Monday, January 18, 2010

On Rebuilding a Community

Last week, a minor disaster struck.

I'm not downplaying what happened in Haiti; I'd certainly never call it a "minor" disaster and I'm still trying to sort out my thoughts about that, particularly because it turns out that some people I know and care about have a very personal connection to the earthquake, having lost a young relative to it. Perhaps I'll write about that at another time, but for now, I'm going to be talking about something that occurred in my personal life early last week.

Without getting into too many personally-identifying details, last week a message board I posted at regularly was destroyed by somebody, apparently in (as Inspector Clouseau once said) "a rit of fealous jage". Whether or not the jealousy was justified, I cannot say—I don't think it's really any of my business, anyhow—but because the person who destroyed the board had access to an administrator's name and password, the end result was the obliteration of nearly two years' worth of memories, fun and even some creative work. At first glance, it seems a bit odd to be calling the end of an online community a "disaster"; after all, very few of us have ever met in real life. But, as much as I can say this of people I've met online and don't expect to ever see face-to-face, I have considered them to be friends. The destruction of our little online "home" was met with shock and anger—not at the people whose alleged behaviour was the excuse for doing this, but at the vindictive little twerp who decided that because we were part of the same community as these people, we deserved to be punished as well.

I know this because many of us had added each other as friends on Facebook, and because (rather fortunately) the owner of the boards that were destroyed had never given up her admin privileges and was able to put up a couple of messages to us, give us a place to vent about what happened and a place to decide where to go from there. She wasn't interested in rebuilding her own board, but many of us felt that a new board would be a welcome thing. So because nobody else actually seemed to be putting a board together, I did it; I had a lot of spare time that day. It's been slow taking off—I think a lot of us are probably still in a minor state of shock over our old discussion board being gone—but somehow, I think it'll be all right. We have this place for discussion when we want it, and most of us are in touch in other places.

So here we are, almost a week later; besides occasional minor moments of faint panic because I know practically nothing about being a board administrator, I've often found myself thinking about our response to what happened. The people who were accused of a certain type of bad behaviour have been relatively silent; one has said very little to any of us, and the other has left a message with someone who did make the move to the new board saying that they weren't going to join and that they feel very bad about what happened. Some people were disappointed by these two; one even said that she felt betrayed somehow. My own opinion is that they really should have known better if it's true, but in the end, it's really all the fault of the person who decided to punish all of us for the transgressions of only two people. It really is amazing at how durable online friendships can be if they're nurtured in the right way. When I saw the destruction of the board, my first thought wasn't for the discussions we'd lost. It was for the potential breaking of our little community. It started with discussions on another site about a mutual favourite TV show; when the rules over at the first site became too rigid to allow real conversation, somebody set up our board, where off-topic discussions were frequent but always ended up straying back to the original point somehow. Sometimes we'd come to each other with our problems and complaints, and even when no solutions were offered, sympathy was always forthcoming. We had fun teasing each other, and overall, it was a friendly, safe community. When the board was destroyed, I was afraid that the community would be, too. But most of the regulars seem interested in keeping in touch, and in the past week I've come to have faith that because many of the people who were at the old board are now at the new one, we'll be able to build something like it there, if we put the time and effort in.

I'm not sure where I want to go with this reflection. Mostly I'm surprised—and pleased—that we're not going to give up our community without an effort to keep it together. That asshole destroyed our old forum. But however hard they tried, they couldn't destroy the community, and I think that the best revenge that we could possibly have is to keep in touch and not let that nasty little louse tear us all apart.

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