothing I haven’t stated on DorothyL (and if people don’t believe it, read the interview Julia Buckley did with me almost a year ago, where she asks me about DL and the hate mail.) The result is that I began to feel defensive about posting, because I anticipated backlash. And the way to cope with that was getting a thick skin and not caring what others thought, which opens the door to indifference, and that can lead to being disrespectful - sometimes without meaning to be.
Ironically, this is not the first time I’ve seen DorothyL publicly criticized. It’s not even the first time I’ve made some negative comments. I’ve made comments here, on Mystery Circus when we discussed it there, and I know I’ve read at least one other blog post this year about DL, and there was a recent discussion about DL on another list. And, before I read and/or commented on any of those discussions, I posted comments on DorothyL itself. One of those comments about my concerns was posted less than two weeks ago, after another dispute on the list.
My own philosophy is that forums/lists/blogs have some responsibility for being a safe environment for people to feel comfortable contributing in a respectful manner. I have discussed forum issues here before, so regulars are familiar with my issues with forums that get out of control.
The real problem for me is, whenever I’ve participated in something for a while it’s because I actually appreciate it. And then I care about it. And when I become aware of issues/problems, I want to fix them.
But I can’t. I’ve been on DL (first under my married name, then my maiden name) for around 4 years now, and I have come to the conclusion that despite raising concerns directly on the list for about a year and despite taking some issues to the moderators, things aren’t going to change. It’s become an environment I’ve felt increasingly uncomfortable participating in. I am aware that this is true for other people. However, the only people really in a position to ensure people feel comfortable expressing their opinions on DL without living in fear of public (or off-list) attack are the moderators. And the moderators certainly have the right to leave the list the way it is. However, every listmember also has the right to decide if that works for them, and act accordingly.
There are a number of people there I really like. That’s a big part of what’s kept me. I went no mail for a while earlier this year, when I was particularly hurt by something that happened on the list. A friend asked me to give it another chance. I did…
And I know I promised some people that I would take another month and think it over, but I just can’t.
Here’s part of my little life philosophy:
Silence is often agreement.
If you don’t speak up about something that’s happening, you can’t complain if you don’t like it.
If you care about something you make an effort to fix problems.
And here’s what I know:
As one person there’s nothing I can really do.
I have never participated in any other list where I’ve received the kind of unpleasant (and sometimes abusive) mail I’d get off DL, although that has largely tapered off since I started speaking publicly about it. I used to get people tearing me apart for subjective opinions over authors I liked and such. These days, I get a different brand of off-list mail, mostly from authors, sadly.
I’ve also had some wonderful emails from people who don’t post on the list. In the past month, I’ve become aware of the fact that some people aren’t participating in discussions precisely because they’re afraid of being attacked on the list.
That isn’t a problem I’ve created. It is a problem that exists, whether people want to acknowledge it or not.
If anything, I feel relieved that someone else had the courage to post a very reasonable and balanced assessment of the list and open the discussion. I did hope that, as a regular contributor to DL, a public acknowledgement that yes, there are issues on the list, might inspire some to think about how the list could address them. For example, banning abusive off-list email, and people harvesting email addresses off of DL and spamming people. I personally don’t think that’s unreasonable. It’s standard practice with most forums/discussion lists. Some reading here will remember a certain bout of spam on a certain forum that resulted in eliminating the ability to post photos…
You might wonder if I took the step of speaking publicly again, why not stick around and see if things do change? Well, I think the comments over there may give you an indication. I’m not going to post anything said directly on DL (although any of you can certainly go to the DorothyL site, log on and read there if you so desire – it is public). Not everyone who has responded to the topic at hand has been open to the idea of discussing the issues with the list. It feels a bit personal. And to me, that proves my point, and the point of all those who remain lurkers out of fear. If people disagree with you, they will judge you.
For those who know me and my background, you know I have little tolerance for bullying. When I was assaulted as a teenager I went through a lot of things. Regulars here know I was eventually sent to another school because school officials didn’t feel they could guarantee my safety, and my case worker from children’s aid supported the recommendation. I could talk about the irony endlessly, since most of the kids involved were high school drop-outs and just hung out on school grounds. But the result of going through that kind of bullying experience as a teen undermined my sense of safety in what was supposed to be a secure environment, and I went through a period of time in my life that I was always afraid to go out. All I was was a shy little nerd, and until the moment I got cornered by a gang and beaten I'd never met most of those people. Occasionally, I still struggle with it. It’s one of the reasons I don’t bend when I feel people are trying to push me around, but it’s also one of the reasons I believe in comfortable online environments where people can feel safe to contribute.
I survived three shut-downs of the old Rankin forum before it was finally terminated permanently. It was the first forum I ever read, back when I was trying to find out some information about tour dates, and it was my first experience of actually discussing books online. I loved that. Someone went on impersonated Ian Rankin... and took that once good place away from the rest of us who enjoyed it.
I guess I’d like to think I don’t give up easily, but it really doesn’t matter. I have had my share of disagreements, and I have definitely had times I’ve had to wear egg and apologize for getting out of hand. I’ve had times I’ve had to mend fences. I’ve had times I’ve been rightfully spanked.
I don’t believe this is one of those times. As I’ve said here (and over at that other blog) the evidence of my feelings and concerns can be found on DL itself, actually going back over a year (supported by the interview with Julia). I don’t mean to be malicious or disrespectful, but honest. Agree, disagree, stay, go… that’s a choice each individual is entitled to make for themselves, and I hope they feel good with their decision and wish each person all the best in the future. Anyone who knows me knows my door is always open for mature, civil discussion. I sincerely hope that the list becomes a more comfortable posting environment for everyone who does stay.
I respect everyone’s right to disagree with me if they do. I only ask that you show the same respect for my opinions.