Unsociable playground spats

When I was a primary (elementary) school teacher, one of the jobs I hated most was playground duty.  It meant losing your precious lunch or break ‘downtime’ to wander an always hot and dusty playground, often trailed by kids who liked nothing more than to tell tales on one another.  You had to keep an eye out for a little knot of kids; it almost always signalled a gathering over a new toy being proudly shown off, or just a game being played or a meeting amongst a gang of friends. It could also – and on rare occasions I’m glad to say – be one of those horrible physical kid fights – punching, rolling on the ground, always followed by tears and recriminations. You had to intervene, sort it out, dust them down and send them on their way with stern admonitions. It was also a lesson for me in reading the body language of everyone involved, even the onlookers, who were mostly shocked, teary and very very partisan – everyone had an opinion to accompany the pointing finger,  “S/he started it, miss.” Ah, the days in the old schoolyard!

Sometimes things get a bit rough and tumble in social networks too, and emoticons notwithstanding – you know these 🙂 🙁  – you can’t read the body language of the respondents, so it can be difficult to know who are the trolls or trouble-makers, and who just don’t have the social or linguistic skills needed to put a case.  Last night on Friendfeed – normally a fairly safe haven for robust discussion – a brainstorm session which I’d responded to was ‘interrupted’ shall we say by someone who was trying to put a counter argument. The big kids in the playground didn’t care for his contribution, and so he was ‘blocked’ – bye bye troll.   At this point I left the group and wandered on, glad I wasn’t on playground duty any more, but disappointed at the outcome of the discussion.  Shame though that some big kids still haven’t learned how to play nicely.

How to survive online possum-stirring*

A guest in the garden shedI wonder at the naiveté of people who publish material to the web, and then spit and scratch if it appears somewhere else ‘out there.’ I also think people who cut and paste clearly private or sensitive material from sites to other more public forums deserve all the un-friending they get – a sort of cyber standing-in-the-corner-till-you-learn-to-play-nicely approach.

By all means stir the possum, but know what you’re doing before you pick up the stick. Possums really bite and scratch when cornered.

I write having read some reasonably combative commentary by people passionate about a particular subject, and triggered by a blog post (not on this site) which referenced an earlier event.  Back and forth it went … angry at times, reasonable at others; mean and generous spirited in fairly even measures.  Sane and forward-looking, nutty and self-centred – typical you might say of the kinds of debates that flare up from time to time on the web.

What I found interesting was that the two things which really irked those who bothered to comment were firstly this issue of what’s appropriate to post and what’s not and in particular to share others’ so-called private (although named) off-guarded comments from one forum out into another. The second touched upon choosing whether or not to publish under one’s own name. Seems most of the participants appreciate a name to go with a blow, whether fair or underhand. Can’t say I disagree about that.

Cowards, bullies and cry-babies are just as distasteful in cyberspace as they are in real life. Kiss-and-tellers aren’t much fun either.

* ‘Stirring the possum’ is an old Aussie saying which refers to livening up debate, or creating a disturbance.