This is a post I never really expected to write for this blog, but after a couple of encounters in the last month, I feel I must. I’m sure the topic won’t apply to you, but you may recognise the kind of behaviour I refer to.
Before I begin, I should say, I’m not naive, I know there are some rude people online, and some who are downright aggressive. I have been blogging for a number of years and, for the uninitiated, the Blogosphere can be extremely adversarial. However, I do not expect to find this kind of behaviour when I’m researching my family tree, and to be fair, I rarely have.
On the whole, the members of genealogy mailing lists and forums are friendly, helpful and polite. However, as with anything, there are always a couple of bad apples. In the last few weeks I have had the misfortune to come across such people. One who was rude (and patronising) to me directly, one who sneered at someone else. I won’t go in to specifics about these people, but I would like to discuss list etiquette. The idea of etiquette may seem old fashioned, but it does exist on the internet, and it can help to make the experience of using a forum a little more pleasant for everyone.
1) Do not type your whole message in caps – this is the internet equivalent of shouting. You may not mean to be rude, but many people reading a message WRITTEN LIKE THIS, will think you are.
2) Leave your prejudices at the door – you may have preconceived ideas about groups of people or individuals, but these have no place on someone else’s mailing list. It is very rude to expect others to listen to opinions which they may find offensive either generally or specifically. In addition, many lists are hosted with external companies which have strict guidelines in order to comply with the laws of the country they are based in. Just because you think the law is an ass, does not give you the right to cause trouble for someone else.
3) Accept you do not know everything – you may be highly intelligent, you may have a PHD in quantum physics, but you are not the font of infinite knowledge.
4) Agree to differ – this follows on from the point above. Sometimes, people disagree, often neither party is wrong because the issue they disagree about is a subjective matter. Accept this, do not indulge in ridiculous circular arguments and certainly don’t resort to personal attacks. Agree to differ and move on.
5) Remember the list guidelines do apply to you – even if you think they should not, or you think they are stupid. The list moderator is perfectly entitled to say what can and can’t be published on his or her list. And do not, whatever you do, cite free speech as an excuse for rudeness. Very few mailing lists are run as democracies, most are benign dictatorships.
6) Do not feed the trolls – in others words, don’t get into a heated debate with someone who is clearly looking for just that. I know it can be extremely tempting, but it’s really not worth it. Such people thrive on the oxygen of attention, so cut off their supply and they will go away.
As I said above, I’m sure these pointers will not apply to you, but you might like to keep them in mind if you ever encounter a ‘net nasty’. And if you are looking for tips to help you get the most out of mailing lists and forums, try this post.