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On Being Part Of The Solution

Wed May 9 02:30:00 2012

On Being Part Of The Solution

Right, so, in my previous post I explained unto thee how to not be part of the problem or more specifically the difference between an ass and an asshole.

That's great. Well, that's great for those of us who are asses and especially those people like me who're recovering assholes, but it really isn't any use to nice people, or to people who're suddenly stunned by the obnoxiousness of the conversation around them, or really to anybody who doesn't have the social skills of a thermonuclear warhead.

So let's talk about that.

Standing Up

If somebody is being an asshole, go back to how to not be part of the problem, double check you're right that they are, and SAY SOMETHING.

Screw it. Worst thing you can do is be wrong.

Tell them they sound like an asshole. Don't accuse them of being one, because your enemy never believes he's an evil man. Just tell them they sound like one.

Taking Responsibility

There's two possibilities here.

Possibility one: They go "oh hell I didn't mean to sound like that" and you can have a constructive conversation about how they did, and hopefully avoid that happening again.

Possibility two: They go "I'm perfectly fine, it's everybody else that's wrong" in which case your first step should be to show them the dysfunction demotivator and in the mean time, you round up every other person online with a clue to back up that principle.

Because this is the thing - a responsible adult does not wish to cause unintentional offence. Intentional offence is a completely different thing, if you want to tell somebody "I think you're a horrible person and I wish you'd be run over by a bus" then that's your prerogative - although I may not speak to you afterwards. But offending somebody when that wasn't part of the plan indicates an error. Maybe an error of wording. Maybe a misjudgement of the nature of a community but whatever, it wasn't intended.

I've spent YEARS figuring out how to ensure that by and large I only cause offence when I intend to do so. Although only by and large, I'm still not great at divining people's motivations.

In the mean time, though, the nature of being an adult is to accept that even if you didn't expect your actions to produce a particular result, even if your actions producing a particular result make no sense at all to you, the baseline is - if your actions upset somebody, they are upset because of you.

I didn't mean to doesn't cut it.

You can and must take responsibility for your actions. That doesn't require berating yourself for unexpected effects of those actions on other people though; if you had no idea that was going to happen, you might wish to be sympathetic to the people you offended but that doesn't mean it was, as such, your fault that you offended them.

What you need to do now is work out why, discuss why, figure it out so that in future you're less likely to cause accidental offence - and if you're a cluebat wielder like I am do remember that intentional offence is way more powerful when they're absolutely sure you meant it.

Misunderstandings Happen

Sometimes this is because somebody came from a completely different frame of reference. For example, when I first created the Iron Man blogging competition, a brilliant woman of my acquaintance refused to take part because she considered the entire competition to be sexist.

Me, I was thinking "huh?" since I picked a triathlon competition that's always been competed in equally by men and women, and managed to get grumpy about it even though she made it clear that she considered me to be an "equal opportunity obnoxious jerk", a compliment I carry with myself with a smile to this day.

It turns out that she was australian, and that one particular australian company had bought the rights to advertise around the triathlon and did all their advertising using horribly, offensively gender-enforcingly sexist shots of muscular, oiled men.

Honestly, if I'd been exposed to the horrors of australian TV advertising I'd've thought the contest was sexist as all hell too - so do remember that words that from your mouth may mean one thing may end up being interpreted as another due to the sheer horrific bullcrap of the society in which we're doomed to live.

When Adulthood Wavers

So, great, we have the answer when the people you're dealing with understand the principle of taking responsibility for their own actions.

Sadly, many people don't ... yet.

That's ok. We can deal with this. Here's your first argument:

These people are helping you for free, for fun. Please try not to make it not be fun for them because they might stop.

This will make the borderline cases rethink their attitude. Sadly, there aren't that many of those. When that doesn't work, it's time to break out the second argument:

You are coming across like an asshole. Please stop.

Don't tell them they are an asshole. The odds are at this point still good that they aren't. They're probably a perfectly reasonable human being who's failed to understand the nature of the community they're trying to be a part of and as such is making an unintended fool of themselves.

Most importantly, do not, DO NOT tell me they're prejudiced. I don't care if you think they are, I don't care if you're right, apart from the most egregiously screwed up cases they don't think they are. To quote Lazarus Long, "your enemy never believes he is an evil man".

So don't tell them they're sexist, or racist, or whatever. Just point out that they're sounding like an asshole to their audience, and that the good opinion of their audience is essential to them actually getting help.

At this point, most people will subside and do their best to fit in, whether they agree or not. Which is important; later they may understand why they were being obnoxious, or they may not. But the important thing is that they don't want to come across as obnoxious.

When the asshole does not subside

Ok, so, that didn't work. About now, anywhere I'm involved, the offender in question is about to acquire bare minimum a 24 hour kickban, and quite possible a "you are excluded until you can explain what you did wrong" kickban (or equivalent for non-IRC venues).

Let's assume that hasn't happened though and you don't have sufficient moderator powers to make it happen. What now?

First step: Make it clear that this is not an "I am offended", this is a "you are being offensive" comment. If somebody just said something sexist, about the worst thing you can say is:

You know there are women in here, right?

because clearly that means only women could possibly be offended by this horrible bullshit, which is not only offensive to all the men who're also offended by it but gives your target an easy out if they actually are sexist.

Much more effective is to say:

This is not a frat party. Please let's stick to the technical stuff.

because this reminds the recipient that acceptability of their statements are part of social context, and gives you a decent chance of being backed up by other regulars - because whether they care or not about particular turns of phrase, they're likely to agree that this is disrupting the real conversation.

Calling in Backup

If you don't get backup? Well, that sucks. Not every community has decent human beings around 24/7, it's one of those things - much though people might claim I never do, all of us do have to sleep sometimes.

So it's time to call in the airstrike.

The following information is somewhat IRC specific, because it's IRC that I mostly garden and because the recent problems I've encountered have therefore been people on IRC - if you're somewhere else, the "escalate to local moderators, then global moderators" approach described still applies but please substitute appropriate ways of finding such people for the rest of this section.

First, look around for ops - on we're all +o all the time, and you can use /whois to look for who's likely to be around. On it's traditional not to wear your +o so /msg chanserv access #channel list to discover who is. Note: If your situation isn't IRC, please substitute appropriate plans. And if your chosen channel is one of those on freenode which hides the op list, try #channelname-ops and if that doesn't exist then skip straight to the "above the ops" step.

Now, ask the ops. Say "sorry for grabbing you but this is out of hand". Really. Say that. Most of us are busy, possibly cranky, but we wouldn't've taken the moderator access if we didn't really care about this stuff. The only reason any operator/moderator team I've ever been a part of would ignore you at this stage is because we're all offline/asleep/drunk/dead. Really.

As soon as you've found one of us, expect annihilation to ensue. If it doesn't, it may be time to find a different community to practice this process in.

However, that does still leave the situation where everybody actually is offline/asleep/drunk/dead. In that case, you need a plan B. If you're on, that means "/msg an oper". Opers who won't object to this will include mst (me), apeiron, rjbs, confound, BinGOs and dhoss. If they're being that obnoxious, believe me, we'll arrange annihilation.

If you're on, you need to join #freenode and ask nicely for a member of the network staff to join and observe. Many channels allow those of us (yes, I do this as well) who're network staff to have +o so we can nail idiots when the channel staff aren't around. However, if somebody is being really offensive, sticking a few choice quotes on a random paste site may demonstrate a violation of freenode policy sufficient for a staffer to intervene anyway. Freenode tries to be hands off about organisation for reasons of projects' right to self determination; isn't so hands off for reasons of screw you, act like an adult or we'll K-line you. Opinions as to which is better vary; I merely consider them different points of view.

After the Fact

No matter what happens, please do keep logs of everything that goes on. Even if you can't fully justify a global airstrike for a particular user, the people who moderate particular areas will be interested to know - and we do share information and we do keep an eye on people who're known to be idiots.

Additionally, there's plenty of people like me around who know moderators multiple places and will treat an egregious enough offence as grounds for notifying every single other moderator I know about somebody, resulting in the offender being watched carefully no matter where they turn up on the technical internet, and likely being permitted significantly less rope than they might have been without such conversation.

So stand up to the assholes, take responsibility for the results of your own actions, allow for misunderstandings, help people to be adults ... and if all else fails, call for an airstrike.

Your fellow community members will thank you.

Good luck! ... and may you never need it.

-- mst, out.