I’ve been involved in on-line discussion groups about the Civil War since 1996. We got our first Internet access that year, and Susan discovered the Gettysburg Discussion Group for me. The GDG is the oldest, and probably largest, of the on-line discussion groups. It’s the granddaddy of them all. I signed up, and have been a member for most of the intervening decade. As the years passed, I started my own group along with old friend Teej Smith.
We started as an e-mail discussion group. I am the co-moderator of that group, although I tend to leave much of the day-to-day moderation to Teej. The e-mail group is very small, by our choice. It has only about 100 members, of whom probably 30 are active participants. We’ve kept it mostly to those whom we want to be involved, and nobody can join without my approval. It’s still an active, ongoing group.
The e-mail group eventually morphed into a second discussion site. In 2004, we launched forum boards also. I pretty much run the forum boards myself, although Susan is a huge help to me. The forum boards have well over 300 members, and there’s actually not much overlap in the memberships of the e-mail group and the forum boards. That means that we rarely have repeated discussions, which is great.
I’ve also participated in another couple of similar forums over the years. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. I’ve also seen a lot of tendencies.
Every group seems to have a real “know-it-all”. One group has the worst offender of all. To protect the guilty, I will call him Fred for these purposes. Now, I know Fred personally. One-on-one, or in very small groups, he’s actually a good guy. He’s a great guy to sit down with and have a meal, quite charming and a good conversationalist. However, Fred’s got a real problem. He has a REAL need to be the center of attention. He combines that with an enthusiastic embrace of every new off-the-wall theory to come down the pike. If it’s a new theory, it must be right.
That’s in part because Fred feels the need to develop new theories of his own in order to remain in the limelight. So, he spouts off with these bizarre and unsupportable theories that real experts laugh at because they’re so off the wall. And when someone has the temerity to challenge him–to call him on his BS, in other words–he responds one of two ways. He will either deliver a sermon about his decades-long journey of self-discovery of the truth of what happened, and will then congratulate himself on how great his scholarship is and point out that everyone else is obviously on a lower plane since they can’t see the Truth.
His other standard response is to adopt an extremely insulting and condescending tone that stops just short of being a flagrant personal attack, dress it up in a veil of trumped-up courtesy, and then wait for the recipient to be offended. It’s obviously a calculated thing, because it happens all the time. Then, when the poor unenlightened fool responds angrily, he takes on the role of the martyr with a hurt tone. To make things worse, Fred’s got a group of sycofants who will defend him, even if he is being rude and insulting. Why? Because the angry recipient of one of Fred’s broadsides had the gall to respond in a less then courteous fashion.
It’s pretty much akin to the kid who starts a fight on the playground and then steps back to watch the chaos that he or she has created without so much as throwing a punch himself or herself. It must be terribly rewarding to know that you’ve created such chaos, and then to step back and enjoy it. Fred’s a master of it, and it simply evades my understanding why (a) people tolerate him and his tactics and (b) they rush to defend and believe his nonsense when it’s just that: nonsense. I don’t get it.
I’ve always tried to remain as hands-off as possible while moderating. I typically won’t interject myself unless I absolutely have to, and then it’s with great reluctance. I’m very fortunate to have a group that knows the rules, and generally keeps to them. I’ve only ever had to excommunicate a couple of people in all the years I’ve done this, and I’m quite proud of that. Being a moderator is one of the most thankless jobs I can think of, so I’m especially proud of the communities that we have forged. For the most part, we all like each other, and there are almost never problems like the ones created by Fred.
On-line discussion groups can be a great place to share information and ideas if the rules are followed and if you’re fortunate enough not to have a Fred to foist his nonsense on everyone and then insult everyone who doesn’t buy into it. Then, it can be a thoroughly unpleasant thing indeed.Scridb filter