There are times where I think the Internet is a wonderful creation, even with all its pitfalls, simply for how it allows people to easily communicate across vast differences. Then I see the downside of communicating with people that would be better kept at a distance.
My local astronomy group is the latest instance. The short version is that some of the local astronomy people don’t play well with others, and thus there are three local astronomy groups — the RASC (Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Ottawa Chapter), the OAFs (Ottawa Astronomy Friends), and the OAOG (Ottawa Valley Astronomy and Observers Group). Each group has its own eccentric nature and members, but that’s not the issue. The issue is that while most members really don’t care what the nomenclature is for any event, some do, apparently.
Take for instance our internet newsgroups. They are all relatively low-traffic — on a high-volume day, about 4-5 messages would be common, 10 would be an outlier. In total across all three groups. Most of the time there are 1-2, sometimes none. The exception is when a star party happens. When it does, people often send out notifications to all three groups saying “Okay, we’re planning one for X date”, then a second one just before to say, “Looks promising for tomorrow”, and then a third one to say, “Yep, weather is holding, we’re a GO for tonight.” Of course, then somebody invariably will respond to say, “I’ll be there” or “I’m bringing my 25″ scope”. All of which is normal everyday traffic.
Until earlier this week when the irregular scheduled troll appeared. Not always the same troll, but every group eventually has one. The snarky member who decides he’s pissed at the world and that everything that is being posted by other people is not up to his professional standards and is wasting everyone’s time. So, rather than ignoring it and getting a life, or raising it as a question for the group moderator, they blast the group. In some circles, this is often the start of a flame war.
However, here is why I am confused, and I’ll start with some context. I think generally there are four types of lists:
- Announcement only (where only the list creator can post);
- Moderated (where the list creator has to approve all posts);
- Semi-open (anyone can post if they’re a member); or,
- Open (anyone can post if they have the address).
There is an obvious reason that list moderators often opt for the open type – it builds a community by allowing people to post, comment, reply, discuss. Do I have views? Sure, I like semi-open over open, but I’m not the one running any of the lists.
And if I’m not running a list, why would I feel the need to police behaviour? It’s like a recent time at work — someone accidentally sent a message to a much larger distribution list than intended. Which was fine, it happens. Annoying, but understandable. However, people then started hitting REPLY ALL to say “take me off the list”, then others demanded by hitting REPLY ALL that other people stop hitting REPLY ALL (irony, thy pot is black). Then increasingly hostile messages policing the other behaviour. Totally separate from really hostile messages going back to the originator. For what? The recipient got a bunch of messages they didn’t want that they could have just deleted if 160 other people didn’t hit reply all and kill our servers.
Before blasting back, I also know how to work my own computer. For example, I could:
- Raise the issue directly with the list moderator, not the person who sent the message — harassing other members is rarely a good idea, and often only results in a flame war. If I am not a moderator, I probably shouldn’t try to police behaviour on the list myself.
- Verify my own list settings — switching to digest mode would give me a single email per day. Easy enough to scroll down to what I do care about.
- Use my delete key — many email programs allow you to delete “THREADS” so if someone responds, it will auto-delete any responses too.
- Set up a filter — I’m on another list with almost 20000 members. Some people rarely contribute anything I care about. So I added them to a blacklist on my email — anything coming from them gets auto-deleted, never shows up in my inbox.
- Consider unsubscribing. My view is that if others are responding positively to posts and the moderators are allowing them, a pretty good bet that they were considered ON-TOPIC by most people on the list. Which means it may not be the list for me.
The part that genuinely confuses me on this one is the vehemence of the blast. The guy is subscribed to a local astronomy group’s news list. He’s objecting to announcements of meetings, planning of star parties, and people talking about their telescopes…I hate to contribute to flame wars, but I had to ask — what the heck did he want to talk about?