Online Community, 101.

I’m mad, peoples.  I’m often mad, but I’m particularly cross at this exact moment and that means I’m going to decompress (after I spew some vitriol.)

ONWARD.

We are, as a society, Plugged In.   We’re on our phones checking Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr with fair regularity.  Social media is a thing.  It’s replacing a lot of face-to-face interaction, for better or for worse.  That makes it important.  That means it should be treated with some respect.  Because if it’s going to be the way people choose to communicate, it deserves a modicum of thought/care/intelligence.  The world doesn’t function without other people in it (barring some very extreme LIVIN’ IN THE WOODS IN MY CABIN AND HUNTIN’ WHAT I EAT examples) and we need each other.  If social media is how we do our outreach to other human beings, that makes it an integral part of our lives.

Some people recognize what a big deal that is.  They understand pebbles in ponds and ripple effects.  These people are doing it right.  They do social media better than others.

By better, I mean they exist pretty contentedly on the interwebs, making connections and having meaningful conversation that are, by the vast majority, copacetic and functional.  People respect what they have to say and jive with their particular tune.  I’m not suggesting they’re Mary P. Sunshine, Esquire shooting rainbows and kittens from their nostrils, but that these people, even when they are under duress, know how to take NEGATIVE internet interaction and turn it on its head.  They might make a particularly compelling argument when besieged, or speak so eloquently we can go, “You know, I don’t agree with _______, but I can respect her viewpoint.”  These people generally consider their audience when they post.  How they say things won’t make the people plugged into them feel creeped out or picked on or stupid by association.   That’s not to say they stick to “safe” topics only, but even when they’re treading into murky waters of “Will this be okay for my friends/family/co-forum dwellers to read?” they know how to preface the post with a “trigger warning” or present their thoughts on an uncomfortable topic in such a way that they don’t demean or diminish the majority of their readers.

Ninety-nine percent of what makes those people ^^^ tick?  An awareness of the space outside of their box.  Meaning, they take the extra second to think how their words and interactions will be perceived BEFORE they post.  In the social media circles closest to their hearts, they actually give a damn whether or not they will hurt their fellow net dwellers.  They give a damn about the internet community they are part of and want to see it thrive.  So they try to be respectful far more than not and they make the interwebs a better place for all of us.

And that’s awesome.  Just . . . awesome.

As a person who chronically inserts her foot into her mouth, I think these people deserve a lot of credit.  I’m the type that spews lava rage first and then goes, “Huh, I could have handled that better” later.  It’s taken me over thirty years to get to the point where I will breathe before I’ll talk more often than not.  So don’t think for a second I consider myself one of these gurus of internet interaction. I’m not.  I have a lot to learn, but I think I’m aware enough after X number of years of forum posting and Facebooking and Twittering and blogging that I know what NOT to do a lot of the time, and I have a few thoughts.

We all get mad on the internet.  Intelligent approaches to your mad often trump screeching, flailing, swearing, or foot-stomping.  You’re on a forum, someone or something happens that you dislike.  Maybe someone targets you with a nasty comment.  Maybe a moderator edits you.  Maybe a post goes up that hits you right in the nerve.   There are a few “proper” ways to handle this.  One) if you have moderators, bring your problem to the moderators and discuss it with them one-on-one FIRST.  Escalate if/when that doesn’t work.  Mods exist for a reason.  They will also very likely appreciate a reasonable approach and give it more consideration than, say, if you lit something on fire, started a flamewar, or plucked your eyeball from your head in protest.  Two) if it is not a big enough deal to take it to a moderator, hide or ignore the person or feed that upsets you.  Most websites have this capability.  While I don’t encourage this for situations that really get you IN THE FEELS, it works for the smaller annoyances.  Three) If you are not comfortable with one or two and feel it’s appropriate to bring your gripes forward for public consumption, remember the old adage, “YOU GET MORE FLIES WITH HONEY THAN VINEGAR.”  Yes, be pissed, but if this is a community you care about, often giving people the benefit of the doubt and approaching with respect and humility will do more to preserve that community in the long run.  The table-flipping posts will just alienate people.  No, really.  They will.

Remember that your readers aren’t all like you.  They’re of the opposite gender.  They have all sorts of religious backgrounds.  They are different races, sexuality.  Some of them are pro-Pokemon, others are not.  No one, and I do mean NO ONE, is you.  That means no one is going to process information or social interaction in exactly the same way you do.  They will NOT have the same thresholds.  If you are truly interested in being a Queen of Social Media, you remember this.  You don’t take swipes at people for their culture.  You don’t make jokes at the expense of a minority group that may very well be represented behind those pixels.  You understand that everyone has different “okay zones” for sexual content/violence and you care that people aren’t triggered by what you post.  And if you post something that might strike those pressure points?  You give an upfront warning so people can avoid.  I’m not saying avoid controversial subjects, but be cognizant of the effect your talking about them HAS on people.  And if you’re coming to the conclusion that it’s going to upset people?  Really weigh whether or not your words are that important.  If the answer is, “this joke/link/comment is good but it’d be forgotten in four seconds” . . . well.  Are the four seconds worth the shitstorm you might start?

Don’t creep.  No, really.  People have boundaries.  Respect those boundaries.  If they say they don’t want to see/hear _______ and you keep going at them with ________, you’re probably a dick.  And you’re a dick who’s creeping.  If someone takes the time to outline boundaries to you, if they make it VERY CLEAR that they are uncomfortable with certain behaviors directed at them and you continue to press the issue?  You’re showing that One) you don’t care about their feelings.  Two) that your creep agenda is more important than their comfort.  Three) that the healthiness and well-being of your online community does not matter.  If someone draws a line in the sand, RESPECT THE LINE.

You’re going to screw up.  Apologize.  We all say stuff we wish we hadn’t sometimes.  We get angry, we get snide, we crack a joke, we word something wrong.  If you’ve hurt people in your community and you actually care that you did?  Be the bigger person.  Apologize.  And don’t say “I’m sorry that you feel that way.”  That’s a non-apology.  People can feel how they want – you don’t apologize to them for their feelings.  Who are you, God?  What you apologize for is what you said.  Own your mistake.  “I said this, it hurt you, and I am sorry” goes a far way.  Apologizing with qualifiers is lame and diminishes the message.  And, honestly?  Sometimes you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings and not know how or why.  If you don’t know what you did wrong?  Ask.  It’s that simple.  Ask.  Most people, when they calm down, will tell you.  And if you REALLY want gold stars on this social interaction thing?  Don’t repeat the mistake.  Don’t perpetuate the behavior that was construed as hurtful in the first place.

Realize that there’s a place for everything and everyone.  So one community is not down with your comments about DAT ASS on women.  Or maybe this particular community is not-so-good for your particular flavor of politics.  Or maybe they don’t really grok your llama porn collection.  Or maybe they won’t worship the Jello Pudding Pop.   Somewhere on the internet RIGHT NOW is a group of people who WOULD LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT THAT STUFF.  The web is vast and magical.  Just because one community doesn’t welcome a facet of your life doesn’t mean you can’t ever talk about it period.  It also doesn’t mean they dislike you as a person, they’re just uncomfortable with one particular topic of conversation/way of communicating.  Pick your spots.  Know when to evangelize about the Pudding Pop.  Know when it’s okay to make sexually suggestive comments.  Understand the paradigm you’re playing in, then play by the rules so you are part of the good stuff about your internet community and not the bad.  Your peers will respect you more for it.

Hillary out.

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