As I mentioned in a previous blog, my first tentative steps into forum world was like walking into a Roman Arena and saying no-one told me there would be lions. Many get eaten alive on the first day. The old hands who have been there from the beginning, look down on newcomers as if they were stray cats who may or may not be infested with fleas. They have already formed their own little Gangs of New York with induction ceremonies for those who want to enter their inner sanctums. Knocking on the door with a blade between your teeth and a dodgy wink gives automatic admission.
The AOL Europe Board that was discussing the case of missing Madeleine McCann in 2007 was a free for all. It probably went largely undiscovered because of it's curious name. It was simply one of hundreds of specialist chat rooms that AOL hosted at that time and AOL began directing Madeleine discussion there. The beauty of it was, it was unmonitored and there were no admin.
When I joined in September 2007, groups had already been formed, pros and antis, and every day was a bloody battlefield. I kind of liked it, lol. It was an opportunity to reply to all the injustices in the world that I see around me. It gave me an opportunity to say 'hey, that's not right', and explain why it's not right. I'm not one of the silent majority, nor have I ever wanted to be. Prior to the internet I was a prolific writer of Mrs Angry letters to national newspapers and MPs (that I was mostly too lazy to post).
I was happy to take on the Right Wing and the Fascists on the AOL Europe Board, (they were in the majority) and challenge their loony views. I knew I had to don a suit of armour (borrowed from Henry VIII) before each visit, heck, I even encouraged the arrows by describing myself as a Marxist/Feminist, and my posts carried the tagline 'don't let the hand you hold, hold you down' (unknown). I love to challenge antiquated ideas about feminism, religion, actually anything subversive and any subject not open for discussion at polite dinner tables.
The Europe Board had a lot of established characters, some interesting and informative, some hilariously funny, some just plain spiteful and some who were completely off their trolleys. One group were on a mission to clean the place up by introducing new rules and regulations that we were all to do adhere to. They even began sending copies of our posts to Carter Ruck and threats to write to employers were frequent. In retrospect, some of the pros probably were part of the official Team McCann. Their tactics were exactly the same as those who compiled the death dossier.
Whenever a newcomer questioned the abduction story, they were instantly surrounded by 5 or 6 pro dobermans snapping at their ankles until they gave up or better still, obliged them a sensational quote for a headline. The pack would seek out perceived weaknesses such as mental health, disability, cancer, or problems with alcohol and drugs. All information carefully stored for future use when they went in for the kill. What I saw in the Europe Board certainly illustrated the dark, nasty side of the internet that everyone warns us about.
The strangest part was, the most vicious trolls, were nothing more than bored housewives, ladies who lunch and ladies who peek out from behind net curtains in the shires. Brenda Leyland was typical of the kind of people who follow and talk about the case of Madeleine McCann anonymously online. She wasn't a leather clad thug swinging knuckle dusters, she was just an ordinary middle aged lady.
Some of these women appear to be bubbling away like volcanoes ready to blow. All the anger and bitterness they hide so well in the real world, is unleashed in the alter egos they create to go online. Outwardly, they are almost Mrs Bucket like, with their spick and span houses, yes dear husbands and solid British values. They have to put themselves up on those highly polished pedestals in order to look down at the rest of us. They probably have hair that stays rigid in a gale force wind, wear American tan tights and speak in squeaky little girl voices that stopped being cute when they got past the age of 6. (Grown women who speak like little girls irritate me - I want to slap them).
Some might ask why I stayed there. I ask myself that all the time, lol. As bad as the AOL board was, it did eventually find its level. We had some great debates that went on long into the night and we had some great laughs. The main issue that reared its ugly head each day however, was censorship with lines being drawn between those who wanted rules, guidelines and some topics to be off limits and those, like me, who said go boil your head.
Sadly, in most forums, once the discussion/debate begins to heat up, the thread is locked. Admin taking the decision to send the naughty ones off to cool down whilst urging those who remain to play nicely. Fortunately no-one on the Europe Board had that 'power' over anyone else. Nor could they censor or remove posts they didn't like. If they had, I probably would have started my blog much sooner than I did - I refuse to be bound! I am sure in a previous life I was probably Joan of Arc (loopy enough) or the warrior(ess) Boudica , maybe even the Spartan wife of Gerard Butler (I can dream :) ). As a little girl growing up, there were very few female role models to look up to. But that is another feminist subject for another day, but got to say, loving the new Jessica Jones series where a female, for once, is empowered!
When the AOL boards closed down, I wandered into CMoMM. It took me a long time to actually join in the discussion, because even then, it had ferocious guard dogs in the form of Aguila and Plebgate and those who worshipped at the altar of Tony patrolling the borders. Once in, I quickly learned that I would have to be inventive if I were to stay within house rules. I convinced myself to hang on in, because I wanted to be there when the truth about Madeleine's disappearance finally broke. And there have been many times over the years, when the more optimistic of us have seen an end in sight.
I joined some of the Facebook groups, but my commitment fears extend just as much online as they do in the real world and I am reluctant to sign up for anything. And once again, my carefully thought out and non libellous contributions were swiftly removed by those who believe they know what is best for their members. Most groups it would appear, eventually become one tracked and exclusive. It is inevitable if you do not permit alternate views. For the sociologists out there, it is probably textbook stuff, but it's enlightening nevertheless.
Gang mentality sadly, flourishes at every level of society. It exists in boardrooms and genteel coffee mornings just as much as it does in the back streets of Peckham. The gang leaders may not have tear drops tattooed on their cheeks but their victims are just as abundant. Gang mentality begins in the playground, several kids gather together and one or more are excluded. The isolated child acting as a warning as to what will happen to those who don't conform to the group. It is a brutal lesson, but it is one we should remember. Should add gang mentality is prevalent in organised religions too.
Unfortunately, owners and admins of forums and facebook groups are trying to keep the majority of their contributors happy - an impossible task. They censor and remove posts because they don't want any friction in their forums. Well ho hum, if you've got no friction, you have got nothing to talk about! And isn't it a bit strange that those constantly calling for peace are in the thick of every row?
There is nothing wrong with having a difference of opinion. What a boring world this would be if we all thought and acted the same! And what a freaky world it would be if we all remained static, having the same views at 90, as we did when we were 20! Those with their opinions set in stone have called a halt to their education, they have limited their world to the tunnel vision they see through their blinkers. They would be sad, if they were not so cruel.
Unfortunately, on forums these malcontents are mostly successful, because they achieve what they set out to do. Halt discussion. Especially in the case of Madeleine McCann - in the early days, every discussion about the abduction was swooped on by patrols of McCann
As for a new forum, I don't think it would be for me. Posting in a forum or facebook group is like typing with one hand tied behind my back and I'm tired of it to be honest. I want to 'talk' directly to my readers, and I want them to be able to 'talk' directly to me. I don't want their posts or mine to be hacked about by someone in the middle. I know that sounds a bit harsh on those who have put up with me, but I hate to hold back on what I am saying for fear of offending anyone. Here, I don't have to. When people ask me for the truth, that is what they get! I want to offend people, I would prod them with a large fork if I could! And people who demand the right not to be offended deserve it the most! I want to make them sit up think! My regular readers know what they are letting themselves in for, and if the newly offended return for more, they have no-one to blame but themselves! :)
Ps. Regarding the glitches over the weekend. I inadvertently changed my blog from an open forum into Google+ and lost all my comments! I then went into meltdown pressing buttons galore and making the situation a zillion times worse :( Fortunately, son performed an intervention and order was restored, lol. To the conspiracy theorists already discussing the notion that I removed all the comments so I could furiously edit them before putting them back. Seriously?