It’s been an interesting few days in the virtual community. Engaging, maybe? Maybe not.

My awareness of the complexity of online interactions has increased substantially recently. It all started when one of my Facebook friends posted a strongly worded, political status. There was some negative reaction, and the original poster was offended by the criticism. This person said something along the lines of this–if you want to contradict something I’ve said, then do that on your own page, not on mine.

Then, still on Facebook, I became more aware of something I already knew–there is a certain library community whose members aim to post thought-provoking topics of interest in the profession. This happens, frequently. What also happens, frequently, is that the discussion quickly deteriorates into name calling, personal insults, character assassination and the like. None of that takes much thought.

There were two recent blog posts about how librarians should dress for the profession. The comments on one post were mostly snarky commentary on how badly librarians dress in general. And the author of the other post had to include an update indicating the removal of at least seven comments that were simply insulting and without any value.

I won’t even get started on Twitter. I often hear the phrase “Don’t feed the trolls!” And yet some of those protesting the loudest seem to be waiting under bridges themselves.

I usually link to the comments I reference here, but I’m not going to this time. There would be no value in reading them. I’m also not interested in singling out individuals or calling anybody out. I’m all in favor of healthy, honest, constructive discourse. But when it turns into a diatribe against the person rather than the idea, or when it leads to a full-blown battle among participants, then it changes from discourse into disaster and disgrace.

Maybe it’s a chicken and the egg kind of question. In the first example I cited, was it unrealistic for my Facebook friend to post something provocative and expect no one to protest? Or does someone have a right to openly express their opinions online without fear of retribution? When is someone “trolling” and when is someone posting a genuine concern? Does it matter?

There is a vast amount of valuable information to be found in online communities. Why waste an international forum for opportunity and growth by using it to sound like an ass?

It’s one thing to be passionate. It’s another to be mean. It’s easy to be mean, especially online where there are few, if any, repercussions and sometimes no accountability. Maybe some are amused by that sort of thing or think it’s harmless. Maybe sometimes it is. Often it’s not.

My first rule of engagement is not to unless I have something of positive value to add to the conversation. Not that I haven’t broken that rule or been tempted many times to simply go off on someone or something that’s been said–something so outrageous that it’s hard to ignore. I’m not above being sarcastic and argumentative (just ask my husband). Disagreement can be a good thing and can lead to further understanding. Being combative is polarizing.

Maybe some will say I’m just trolling with this post. Feel free to post your opinion. And I will feel free to choose whether or not to engage. We all have that choice. I think it comes down to a matter of respect for yourself and for others. I hope this blog is respectful if nothing else. That is one of the things I miss the most about Will Manley’s blog. The conversation got heated, sometimes, but it was always thoughtful, respectful and professional. For the most part, everyone behaved like adults. I wonder if Mr. Manley looks around the virtual land of libraries and wonders if perhaps what he has to say or the way he says it is out of vogue or no longer relevant?

Good manners never go out of style and are always relevant.

Note: I haven’t forgotten about Lunch hour interview: View from the director’s desk. I have two interviews lined up–one for next week, and one in July. Look for those posts to continue the series.