[Editorial] The Truth About Online Discussion

I’ll admit, I frequent phone-related online sites and forums.  I do it for two reasons: to help people with their problems, and to advertise this very site.  One thing I do not use online sites for is to pick a fight.

I see fighters all the time - people who are upset about something, people who are looking to vent their frustrations, and people who simply want to be a jerk.  Usually, I try to avoid them.  But sometimes, their statements are so outlandish that I find myself wrestling with the need to respond.

The truth is, online discussion is flawed.  Hell, even this site is flawed, despite our best efforts.  But at the end of the day I fall asleep comfortably knowing that I’m trying to do right by those I talk to.  I’m not a fight picker.  But I have no problem being a cause taker.

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Not every site is created equal.  Some have good rules and guidelines in place.  Others do not.  Some are free-for-alls with no moderation.  I tend to find myself on those with competent moderators who monitor discussions to make sure they don’t get out of line.

The problem is, some of those unmoderated sites have people saying the most outlandish things.  Some feel like their carrier is out to get them.  Others can never be satisfied.  And some more just want to see themselves complaining.  These people get defensive when someone challenges their statements.  And when statements can contain just about anything under the sun, there are plenty of opportunities to challenge.

One of my biggest pet peeves is Facebook.  I’ve browsed many of the carrier sites - both official and unofficial ones.  Facebook provides discussion forums for most any entity.  Some of those entities monitor their pages.  Most do not.  On Facebook, the discussion to open to anyone.  And because it’s unmoderated, people can come up with some very interesting complaints.  They’re so hilariously funny that I’ve struggled to avoid posting on them.  I’ve gotten on my friends’ cases about their own posts in these forums.  Instead of putting water on a fire, they seem to bring gasoline.

Tonight, I broke down and posted on a few of them.

I try to be civil.  I try to do the right thing.  And I know all I’m going to get for my efforts are claims of my allegiance to Verizon or some other carrier.  I get that - I’m the one who stepped in this crud, and I now get to deal with it on my shoe.

I just wish it weren’t that way.

The truth is, most online discussion is ugly.  Most of it is inane and illogical.  And most of it draws people in and finds support from those who probably have little to complain about.

We like complaints.  It makes us feel good to get them out.  It makes us feel justified when something doesn’t go our way.  And it boils our blood just enough to pump some adrenaline into our blood stream.  But it skews the truth so far out of reality that it’s hard to know what’s right and what’s wrong online.

If you have a legitimate complaint, let your company know about it.  There are civil ways of doing it.  If you have an emotional complaint, tell someone you know personally about it.  They’ll certainly be more sympathetic than thousands of strangers who agree and disagree with you, and have no qualms about patting you on the back or calling you out.

Reader beware - online forums are not an accurate representation of reality.  Read them with the understanding that what you may be seeing is written through the eyes of someone with an axe to grind.