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Calming Threads of Conflict in Online Forums
(Summary from List Discussion, June/July 2008)
Takeaway: A thread lock feature is valuable, however, it loses its value if it is overused. The best tactic combines thread locking and/or posting suspension with proactive moderation:
Become a part of the ongoing conversation, so you will be seen as a caring member instead of the "Terms of Service police."
Frame the situation in terms of what’s currently happening, and what should be happening.
Educate the community about intent, stepping away when things get heated, and that attacking a deeply-held belief IS attacking the person.
Contact offenders behind-the-scenes—if possible, do it through a direct email channel.
Consider setting up another space for rowdier discussions. Pruning sends a very strong message and can be very effective.
is the heavy who steps in to enforce previously agreed upon ground roles. A
is someone who comes in to help process the feelings and communications styles in the current situation. Have both.
Frame what is happening in terms of the roles that are present and the ghost roles that aren't being said directly, while also stating that any framing can't be complete or perfect and asking others to help improve it:
“WOW. This is a hot spot. So many strongly held views. Such strong polarities. Strong expression of feelings. One role says gays are bad and another says homophobia is not the best. Some people have expressed previously that they don't like these eruptions in this online community. Others may feel censored. Where should we go from here? Can we agree to continue for a certain number of days? Should we ask those who are nterested to continue this thread in another space, maybe we create
? Or maybe we as a community are at an edge to go more deeply in to our views together? The world hasn't solved these problems and maybe we can't either, but maybe we need to work on this together. Maybe we need this heated style of communications to build a stronger community. Where should we go?”
Recognize good behavior and recruit allies on the forum. Ask them if they wouldn't mind letting you know if they see something brewing.
State the principle that everyone's views are respectable, and nobody has a right to insult him/her for them, or to quell or kick them out for their opinions.
State the "respect the topic" principle too: steering a topic beyond the author's intentions, into a favorite fighting ground, can become hijacking and deprive the community of a good conversation.
Set the standard: what is banned, what is allowed. You may or may not ban insulting language, ad hominem attacks, etcetera... and you need to have a sensitive eye, because the limit between strong language and abuse is not always clear.
"Warnings" or timeouts for specific members. In a good forum you can usually put a specific member on "moderation queue", meaning that every message needs to be approved by a moderator before appearing. Or, you can suspend individual users' posting rights temporarily. This needs to be done with a backchannel explanation.
Educate the community:
Presume good intent. If there are two or more ways you can
interpret what the other person said, respond as if they meant the best
You are never backed into a corner online. Your reputation will
never suffer because you took an hour or two longer to respond than you
could have. Everyone knows that people have lives outside of these
communities. If you read something that sets you off, don't respond
immediately. Or write your response and save it as a draft - get it off your
chest - but don't post it. Cool off first. Go do something that makes you
happy. Better yet, sleep on it! Then come back and see how you feel about
Attacking a deeply-held belief IS attacking the person. One of the
biggest fallacies of online facilitation is the idea that you should
confront the idea instead of the person. It's great in concept, but in
practice, it doesn't work very well. It's a cop-out. People will instead say
things like "that's the stupidest idea I've heard". By simple logic, if the
idea is stupid, anyone who believes it strongly - who isn't immediately
swayed by the counter-arguments - is stupid also. Watch those heated threads with this in mind and see just how much passes as "attacking the idea" when it's really an ad hominem attack.
Stick to the facts. No matter how deeply you believe something,
there are degrees of "truth". Consider:
"Homosexuality is wrong."
"The Bible says homosexuality is wrong."
"The Bible says homosexuality is wrong. See Genesis 19, Jude 7 and Romans 1."
"I believe homosexuality is wrong, based on my reading of Genesis19, Jude 7 and Romans 1."
"I believe homosexuality is wrong, based on my reading of Genesis 19, Jude 7 and Romans 1, but I recognize that others read those same passages differently."
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