For the German-speaking people on my flist, here's fan article
on Spiele Online
about an argument that got out of hand in the
German wikipedia version, that makes you (well me, anyway) want to
bang your head against a wall because it is all so very familiar. Oh,
the art of discussing on the internet. Everyone is ALWAYS right, and
if they are finally proven that they are not right, they still are
right, and also they are leaving!

"I'm out of here!"

*runs off and creates sockpuppett*

Hell, there's a wank going on in almost every youtube vid about
corvette acceleration (which, uhm, I was totally not looking for.
Really.), where random strangers throw expletives at each other
because they have different opinions on whether a corvette or a Ford
Mustang/Ferrari Maranello/Porsche
GT3/other-stupid-car-clearly-not-comparable-to-corvette is the better
sports car.

And of course the danger of getting involved in internet projects, be
it social projects like lj or informational projects like wikipedia.
Becoming enthusiastic about a project, building something, getting to
know people with the same goals and interests, maybe even becoming
real life friends with them. And then, other people come,
outsiders who don't have the same goals, who bring change where
you don't want change, and you slowly, but inevitably, become more and
more disappointed, and you fight and argue and discuss, and there's
yelling and wanking and well, your usual internet-discussing, and, as
the article says, at one point, you'll need to distance yourself, but
it'll leave you disappointed, disillusioned and bitter.

Hands up if anything like that has ever happened to you.

Cause I know it has happened to me. Not on a large scale, but on
smaller scales. Discussions I had to leave with a stale sense of "you
are all idiots and I'm right, but I just can't be bothered to find
arguments against the same dumb thing over and over again." I've seen
it happen to countless people. I'm sure there's a not one, but twenty
wanks going on right now, right this moment, that will end with a "I'm
leaving! You are all idiots anyway!", and that's just in fandom alone.

If there is one thing the internet taught me, it is that no matter how
right you are, you can never convince everyone that you are, and, oh,
also? You are never right.

I wonder, does this culture of "non-arguing", this habit of telling
people they are idiots rather than basing one's opinion on a real
argument, have to do with basic human nature? Do we do this because on
the internet, we can, because here we are protected by anonymity anda
are outside of the "normal" social boundaries? It has to be, or
otherwise we'd be behaving like maniacs in real life as well, wouldn't
we? And I don't know anyone (well, almost no one) who behaves like
people behave on the internet in real life.

Let me give you an example:

Imagine a scene, Monday morning, a fairly crowded subway. Someone
steps on someone else's foot by mistake.

This is how the scene would (normally) play out in real life:

"Excuse me, you are standing on my foot."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
*person moves foot away*
*maybe (if it isn't Monday), the two persons involved will even
exchange a knowing and suffering grin at the common experience of
being in a crowded subway*

This is how the scene would play out on the internet:

"Excuse me, you are standing on my foot."
"So? I can stand wherever I want, this is a free country!"
"Yes, but it's my foot."
"Says who?"
"Well, it is attached to my leg."
"Even if it were your foot, and I'm not saying that it is, I can still
stand on it. This is a free country."
"But you are hurting me by standing on my foot."
"Well, if you don't like it, you don't have to put your foot underneath mine."
"Well, excuse me, but this train is rather crowded, it's not like I
put my foot there on purpose."
"Nobody is forcing you to take this train at all, if it is too crowded
for you, take another train."
"Well, I can't, you are still standing on my foot."
"Where I can stand if I want to, because this is a free country."
"You said that before. But it is still my foot."
"It is still a free country."
"My foot."
"Free country."
"Did you just call me an idiot?"
"I'm calling the police."
"I'm leaving, you are all idiots, censorship, internet revolution!"
*storms off*
*foot is now free, but still hurts somehow*

I wonder if people's tendency to call each other idiots et al. on the
internet and to escalate each and every argument they can find, be it
about the future of mankind or the haircut of Harry Potter, is a
consequence of some deep human need for conflict and for hurting
others. Like in the Standford-Prison-Experiment, where some people
will show sadistic tendencies when they feel they are not being
watched, internet discussions draw people who like to yell at each
other - if they aren't watched.

I don't know what these people are like in real life, but I'm pretty
sure they are normal people like you and me. Who knows, maybe my
secretary spends her free time getting into fights with people on cat
forums? Maybe my boss does?

I'm not saying we should all hold hands and get along. And I'm not
saying that I don't like conflict. Oh, I'll argue anything, and there
are very few things I enjoy more than a good argument. But, that's the
thing, I enjoy a good argument. Not a ridiculous, repetitive
one, where I end up being called an idiot.

However, and I'm finally getting back to the article I linked to at
the beginning of this post, it's kind of reassuring to see that the
insanity we see in fannish "discussions" is the same all over the net.
And the article gives some really good examples of how things escalate
the way they do (just to give you an example: one of the women spend
two weeks researching a library to prove that the other guy is
wrong.). One woman who is some sort of famous wikipedia user
(seriously? famous wikipedia users? Is that like the wikipedia
equivalent to a BNF?) concludes that everyone is fighting for the
truth, but in the end, there is no truth.

Which is oh-so-very true.

As for the reasons behind the insanity?
If you ask me, it's basic human nature. The article doesn't say that,
but it's interesting to learn a bit about the persons involved in such
insane arguments and their motives/thoughts about being involved.

I leave you with a famous fannish quote:

"The truth is out there."

And out there.
And there.
And over there.
And look, there's more truth there, and it even comes in different colors!
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