Firstly, especially considering the nature of this forum, it's better than most of the diverse forums I visit. However reading most threads from the sidelines, and only sometimes getting involved, it's a shame to see the occasional comment that seems to cross the line and descend into either a personal or veiled 'dig' at someone else. Some of this may be intended, but some of it will simply be misinterpretation.
The Human brain is designed for face to face communication and picks up on all the infinite, subconscious, signals that are given off by others, such as the tone of the speaker’s voice, body language, facial expressions, etc.. Our brain’s ‘social circuits’ seek to ‘synch’ with the signals we pick up form people we interact with face to face. This creates a mutual ‘neural dance’ that keeps people speaking together on a reasonably similar emotional wavelength. The result is we get a rapport going and even when we disagree we don’t (often) get confrontational.
In stark contrast online communications contain none of the nonverbal messages that add nuance and valence to our words. The words we type online lack the rich emotional context we would be conveying face to face. It has been demonstrated, by scientific study, that recipients tend to (mis)interpret positive online messages as more neutral, and neutral ones as more negative, than the sender intended. This is especially true, and marked, when (healthy) criticism or (appropriate) challenge is being received. Allied to this is that numerous studies show that people sitting alone typing internally “hear” the necessary emotional overtones in what they type, but none of these cues will be sensed by the recipient. As we know, it's the main reason why those lifesavers we know as 'smileys' and 'emoticons' were invented, to enable the emotional context of online communications to be better expressed.
How best can we counter the 'why'?
What does this mean in practice and in relation to this forum? Well, to me I think every other member is is a shill and a troll!...but I’ve no doubt many people think the same about me! It’s simply the nature of the beast and a consequence of the content of this forum. In my opinion Madeleine almost certainly died on or before the 3rd May and the subsequent playing out of events, that we are all familiar with, is without doubt an emotional topic, albeit to different people for different reasons. Some are emotionally inflamed more that a crime has been committed against an innocent child and the perpetrators are still at large, whilst others are perhaps more inflamed by what the implications that any cover-up says about the freedom and equality and lack of justice within our society. Wherever emotions are involved people can sometimes be less able to see eye to eye and get their points across.
What matters is that this forum has a wealth of facts and pertinent links buried in its threads. It also has a wealth of very informed members with memories for the minutiae of relevant points.
Facts are immutable… and where facts are unknown certain things can be reasonably considered to be more/less likely than others, (but are, of course, still up for varying degrees of debate as appropriate). In addition new information surfaces about players and organisations linked to the case and needs to be fed into the forum.
Then there’s the enormous melting pot of ideas, views, suggestions and theories. It’s this area that’s open to interpretation where emotion can cloud (for good or ill) opinion. It is thus where potential friction occurs.
The ‘Forum Rules’ reiterated a while ago by Smokeandmirrors spells out the ground-rules of how we have to interact… our behaviours and minimum standards. See link: Forum Rules
However, to keep the ‘melting pot of ideas’ rich, valuable and interesting is to create an environment that:
- Encourages an open mind and open thinking
- Encourages ideas and theories to be presented
- Robustly and healthily challenges those ideas and theories using facts, logic and rational thought
- ... but somehow... ensures we all remember (on both sides) that: “Recipients tend to (mis)interpret positive online messages as more neutral, and neutral ones as more negative, than the sender intended and is especially true, and marked, when (healthy) criticism or (appropriate) challenge is being received”…and therefore far more often than not no offence was intended!!
The problem for all forums, especially ours, is that last damn point, and our Human brains that can't avoid but mis-read each others’ (invariably) well-intentioned retorts!
At least to me, the one biggest thing we can do to ensure the last point is achieved is to NOT GET PERSONAL, no matter how frustrating the thread may be!
We’re a team here… There are ‘ideas people’ that have a penchant for thinking new things and suggesting new connections, and there are those that lean towards picking holes in those ideas, (I’m definitely in the latter category… much as I’d love to be in the ‘ideas’ team!), and of course a few highly valuable members that have a foot in each camp! It is only by encouraging open thinking and encouraging ideas that we’ll ensure things aren’t missed and old theories are bought up to date as new info arises, or alternative interpretations of existing info occurs…and it is then only by ardently and effectively challenging those ideas and comments that we’ll relegate the worst of them to the dustbin, and be able to sieve out what’s left into ever better ones… ultimately we’ll be keeping the most robust ones at the fore and at the sharp end of our collective focus.
We’re a team here… but there are also (no doubt) some shills. However, if we follow the Forum Rules, and do all we can to create an environment of healthy challenge that's focused on the facts and the logic and not on the individual whose ideas are being challenged, and we try our best to never get personal, (despite the subtle, or less than subtle, provocation!), then the shills will be less able to derail threads with their spurious contributions.
It's easy to derail a thread and to troll a forum... but maintaining a 'professional' and focused approach (as most often, but not always, prevails here!) is the way to highlight disruptors so as they stand out ever more clearly.
So... In summary, (keeping things brief has never been a strong point of mine!): Can we try and make sure we don't intentionally get personal in the threads, as it's hard enough with people naturally (mis)perceiving comments and taking things personally (especially challenges) where no offence was intended?
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