In regulation, convention, and etiquette in online communities, there is Theory and there is Practice. Our human capacity to hold multiple perspectives without losing track of our personal core beliefs is compelled to grow.
As an undergraduate science major it was drummed into me that there is Theory and there is Practice. Likewise: in regulation, convention, and etiquette in online communities, there is Theory and there is Practice.
Example: Extreme Theories of Etiquette
- What we might call The Dove Theory says, “We Should All Get Along And Allow All Points Of View.“
- And what we might call The Hawk Theory says, “We Must Follow Agreed Protocols And Expel All Offenders.”
Example: Workable Practices of Etiquette
Both theories are right, for values of right: In WORKABLE PRACTICES, you have to blend tolerance and protocol.
It fell on me several years ago to draft up some kind of Behavior Note Card for Dublin Virtually Live. I researched online and found a wonderful discussion by one of the earliest moderators of The Well, America’s first online discussion forum.
The moderator spoke to the necessity to manage “trolls” (people who deliberately provoke chat fights by saying outrageous things), but to also develop a sense for when something said was unintended vs. deliberate. The moderator spoke to the difficulty of making an absolute list of what was OK to say and what was NOT – especially when people from multiple cultures were mingling in the same conversation space. In the end, the moderator boiled his protocol down to a short list of “do’s and don’ts” with an added, simple, guiding maxim.
I immediately adopted his maxim for Dublin Virtually Live. The maxim? “It’s Not OK To Be A Jerk.” If something you’re doing is bothering other guests (as reported by them to the host in IM), and you’re asked by the host (in IM) to stop, then stop. With this maxim came a short list of do’s and don’ts, updated as infrequently as possible.
So far so good – but then came up the unanticipated, unimaginable Discussion Of Men’s Nipples. In a nutshell (so to speak): Is it fair to allow Men Avatars to go topless in the bar when Women Avatars must remain clothed? This required a General Staff Meeting to be scheduled, which resulted in a hilarious discussion with multiple points *coff* of view expressed. I can’t remember the outcome except I THINK that, in the “softer” acoustic music bar, male avatars have to wear shirts, but in the “harder” rock bar, they could go topless (unless there were serious nipple complaints that day).
And this only addressed MAMMAL Avatars – I mean, Reptile Avatars and Robot Avatars don’t even HAVE nipples, so does the topless rule even apply?
It was always clear in Dublin that excessive use of the “F” word would ultimately result in IM complaints from guests and a quick IM from host to offender to tell them to cut it out. This happened especially in discussions of *shudder* soccer leagues. So far so good.
But most recently has come the issue of excessive use of the “O” word (Orgasm – Shh!). Sweet mercy, thank goodness for the guiding maxim. The staff meeting on THIS topic has yet to be scheduled but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
So, as our unimaginably huge “real” world of multi-cultures interconnects more and more in “virtual” worlds through technology, our human capacity to hold multiple perspectives without losing track of our personal core beliefs is compelled to grow.
Fortunately, people ARE capable of holding multiple points of view at one time (really!). And online technology IS capable of hosting multiple community spaces that can be, in some cases, rigidly separated, and, in other cases, overlapping to appropriate degrees.
So, blending tolerance and protocol, we need to allow for multiple protocols in multiple online communities, and travelers crossing boundaries need to be protocol-aware. A kind of meta-protocol is required, which asks people hosting communities to make visible their etiquette to visitors, and asks people visiting new communities to understand and follow the etiquettes of the communities they are visiting.
And there will always be special cases, where short lists of “do’s and don’ts” are not going to be sufficient, and some kind of simple, guiding maxim must be added.
We haven’t even talked in this essay about copyright and intellectual property in online communities, where the ability to express oneself through creative works such as art, music, clothing, products, scripting, writing, and ideas is enhanced more than ever. This issue is still evolving, with organizations such as Creative Commons now in place, and plenty of both fervor and thoughtful analysis available to be heard by all (see, for example, Kevin Kelly’s discussion of “the value of that which cannot be cloned”).
Sitearm Madonna is le nom en ligne for James Neville. Sitearm owns Siterma VWP Online Media Service of Development One LLC, is in-world registrar for the social-media college course, Is One Life Enough, is Development Manager for Dublin Virtually Live and Development Consultant for Solace Beach Estates, and provides tech support for FreePlay VL Online Journal – Music in 3D.