Online forums can be very toxic places. I guess it goes back as far as ancient Greek meeting places (cheers to the roots of democracy), where people would get riled up in their discussions, but the Greeks had an advantage – they weren’t talking on the internet. People hiding behind screens and keyboards can be as abusive, as stupid, or even as ignorant as they like without (generally) taking a hit to their personal reputation. Anonymity has encouraged general anarchy (ever wondered why anarchists are often portrayed with masks?). While I’m not against some forms of anarchy and the ideals behind it, I have to say that it should be infused with education (or at the very least, culture). Uneducated, uncultured anarchy is chaos.
But I digress.
I’ve had some great conversations and discussions on online forums. Some of my favorites have been constructive threads about games (like Guild Wars 2), talking about their concepts, mechanics, and how things could have been better implemented. I’ve run into several other fantastic people who are interested in the things other people write, and when they post they think out their thoughts before saying things; like in any community, it’s those kinds of people who make the forums worth visiting.
And then there’s the forum lepers. I call them that not because I have anything against people who have been diagnosed with leprosy, but rather because they are the untouchables of the forum world. Forum lepers can be divided into a few groups:
- Trolls: simply there to say junk that may/may not be related to anything that has been said or will ever be said on the forum. Usually not concerned with anything remotely related to relevance. Posts made uzin turribl spelinge or containing unrelated jokes or supporting something that has been proven false/misleading are commonly made by trolls.
- Dumpers: dump their baggage on posts and couldn’t care less about discussion, but are instead there to unload their minds. It’s not uncommon to find a lot of **** marks or ENTIRE PARAGRAPHS OF CAPS in their posts.
- Bullies: similar to dumpers, but they’re there to force their opinions upon others. The experienced forum poster can’t be bullied, but less savvy members might be affected negatively. Confrontational, direct insults or lashing out at personal character abounds in their posts.
- White knights: I’ve only really heard of this happening on game forums (those are the ones I frequent), but I’m sure they could be anywhere. White knights are the Wormtongues of the world: they suck up to a concept/company/person and utterly idealize anything and everything that ever issues from it. Perhaps they don’t personally feel any of the things they say, but it’d be the damnedest thing if they ever say anything negative or constructive about their favored thing. They’re a bit like dumpers in that they couldn’t care less about discussion, but they’re more like a stubborn form of bullies (except on the defensive more often than the offensive).
How do you counter a forum leper? That’s a tricky question. I’m not even sure if there’s an answer. A hardworking forum leper can steer the conversation into a completely new direction, or even cause the thread to be closed or deleted. Confrontation was an option in ancient Greece, but is not actually possible online. Trying to engage with them can encourage them. If someone is unintentionally a forum leper, a private message could solve the issue, but if they’re doing it intentionally, you’ve just singled yourself out for targeted abuse – and whether it affects you emotionally or not, it can leave a trail of destruction behind your own perfectly reasonable posts. The closest thing I can see as a solution is ignoring them, but not alone: the affected forums need to become strong communities of people who actively post around the forum leper to build a veritable bulwark of interesting and constructive/supportive threads. Those threads and forums shine.
So don’t be a forum leper! If you’re visiting a forum and intend to contribute, keep an open mind. You’ll not only have a better experience, but you might learn something while you’re there. Note, of course, that if you’ve fringed on any of the leper groups, it doesn’t make you automatically a forum leper. It’s your goal that means the most.