Some thoughts and observations about the perilous minefield of unspoken community standards, and editing your own words.

Unspoken Community Standards

1,275 words.

Unspoken Community Standards

Another post I normally wouldn’t write or finish, but it’s Blaugust. It’s the time for publishing stuff you wouldn’t normally publish.

I witnessed some of a kerfuffle on a Discord server the other day, and it got me thinking about the unspoken community guidelines and etiquette that always develops in any community over time.

Unspoken Community Standards

The actual subject of the controversy doesn’t matter for this post, but for the record it was about J.K. Rowling and Hogwart’s Legacy. Not quite in the all-time hall of fame of human controversies–not with the likes of abortion or gun control–but certainly a topic fraught with deeply-held, personal beliefs.

Now I know better than to mention Harry Potter or its author in this Discord, but I’ve been around these folks for quite a while, and I’ve gotten a sense of which subjects are likely to be greeted with acceptance and which are going to make eyes roll or tempers flare. This is a subject for which a lot of these particular Discordians have very one-sided opinions, and they aren’t terribly secret about it. In other words, it’s not going to generate a lot of productive discussion, and nobody’s going to change anyone’s minds.

There’s nothing particularly wrong or unusual about that. It’s human nature for communites to develop community rules, and it’s human instinct to gather with people of the same beliefs. But it’s not exactly advertised on the welcome sign. “Welcome to the server! Nobody wants to hear about Harry Potter here.”

To be fair, this particular flame war was mild by Internet standards, and could have been a lot worse. It’s actually kind of refreshing to see an argument on the Internet that doesn’t end with everyone blocking and banning each other into oblivion.

I suppose there’s not really a point here. I think the kerfuffle in question was handled as well as it could under the circumstances, and I have no notes.

I guess it’s just a reminder to be careful when you go talking about potentially sensitive subjects on a public Discord until you’ve gotten a feel for the prevailing community standards. And if you’re part of the community, keep in mind that not everybody has been in the community long enough to know the unspoken rules yet. I don’t know if Discord has a place where a server can post a list of the unspoken server rules, but that would be a cool thing to keep up-to-date.

Changing The Public Record

In another related topic, I also noticed what seems to be an online cultural shift that nobody told me about: After a big kerfuffle, it’s apparently standard practice for everyone to change their published remarks and articles after finding out they aren’t popular.

After the Discord kerfuffle, comments were edited or deleted, and blog posts were edited and re-released to make them more palatable.

I don’t know when that became acceptable practice on the Internet, but there was a time when bloggers, especially anyone in the area of news or politics or journalism, definitely did not edit their posts after they were published, unless the edits were clearly marked and there were good reasons to do so. Bloggers in olden times fancied themselves “citizen journalists,” so they prided themselves on using the same sort of journalistic ethics you’d find in newspapers.

Things have changed. Now, if you say something wrong, it seems to be not just okay, but standard operating procedure to delete your tweet or edit your post.

It’s something that would never occur to me. It feels like crossing an ethical line. It’s what shady politicians do. It’s a deliberate obfuscation of your words to the public. How could you ever trust anything someone says if you know they’ll just change or bury it whenever the mood strikes them?

When I want to change or alter something I’ve previously published, I always leave the original intact and add an addendum, or clearly mark what I’ve changed with a strikethrough or brackets. (99% of the time it’s a spelling or grammer mistake.)

If I wanted to tell the world that I’ve changed my mind on some position, I’ll link to my original position and write a new post to explain what’s changed. (I can’t think of any examples where I’ve done this, because I don’t go around blurting out my stated positions on everything, because why would anyone do that?)

I hope I’ve matured enough in life not to do this, but if I were to write a post that unintentionally offended a lot of people, I wouldn’t delete it, I’d link to the original post and write a followup post. There’s one illustrative example I can think of, which is a critical post I wrote somewhere in the mid-to-late 2000s, back in those heady days when “hot takes” were known as “snark,” and blogging was all new and it was exciting to be able to eviscerate people who had no chance of responding. (Seriously, “eviscerating” was a popular word back then.)

It was a post about some far-away news in a different state, something I forgot about posting immediately, but then one of the people involved in said news came along months later and left a comment on my post with a decidedly different point of view. I felt horrible about it, because to me it was just something fun to write about, because you’re supposed to write about something, right? But to them it was the most important and stressful thing happening in their lives, and I remain embarrassed and ashamed to this day that I inadvertantly caused some harm to those people. It was a pivotal moment in my blogging career, the moment that I truly learned, in the most unpleasant and visceral way, that other people can read and be affected by what you write on the Internet. I imagine a lot of other long-time bloggers have a similar story they could share.

But the point is, that post is still up where it’s always been, just as I originally wrote it, with all the comments intact. (At least I think so, I haven’t actually checked.)

That’s … normal, right? It seems normal to me.

Except in rare circumstances, it shouldn’t be normal to feel so much fear over someone finding out you once said something unpopular that you feel the need to erase it from everyone’s memory, and it certainly shouldn’t be normal to make it easy to faciliate those kinds of erasures. (Incidentally, nobody’s going to be in those rare circumstances unless they’re either campaigning for office, working in PR, or a sociopath.)

But the times, they are a-changin’, it seems. Ugh. A Bob Dylan quote. What a horribly dated way to end a blog post.

Addendum 8/27

Naithin mentioned a few things that made me want to add an addendum to this post, but it became really long and rambling and I started to turn it into a whole new post, but then I sort of lost interest, and also it’s vitally important that I play Baldur’s Gate 3 in every available moment of free time, instead of writing, so I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to actually posting it.

In a nutshell, this post came across a little more judgy than I intended it to. I definitely didn’t mean to come across like people shouldn’t change posts if they need to, and I especially didn’t mean to imply that people shouldn’t change their positions. It’s normal and healthy to reevaluate one’s positions on things from time to time and make revisions as circumstances change, and more people should do that.

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