That’s a question I ask myself a fair amount. Sometimes I ask it about myself, and other times I’ll read a comment or diary or post and ask it about someone else.

When I ask it about myself, I’m usually trying to sort something out. “What is it about this place that draws you in, Peterr — and draws you in not just to read, but to comment and to write?”

The big reason I came to FDL, like many old timers, was because of Scooter Libby and the humor here. OK, the two reasons I came were because of Scooter, the humor, and defending the constitution. . . . AMONG the reasons I came were Scooter, the humor, defending the constitution, and the amazing collection of folks who also came to FDL.

Once upon a time, FDL was a little, one-woman blog by Jane. It’s gone through several major technical evolutions, has had a procession of guest and regular posters, and now has MyFDL — a community site where just about anyone can post their thoughts in a diary.

FDL grew, because people became engaged with one another. For me, the engagement came with the feeling of “Damn, I wish I’d said that” or “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking, too” or “Wait a minute — what about X?” after reading a post or a comment, and it grew each time someone said “Welcome” or “thanks for that” or “OK, but did you ever consider Y?”

We are a very mixed group of folks around the ‘Lake. We have folks who are employed in all kinds of fields, as well as self employed, unemployed, and retired folks too. We have large families and small ones, some are old and others young, some with little formal education, others with advanced degrees, and still others with everything in between. Folks here espouse all kinds of religious beliefs, including no religious belief at all. We have oldtimers, newcomers, and many in between.

What we share, though, seems stronger than what separates us from each other. We share a lot around here, and not just about politics, the law, and the Constitution. Though we argue and debate, at times with great passion, we also care for and take care of each other, and that’s part of the charm of the place.

Until we don’t.

When I see comments filled with ALL CAPS, shouting at others, I cringe. I didn’t come here for the screaming, whether I agree with the screamer or not.

When I see people being insulted and called “capos,” it’s not just a violation of Godwin’s Law, but an offense against the community. I didn’t come here to be insulted or to see insults slung around.

And when I see anyone except Jane claiming to speak for all of FDL, I laugh. Even (as I look upwards in this post and see my thoughts about “we” at FDL) when I’m the one doing it.

For a community to not simply survive, but thrive, there must be mutual respect — especially between those who disagree with one another. Toward that end, let me offer a few thoughts on etiquette around here — not so much rules as much as a description of the way things seem to happen at FDL.

Abuse: For as long as I can remember, FDL doesn’t take kindly to anyone bashing the posters. You can go after their arguments, offer a smack-down of their clearly mis-informed opinions, or otherwise engage their remarks, but gratuitous, ad hominem insults and threats are a big no-no. Similarly, any references to doing violence to others, especially public officials, will not be tolerated in the least.

Staying on topic: Generally speaking, comments are expected to relate to the topic of the thread, especially at the beginning of the conversation. This is basic respect for the person who took the time to put the post together. Some threads are more strict about this, like the Book Salon discussions and the liveblogging threads, and off topic comments should be kept on a different thread in deference to the guests.

Snark: In most posts and diaries, folks at FDL seem to like the tone of the comments to match that of the original author and the topic under discussion. If an author is speaking seriously, the questions and comments usually follow suit. Similarly, if the post is filled with snark, the comments will no doubt return the favor.

Two of my favorite FDL-isms over the years are (1) Got a link for that? and (2) Do not feed the trolls. The former is either a solicitation for more information, or a prod to someone to document a claim with which someone disagrees. The latter is a plea to the community to live up to its standards.

What’s a troll? Trolls are folks who come by to hijack a thread by ruining the discussion. Think of an angry drunk shouting and throwing food around at a nice dinner party – that’s a troll. Trolls are looking for attention, and seek it by being disruptive and abusive.

I didn’t come to FDL for the trolls.

Spotting trolls is easy enough. They are the folks who are not interested in building a community. They do not care about their fellow commentators and do not treat them with respect. They do not care about creating the conditions for effectively making a difference in the world. They care about being right, and about others admitting they are right. They care first, last, and always only about themselves. If left unchecked, trolls kind of make everyone else want to pack up and leave.

I didn’t come for the trolls.

Over the years, FDL has used a variety of means to keep the trolls at bay, but by far the best is for the community members to hold one another to account for how we treat one another. Ordinary good manners go a long way around here, and saying things like “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” and “sorry about that” are always a good idea. Extraordinarily good manners are also welcome, as when someone pipes up to say “Peterr, I love ya, but you gotta quit calling that Eli guy a loon. He’s wrong, of course, but calling him a loon doesn’t help matters.”

In her book The Monastery of the Heart, Sister Joan Chittister OSB speaks of how communities are built and sustained. She writes

It requires that we explore and support the gifts of each in conscious and committed ways.

It demands that we work together to release one another’s gifts to strengthen the communal voice.

[snip]

The community binds itself together for the sake of learning from the wisdom of all.

[snip]

Identifying and choosing good leaders is of the essence of community building. We will become what we choose.

I don’t know about you, but I choose not to be a troll and have no wish to hang out with trolls. I might privately flag a comment that is way over the line, or send an email if I know the commenter personally. I might, politely, suggest that the behavior that strikes me as trollish be dialed back. One way or another, those who see the community’s standards being eroded have to step up — not to feed the trolls but to bear witness to the community’s standards of behavior.

That witness also includes praising the best among us for their constructive words and actions. Recommending good diaries, praising good and thoughtful comments, and lifting up the best our community has to offer will stand in stark contrast to the words and actions of trolls.

When the community does these things, those who engage in trollish behavior have a choice: adapt or be banned. In the face of repeated warnings from the community, no one will be surprised by someone being banned by continuing to violate the standards of this place. The only surprise, for some, will be why it took so long.

I didn’t come for the trolls. I came for the puns and stayed for the passion. I came for the community that has grown up around a shared desire to help our nation identify and choose good leaders that respect the constitution and the values it lays out in the preamble.

We will become what we choose. I’m here, because I choose to be in the company of people who want to work with one another to make a difference in the world.

But that’s just me.

Why are you here?

_____

image h/t to christoph.grothaus.