Why does it happen? Why does any community have a limited shelf-life? It seems that most online communities at least, have a few years as a blazing, bright star, before they mellow into a brown dwarf and finally fizzle like a sparkler on the 4th. Sad but true. The sadness is proportional with the former brightness and warmth of the dying star.
The sadness was briefly illustrated in a post made on Motorcycle Alabama this weekend, until it was removed. I believe I remember what I was thinking when I posted the new thread(I was hammered). It was mostly sadness and disappointment, but also a bit of anger. The anger comes from thought of the hours/years spent building the community with the help of several dedicated and motivated people that shared my vision. Seeing the activity decline to this point motivated me to say something. Was it well said? Of course not, I was 3 sheets. I could barely find the keys to type my rant. Was it inappropriate? Meh? Was it honest? They were my thoughts, even clouded, they came from my head. Was it controversial? Sure. Why else would I join in the discussion? Was I angry my thread was deleted? You bet!
So what is my plan to deal with this slight, this slap in the face? Most likely my evil plan will begin and end with this post, as I really have not given the topic much thought until this morning. I am still sad tho? I am sad that there exists no local online place for real conversation about motorcycles, or real conversation about anything anymore. I am not even sure there exists such a place nationally/internationally? With the ever increasing sensitivity to exposure to new ideas, it seems that the reaction is to limit controversy. It has never been more apparent than it is today that there is a wall being constructed in this country. This is not a border wall, but it creates a very strong boundary nonetheless. The wall that is being constructed is a metaphor. The boundary it creates is much more dangerous than a physical barrier.
The wall is extensive, but it has gates, and gatekeepers. The gatekeepers make judgments on what ideas can pass thru the gate. This is where the problems exist – judgement. When the media gates close, ideas cannot move from one mind to another easily. Ideas are trapped in the mind(s) of the creator. Dialogue, discussion and debate are suppressed, and progress is halted. Bubbles form. Walls get thicker. Opinions and ideas are hardened. Ideas are no longer about truth, they become identity. If you do not possess the same ideology, you are not “one of us”. You do not belong in our group, our bubble, or our side of the wall. Go back to where you came from, heathen!
The demise of hugely popular communities like Geo-Cities, MySpace, and now sadly G+, have left a void of connection. The void was filled by Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and the like. Unfortunately, Facebook still grows. It’s success due in large part the user’s ability to create walls. Users on Facebook can limit how much interaction they have between people and ideas they disagree with. They can also form and join private and public groups, just like we do in society. In addition, Facebook still regulates speech thru moderation, removes offending content, speech, and even users – banned – permanently. Facebook uses humans and algorithms to delete controversial content and users, many based on subjective “rules” of behavior. I have no real problems with standards or rules. If I don’t like your dress code, I will visit more casual establishments. If your town gives me a ticket for 3 miles over the speed limit, I do not return. I do not have problems with moderation of my speech. I have problems with hypocrisy.
I understand issues related to online communities, I have built several successful, active, and thriving communities. They all did very well until sadly, I lost interest. The last one was here on Bama Rides. At the peak, several hundred people visited every day, some were members, some not. I learned quite a bit, made many friends, and even a few enemies, mostly from moderation and limiting speech, oddly. So I get it. It’s hard to walk the fine line of fairness. Hypocrisy is the default. We are human. We have emotions, opinions, and ideas that are VERY rigid, and difficult if not impossible to change. Even for gatekeepers.
So what is the answer?
My answer is stop caring more about feelings than conversations. Stop building safe spaces. Allow people to pop your bubbles and other’s. Tear down the walls. Allow idea migration across the rigid boundaries of groups, identities, emotions, and ideology. The ideas you disagree with are filtered, it’s a natural process for humans apparently. The problem arises when you open your space, your platform, and your media instrument to the public. Regardless of the fact your platform is a private institution, you are opening to the public, for public interaction. When you make poor subjective choices about speech on your platform, you are denying speech to individuals or groups that you disagree with, or, that are unpopular or controversial. When you deny public speech to any individual or group, you are de-platforming.
Deplatforming has become a very effective tool used against unpopular or uncomfortable speech. The major problem with deplatforming is hypocrisy. This tool is unequally applied. Rules are rules, and if Terms of Service or rules are broken, violators should suffer the consequences – equally. The tool is most often used against conservative voices, and then labeled “hate speech” or “bullying”, and a variety of other buzz-terms that most times seem a stretch to rational people. I have found many things offensive online, but have always voted with my mouse, or my thumb. The idea of having any person that disagrees with me over taste, and not being able to see, hear, or read someone else’s thoughts really disturbs me. It should disturb you too, or it will when those chickens come home to roost.
I would love to read your thoughts below, even if you disagree with me?