Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wednesday Wonders #11: NOBODY

I’m going to vent and share some opinions now. Your mileage may vary, and you are free to disagree with me. Polite and respectful comments will be shared! And you, my readers, always seem to be polite and respectful. Thanks. (By the way, the free clip art image you see is supposedly an angry knitter, though she just looks mildly perturbed to me.)

Sorry friends, but I don’t feel like anyone is a Wednesday Wonder today. In fact, I’m pretty much unhappy with the World of Internet Knitting right now. I am very disappointed at a lot of stuff going on in knitting’s largest online community as well as outside of it right now. I’ll just summarize what the official post on the site said, which is that some people had behaved badly on the site, and when their forum was shut down, they went to a private site and used it to somehow “disrupt normal site activity.” (Going to a private site is FINE—using it to plan attacks on others…questionable—and I oughta know—I’ve done it myself in non-knitting contexts, and gone through a lot of self-examination on account of it.)

My newer readers won’t know this, but at one time I helped design and then was the “super moderator” of a large online community. I have dealt with my share of disruptive activities, rudeness, and unhelpfulness. I know how hard it is to write community guidelines, how hard it is to set procedures for giving warnings and for finally banning people, and in general how difficult it is to moderate disputes. I also know there are certain types of folks out there who actually enjoy raising a ruckus, poking at people, and generally causing a wee bit of trouble. I have a LOT of sympathy for the nice young people who run the site. I have been in their shoes, and I have faced the wrath of people who hate any perceived authority and run here and there crying “woe is me, I’ve been treated unfairly,” and blabbing one skewed point of view on a topic, while you have to zip your mouth and take the high road and not engage them in dialog (also known in my old circles as “airing your dirty laundry.”

I have no doubt that some people one one side of an issue went out and joined groups on another side, just to pick on them or take offense if something wasn’t worded perfectly. I have no doubt that this also took place going the other direction. Neither behavior was constructive, nor would either tactic in any way convince members of one camp that they ought to convert to the other side (really, would YOU change your mind if someone got in your face and called you names? Of course not). And besides that, none of this helped people share their love of knitting or crochet, share patterns and yarn ideas, or help each other with craft issues. No, it just divided people into camps. They’re dividers, not uniters! (I am so witty, nay?) None of these folks are Wednesday Wonders.

But that’s really not what made me sad. This sort of thing happens in online communities all the time. Why I am sad is that some rather harsh consequences were meted out that had some really awful repercussions. Users were banned from the online community. Now, that is a reasonable consequence if warnings are not heeded and behavior persists. Most people apologize and back off when confronted with their mis-use of a community. Some don’t. Then they get banned.

But, not only were the people engaged in the behavior banned, anyone who was ever a member of some group was also banned. I guess that’s the only way to make sure everyone who did offensive things gets removed, but it also means people who were members of a group but never participated were also caught. I actually don’t have a problem with that—people could write in and explain, and I am sure a reasonable administrator could check records, see they’d never said anything, and let them back on. The worst, though, is that any IP address ever used to log on with one of the offenders’ logins was also banned. I personally know at least three people who suddenly found themselves banned from the site having never had a warning or anything (because they weren’t members of the problem group). Their crime? They let a knitting friend log on while visiting their home. Guilt by association!

But you know what? I have no clue what groups many of my knitting friends are members of. They could be racists, sexists, homophobes, godless heathens (oops, that’s me), radical fundamentalists, believers in alien abduction, pro-choice, polygamists…heck, how would I know any of this if all we’ve talked about is wool vs. acrylic? I don’t know the beliefs of all my blog readers, either. They just want to read knitting stuff and an occasional bit of a Suna rant. I sure would not want to be banned by Blogger because someone they didn’t like commented or something!

So, I am not happy that these folks who just happened to know someone with ill-behaved associates got thrown off without warning. I am also unhappy that they didn’t get a chance to download their data. I have 289 items in my stash all nicely categorized on the knitting community, and records of 195 of my projects carefully dated, notated, photographed and labeled. I would be mighty, mighty upset to no longer have access to that data (you can download an Excel spreadsheet of your stash, but there’s no way to save your project info). I’d be upset enough to whine and complain to all my friends…which is exactly what is happening, and making matters worse. This is leading to people on my email lists getting up in arms and saying they’ll leave the community in support of their friends, or un-list designs of theirs that they have shared. What a mess that could turn out to be! I love checking out my friends’ projects, seeing what their favorite patterns are, etc. And I won’t be able to do that if they leave in a huff.

Darn, darn darn.

I figure I’m relatively safe. I have only posted to forums 281 times, nearly all on the topic of something I knitted. I removed myself from the “godless heathen” forum, because I know sometimes testiness occurs there. But gee, I hate feeling unsafe and paranoid in my pleasant online community. And I hate the idea of losing contact with friends there.

Because I try to “assume good intent,” I will hope that people inadvertently caught in the cross-fire will be reinstated. And I will hope that maybe, just maybe, people will have the maturity and grace to stop sniping at and saying unkind things to people whose views differ from theirs (OK, it’s just a HOPE). Maybe knitters will learn to let people who share common views discuss them in peace amongst themselves. Maybe administrators will learn from this and be less heavy handed in the future, even if that’s hard to do given technological constraints. And maybe, instead of trolling in other people’s groups to try to irritate others, knitters will go knit something.

If we all just stuck to our knitting, we’d have a chance of being Wednesday Wonders.

I wish you all peace, love for your fellow human beings, and good knitting. And crocheting. And tatting and quilting. You get it.


  1. I wonder if you are talking about R*****. I have never had a problem there with unpleasant people, but a 73-yr old knitter friend did. She is not terribly computer savvy, but was trying to enter information on her projects when she first joined. She went to some sort of help line (0nline) and said, after she asked her question, "HELP!" She didn't know that typing in caps was yelling,and several people who work AT R***** went berserk, sending her nasty messages and calling her names. Very unpleasant and unnecessary, and certainly not helpful. I don't understand people like that. What is wrong with them??? (If it wasn't R****** that you were discussing, sorry for the rant)

  2. I assume you are talking about Ravelry, which is really, really too bad. I didn't use it much, but when I did, I found it to be a wealth of wonderful information and inspiration.

  3. The users who were kicked off first got in trouble for things like hate speech and threats, which escalated to having to close down their group (due to lack of moderator willingness to curtail the behavior that was against Ravelry policy and which had been addressed by Casey et al. multiple times). In reaction to this, they went off site and started a group which continued to malign Ravelry and also came on to Ravelry to start problems and continue with their previous unacceptable behavior.

    Some people were "caught in the crossfire" as it were, because the banning from Ravelry itself was done per IP address (a very normal way to go about things). Those people have already had their accounts restored as of today.

    Please stop fearmongering. The Ravelry rules and guidelines are not much to ask. Hate speech and threats are clearly against the rules and there is no reason that they should be tolerated on a site which is a private-run business. All one has to avoid in order to not be kicked off is hate speech, threats, and persistent spamming. Is that so onerous?

    And I don't mean hate speech like, "I don't like Democrats" I mean pure, vile, hatred and threats directed at specific groups based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and political beliefs. There is plenty of lively debate on Ravelry that happens without any need of interference from the Rav powers because it happens in groups that are well run by their moderators.

    It has also been posted that a new framework will be put in place for bannings so that any banned users will be given notice before the actual ban occurs.

  4. Wow...I have no idea what's going on there.

  5. Amanda, I think telling facts, neutrally, and saying you can see both sides of an issue is not "fear mongering." It is not illegal to express an opinion about events that affect you on your own blog. I believe I stated that warnings were reasonable, etc. And since no one I knew was reinstated when I wrote the post, the fact that some might be back now is nice, but not relevant. The consequences of a bunch of people leaving are still true, and still make me sad. And I still would not use the IP address method, for the reasons I stated.

    But, of course, thanks for your comments and interest. I appreciate hearing all sides of an issue. I don't appreciate squelching discussion of things that matter to people.

    Anyway, that's the last any of you will hear from me on the topic!

  6. Oops, one more thing. I do want to re-iterate that I really, really respect how hard it is to moderate an online community! And I think there should be firm consequences to violations of any community guidelines! I've had to do it myself, which let to plenty of criticism of me. And that's fine--they are welcome to their opinions!

    And I wanted to point out that I am utterly and completely aware of how many groups and such there are, and that many get along nicely. I've also seen ugly stuff, but chose to move away, as anyone has a right to--nothing's perfect!

    Thanks again for allowing me to say what I think, without censorship and being told "we aren't supposed to talk about that."

    I am sure everything will work out fine in the end, and the sun will shine and knitting will be good!

  7. Hugs, Suna! It really was an awful thing all around. It ruined what was supposed to be the most exciting and wonderful week, heck month, of my life. I hate that it happened. I hate that it had to happen. I hate that we humans still have so far to go in Wednesday Wonder department. I would have thought we were a bit more mature. I loved this post and how you wrote it.


Suna says thanks for commenting--I love comments!