A Civil Society -- Online - InformationWeek

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Commentary
5/15/2007
04:43 PM
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A Civil Society -- Online

Back in the old, forgotten days BTW (Before The Web), when screens were green and text was all you had to work with, I spent a couple of years as the sysop of an local online forum called the Women's BBS -- a discussion group where women (and men) could feel free to discuss political, personal, and technical issues without having to deal with the obscene pick-up messages, virulent insults, and other pleasantries that we got from folks uncomfortable with our presence.

Back in the old, forgotten days BTW (Before The Web), when screens were green and text was all you had to work with, I spent a couple of years as the sysop of an local online forum called the Women's BBS -- a discussion group where women (and men) could feel free to discuss political, personal, and technical issues without having to deal with the obscene pick-up messages, virulent insults, and other pleasantries that we got from folks uncomfortable with our presence.We got a lot of drive-bys, of course. I spent much of my online time performing various forms of housecleaning, ranging from simple warnings to moving messages into an area we called "The Battleground," to outright deletion. But we were also able to maintain a lively, interesting, and welcoming area for a variety of viewpoints.

As a result, I (like my colleague Mitch Wagner) was fascinated by Corey Doctorow's article How To Keep Hostile Jerks From Taking Over Your Online Community, in which he talks about how to keep trolls and other Internet beasties from invading an online community and poisoning the waters so that only others like them want to live there.

Corey says (and I agree) that there are no simple answers to this problem. You can't just ignore trolls, because that won't necessarily make them go away. You can't just confront them, because that could encourage them toward higher realms of obnoxiousness. And you have to be very, very careful that you're not discouraging or eliminating those users who are truly part of the discussion and the community. It's a tightrope walk that takes tact, judgment, and a thick hide.

I'd recommend that anyone who runs a community or a blog give Corey's recommendations careful consideration.

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