The Forum Jones

Before I began blogging, I spent hours upon hours reading (and sometimes commenting upon) threads in a forum on a site for people who were interested in a particular recreational activity.

I was one of the first people to post on the forums when the site opened them for action. In the early days, conversations were generally civil, and there was a lot of sharing of information. Over time, however, I saw the forum go downhill into major flame wars. The site management didn’t want to moderate, and the forums have now become a personal messaging system for a particular in-group that culls the ranks of newcomers with hostile words and insults.

Now I have been spending time on the forums at Ravelry. They are a breath of fresh air, with many light-hearted and earnest people sharing information. But there are signs of trouble on the margins. Some threads have exploded into the kind of negative exchanges I remember oh so well (usually complaining about a magazine or yarn seller), and these threads have hundreds of posts. The site's owners have noticed, and they don't like it.

They may simply dismantle the forums, leaving a network of smaller special interest groups.

I'm left wondering a few things...

Is there a certain critical mass where people become emboldened to be rude to each other? Ravelry just went over the 100,000 member mark. The owners are starting to think that just might be too many people to be able to have a civil open forum without very heavy-handed moderation. With three paid staff, there isn't enough time in the day for that.

Why do I seem to get off on the excitement of the arguments? I let many a well-meaning, informative thread lie fallow, and find the ones with controversy every time. I'm not a troll, I don't make comments that deliberately stir the emotions, but I do not ignore the contentious threads. Which means I am, to a certain extent, an enabler.


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