I often see Stack Exchange Q&A sites called “strict” (and less polite words). WordPress Stack Exchange, which I moderate, or other stacks.
When you dig into such grievances, they tend to fall under the following:
- there are rules;
- rules say something you don’t like;
- people say you are supposed to obey rules;
- yes, seriously, obey rules.
How is this “strict” rather than “normal”? We live our lives inside constant constraint of rules. Social and legal.
How is Internet the place where rules are reason for disdain? And kicking door in with a boot is a social norm of arrival to a site?
A lot of negative aspects of online behavior had been attributed to anonymity of experience. It isn’t wrong, but the anonymity ship had sailed.
These days people are much more comfortable putting their names to what they do online. Often even when that action reflects poorly on them.
I have a hunch that it has less to do with lack of repercussion for doing something. And more with lack of feedback on how it affects the people you are doing it to.
Very few people will have the guts to walk to a stranger offline and speak critically of their work (or hobby, or gender, or skin color, or…). They would consider many more parameters as well, such as how much punch in the face is likely answer.
Online it’s just text. It is hard to remember there are people behind a text, when you are trying to. When you are not — it doesn’t even make you pause.
While it is easy to blame the visitor, solid portion of the blame goes to the other side. People who own the sites, but forfeit to own what is going on at their sites.
Bulk of forums tend to devolve into toxic playgrounds, where moderators and old timers are too occupied with power plays. There are rules, wielded like a crude club to hit people on the heads.
Even classic open source “patches welcome” is often rightfully interpreted as thinly veiled “fuck you”. When rules and workflows only serve people, who rejoice in playing them against others.
As result of accumulating such experiences, people start to perceive rules online as something inherently antagonistic to their needs.
Put foot down
There is no fixing the Internet. There is easy fix to a small corner of it you might own.
Make rules and make them matter. And when people try to kick your door in — let them know they are not welcomed. Yes, seriously.