Fandom and Messageboards (or, How the Internet Has Warped Social Behavior)

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Title: Fandom and Messageboards (or, How the Internet Has Warped Social Behavior)
Creator: amezri
Date(s): September 11, 2006
Fandom: focus on Stargate Atlantis
External Links: Fandom and Messageboards (or, How the Internet Has Warped Social Behavior), Archived version
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Fandom and Messageboards (or, How the Internet Has Warped Social Behavior by Cyn (amezri).

It was posted in reaction to the creation of Stargate Atlantis' David Hewlett's official website and forum.

The essay has the introduction:
You know, all day I was amped up to write a big, nasty rant about certian people posting at a certain forum. After mulling it over, talking with a few sane people, and continuing to read the posts, I've come to the conclusion that these people might not actually know what they're doing is creepy and weird and that maybe their perception of social interaction has been skewed.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts from the Essay

Last weekend, David Hewlett -- on a whim it seems -- launched his own website. This is good. He also included a forum where no guidelines were set no were there mods that could handle the predictable swarm of posts. We presume the forums are a place where David wants us to discuss his work and maybe get to know each other. At this point, I could lean towards the idea that this is some sort of bizarre social experiment on his part to see how insane fans can get.

While there are a lot of threads on the board that are constructive, there are a few that have generated all of the controversy. Very quickly photomanipulation, image postings, and fanfic rec threads appeared. There was probably some grumbling over the fanfic recs (especially since the recs immediately took a slashy turn) and the photomanip thread met with some resistance as well. The thing that really got people going was the posting of a screencap from Century Hotel. At that point, people went a little nuts either defending or condeming the behavior.

Because Hewlett had not set up rules yet, people who have had experience with these sort of official actors forums were quick to jump in to action to make sure it did not quickly become a place that would make people (especially the owner of the site) uncomfortable or get him in to trouble. I think we were all concerned that because he is clearly a very busy person that he should not have to spend the time needed to patrol his boards.

So where are we now? It seems that the people posting fic recs have decided to stop. I think photomanipulations are being removed and will no longer be posted. I'm not sure about the picspam thread. Their parting cry is, "okay, you can stop beating a dead horse!" and the idea that the others are berating them even though it is not their place to do so. In fact, the people who were being asked to stop posting questionable material accused the other side of attacking them and starting fights. I think it should be made clear that there was no fighting. There were differences of opinions that were being discussed rather rationally. No one was being called names. No one's IP was threatened. This was so far from a flamewar that any veterans would be laughing.

And David Hewlett is jossing my entire essay right now because he is reorganizing his forums and allowing photmanipulations and photo posts. Which is fine because right now we have David saying that these things are okay. Except now I am fearful that this will create a whole new problem -- namely that the people who were asked to refrain from posting these items until we heard other wise are now going to feel validated and feel like they have the right to post anything.

It seems to me that a lot of the newer fandom participants are lacking any sort of proper internet etiquette that I remember people having when I started in online fandom in 1998. You didn't just run off at the mouth or post things that would embarass you or the subject you were speaking of. If you did, you were publically embarassed and never did it again. Yes, that did cause a lot of forums to be hard on newbies, but that was it. You lurked and checked the place out before you said something stupid or asked a question that had already been asked a thousand times. Generally, you could type in a full, grammatically correct sentence.

Forums, livejournals, and blogs have become such common forms of communication that nearly anyone with an internet connection can get on them and start posting away. This is good because it brings diversity to the community. This is also bad because it allows all the idiots that you were trying to escape in real life break into your internet life as well. In communicating on the internet, you are as anonymous as you choose to be. You can be as many people as you want to be. It allows you the freedom to say whatever you want with the illusion that there are no consequences. This is a lie. Just because you can say things and don't have to look the other person in the eye doesn't mean you should. The same code of social behavior you apply to real life situations should apply on the internet.

Which is, once again, me being naieve, because it's clear that some people don't even know how to behave properly in real life, say, at a convention. I know that because someone is in the public eye you feel like you know them, but you don't. You see what they allow you to see, but you don't know them -- you don't know what they're feeling and you are not their best buddy. Asking inappropriate, personal questions of someone you do not know and who doesn't know you from Adam is just wrong. You make them uncomfortable (even if they are trying to fake being okay with it -- it's called acting) and you make yourself look like an ass. Trust me, the rest of us are shocked and apalled and we will be telling all our friends about your horrific display.
It's very rare, if ever, that a celebrity decides to a) set up their own, official website and b) put a forum on it. That is really cool and shows that the person is interested in interacting with their fans. We are guests on their internet space and as such we should behave politely and respectfully. There are millions of other places online where you can post your fanworks -- an official site is not the place to do it until the person running the site has deemed it okay. Seriously, people. It is not at all appropriate to just run roughshod through the forums posting whatever you want because no one has said you can't.
There seems to be a misconception that just because you have the ability to make posts means that there is no limitation to the topics you are allowed to touch. You say your piece and then wait to see if you are banned. I don't understand this. When I first ventured in to fandom, you took the time to investigate a new playground before jumping in. You made sure you knew what the protocols were and if there were none because the place was new, you were generally on your best behavior. This mentality also seems to have transfered to real life interactions for some people. I have to wonder if this is how they behave with the people they interact with every day or is it because they have some sort of virtual connection a celebrity, they believe that transfers into some kind of real connection where, face to face, they will say the same inappropriate things to the person as they would say to some other friend online. I don't know how that came out about, but it needs to stop. That sort of behavior is exactly what makes celebrities afraid of fans.

People involved with the Buffy fandom should remember the Bronze. It started in 1998 (I think) on the official WB website. It was a really simple, linear message board and resembled a guestbook more than the message boards we think of today. It was all flat and new messages appeared above the old ones. There were no forums, no threads. VIPs that included Joss Whedon, Ty King, David Fury, Seth Green, and Amber Benson would stop by to chat with us. I will admit that we had our rough times, but they were generally taken care of and the nature of the board was such that if you just ignored the person causing the problem, their posts would cycle out and they would get bored with it and move on. ("Don't feed the Bezoars!")

The Bronze was relocated after the show moved to UPN, but the Bronze Beta is still active after all these years and there are still VIPs that stop by to say hi. I really believe that the ability to self-regulate and keep the scary, creepy type of fannishness to a minimum let the VIPs feel comfortable enough to come and interact with us. We'd even had posting board parties that were meant more for the Bronzers to meet up than anything else, but eventually the VIPs decided to show up as well to meet the people they'd been talking with. Currently, Lost has a similar board -- The Fuselage. I'm a bad Fuselager and can't remember who it was that suggest the board, but he was a former employee of Mutant Enemy. I guess it means he enjoyed the experience so much, he wanted to extend it to his new project. Be proud, Bronzers.

I don't think a board like that will work currently without a large base of members and moderators who are prepared to fight with a large number of fans who do not understand the code of conduct when actors and official personnel are involved. There are certain topics that are not okay to touch on: fanfic, slash, personal facts, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some. This applies to real life interactions as well as online interactions. I get the feeling that these days some fans think they have a right to interact with actors because their job is to be in the public eye. You see them all the time on the TV and somehow that's equal to you owning part of their time. Actors and official people do not need to interact with us. They are graciously taking time out of their days off and time they could spend with their families to come and interact with us in a forum/event that should be safe for them. They are owed the same respect you would show your parents, respected elders, teachers, etc. You should not be treating them like that guy you hang out with and have beers with on Friday nights.

Excerpts from the Comments

[attenaktt]: I've noticed that the changes in fandom too. Instead of actually taking into consideration what veterans of boards and netiqettes, pointed out to newbies. Those veterans get labeled as being elitest snobs who have no right to tell them what to do. I have gotten several responses like that on forums, and it leaked over to talking crap about me in LJ. Which is ridiculous because all I said was "Don't spam the damn treads every five seconds!" Only more civil of course. But after that I stopped giving a damn. If they want the thread to go to hell, so be it. I may have been at the thread from the beginning and stuck with it for almost three years, but getting "attitude" from some people who think they are better than you just because they touched/saw/breathe the same air as an actor/posted in the same forum as an actor/etc. is really not worth it to me. Fandom is crazy, but we all knew that. ;)
[sarkastic]: You're absolutely right here. I haven't been around fandom that long, but I can still tell that certain fans are starting to completely ignore the line between geeking out with your friends and interactin with actors/writers/other official types (or OTs, as I shall call them). What makes it really sad is if they keep doing this crazy stuff, eventually they'll scare many of the OTs away from any type of fan interaction. I can't even look at his website. This is going to end so badly.
[forcryinoutloud]: ::applauds:: But you already knew I agreed with all of this. *grins* But well done for having the guts to say it hun!! ::fangirls you::
[veracity]: Found from friendsfriending, but I have to say, I agree 100%. Maybe 125%. Just because you interact with someone once every blue moon doesn't mean you know them. You're not a part of their lives, at least not the way some people seem to think. We see them on tv/singing/movies/whatever, but that doesn't mean it's a free pass into their life. Personally, I feel lucky that people want to share even a tidbit of their lives with me, famous or not. I posted a rant in my own journal because I was aggravated in the lack of boundaries. We don't need to know his personal sex life (and quite frankly, I'd be scared to death if he said it), why he doesn't change underwear but once every five days (bad example, but still). I don't. I want to know what he's willing to share. It's his life, not mine, and I can't go barging in, showing my butt in public to get it. I'll take what he wants to give, no more or less.

For me, it's about mutual respect. If I show him respect, maybe I'll get it back. If not, that's fine, all things considered right now. The point is that I'm not owed respect, I earn it by acting maturely. Period. That will more than likely translate into a fashion in which I don't scare the poor guy into running for the hills, tripping over his own feet trying to get away quickly.

I've been online since late 96, but only started participating in fandoms in mid2000. That said, I still went to boards (remember the days of Ezboard?), still poked around before, just not a concentrated effort. If I was stuck on polite behavior required, I asked before I did something wrong. It was better to check than assume. That just could be me, but I wish more people would do that. Asking a question about proper behaviour is never a bad thing in my book. It shows you want to be a part of the community, just aren't sure exactly what that entails. You're showing the maturity of understanding that the community is just that and there are certain behaviors that are allowed and disallowed. More than just rules too since they're usually just a starting point.

I don't remember The Bronze much (probably because I was stuck in boybandland in the early years of my fandom) but I do recalling hearing about it. I thought it was very cool and (plus, a little bit of lack of self-preservation) for the higher ups to go there. They don't have to interact with us, online or off. Granted, it might hurt sales for minute, but people are always drifting in and out of fandoms so the sales wouldn't lag that much. It's a matter of respecting the fact the other being you're talking to is in fact human, making them a person. I wouldn't want my grandma asked those questions, so I don't want the famous people that are taking the time out to do something for *us* either.
[rivier]: I agree.

I'm still inclining to the view that DH is possibly conducting a bit of a social experiment for his own interest. He's been around online long enough and deep enough to have probably seen all the pervy manips plenty enough not to personally give two shits either way.

Now, whether that means that people who bring them onto his virtual doorstep are conducting themselves well or with inetgrity is another question, and the answer to that is NO FREAKING NO.

I may invite you into my house - I may even set the table for you and encourage you to eat. But I think implicit in that is my assumption that you'll want to repay my hospitality by eating in ways that don't make me feel ill. So, no food fights, no putting your feet on the bale, no elbowing other guests out of the way to get to the gravy, no smearing it all over yourself and ideally no making phallic sculptures out of the sausage and mash, especially if my mother and nephews are sitting down at the same table.

Just because someone *can* abuse my hospitality, doesn't mean that I won't despise them if they choose to do so.
[amezri, original essayist]: I don't think it's unreasonable of us to expect people to behave in a mature manner on a forum, especially when no boundaries have been set. A lack of boundaries does not equal a free for all and it just baffles me that people do. not. get it. All we were asking was that people refrain from going insane before David got a chance to express what he is and isn't okay with. They could have asked -- he was inviting input. Ugh. Whatever.
[enname]: *still has eyes covered from the one brief glimpse of the boards*

There are no words for how glad I am there are some people who have an idea of who to behave on a board willing to at least attempt to curve the crazies. Even if it is a thankless task that cops far more abuse and crap than deserved for being polite, well mannered and sane.

I don't even want to fathom the minds of those who are unable to keep themselves in the bounds of decency. Really. No. The sheer inability to see beyond themselves is terrifying.
[tea fiend]: Well, this has been an interesting read over breakfast. I'm going to have to check this site out at some point, I suppose. In the meantime, I shall be nostalgic for the days when I first got online (twelve years ago, and now I feel old). There was spelling! There was grammar! There were coherent sentences that made valid points! There were, and I think this is the bit I miss the most, manners. I miss those days. *goes off to plot an evil scheme to rid the internet of complete idiots*
[druidspell]: I used to moderate a large, fairly active RP forum, so I have some idea of the work involved to keep things civil. We always had clearly posted rules of what was and wasn't allowed, and for the most part, people respected that, but sometimes they didn't. And I remember when one of the members who had been around for a while (since the beginning, in some cases) but wasn't a moderator admonished newbies, they'd get their backs up and start a fight, and as a moderator, I (or one of the other mods) would have to step in.

This was several years ago, but I've noticed the trend that if a moderator isn't the one saying "Hey, that's not allowed, don't do it" people get offended. And in some cases, people get offended even if the moderator was the one to tell them to stop.

It's not that any mod wants to infringe upon the freedom of speech of the posters--just that we don't want the posters to infringe on the rights/beliefs/lives/happiness of the other posters. There's free speech, there's posting something you've worked hard on, and then there's being offensive/rude/irresponsible. And when the latter happens, someone has to step up and say "Hey. That's not allowed, don't do it." And when that happens, Stop. Don't do it. Stop other people from doing it as well. In fandom, we're operating in an area that is technically outside of legality--these characters/settings/stories aren't ours, and we're already trespassing in the sandbox. We as members of fandom have to at least not cause electric fences to go up around the sandbox, because some of us regrettably never learned about common sense or netiquette.
[arysani]: it's been so long since i've been any sort of active, really, in any fandom -- beyond the spamming my friends' page. and i think it's because of that very same stuff which you warn against that put me off it in the first place.

your good words should be spread to others. if only we could get them to understand and utilize it as well...

and an "amen" to druidspell who noted that in such situations, we are already "trespassing in the sandbox". shouldn't we be happy we're allowed that much? i mean, if every person who ever thought of writing (and posting in a public forum) fanfic or whatever was prosecuted for appropriating someone else's copyrighted material, then it likely wouldn't exist at all like that. it's not "worth" it.

so soiling it for the rest of us is just plain mean.

isn't it strange how it takes a host of people to accomplish something good, yet one person does one thing bad, and it spreads like wildfire. so very sad.... i guess i didn't realize how scary fans can be until i saw (purely by accident, might i add...but it was one of those train-wreck-can't-look-away phenoms) Trekkies. strange, i think i stopped admitting i liked the Star Treks after seeing that...

i just hope he doesn't get all freaked out. cos that's not fair.
[celisnebula]: *sighs*

I feel like such a big meanie about this site when it comes to my kid. He came home the other day from school with the web address; he's in a Yu-Gi-Oh club and apparently all the boys in this school club are big time Star Gate and Star Gate Atlantis fans.

Anyway, he was on the computer when I heard him go "Ew gross," and got me. As big, and as bold as life was an ass shot of David Hewlett. Now I don't mind naked photo's of actors, and am more than happy to look at well put together men, especially if someone is gonna feed my addiction. I just appreciate it when that material isn't floating around without some sort of warning indicating that the said adult material is forth coming.

Yet, when it comes to this forum, I'm very prudish. Prudish because a) it isn't designated as an adult forum site, b) has no age disclaimers or hoops to jump through (and yes, I know people hate those hoops, but as a parent I appreciate them because my kid DOES respect them), and is being pass around the middle school my son attends as a site to 'get info on Star Gate.' There is nothing to filter this from a child's eyes, my son told me today that his friends can access the site from his school's computer lab.

As a result, I think that the posters over there should be more responsible with the material they're handing out.

I've already banned my kid from the site because of some of the content... he's only 11, and I'd rather he not see that sort of stuff that was up earlier in the week just yet. Making me "The Evil Meanie" but, it's my computer, and told him that I'm trusting him enough not to abuse the ability to log into that site at school.