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Why can't we all just get along?

By Mark Stephens. Published: 21st Apr 2007, 23:53:51 | Permalink | Printable

What are you looking at?

What makes RISC OS users argue and go toe-to-toe in online discussions? Is it that the Internet makes every conversation feel impersonal? When does criticism cross the line? Drobe contributor Mark Stephens gathers his thoughts on why people row online, and what can be done to avoid it.

Opinion - The Internet is undoubtedly a wonderful invention which allows us to do all kinds of new things, but like any enabling technology, it is very much a double edged sword. It can be used and misused.

I have rather given up on the Acorn Usenet groups and the Iyonix mailing list as they have increasingly become rather depressing places - with less interesting, useful discussion and advice and more e-firefights with bickering and personal abuse thrown around.

An angry woman
Is the 'net too impersonal and confrontational?
Thankfully, or sadly depending on your view, this is not just a RISC OS specific issue - so you won't escape it by moving platforms - but rather more of a general trend as the Internet populace increases. This was well summed up in an article in a recent Guardian article, available online here.

This cites how the impersonal nature of the Internet and the ability to remain anonymous has paved the way for a new era of unpleasant communication, with insults, personal comments and undisguised antagonism regularly traded over the wires. It is not uncommon for bloggers to receive anonymous death threats posted via their websites, which even as a sick joke is going rather too far.

Obviously, as RISC OS users, we can't access any websites designed after 1995, so I'll summarise the above article: the author had been inspired by the increasing amount of digital vitriol to come up with the rather clever idea for a novel plot - that there is no-one so insignificant and inoffensive that you will not be able to find some little corner of the Internet where everyone hates him whatever he says or does.

The problem has become so big that Tim O'Reilly, the man behind O'Reilly books, a key figure in the open source movement and the person who coined the phrase 'Web 2.0', has suggested there should be an online code of conduct. Freedom, after all, should come with responsibility or it becomes anarchy.

He has some suggestions which would be really good to see happening everywhere including:
  1. Ignore the trolls, aka the people who delight in starting arguments for the sake of it, and will always disagree in a provocative manner with whatever you say or do.
  2. Don't say anything on the Internet you would not say in person.
  3. Try to resolve things privately first.
  4. Ban anonymous postings.
  5. Only say what you are prepared to publicly take responsibility for.

It might be worth adding that criticism should be made in the way of offering solutions rather than being argumentative, and everyone should accept that some people will simply never agree, whatever viewpoint offered. Oh, and here's another thought: chill out - life's too short. Then we can all get on with our computing on whatever platform of choice we have in peace, except for Windows, Mac, Linux, RISC OS, BEOS and BSD users who just don't get it and don't listen to reason.

Personally, I shall try to stick to the advice of Thumper from my daughter's favourite film, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all," while whinging to myself about the inadequacies of whatever platform or software I am using at that moment.

Side note
I found the Drobe April Fools this year a rather sad irony on the market. A really good April Fool needs to be designed to be just about credible, and this year's stunt suggested that this very online newspaper was being taken to court for comments made on it. If the gag had been that Castle was about to launch a sub-100 pound portable device with multiple 1.25GHz ARM cores, no-one would have believed it. The joke would have been too obvious, even though we yearn for this level of hardware.


Send us your views and articles, or post a comment below Photography by Jyn Meyer

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Funnily enough, since work's usenet feed went pear-shaped earlier this year and ntl's feed at home is a bit erratic too, I've stopped reading the csa.* hierarachy and I find I really don't miss them (apart from csa.programmer which had some clever things). Anyway, there's sunshine outside, far better to enjoy that the usenet!

 is a RISC OS Userjms on 22/4/07 7:22AM
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Contrast with the NetSurf experience where all appears voluntarily positive and productive.

 is a RISC OS UserCharlesB on 22/4/07 7:42AM
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Mark's guidelines on good etiquette for communication are commonsense. Email tends to encourage swift replies made with insufficient thought. It is true that lack of news can be as frightening as a crypt, and some of the skeletons may want to whistle or rattle their bones to keep their spirits up. On the other hand, there are plenty of lively mailing lists and blogs which maintain a high signal to noise ratio and generally contain interesting, useful and courteous material. I do not think the medium is to be blamed.

 is a RISC OS UserGavinWraith on 22/4/07 8:59AM
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The medium can be blaimed to the extent that it encourages bad habits, and makes it easier to exercise them. Its muc heasier to depersonalise and demonise people in an impersonal electronic world where you can beanonyomous. Using it sensibly , as Tim O'Reilly himself points out, is really just common sense.

The article was written before Archive came out, where Paul Beverley picks up a similar thread in his editorial.

Where there is 'lack of news', it might be helpful if some of the sites published a 'this is what are working on' type blog on newsletter. They could not then be accused of preannouncing or making promises, but we cold all see things moving forward...

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 22/4/07 10:18AM
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Excellent article and some good points.

I too have abandoned c.s.a but find the Iyonix list generally useful, constructive and friendly. This was dented by one recent thread but I personally don't intend to be put off by a single instance; these things are what we make them. I'm pleased to say that I find Drobe generally good too (hope I'm not tempting fate here!).

 is a RISC OS UserTonyStill on 22/4/07 9:37PM
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I was called an arrogant, ignorant f**kwit in csag in 1995 - nothing ever changes!

 is a RISC OS Usertribbles2 on 22/4/07 11:30PM
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Sorry but you're talking complete garbage, you moron! Sorry, couldn't resist! That was a joke.

I visit several messageboards, some computer related, others not. I do find it depressing that there is so much personal abuse on some of them. I run a non-league football club website and refuse to have a messageboard on it - football club messageboards (professional and non-league) are the modern equivalent of a punch up outside the ground (which unfortunately appears to be making a comeback).

I think we're reasonably well off in the RISC OS world. The really bad arguments always revolve around one person (no names, but you know who I mean). There is a second one who occasionally over-reacts (in my opinion) if people stray off topic, but at least he never gets out of hand.

Messageboards are like any other area of life - you'll get on with some people and not others. Concentrate on the ones you get on well with.

 is a RISC OS Usercables on 23/4/07 12:35PM
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"I visit several messageboards, some computer related, others not. I do find it depressing that there is so much personal abuse on some of them."

Amen to that. I felt I had to leave Bristol and West Off-road Club because of this sort of thing. Complicated mess which boiled down to a misunderstanding, but I decided I couldn't remain a member of the club after the abuse and misrepresentations I received from the club chairman on the forum. I didn't bother arguing with him; it wasn't worth the effort. I just ended my association with them.

Though, depending on the location and subject, sometimes it's hard NOT to respond.

 is a RISC OS UserVinceH on 23/4/07 2:40PM
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In reply to VinceH:

It's very sad when the chairman joins in. I've only left one messageboard and that was because of the alleged moderators joining in the abusive posts.

 is a RISC OS Usercables on 23/4/07 2:57PM
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Mark: "I have rather given up on the Acorn Usenet groups and the Iyonix mailing list as they have increasingly become rather depressing places"

Haven't we been here before? Your description of the Iyonix mailing list doesn't bear any resemblance to what I generally receive from it. Maybe you missed my comment about the last time someone talked about recent incidents there, so I'll repeat myself:

"all the Iyonix list saw was a few dozen angry emails. They have now stopped (although perhaps not in the best way), and the list has gone back to its usual quietly helpful self."

"Compare this with other RISC OS-related mailing lists, which can see hundreds of off-topic posts in a similar timescale... and no end in sight despite the problem having persisted for some years now and having been addressed in a variety of ways."

As for usenet groups, yes they contain a lot of argument, but that's just their nature. To suggest that you've "rather given up" on them now, seems to imply that things have somehow become worse than in some, dare I say it, former golden age. This just isn't true, unless you believe the golden age was in about 1992 or something.

I've never unsubscribed to the Iyonix mailing list, there really never has been any reason to, it's almost always on topic and definitely always helpful - and has only seen a very few, very brief arguments. For less focused mailing lists and newsgroups, I sometimes subscribe for a while and sometimes unsubscribe for a while. But I always understand that subscribing and unsubscribing is down to how much time or patience I have for such things at that particular moment, not because a mystical golden age has somehow passed, or the level of arguing has somehow got worse.

In short, if one becomes temporarily (or permanently) not in the mood for the sort of thing that happens on usenet, one needs to unsubscribe from usenet - not assume that usenet has "become rather depressing" just because your mood has changed.

Sorry for the rant, I'll try and keep them on usenet in future :-)


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 23/4/07 6:38PM
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The problem is that if the mood turns nasty and people leave we may never get them back. And there is a world of difference between genuine argument and vitriol.

I do think the tone on both the Newsgroups and mailing lists has changed for the worse. This is not unique to the RISC OS world :-(


 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 23/4/07 8:52PM
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Sadly, having an enforced break from reading the newsgroups & having so little from the major players to read about, I've rather lost interest in RISC OS. There's just nothing uplifting, exciting, interesting at the moment.

 is a RISC OS Userjms on 23/4/07 9:00PM
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markee174: "And there is a world of difference between genuine argument and vitriol. I do think the tone on both the Newsgroups and mailing lists has changed for the worse."

Without wishing to sound vitriolic, I really don't have a clue what you're on about :-)

As I've said elsewhere, previous decades on usenet saw massive and angry rows (vitriolic was exactly the word I used!), often laced with a profusion of swear words, alongside bitter off-topic religious arguments running into thousands of articles, endless personal attacks, long arguments about spelling and grammar, etc etc. Recent behaviour on comp.sys.acorn.* doesn't bear comparison - even if you take into account that the volume of posting is lower because there are fewer people involved.

Maybe your point of comparison is in some other timeframe, but I don't really think selecting a random six month period from the recent past justifies all this doom and gloom about how things are always getting worse.

As for mailing lists, at the moment I think I am only subscribed to the two Pluto lists, the Hermes list, and the Iyonix list. (zfc-chat and Archive-42 don't really count because they're not for computer related discussion). Of those four, the only argument I can remember in recent times was the brief disagreement on Iyonix-support that I referred to above. I do know there have been some arguments elsewhere, but I really don't believe that an argument or two on one or two mailing lists means that the atmosphere of all the others has somehow turned bad.

I think a sense of proportion is needed!


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 23/4/07 9:25PM
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