Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Online Bulletin Boards: SOS or BS?

Everyone who has ever taken the time to participate on an internet bulletin board related to a particular subject has probably discovered they can be the epitome of the double-edged sword.  There can be lots of legitimate information, lots of questionable information and, certainly, lots of opinions.

Very often those with little else to occupy their time will embed themselves with a forum of their choice and take on the role of expert.  With a certain hierarchy in place due to the amount of time they spend there, whatever they post in response to a newbie is usually highly supported by other members and/or reinforced by those who run/own the forum.

Such is the case for me, anyway.  

Recently I posted to a forum with which I've had extremely infrequent contact during the past year.  It was the type of post that I'd seen excite most forum members to the point of happy tears.  Although the publicly unshared part of the message had its down side – something I had to painstakingly reconcile on my own but true (offline) professionals personally reassured me was of minimal concern – I was extremely blindsided by the flurry of negativity that ensued.  Certain board members essentially bombarded me with their version of expertise and a gang mentality lined up right behind them and followed suit.

Because I suffer from three autoimmune diseases that are further triggered or exacerbated by stress, I tried to pull the post but the forum's system would not allow this.  I appealed to board moderators, the owner, and administrators to remove the post but they said they "didn't know how" or were "out of town."  Yet, somehow, each of these individuals managed to join in the "bitchfest" along with other board members.  Yes, I'm saying that they joined in the responses—some of which would give "Mean Girls" a run for their money.

The most astounding thing about this fracas is that the responses to my post tripled after I removed the text of my post and simply featured a "closed" icon.  So what I'm saying is that there was no text in my message for people to make any kind of an accurate assessment of what I posted, so they instead speculated about what I said and what I meant and how I should have known better.  In essence, they switched from being an expert on the subject matter to becoming an expert about me.  All but two had it so wrong that it would have been laughable—especially since this was the one site on which I never shared my true identity.

No one likes the idea of being so vilified without any real tangible reason.  I may have demonstrated some ignorance about the subject but it was innocent and had no malice whatsoever.  The text of my original post proves this.  So I started emailing and calling the board owner personally to just end this misery as I found it hurtful and useless and downright mean.  These are, after all, mostly women in their 30s, 40s and 50s—who evidently never got past a high school mentality of wanting to be Queen Bee.  I truly resented this behavior at my expense.

It's not that I hadn't seen it happen before.  There was a site that I lived on when I was bedridden.  That site literally helped me change my life for the better in more ways than I can count.  However, at a certain point—as the site grew in popularity—I started observing the very same kind of gang mentality take place.  It was never directed at me but I couldn't watch it continue any longer, so I divorced myself from the site and got more of a life offline.

So this entire treatise is meant to point out some facts:

 (a) No matter what the subject, there are very few chat boards out there that have no ulterior motive; they are usually motivated by money—whether it be a product the owner is pushing or income raised through advertising from certain board members who have products or a business to push (this can be extremely vague/unobvious to many unless you look behind the curtain).

(b) There is a certain brainwashing that takes place on these sites.  They can be almost cult-like in their membership.  Those who may disagree with the negative responses by the board's senior members are likely to turn a blind-eye to it lest they be ostracized and they'll rarely have the balls to speak out against it.  Hence the newbie/infrequent who innocently posts a taboo or unknowingly hotbed subject will be mashed like a potato without repercussion to those who decided to make them feel so insignificant.

(c) Owners and moderators who participate in the fracas instead of either pulling the post or closing the thread to "move on" are acting in an irresponsible manner and should be held liable if the person "attacked" suffers physically or emotionally from the actions of board members they chose to ignore.

(d) It's a virtual world for sure but people need to be a little less intense when they don't have all the facts about the people they choose to "attack"—especially about the person's physical/ emotional fragility.  Just because you spend all your time on a site doesn't mean you know everything about everyone.

(e) Never, ever give everything you've got to one of these sites.  Tread very lightly.  The most innocuous and inviting of sites will probably bite you in the ass eventually.  I speak from experience.

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