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Doing Facebook Better
[05/08/2015] [Randall]

The latest blowup on Facebook—this one about whether or not the Duchy of Nine Willows made the right call in suspending Monkey for refusing to take off "terrorist" garb—has encouraged lots of people to express their opinions on the matter. It being Facebook, the discussion has spiraled just about out of control, and I'd be surprised if the main thread hasn't got a thousand comments already. And there's a lot going on in the discussion—but the nature of Facebook has made it difficult to keep everything from getting entangled. In some cases, people seem to be disagreeing for the sake of disagreement, finding some small or irrelevant point on which to make a one-sentence stand, lighting up alerts icons on thousands of screens across America. And so the cycle continues.

Breaking it down a bit, the core issue has one of two possible sad scenarios: either Monkey intentionally dressed in garb he believed would make himself look like a suicide bomber, or he didn't, but the officers of Nine Willows interpreted his Arab-inspired costuming as him dressing up like a suicide bomber. Both possibilities are appalling. Amtgard has got to be more welcoming than this.

Thankfully, despite having a wretched signal-to-noise ratio, it seems like there is consensus on Facebook. Amtgarders generally think this sort of bigotry has no place in our game. (As for the costume itself, I showed a picture to an Egyptian friend. The response was a quiet meh.) So, despite a few isolated Amtgarders mumbling about how turbans equal terrorism, the vast majority of the game seems to be horrified. It's just hard to tell with all the apparent disagreement going on.

The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder issue is a little fuzzier. The problem here is that many people, not just Amtgarders, have ideologies that resent and reject what they call "social justice warriors." They categorize analysis of social problems as whining, and interpret objections to bad situations as people taking offense. Of course, an individual person may be offended—rightfully so!—if you're making fun of them, making this sort of juvenile perspective another version of saying "it's a joke, bro" after doing something inexcusable.

As for the rest of us, objecting to bad behavior isn't about being offended. It's about right and wrong, and doing the right thing for Amtgard. That's why these folks wanna make it about taking offense, because then they can shift the discussion from the bad things they're doing to someone else's allegedly thin skin. First, they do something bad; then they make fun of you for calling them on it. This is like smoking in your friend's car and then calling them names when they get upset.

How does this matter to Amtgard? It matters when people make fun of getting triggered, or post about how the person with PTSD might be triggered by anything, or make fun of the situation in general. This is hostile behavior, and it's not cool. We shouldn't make fun of people with mental health issues, and we shouldn't act as though their mental health issues makes them a potential psychopath. Thankfully, the moderators of Amtgard clamped down on this sort of bad behavior quickly. And, if the massive number of likes on Kaads' post prohibiting such ridicule is any indication, that's what Amtgard wants.

But it can be hard to tell, can't it? Facebook gives everyone equal access to the megaphone, and manipulates all of us into posting responses as quickly as we can. A thread where there is agreement among the vast majority of Amtgarders can descend into a shitfest if just a handful of users can't resist firing off their (frequently misinformed) two cents on whatever is the issue of the day.

This reminds me of the recent implosion on Twitter that resulted in Joss Whedon deleting his account. Whether or not he did that for the reasons some suspect. . . well, I was talking to a non-Amtgard friend about this the other day. He commented that the Internet has so much we seldom see when we surround ourselves only with good people, and when we're isolated from the hordes of social media participants—and he's not sure he'd be able to put up with the signal-to-noise . . . no, signal-to-shit ratio you get as a public figure on places like Twitter. He said he'd quit too. I asked him what an acceptable rate of shit parts-per-hundred in his Internet would be. One? Yeah, he said, I could do that. How about ten, I said. That's when he said he'd be out.

If Amtgard has belligerently bad communicators trashing its public venues even a little, we could be in similar trouble. Facebook is here to stay, and its effect has already been felt in forums far beyond our game. That doesn't mean we have to accept it for what its worst users demand. Imagine:

  • We introduce ourselves in our posts. We shine some light on who we are, where we're from. We dismantle the perverse anonymity of Facebook.
  • We never say no, or you're wrong, or false, or incorrect. If we disagree, we do so by posting our own view.
  • We ask questions instead of give answers.
  • We are kind and understanding. We see things from other perspectives.
  • Unless it must be confronted, we ignore what we cannot tolerate. Typing up your response and then not posting it can be just as satisfying. Try it.
  • We click hide on posts we can't abide, and move on.
  • We read before responding. If there is already a good answer, we click like. Everyone throwing in their two cents only buries things in pennies.
  • We post when we can add, never when we will subtract. We post after a period of reflection.
  • We have conversations, not debates.
  • We click "turn off notifications" now and then, and walk away for a bit.
  • We post thoughtful opinions rather than one-liners.
Amtgard has done this before, although it required work. Back when the Circle of Monarchs had not many rules for discussion, hours could be wasted on topics where there was near-unanimous agreement. Everyone had to say their piece, and everyone had to counter the one lone vote that was never going to win. It was a waste. It produced negativity where none needed to be. So we fixed it. With the Circle of Monarchs, the solution was easy: we pre-voted everything, making our agreement obvious. With Facebook conversations, the change is harder, and will take more patience. But I think we can do it, and we start by not getting tricked into debates where there is no significant disagreement.

With this sort of approach, it may be easier to tell when we're all agreeing that it's racist to interpret Arab attire as "terrorist," or inappropriate to make fun of people with PTSD. It may be easier for us to notice that it's just a handful of people who barely play Amtgard stirring up social media. It may be that the coarsening of our discourse can be reversed, and we see each other as Amtgarders instead of random strangers on Facebook. It may be that we understand where people are coming from, or why they're speaking on certain topics, or what their background on a topic might be.

Howdy. My name is Randall Andalsa. I am from Dragonspine, where I started in 1992 back when we were a duchy of the Burning Lands, and where I still play every week. And I think all that stuff I listed is worth doing. Amtgard relies on the Internet for our communication—so we should communicate the best we can, with the most opportunities for understanding. Sure, we can fight and compromise and shout down fringe views. But consensus is so much better—and we'll only get there if we start speaking the same language. That means taking down the barriers we're unconsciously putting up—barriers that Facebook encourages us to put up. We can do that together, but only if we stop having the conversations we're being tricked into having, and start doing something better.

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