Over the last six months the forum membership has grown significantly. As it has grown the membership has become much more diverse and so have the opinions and points of view expressed by the new influx of personalities. While diversity itself is a fantastic thing, expression through the written word is probably the most difficult skill to master simply because it is so limited. Communication is very complex. When we talk with someone in other formats, such as the phone conversation or face to face, we have other factors we can rely on that help us interpret the true meaning of what is being shared. Voice tones and patterns as well as facial expressions help paint a bigger picture and help us understand the true intent of the words spoken. The written word on the other hand must stand alone and the reader must not only understand the words themselves but also interpret the meaning and intent. This can create many problems.
As the membership has grown so have the conflicts of personalities, there is clear evidence in some instances, that an attack against another member or group of individuals has taken place and we can take immediate action to address the issue. More often than not however, we find misinterpretation and sensitivity to a subject are the main causes of a conflict. This makes the job of a moderator extremely difficult because we now must read what is posted and try to determine the intent of the author and the meaning of what was written. Any time a judgment call is required there is one certainty.... some will always claim 'you have gone too far' while others will claim 'you have not gone far enough'. The best we can do is to attempt to find the middle ground. Over the past couple of months it has become quite clear that a few posters, even after self editing their own posts at our request, will always have a harsh undertone in the way they express themselves. Conversely there are a few posters , even after being asked to be a little more open minded to opposing points of view, will continue to be sensitive to the harsher posts.
What can be done to keep the flow of ideas as free as possible, while at the same time keeping a civil tone to the forum in general? This has been the debate and we have come up with some ideas that we feel might help alleviate some of the bickering and improve the overall experience of participation.
Word usage in a text format is extremely important. The word "YOU" is very common yet so powerful. "You think", "You said", "You are", etc….. can easily be taken as a direct assault against a single person. The word "YOU" is first person and many times an author may intend to use it as a generality yet a reader might interpret it as being directed towards the individual. For example…..if a sentence began this way "You think" or this way "One would think", which is the more personal of the two? We are conditioned to automatically understand that when someone says "you" it means the individual being addressed. Another quagmire is the word "THOSE" when used to make an association. An example: "Those people" immediately points to a separation and in many cases creates the defensive posture because we are now addressing a group of people as a focal point. Keeping simple things like this in mind when posting will help the author and the reader understand the thought that is being shared and do so on neutral ground. In many cases, it is the grammar that starts the ill feelings in a particular post and it is the subsequent rebuttals of clarification that fuels the passion and hostility.
In some cases the personalities and beliefs of some individuals are completely opposite and no amount of debate will ever sway either party. That is a fact of life. There is a feature on the forum that allows everyone to customize their own settings so that they can avoid conflicts with those they strongly disagree with. Clicking user control panel you will find, on the left hand side of the new screen, a feature called Friends & Foes. Adding someone to the foes category acts much like the ignore button in a chatroom. If you know that you find a particular poster disagreeable or distasteful you can self edit and censor the forum to your liking much easier than having a moderator do it for you. If the moderators deleted every post that was found objectionable by someone, somewhere and banned everyone that posted those perceived objectionable posts, the pages would be very scant and we would have a very small membership.
Our job is to remove and edit blatantly objectionable posts that clearly violate the code of conduct and disrupt the forum. Sometimes that requires removing the poster from the membership role as well. We are not here however to be the "thought police" and to dictate who can believe in what. Censoring the free flow of ideas defeats the purpose of having a forum like this.
It is up to the membership to act responsibly and in a constructive manner. Take the time to word yourself in a way that you can correctly convey your message. Understand that the written word has many disadvantages because it must stand on its own merit. No one will hear your voice or see your body language. If you strongly disagree with an individual on the forum customize your settings so that you can avoid contact and confrontation with them. Use the Friend & Foe option found in the user control panel to do this. Be realistic and understand that everyone is just as passionate and opinionated as you are about any given subject. Arguing over who is right and wrong is completely pointless and just promotes frustration and anger. A constructive debate is what we're after on this forum without personal attacks.
We are all responsible adults. While moderators have the responsibility to address the most serious offenses and breaches of proper conduct it is the responsibility of ALL of us to maintain a mature and realistic attitude, edit and censor ourselves in a way that we can effectively communicate and to be supportive of the free exchange of ideas even if we disagree with them personally.
The moderator staff.