Tuesday, November 01, 2005

"Forums", "Message Boards", or "Groups" ...

...caught my attention back when I still had "Webtv". The internet was "new"
to me and these were a fascinating way to communicate with people who shared
common interests in sports, hobbies, or fetishes. Much like a blog, publishing my
essays, photos, or art, and viewing what others
published, was interesting, educational, and entertaining. Somewhere along the
way, however, my opinion about these vehicles of communication changed and
I stopped frequenting them. I've pretty much deleted all my accounts on these
The change began after noticing the abundance of "trolls" and "flamers". Like
the legendary creature lurking under a bridge, the "trolls" would wait in gleeful
anticipation of a post or entry they could jump on and rip apart. It often got very
mean spirited and ugly. The same was true of the "flamers" but this type more
frequently attacked a specific target using the same tactics. Flamers seemed
to get more personal.
One group I frequented was dedicated to creative writing and contained essay,
prose, and more. It was created and hosted by a Florida woman using the screen
name, "Dreams and Chains". The group was flourishing with many new members
and contributors when "Dreams" was attacked by both the trolls and flamers. At
first she resisted taking the bait, but when the attacks became more frequent and more
personal, "Dreams" gave in and fought back. All too quickly, the group lost all its
solid content and was filled with rancid, hateful posts and membership dwindled.
"Dreams" thought that those attacks would be short lived but they eventually choked
the life out of her group. It was an formulated attack strategy I saw play out over and
over again.
I naively thought that, somehow, things would be different in the "computer world".
Recently, I "pulled the plug" on all the "hobbyist forums" I participated in, hitting the
"delete account" button on each one. I had the unpleasant experience of watching
the forum undergo a "coup", a power struggle for control that was planned and
executed from the forum administrator's basement. A psychotic housewife from a
backwoods Wisconsin town, she had her own agenda and stooped to unbelievable
depths to easily wrestle control out of the hands of an overburdened and apathetic
owner. She used many unscrupulous tactics in her plan. She was a convincing liar
with deceit, slander, and sabotage in her arsenal. The worst part of this was the fact
that she disrupted real lives when she actually met people at their homes, at club
meetings, or conventions when she traveled. The telephone and instant messaging
were among her favorite weapons. She seemed to have an "enemies list", targeting
members who would not go along with, or assist in, her nefarious plans for that forum,
one by one, causing them to leave. She would express public sadness at the departure
while taking secret delight in the success of her plan. To finalize her takeover plan, she
decided to "wipe the slate clean" and changed the web server, forcing everyone
to "re-register". A calculated move, many members never returned and she "grew" a
new membership.
This event touched me personally and when I deleted my account, I vowed that
I would never get involved in such a fiasco again. When using a forum to learn or
research a topic, I now "lurk" and never post. I use an e-mail address set up specifically
for forum membership purposes, I don't make "buddies". It's all very anonymous and