Monday, November 8, 2010

Griefers, Trolls and Flaming Kittens Redux

This is a first in a series of articles that will republish posts from 2008 with additional commentary.

April 30, 2008

There was an interesting conversation in Twitter today around the question "what in Second Life offends you?" Even venerable CodeBastard Redgrave had a limit:
Being spammed with...Zippocat...a picture of a RL kitten, being burned to death by stupid teenagers using Zippo fuel...the fact someone took a real animal, poured gas on it, and burnt it for real.
Offended is an apt word for the feeling we reflexively experience when thinking about someone intentionally burning a kitten to death. It comes from the latin word offensa, meaning "a striking against, a hurt or displeasure." We experience pain and then mentally strike out to attack and shut out to defend. We clench our fists and close our hearts.

I realize that many people believe that offense is a justifiable response to the malicious actions of others. Although I often react that way, I aspire to meet all experiences with a peaceful mind and heart. I am inspired by people who have met hate with compassion.

The Dalai Lama recounted meeting Lopon-la, a Lhasa monk he knew before the Chinese occupation. Lopon-la had spent 18 years in a Chinese prison before he was released and came to India:
He told me the Chinese forced him to denounce his religion. They tortured him many times in prison. I asked him whether he was ever afraid. Lopon-la then told me: 'Yes, there was one thing I was afraid of. I was afraid I may lose compassion for the Chinese.'
Peace in the face of griefers and distant kitten burners seems a relatively achievable goal

November 8, 2010

Assuming we can retain a semblance of inner peace, there is still the challenge of deciding if and how we should respond externally to communication that strikes us as mean-spirited, abusive, contemptuous or otherwise tinged with ill intent. The first thing to consider is that we may be misreading the other person's intent or exaggerating the maliciousness of the message. That's a common problem in virtual communication. We often fill in the blanks of missing emotional meta-data such as body language, vocal tone, pacing, etc. with negative projections.

Even if we're accurately reading the negative tone, it's quite likely that the venom is less directed at us personally than at what we represent to the other party. Flame wars on social networks and blogs are mostly between people who have never met in real-time or have had a chance to develop relationships prior to the current conflict. We weave a few scattered impressions into the visceral sense that we know the other person. We don't.

Unfortunately, the process of projection is really hard to notice within ourselves. It's certainly hard for me. So over the last couple of years, my general philosophy has been to ignore flamish behavior on social networks. In blog comments, I try to respond with a mixture of reason and humor. In at least some cases, I've found it is possible to move from initial antagonism to constructive conversation. On the other side of the coin, I've blocked one person on Twitter when multiple attempts at constructive conversation failed. In any case, counting to ten is always a good idea!

(The comment thread from the initial article can be found here.)


Farqot Gustafson said...


You're quite right when you state that a lot of the flame wars go on between people who have never met, and as a result, do not know their "opponent's" style of communication.

A well known rule-of-thumb for written communication is this:

* Written messages only contain 10% of the intended message;

* Spoken messages can contain up to about 50% of the intended message (they include voice inflection, which can buffer what the words say); and

* In-person communication can include up to 100% of the intended message, due to the inclusion of both inflection and body language together.

While we're a long ways from reaching that 100% within SL, the use of voice technology (SL Voice, Skype, etc.) can help prevent a lot of misunderstandings due to misinterpretation.

As the old commercials said; "Try it, you'll like it!"

Unknown said...

One of the fakest things in the book is to convert the legitimate critique of gender deceivers and power players like yourself into a fake discourse about how "everyone in fact isn't really themselves online".

Big difference between taking 20 pounds off your avatar -- and taking your RL penis off your female avatar in SL and pretending you are a female to a male or female who may not realize you are not.

They could get over the shock of you weighing 20 more pounds in RL. The malice of gender deception is not something they will so easily dismiss, and they are right not to. Subtracting fat is about looking better and felling like your better sell; decieving about gender is about harming another.

Of course, if your relationship in SL was predicated on your partners belief that you were a 20-year-old blonde who looked like 120 pounds and in RL you were a fat 250 pound 45 year old divorced housewife with grey hair, well sure, that's deception. But most relationships in SL that are really serious come to trust one another and exchange pictures or at least voice, and that kind of discrepancy gets dealt with more easily than a gender switch.

Botgirl Questi said...

Farqot: I agree that the lack of such visual and auditory metadata makes it easier to incorrectly project emotional tone into text-only communication.

Prokofy: I think we both agree that it is unethical to intentionally mislead someone in a romantic relationship about gender. Also that is is wrong to lie about age, weight, education or any other factor because we fear that the other party would make a different decision about entering into a relationship with us.

Where we may disagree is in what cases we are ethically compelled to disclose information (versus just not claiming any particular status) and to what extend the other party is responsible to secure whatever proof they need to be comfortable.

The main thing I wonder about in your critique of me, is what actual harm I've caused anyone. I've never had a romantic SL relationship. 99.9% of the people who read my blog or have some sort of social network connection have never (and will never) meet me or even have a private conversation. So while I can understand you thinking some of my positions on issues do some harm, why should the underlying physical human matter?