Here in the DC Metro area we’re having a blizzard. A real one, not just the inch of snow and moderately slick roads that is all it usually takes to shut the city down. A real honest to god 2 feet in under 24 hours blizzard that qualifies as a storm even in Pittsburgh or Buffalo or Michigan. Well last night I lost power at about 7, while I was watching Chuck on OnDemand and having some dinner. So annoying. Rather than fish around for candles and the last book I was reading I decided to go to bed. I woke up about 10 when everything came back on and did the usual trip around the house resetting breakers (household tip, always turn certain large appliances off at the breaker so not everything comes on at once when power is restored) and checking the heat pump, all the fun stuff. When I’d finished I’d had a three hour nap and enough activity that I wasn’t immediately interested in getting back to bed, so I sat down at my computer and relived a bit of my past. This isn’t about Chuck so much as something that happened on this board recently and some of my thoughts, after the jump.
As I was catching up with this board and looking at twitter last night I saw that Adam Baldwin was going to be on a radio/internet radio program last night and I decided to give it a shot. For those of you who aren’t familiar with twitter or Adam Baldwin’s politics, he is a rather outspoken conservative/libertarian, and a pretty bright guy. He’s well read, expresses himself pretty well, and is pretty civil about the whole matter, but he has strong opinions and is not shy about expressing them. I will just add at this point I am not interested in discussing politics on this board in any way whatsoever. No, never, not gonna happen, period end of story, finito. Don’t even try. It isn’t why I’m here writing on this board, or why I’m writing this article. This is about what can happen online when people who have strong opinions start to lose a sense of community and the civility that comes with it.
While listening to Adam Baldwin there was a scroll of comments on the webpage that I was watching. Most of you have seen these things, public message boards that degenerate into flamethrowers where trolls seem to be seeking to outdo each other as to who can be the most tasteless, crass, obscene or cruel. We’ve all been there. Anyone who has spent time posting to discussions has probably allowed themselves to get involved in a flame war or made a few ill advised comments after a glass of wine or two. It’s only human. But these, there was no excuse. To an extent we’ve all learned to live with this, and that’s a shame, but for me it hits a little closer to home, literally.
I used to be a lot like Adam Baldwin, in that I loved to mix it up on the political boards. The rapid back and forth, the writing and ideas flying, it can be very addicting, especially when it is about something you really care about. But sadly those very things can also make for a dangerous brew. Some years ago, on a favorite political board, I got into a heated discussion with a few over a political matter we all took seriously. After a while the back and forth settled into me and two other posters on the opposite side from me, and a few trolls that we did our best to ignore. There was a lot of good exchange, but one of the posters would veer into the personal, trying to argue from authority; I’m smarter than you so my opinion carries more weight. It is a classic logical fallacy. Unfortunately for said poster he’d veered a little to close to an area where I had some expertise and was well versed. I pounced. It was grizzly. I tried not to go personal, but it’s tough when you are pointing out that the said poster is either lying or woefully uninformed where he claimed to be an authority. I had the facts on my side and authoritative links to back it up. I’ve been told I can be a persuasive guy, and I take that as a compliment, but I also want to make sure that the persuasion doesn’t veer into bullying or dismissive posts. I fear mine did in this case. The board came alive, the pwned word was thrown around, and suddenly things degenerated. The problem was that I’m in a rarefied field and have published, and I backed my argument up with my credentials. This made me pretty easy to google. Some of the trolls, and one in particular took it beyond personal. They started posting personal information about me and making threats about harming me and my career through any means available, all for the sin of pointing out they were mistaken.
Ernie Davis isn’t my real name, for any that aren’t aware. Joe, Dave, Amy and a few others know it, and I have no problem with that, we’re all adults here thank goodness. But since that incident I’ve tried to keep at least a touch of anonymity when I post online. It was ugly and I never want to go through it again. But the real tragedy is that the bullies succeeded. They drove me away by taking away all the fun and making it not worth it. They shut me up, which is what they wanted, and now I don’t post or write about something I used to enjoy, and where I think I had a lot to say. If you’ll allow a minor boast, I’m the last guy they should have wanted to stop posting. The one who kept it civil, had his facts, argued ideas not personalities, and was always willing to seriously consider where he may be in error and address others arguments in good faith was the one driven off the board. The trolls are probably still there. But then they weren’t really interested in discussing or listening, they were there to shut me up. I’ve always been ashamed that I let them.
A few of us, me included, have been walking on eggshells lately. In my case I think my efforts to re-assure people I’m listening and willing to consider their arguments, and please, just call me out if you think I’m bullying, have been taken as me scolding them to keep it civil. Trust me, that isn’t the case. Everyone here has been great. I don’t think there is any danger of us descending into a flamethrower state. I’m just a little sensitive that sometimes people see me as too belligerent or as dismissive in my style, ’cause it’s been a failing of mine in the past. This is why I keep saying lets keep it fun and civil. It’s not you, it’s me.
This isn’t to say that fun can’t include a little occasional ribbing at each other’s foibles, as long as we all understand we are a community and it’s done out of fellowship, not malice. Part of the fun of a tight community like this is we can get a sense of who we are and can have some fun laughing with each other at our own silliness on occasion. But in the wider Chuck-verse, without going into specifics other than to say outside this board, there are some who look suspiciously like those trolls. They seem to derive their chief pleasure not from the show, but from calling others with different opinions names and dismissing them as stupid or uninformed. I have no patience whatsoever for that, and I have no desire to engage with them in any way.
So once again I couldn’t keep it under 1,000 words (touche Lou), but I wanted to say my piece … at length … again. I’ve had a great time on this board. It’s given me the chance to do something I love, write about something I’m passionate about. I want to thank you all for how welcoming you’ve been and all the wonderful compliments I’ve received, and frankly I couldn’t do it without all the opinions of so many of the friendly, wonderfully literate and mature people who have all found this perfect little corner of the web to come play.
Now I have to go shovel the damned driveway.