Creative Problem Solver. Programmer. Bodysurfing. Sometime Comics.
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People need context and guidelines to behave properly online: a tumble of words from me based on Dan Hon’s “Stickers to Manage Replies By”

Dan Hon made some stickers. Via his newsletter: s17e10: Alt Text; Reply Management Stickers

Look. I made these because I think people need better ways of managing replies in social software. They are also kind of a joke? I mean, a joke and also serious? They’re a joke in the sense that “ha ha we all know someone who replies like that” and also maybe a joke because they’re a little bit socially transgressive?

Check them out: Stickers to Manage Replies By. They’re terrific.

Running WebSanDiego for several years taught me that what people post might be off-topic, or spammy, or rude, or useless, or might come from someone having a bad day. As list owner and moderator I had tools (initially from ONEList which was eaten by eGroups which was eaten by YahooGroups) to set a user to make their contributions require moderation. But mostly the list was unmoderated. I don’t remember the thread that prompted this message I sent to the list back in March 2003:

Hello my fellow WebSanDiegans:
This is a little long, and a bit out of character. I usually respond to posts on-list and let them fly. But I feel like I have a bit more to say, so as your host, I’d like to say some things about community and about behavior. has always distinguished itself as a place of civil, professional conduct. It disappoints me to see name calling and vitriol on a list of what [should be/can be/sometimes is] colleagues, friends, neighbors.
There was some valuable information in the cash thread, and valid points and complaints.
But the rudeness was not cool. I was dismayed.
There are no punishments to be doled out. Noone will be removed. It’s not a moderated list, after all. We all have the power to post as we see fit, when we see fit. Sometimes we’re mad and angry and frustrated. We are only human.
I think of the book “House of God” – about a Doctor-In-Training, here are the rules of the HoG: III. AT A CARDIAC ARREST, THE FIRST PROCEDURE IS TO TAKE YOUR OWN PULSE
What’s it mean? It means that to be any good to a bad situation, you have to be clear about where *your* head is at. If you’re not calm, you’re no good to a patient. To some extent, if you’re angry and frothing at the mouth, you’re no use to a discussion group either.
So I’d like to remind people to take an extra minute and consider their posts. Passion is valuable. Strong feelings can make for great posts. But remember in your anger to include content, and remember that you’re among fellow professionals.
Thanks for listening to me on this. I know your time is valuable.
As always: Comments, questions, complaints, feedback welcome via email at administrators(at)
Joe Crawford
List Founder

20 years on and I don’t remember writing that or what the thread was about. I’m not going to look now. But I can certainly tell it got bad.

And knowing how heated things could become in an online context, I waited several years before I allowed comments here on this blog. When I did I knew that I would have to apply those lessons. Without a large following I never had to do this at scale. But I have had some posts with more comments than others. See my “Most Commented On” page.

The contract on this site is that it’s my site. It’s implicit to the reader that I am free to delete everything or nothing or just some things. Some blogs make that explicit by reminding users to be respectful. Large forums do it too: on Metafilter as of this writing I see below that text box this warning:

Note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the
issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site.

I’m not a regular Reddit user, but here’s a warning on /r/funny:

This is a friendly reminder to read our rules.
Memes, social media, hate-speech, and pornography are not allowed.
Screenshots of Reddit are expressly forbidden, as are TikTok videos.
Rule-breaking posts may result in bans.
Please also be wary of spam.

These kind of context-setting civility messages are great. But we don’t really have them in places like Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or TikTok. They don’t really exist. We also don’t have an “owner” or “host” on such sites that makes us personally aware of what space we are in.

It is no surprise to me that the result is bad behavior, rudeness. I believe we all know folks who gave up Facebook entirely or keep it but fear to log in lest they encounter that one colleague or family member they just can’t get along with. And a host without the skill to be a good host can make a forum intolerable. It’s the reason I have withdrawn from posting to Twitter, for example.

All of this makes me appreciate those places in our lives that successfully set up positive feeling. It might be a bar with bouncers at the front and a friendly host or hostess, and signage about what behavior, dress, comportment is appropriate versus that which will get you banned.

Because of the anonymous nature of Recovery groups, I’ve seldom talked about or alluded to my experience with such groups on this blog. But I will relate something core to how they work to the extent they work and have value – their rules about “crosstalk.” In every meeting I’ve ever been a part of, these are spoken out loud by a participant of the meeting before the sharing even begins. Here are some of such preambles excerpted from CoDependents Anonymous Meeting Materials:

…it is important for each of us to speak as we are able. Many of us find speaking among others, especially strangers, a very difficult task. We encourage people to begin slowly and carefully. It is the intention of every CoDA member and group not to ridicule or embarrass anyone. Nothing that is shared is unimportant or stupid. The sharing of our experiences is best done with “I” statements. “Crosstalk” and “feedback” are discouraged.

What is “Crosstalk?

Crosstalk can be: giving unsolicited feedback, advice-giving, answering, making you and we statements, interrogating, debating, criticizing, controlling or dominating. It may also include: minimizing another person’s feeling or experiences, physical contact or touch, body movements, such as nodding one’s head, calling another person present by name, or verbal sounds and noises.

In our meetings we speak about our own experience, and we listen without comment to what others share. We work toward taking responsibility in our own lives, rather than giving advice to others. Crosstalk guidelines help keep our meeting a safe place.

No matter the number of attendees, no matter the experience level of the attendees, this gets spoken aloud.

Now a support group meeting is not /r/funny. But it’s still made up of people coming from different contexts to share and talk.

It’s something of a joke to say not to read the comments, and that the comments are always terrible. Innumerable articles declare that to be so. Here’s one from 2013: Don’t read the comments! (Why do we read the online comments when we know they’ll be bad?) (Scientific American Blog, By Krystal D’Costa on July 29, 2013):

We can get angrier online than we might in real the world, and say things that might be politically incorrect because we’re cloaked by a degree of anonymity. Although with the growing prevalence of linking social accounts to log-in protocols, this cloak is shrinking. For now, it can be cathartic to speak your mind though these outbursts rarely solve the source of the conflict. While the original commenter may hang around for a few volleys, he or she can depart the site and never return. There is no getting to the root of her discomfiture, no reasoning, and no resolution. There is so self-reflection. Ultimately, you’re among strangers. While you may be familiar with some of the personalities behind recurring screen names, if you have not made an attempt to integrate yourself with the retinue of regular commenters there is no obligation to observe the niceties required when relationships exist.

I’ve never read that blog post before today. Do a bit of searching and you’ll find more articles just like it, telling us that online is a cesspool of badness we ought not read

We’ve only been talking online maybe 50 years, counting early email and BBSes. An eyeblink in human history. The bad behavior and rudeness can exist because there are people there. And worse, the forums we use for the most part don’t do any kind of rule or context setting for their participants. There are no rules. There are only mysterious flagging buttons and a vague idea that maybe if I send a message maybe I can get help, maybe. There’s no guidance. No set of “Miss Manners” rules we can know and restate and refresh in our minds. We lack an etiquette around how to communicate online.

We need it. And it’s the places we post and the people who are responsible for them–and there are people responsible for these websites–need to add them.

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