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Warning: This is a long post and contains a lot of information. You may or may not agree with the content of this post. Regardless of your feelings, please do not reply to this post right away. Take the time to think about an appropriate response, if this issue is important to you.
Do you like Jon Katz? If you're a regular reader of /. (Slashdot), you know who he is. Quite often, his posts meet with vicious, rude, and insulting comments. Katz is hated by many on /. and they often express this hatred in ways that, frankly, are not worthy of third-graders.
Is this what we must be reduced to?
I am not going to mention any names because I don't want this to become a pointless thread of accusations and counter-accusations. That is not my intent (of course, if you've been around for a while, you'll know who I am referring to). Instead, I would like to solicit the opinion of other Monks regarding how we can deal with this issue, and I will also offer my own thoughts.
I came to Perl Monks because I had problems with some Perl scripts I was working on (big shock, huh?). I stayed because I was pleased with how friendly and helpful the other monks were. If Perlmonks becomes another Slashdot, I will leave. Here are just a couple of examples at how things have gone:
One well-regarded Monk posted a warning about another Monk's bad code. He posted his warning in a huge font with the word "warning" in the title. Naturally, monks rushed to see what the warning was, only to discover that the problem was a potential infinite loop. Many felt that the warning was deserved, but that the huge warning was alarmist given that the problem was only an infinite loop. (If there was also a security problem, the poster of the warning did not make this clear)
To make a long story short, there was a lot of ugly discussion in the Chatterbox and a useless thread that caused the original poster to edit there post to be more acceptable to other Monks. In the course of this, I saw a lot of name-calling and general unpleasantness. In fact, at least one Monk said (and I'm paraphrasing) that the if the users of the site don't like what they see, they can pick up their toys and go home. Ironically, that "Monk" had been around for a while, but had never contributed to the site by posting.
[At the request of the author two paragraphs were removed to respect the privacy of the Monk used in this example ]
Why is it that people who are often polite in real-life become inconsiderate jerks online? Were they beat up too often in high school? Is it an inferiority complex? Or is, as another Monk suggested, a reflection of who that person really is? Regarding my first example: I'm not suggesting that the original poster was a jerk. He was just expressing his viewpoint, albeit in a way that many did not care for. It was his "defender" who I feel was out of bounds.
When I say "jerks", I don't mean a negative response to a post. It is sometimes appropriate to point out when someone wrote bad code. Sometimes we need to tell someone when their 600 line post asking questions about C++ is inappropriate for Perlmonks (I made up that example). But we don't need profanity. All of you reading this at work through a proxy which logs "naughty" words can appreciate this. Further, we don't need to be insulting. You don't get your point across by calling someone an "idiot" and then proceeding with your rebuttal. They stop listening at the word "idiot" and start thinking of a defense or counter-attack. If you disagree with me, it's because you're an idiot.
I know, I know, someone's going to respond to this and say "I oppose all censorship". My first question is: if you met Ghandi, would you tell him to f*** off just because you could? If you were not a Christian, would you tell a Christian nun to f*** off for saying "God Bless You"? Probably not. But are you censoring yourself? I think most would agree that you're merely being polite. While those are extreme examples, we can probably scale those examples down until we find some level where you don't mind saying f*** off to someone. And my point?
Being considerate of the feelings of others is not censorship.
If we disagree with someone, we don't need to be insulting or use the seven dirty words. We can simply point out our reasons and let it lie at that. Often, when someone posts a rational rebuttal, interesting debate arises. Yet when we post flames, the resulting thread often degenerates to a point where no useful purpose is served. How can we stop this on Perlmonks? It's a user-driven community, but I, for one, will not be a user if we drive into the gutter. I suspect others may feel the same way. I go to /. now only to read the news. The comments are often so juvenile and vulgar that I'm not willing to wade through it. If Perlmonks is just a "town square", we cannot, and should not censor the contents. But if this is a place where people voluntarily congregate for the specific purpose of building a Perl community and discussing Perlish things, why shouldn't those same people set standards? If we continuously have to deal with juvenile comments, will the nice monks leave? Will only bullies be left on the playground? This is Perlmonks, not Perlkindergarden.
Incidentally, if anyone has checked out some of the stuff on my homepage, then you know that I'm not exactly an "establishment" type of guy. I am, in many respects, a very rebellious, open-minded individual. But being rebellious and open-minded does not mean being a jerk. Remember Martin Luther King, Jr? (That's an illustration, not a comparison)