Views on politics and current events

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Some Random Thoughts About Internet Message Boards

I will be specific. I'm talking about message boards that espouse liberal/progressive views. I have posted on the following five boards within the past three years:

  1. Randi Rhodes Message Board.
  2. Mike Malloy Message Board.
  3. Liberal Posters Union Message Board.
  4. Air America Radio Message Baord.
  5. Unfiltered News Network Message Board.
Being boards of the progressive/liberal persuasion, it would be a reasonable assumption that these boards would promote open and honest discussion, opinions stated with passion and conviction, acceptance of differing views, and a minimum of personal attack. But the reality is quite to the contrary, to my mind. So much for a reasonable assumption.

The common thread with these five boards has been what is called in internet language 'board meltdowns'. The inevitable conflict that arises between human beings, instead of being managed by posters, moderators and administrators with compassion and calmness, has been allowed to run rampant. And it is the doings of a group of people, a relatively small group of people, that migrate from board to board like a band of vandals. Their only concern is with being right, having the last word, and the verbal abuse of others. So many times when a good discussion is in progress, these vandals invade the topic with their own special 'style' of harrasment, intimidation, spin, closed mindedness, and intolerance.

If these vandals were only topic invaders spouting nasty comments, it would be one thing. But it usually is reduced to personal nastiness. Humans being what they are, often times the drama slops over to otherwise decent posters that have a need to defend the ones being ganged up on, or they just plain get tired of the verbal abuse. Some observations:

  • These vandals are board-hoppers. Not all board-hoppers are vandals to be sure, but every vandal I've noticed has been one. After creating so much chaos, either the vandals are banned outright and can no longer post, or the drama dies down to a level where they no longer are having their 'fun'. On all five message boards mentioned, these vandals have participated. They sow their seeds of destruction, and then move on.
  • These vandals tend to endlessly quote previous messages, sometimes creating a long line of quotes, only to have their actual response being a short, one-line personal jab at someone. The really good ones sometimes have one word responses.
  • These vandals also tend to have tremendously high post counts. Not all high post count people are vandals, but vandals usually do. Their objective must be quantity of responses instead of quality, for seldom does the vandal bother with a post of substance. (See previous bullet point).
  • These vandals are not stupid. On the contrary, many are very intelligent. They also instinctively know which buttons to push. Some take it as a personal challenge to try and push the buttons of an otherwise decent poster. It takes a great deal of willpower to not be suckered in by them, for they are very good at what they do.
  • The vandals are also really good at creating other vandals. Posters go over to the dark side of vandal behavior for many reasons, with self-defense as the most common reason. But for those that go over to the dark side far enough to agree with a vandal, don't be fooled. You can only agree wtih a vandal for a very limited amount of time. Then they will turn on you. A true vandal is a lone parasite that doesn't desire anyone on their side. And the truth be known, they can't have anyone on their side. Each individual vandal already knows it all, and is the one that is always right. There can't be TWO people that know it all.
  • And what if a 'normal' poster calls a vandal on their behavior? You will see righteous indignation like you've never seen before. You will see a spin job that would make Bill O'Reilly green with envy. All of a sudden the vandal becomes the persecuted. The vandal accuses the normal poster of all the things that the vandal does themselves. A classic case of 'NOW who's the vandal?' The vandal's remarks are so hypocritical, fantastically fabricated, so completely over the top, that it can boggle the mind. And that is their purpose. There's nothing anyone can say to a vandal that will convince them of anything pertaining to their behavoir. They lack the ability of self-awareness, thus also lack empathy for anyone else.
  • Not all those who believe in free speech are vandals, but most vandals are. But it is a specific form of free speech. That is, free speech without any responsibility for what is being said. Free speech to a vandal means the right to call anyone anything they so choose. If the person takes offense, then the vandal counters that the offended is a wimp, or that the offended wants to deny them their right of free speech.
  • I am going out on a limb here to make a value judgement: Vandals are in essence cowards. They hide behind the cloak of internet anonymity to spout their malicious words. How would a vandal react in a face to face conversation? Would they be nearly as nasty? Interesting to think about.
Why do vandals act as they do? At the risk of sounding like an outhouse psychologist, perhaps it is an indication of low self-esteem that drives them to prop up their own fragile egos by trying to bring others down. But I do know that the very tactics and actions that the progressive/liberal vandal uses mirror those of their avowed opposition: The ultra-conservatives. And those actions time and time again force the administrators of message boards to act in ways that no one in the progressive/liberal community agrees with.

So whatever motivates a vandal to act as they do, the end results are high levels of conflict, in-house fighting, civil discourse being ground to a halt. Among the boards mentioned, there's only one where there is any kind of 'push' to deal with the vandals besides outright banishment. That is the Unfiltered News Network board. There are enough posters that have seen the vandals in action that want to do something about it. The discussion is happening right now. Of course, the vandals are obstructing this 'push' with their usual tactics. But enough posters have had a belly-full of such behavior that as a community they demand that something be done. What that 'something' is, is not exactly known. But decisions will be made. The dynamic of the board, the true dynamic of progressive/liberal thought and action, in my opinion will at least make an honest attempt at making the message board a place for civil, and yes sometimes quite impassioned, discussion. The parasitic vandals will be shaken off of the 'host'. Where they end ujp is strictly up to them. Enough folks realize that to continue to tolerate the parasites will bring about the ruination of the board itself, and enough folks do not want that to happen.

Gee, sounds like the progressive/liberal struggle against the current ultra-conservative war mongers, doesn't it?

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