N00B Handbook for Surviving Forums, Message Boards, & High School

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It turns out that everyone online isn’t as nice as you. Some people are online to prove how smart and funny they are. Unfortunately, a sizable minority of these people also just happen to be jerks. On Twitter yesterday, Karen suggested it might be because of a lack of women participants or moderators.

Most bullies are dudes

While I can’t offer evidence to support or reject Karen’s jibe regarding lack of women, I do have some experience with moderators.

Having Moderators Doesn’t Fix Everything

I remember high school quite vividly. Even though I was one of the bigger kids, I was frequently targeted for bullying. Actually, it was probably BECAUSE I was so tall, that I was targeted. Thinking back, it’s hard to picture the school without the teachers, principals, volunteers, and other adults. No, the hallways policed themselves. I think online communities are much the same. The community generally follows the lead of the moderators. And sometimes the moderators themselves are jerks!

So what’s a N00B to do?

My first piece of advice would be to go the home-school route, or just change schools! That’s right, leave the forum. It’s what the bullies want. After they get their blood, they want to see you tuck your tail and leave whimpering. Just skip all that bull-crap and go to a different forum where people are respectful and nice.

But Jeff, this site is the ONLY site that can answer my question!

Ok, here is how to gird your loins for battle!

Urgent Help!?! You might as well take a bath in ketchup

  • Google, Google, Google. Then search some more. The worst offense a N00B can commit is to ask a question that has been anwered before. Some moderators have even taken the step of embedding these FAQs in the footer of each post in the forum. Unfortunately, you need to know WHAT to search for to get your answer. At least do a keyword search of the message board and read through the first 3 pages of results. Only after doing so, post your question.
  • Tell a story. The more information you provide, the better. Identify yourself as a N00B, but also include how you ‘Googled for 10 hours to no avail.’ If it’s a technical forum, include all the technical specs of your environment. Include steps to build a reproducible scenario. The more you do here, the more respect you will be given.
  • Don’t bring your homework or interview questions. Urgent! Need help today! This is like chumming the water near a seal colony. You are begging to be eaten alive. It’s really obvious that you are trying to get someone else to do your work.
  • Unfortunately, just like High School, doing everything ‘right’ is no guarantee that you won’t be bullied. So, while having a moderator won’t be a guarantee for civility, NOT having a moderator is just as bad. It takes a lot of work though to run a message board correctly. I read a great post this morning about how it’s YOUR fault if your message board is full of A-Holes. It’s a great post because it also has a list of steps to take to ensure you build a respectful and helpful community.

    I’m a moderator on a few boards at Quest, and I have had to ask another moderator to back off before – not something I relished! More frequently I have had to delete posts and ban their authors. But, my first rule is also Dalton’s 3rd rule from Road House: “Be nice.”

    I remember that the people asking these questions are probably the same people who are buying our goods and services. We have a fancy term for these people, it’s called ‘customers.’ So even when they do annoy me with the N00B questions, I try to always answer the question respectfully. My favorite response is a ‘Yes’ followed by a Google link that returns their answer as the first result.

    Hey, I may be a jerk, but at least I’m a polite jerk.

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