Editorial: We Are the Problem and We Are the Solution

I remember when I was first invited into the Sansar closed beta in December of 2016. That early community consisted of content creators who had been contacted by Linden Lab and asked if they wanted to take part in the beta test, and many of us eagerly accepted the invitation, even going so far as to recommend other people that LL could contact to add to the community.

It was a heady, exciting time. People were feeling energized and invigorated by the challenges of working on a brand-new, VR-capable platform. We used Slack as our main means of communication, as well as meetups in Sansar, and together we worked to test things to see what would break, and to report bugs and make suggestions for improvement to the team at Linden Lab. Jenn was out first community manager, working double-duty between Second Life and Sansar in those earliest days.

It’s now August 2019, thirty-two months later. Slack was replaced by Discord. Jenn went back to Second Life full-time, and was replaced as Sansar community manager by Eliot, who in turn was replaced by Galileo. Many new features have been added to Sansar in that time.

Many of the people who were heavily invested in the earlier days of Sansar have pulled back, or pulled out of Sansar completely. Each had their own personal reasons for doing so. Some left because they were frustrated at what they saw as slow development of features that they considered fundamental. Some left because they didn’t like the way that Linden Lab was running things with respect to fees and payments. Some left because of harassers, trolls and griefers, either on the Discord or in-world. Some left because they felt they weren’t earning enough money to make their work worthwhile. Others left because they just felt burned out, and they needed a break, and they simply never came back. And all of these are perfectly legitimate reasons. Communities grow and change over time. Some people leave; others join.

But I have noticed a particularly troubling and dispiriting trend in the Sansar Discord channels lately. In the early days, disputes and arguments were relatively few, and (usually) quickly settled. But the number of disputes, attacks, arguments, and just overall ill-will has risen sharply in recent months. People seem to have shorter tempers, and they seem to be much more likely to start attacking each other personally. And I’m as guilty of this as anybody else.

The earliest members of the Sansar community knew that things were not perfect, but almost all of us felt that Linden Lab was working hard and in good faith to fix the bugs and add the features we wanted to see for Sansar to be a success, if not immediately, then in the future. But now, it almost feels like everybody’s patience has been stretched too thin. We (and I do include myself) are quicker to take offense, quicker to lash out, and quicker to assume ill intentions from the actions of other people and from Linden Lab itself.

This is a problem that can’t be resolved just by moderation on the Discord and ejecting troublemakers in-world. Galileo and Lacie and Harley are good moderators and bouncers, but they can’t be around 24/7/365, and they shouldn’t have to be.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

The problem is us. I—we—all of us—need to stop and look in the mirror before pointing fingers at other Sansar users, or at Linden Lab. We all need to address what we do in that infinitesimal gap between the trigger incident that made us upset or angry, and the response we choose to make. The response we CHOOSE to make. Hiding behind a username or an avatar is no excuse.

The solution starts with us. We need to communicate in ways that build people up instead of ripping them down. We need to disagree in ways where we don’t attack other people. We need a return to manners, civility, and etiquette. We need to emulate the behaviour we want to see in newcomers to our community. We need to become better people.

Behavioural scientist and researcher Jessica Outlaw has started a nine-part series on how to build a strong culture in social VR. So far, she has posted the first 3 parts:

Please take the time to read Jessica’s articles, and please reflect on what we can do, individually and collectively, to make the Sansar community the best place it can be. We are the problem, but we are also the solution.


How to Effectively Deal with Conflict in Online Communities

Early this morning before I left for work, I had to step in to intervene in a three-way conversation on the RyanSchultz.com Discord about a technical issue, which was rapidly turning into a heated disagreement. All sides of the argument had very strong opinions, and after another angry debate later today, one of the parties chose to leave the Discord completely, despite my pleas to stay.

Which led me to ask myself: what is the best way to moderate online communities when people start to argue? And how can you have a civil disagreement without having it devolve into arguments, accusations and people leaving the community, never to return? (Please note that I am not talking about trolls, griefing and harassment, which are an entirely separate topic.) So I went and did a little research…

And I found a very useful post from the SocMedSean blog, ten tips for knowing when and how to avoid an online argument:

  1. Learn Thumper’s Rule: If you can’t say something nice, then say nothing at all.
  2. Don’t argue just to argue: “Community managers can spot them a mile away. Trolls who like to just stir the pot and start arguments. They’re the bane of our existence and when I spot one, I give one stern warning and then have no problem clicking the Ban button when they do it again. If you’re there just to argue, then go someplace else. If you’re there to contribute and enjoy the company of other people, great. But don’t be a troll. No one likes  a troll.”
  3. Know your position and how to defend it: “Do you really believe in the argument you’re making or are you just attacking the person who is disagreeing with you?”
  4. Think about the community: “Before you go off on a rant, think about whether the content is actually useful to the other members of the community. If not, keep it to yourself or find the right channel to express your point of view.
  5. Consider how others would view the discussion and your behaviour
  6. Consult with the site owner or community manager
  7. Learn to agree to disagree
  8. Consider learning from the person you are debating
  9. Be you…the real you: “Understand that who you are online should be reflective of who you are in real life. Ask yourself, ‘if I held this argument in person over a beer, would I be saying the same things?’ If the answer is NO, then stop typing. Don’t say things online that you wouldn’t say in-person.”
  10. Back up your position with real, verifiable facts

Neobela, one of the members of the RyanSchultz.com Discord, summed it all up in a couple of words:

Howard Rhinegold’s Brainstorms (where many folk from The Well landed) had only one community rule: “Assume Goodwill”. That pretty much covers it all if you think about it!

Part of the problem with online communities is that you often don’t have things like tone of voice or facial expressions to add to what the person is typing. This can often lead to tragic misunderstandings. And it’s surprising how often people forget this. It’s always better to ask and confirm what someone is saying, rather than make assumptions. (Again, I am not talking about dealing with trolls and griefers.)

So, what tips and tricks have you found helpful in dealing with conflict in online communities? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or even better, join us on my Discord and continue the conversation there!

Intolerance and Social Media

Today I had to ban the first troll from the official RyanSchultz.com Discord server, for posting racist and homophobic statements and then denying she had said anything wrong (i.e. gaslighting). I am getting truly fed up with the amount of hate and prejudice I am beginning to see on most social media, and I will not hesitate to pull out the banhammer if I see it erupt on my Discord. This person was banned and all her posts deleted.

My rules for the RyanSchultz.com Discord include the following statement which I essentially lifted verbatim from Linden Lab:

Intolerance: This server encourages social interactions between users across multiple countries. The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation is prohibited. Actions that marginalize, belittle, or defame users or groups are similarly prohibited. Hate speech of any kind is prohibited.

I have frankly had enough of the toxic stew that many social media platforms have become. I have left Facebook, and Google+ will soon shut down. I have, for own sanity, blocked Donald Trump on Twitter, and I am spending a lot less time there (although I do still cross-post my blogposts there, and I will continue to do so). I feel like taking a good, long vacation from all social media, except my blog and my Discord. I may just do that.

I think we all need to stop and think hard about this monster we have all had a part in creating and sustaining, and what kind of negative impact it is having on society. Some people feel they now have a platform to spread misinformation, lies, and hatred with impunity, and we must all do our part to stand up, call them on their bullshit, and put a stop to it.

NEW: I Have Joined Patreon!

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? More details here

Ryan Schultz Patreon 21 Nov 2018.png

Well, as you can see, it’s been a week of expansion here on RyanSchultz.com! In addition to launching my new Discord server, I have joined Patreon! Here’s my new Patreon page.

I myself am a proud $5-a-month Patreon supporter of the creator of the wonderful Piggu Second Life mesh avatars, Jonathan and June (here’s a link to her Patreon page). And I’ve finally decided it’s time for me to take the fund-raising plunge myself!

In case you’re wondering, Patreon is a simple way for you to contribute to support my blogging (as well as the upcoming Metaverse Newscast show), and get great rewards in return:

Bronze Patron

(if you donate $1 or more per month)

Every single dollar helps support RyanSchultz.com! Your rewards:

  • Read patron-only content on my Patreon page: special messages, news, and views only for my patrons!
  • Participate in special patron-only text Discord channels on my Discord server! Think of it as your own members-only salon 😉

Silver Patron

(if you donate $5 or more per month)

This is where you really start to see benefits! Your rewards:

  • Read patron-only content on my Patreon page
  • Participate in patron-only text Discord channels
  • Participate in regularly-scheduled live Discord voice discussions, with Ryan hosting! PARTY LINE! 🙂

Gold Patron

(if you donate $10 or more per month)

The complete package! Your rewards:

  • Read patron-only content here on my Patreon page
  • Participate in patron-only text Discord channels
  • Participate in regularly-scheduled live Discord voice discussions with Ryan hosting
  • Your name will be included in the Gold and Platinum Patrons page prominently displayed on the RyanSchultz.com blog (along with a photograph/picture of your choice and a personal message)!

Platinum Patron

(if you donate $100 or more per month)

The ULTIMATE package! Your rewards:

  • Read patron-only content here on my Patreon page
  • Participate in patron-only text Discord channels
  • Participate in regularly-scheduled live Discord voice discussions with Ryan hosting
  • Your name will be included in the Gold and Platinum Patrons page prominently displayed on the RyanSchultz.com blog (along with a photograph/picture of your choice and a personal message)
  • An exclusive monthly one-hour consult with Ryan (via voice on Discord or Skype) on any topic relating to social VR platforms and virtual worlds. Pick my brains, ask me questions, find out my opinions about various products. Let me be your personal tour guide to the metaverse, with customized advice and recommendations on where to go, what to do, and what to see!

So, as you can see, membership has its benefits 😉

I hope that you will consider supporting me as I continue to write what some people are calling the best blog on the internet about social VR:

Hey Ryan, I’m an avid reader of your blog… As a fellow VR enthusiast, I share your mix of excitement and trepidation – I’ve spent so much time and money trying to find my own place in this emerging medium, and sometimes it’s great and other times it feels like an uphill battle. I’d just remind you that your blog is, as far as I’ve seen, the number one blog on social VR out there. You have something valuable here, even if it’s not always that clear to you. You have many readers and we all look up to you and look forward to your pieces. You’ve done a great job of sharing much-needed information about all these different worlds and the people in them. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say you are one of the leading experts on social VR.

Jason Moore (in a comment to a recent blogpost)

And whether or not you choose to support me financially, I do want to say, from the bottom of my heart: Thank you for reading this blog! I really do appreciate it!

Image by geralt on Pixabay

(And a special thank-you to my friend Galen, who provided me with expert advice on how to set up my Patreon page with links to my new Discord server!)