Forum vs Community

Ausgelöst von einem seit längerer Zeit latent schwelendem Konflikt in der deutschsprachigen Online-Rollenspielszene kamen mir neulich einige Gedanken zu der Frage, was denn eigentlich eine „Online Community“ ausmacht, wo sich solche einfinden, und was unterschiedliche Erwartungshaltungen da anrichten können.

Halten wir einmal ein paar Begriffe und Überlegungen fest:

  • wenn Menschen das gleiche Hobby verfolgen, suchen sie gerne den Austausch zu anderen mit dem gleichen Hobby
  • Damit sind sie aber noch lange keine „Gemeinschaft“. Nicht alle Skatspieler sind dickste Freunde.
  • eine „Gemeinschaft“ ist eine Gruppe Menschen, die sich grundsätzlich gut versteht, einen gemeinsamen Umgangston gefunden hat, und gerne Kontakt zueinander hat.
  • Es gibt Social Media Plattformen, „Communities“ auf diesen Plattformen, Gruppen und Foren.
    • eine Plattform ist ein Stück Onlinesoftware, dass es Menschen erlaubt, miteinander in Kontakt zu treten. Man kann allerdings auch explizit den Kontakt zu bestimmten Menschen meiden
    • eine Community auf so einer Plattform erlaubt es, Menschen dieser Plattform zu einem bestimmten Thema oder Zweck zu verbinden. Die Community dient hier als Austausch- und Anknüpfungspunkt
    • eine Gruppe ist meistens einfach nur eine eher kleine Community
    • ein Forum ist eine eigenständige Plattform, die in sich eine Community abbildet.

Foren sind damit eine spannende Sonderkonstruktion: Man kann nicht aktiv der Plattform beitreten ohne nicht gleichzeitig auch Mitglied der dortigen Community zu werden. Dadurch, wie Foren die Übersicht über neue Beiträge präsentieren, wird es zum Beispiel in der Regel bewusst einfach gemacht, immer alle Bereiche des Forums wahrzunehmen.

Die Funktion „Zeige Ungelesenes“, die immer die neuen Beiträge zu einem Thema in den Vordergrund rückt, sorgt dabei dafür, dass Aufmerksamkeit auf viel diskutierte Dinge gelenkt wird. Als Thema X vor zwei Wochen aufkam, habe ich mich vielleicht nicht dafür interessiert und es einfach weggeklickt. Wenn die Foren Software mir aber das Thema jeden Tag mehrmal wieder präsentiert und mir damit mitteilt, dass viele andere das Thema behandeln, dann werde ich doch mal neugierig. 

Das bedeutet aber auch, dass es schwierig wird, Bereiche oder Menschen bewusst auszublenden. Ein Forum „zwingt“ alle Teilnehmenden in eine „Gemeinschaft“.

Eine Plattform wie z.B. Facebook funktioniert da anders: Von vornherein wird hier akzeptiert, dass nicht alle mit allen kommunizieren wollen, und diese Filter sind häufig auch auf Gruppenebene noch funktional — man kann sich leichter abkapseln und andere ausblenden. Alternativ eben auch eigene Gruppen bilden. (Das ist dann auch das Problem: Facebook-Gruppen ab einer bestimmten Größe funktionieren häufig nicht mehr als Gemeinschaft, sondern nur noch als Ankündigungsmethode.)

Problematisch wird das ganze dann, wenn Menschen ein Forum wie eine Plattform benutzen wollen. „Lass mich doch mein Ding machen und ignorier mich“ ist ein Nutzungskonzept, dass von Menschen in einem typischen Internetforum sehr viel Selbstdisziplin und mentalen Aufwand erfordert — viel mehr als auf z.B. Facebook.

Lässt sich das auflösen?

Mein Instinkt ist, dass das nicht ohne grundlegende Änderung der dahinterstehenden Technik, bzw. der Benutzerführung geht. So oder so hilft es, wenn Menschen sich online tatsächlich bewusster damit beschäftigen und einigen, wie sie sich sehen: Als Gemeinschaft, lose Gruppe, Gruppe von Gemeinschaften oder etwas ganz anderes.

Data is radioactive money?

This morning, I had a conversation with Karl H. Richter about data. He argues that data is money — and I mostly agree with him:

Sometimes we may want the tech companies to be trustworthy custodians, holding our data safely without being stolen or used without our consent – or we may want them to actively invest some of our data on our behalf, to work productively in the economy in exchange for a risk-adjusted return.

Karl on expectations with regard to handling data

I quite like this change of perspective. But I think there is something missing here — what happens if these custodian or „investment managers“ fail to keep our data safe? If we stick to the „money“ analogy, that would mean that the data is simply gone.

And yes, occasionally, this actually happens; just ask MySpace. Most of the time, though, data doesn’t get lost, but instead gets copied. It is a pet peeve of mine when these get labeled as "data loss" or "data theft" by those who report on it. Often this gets confounded by saying that the company who was the custodian of that data would be the victim here.

Please, nothing could be further from the truth, let me explain why and how:

  1. The data is usually still there. The company whose database was breached still has all their data. They can continue their normal operations, deliver goods and services, write bills, everything.
  2. The incident involved the companies servers, but they are not the true victim in these cases — it’s the users whose data became compromised! I would rather say, that the companies in question were more of an accomplice in this, by being (often willfully) negligent about their security practices.

The more fitting analogy for most data breaches is an environmental disaster. Think of it as a containment breech in a nuclear reactor. The reactor still produces energy, but the environment around it is damaged in ways we cannot entirely foresee. The long term effects are rather unknown and vague, depending on lots of external factors no one can fully control.

Worse: As with environmental disasters usually hit hardest on the most vulnerable or marginalized people, so do do breaches. And as with environmental damage, they are cumulative: Once the data is out there, it usually never goes away. And the more small pieces of my private data are known, the more they can be combined into something more dangerous. 

For the privileged, it is easier to cope with data breaches. If I’m a millionaire, I can simply move when my home address gets compromised. Sure, it’s a nuisance, but it is completely doable. If I am living on minimum wage in an area that is under gentrification pressure, I won’t be able to afford a move.

If my sexual orientation, religion or race gets published (I’m a white, cisgender heterosexual atheist), I’ll have exactly nothing to fear. If I were gay and lived in Saudi Arabia, the same data piece suddenly becomes life-threatening.

So, we should think about data as if it were radioactive money. Whoever controls it can use it to generate wealth with it, but if it spills, there will be long lasting unfathomable damage.

We need to hold the custodians of our data accountable to the highest standards. And if they fail at their jobs, we shouldn’t let them get away with it as easily as we do today.

That incel nonsense…

At some point I will write a lengthy explanation why prohibiting private cars in inner cities will become an inevitability. All the green folks will rejoice over all the newfound clean air and all and will conveniently ignore that it was the dreaded fear of terror that finally brought this to us.

This is not that explanation, it’s about something else: „Incels“ — People, specifically men who blame their lack of romantic involvement, specifically the lack of sex, on women. And then maybe drive trucks into people.

Matthew Graybosch on Google+ put my general opinion of those into pretty clear words:

As such, I’m about to lay some harsh fucking truth on you: if you’re truly involuntarily celibate, you deserve it.

But that is only my general opinion. Because, as usual, I also have a more specific one:

Every cluster of teenage kids will have a few kids that sit on the sides, not truly belonging to the main group. That happens, it’s highly regrettable, but it just happens. And if the broader culture where these kids live in puts a high value on being sporty, good looking, attractive, the kids on the sides will be what we commonly refer to as „the nerds“

I was one of those as a kid. Not truly outcast, but a bit on the fringe. Enough so that when a former classmate was talking to her kid about bullying she decided to contact me to get some „inside info“, because after 30 years, I was still stuck in her head as „the (slightly) outside one“.

I also distinctly remember a time when puberty acne, being awkward and ‚the computer nerd‘ while also seeing the surfer guy getting the attraction from all the right girls, let me briefly believe I might end up that way.

Privately.

In my own head.

Without having a word for it. Because, frankly, there was no 4chan or reddit or whatever where I could safely express that stupid idea and then end up in an echo chamber where I would reinforce that rough idea into a solid belief system.

Instead, after a few months of teenage angst and wallowing in private self-pity, I eventually worked up the courage and asked that girl I fancied out for a movie. A few weeks later, the concept of me staying a virgin forever involuntarily was thrown to the ash heap of history.

Enough confession time, what is the point I want to make here?

I think that „incels“ are truly a creation of the internet, combined with the toxic concept of maleness . Without having that place to mutually reassure themselves in that stupid concept, looking at what they see „how things should be“ in media, they wouldn’t be able to construct that bubble for themselves. And without that bubble they would have a chance to get happier.

Brotopia, which I’m currently reading, points the very same thing out, although in a different frame:

When minorities are forced to self-identify as minorities, their performance suffers. Sociologists even have a name for this: stereotype threat.

Incels“ are a very tragic example of a group of people that wished themselves into being a minority and then reaped all the negative effects that came with that.

The frightening thought is that a lot of those of us who nowadays look at them with scorn might have fallen into the same trap, if the tools of today would have been available to us.

Bob and the Internet

This is the story of Bob: Bob is active in her chosen field, which exposes her to some wider audience. As Bob does things that people value, she has a podium on which to speak and she uses it to some effect.

Alas, Bob has a problem. For some reason, some folks don’t like her. Where she posts, there are often arguments, accusations of some kind, to the point where people publicly get into (verbal) fights about the perceived innocence or guilt of Bob and others.

Bob of course defends herself, and friends of hers join in, calling those out who deal in reprehensible behaviour. She makes a convincing case that she is the victim here, and gets increasingly vocal about it over time.

Eventually, friends become enemies, communities splinter and sometimes even the police needs to get involved when some people cross lines into doxxing, actual death threats or worse.

Poor Bob, you probably think.

But maybe we should take a dispassionate look at Bob. We may find that sometimes, she is either completely on the defence. Mostly though, Bob is doing full-on attacks on those who have slighted her.

For her, people are apparently either useful, background noise or, well, enemies. And once you are her enemy, or are not immediately distancing yourself from those enemies, Bob will remember you forever.

Occasionally, Bob will admit to err on factual things, but she certainly is always right in her assessment of interpersonal relations. And yes, she is the undoubtedly the victim here, because, have you seen what Steve did?

If a situation escalates, it is never Bobs fault. If people cry foul, they are harassers. If they want to have no part of the drama, they are enablers. If someone on her side oversteps some line, it is their fault, certainly not Bobs for inciting them.

Still poor Bob?

Look up the vocabulary that describes an Abuser. You will find terms like Gaslighting. Victim Playing, DARVO, Stalking, Belittling, Controlling who is allowed to talk with whom.. If you’re online, you will also find all the rhetoric tricks too: Hiding behind technicalities, ad hominem attacks, Whataboutism and so on.

Bob portrays all the quality of a narcissistic, highly abusive person.

There are many Bobs online, and I am often not sure if they are simply broken persons or just plain evil.

Before I get to know a Bob, I usually assume that she simply has problems parsing emotions through text, that I didn’t make my point or argument clear enough. Because I have that problem myself: Often enough, I don’t know how the other person wanted me to perceive them, what they really wanted to say.

Online interactions are often fleeting or brief. That means that I miss a half-sentence or misread things. English isn’t my first language, and often enough, I converse with people who are also non native english speakers. So I allow for a wide range of misinterpretations, attribute to human error what could also be malice.

Sadly enough, that plays right into Bobs hand, reinforcing the notion that she is blameless, and everyone else is wrong. Bob sits secure in her perfect perch, and laps up the attention she receives, slowly ruining the online life of others.

Don’t give in to the Bobs. Resist that. Stop interacting with them, even when they bait you to it. It is hard. It can be very painful. And you do not have to stay in an online place where a Bob resides. We don’t owe a Bob anything at all.

But we do owe the community we want to live in. Identify the Bobs in there and then make it clear that they need to demonstrate a willingness and effort to be civil, to be polite and to be mindful of how others perceive their voice — or they will be shunned and shut out.

Do not ask Alice to “make up with Bob, for the sake of the community”. This will allow Bob to further mess with Alice. In the end, Alice will have only the option of more suffering from Bob, or to leave the community that continues to allow Bobs presence.

And above all: Don’t give any attention to the Bobs. It’s what they want, what feeds their ego. It should of course be positive attention, but they don’t actually care if it is negative, so long as it keeps their ego fed.

So don’t.

Identify the Bobs. Explain them the rules. And shun them (and only them) when it becomes apparent that they won’t change.