Lately there’s been a lot–a LOT–of rudeness in online discussion, at least in the online discussions I sometimes find myself involved in, those in and around the comics industry. Let’s face it, when you’re talking to a computer screen, it’s easy to forget that actual human beings with feelings and mothers might be on the other side of it somewhere. And it’s even easier to forget that being insensitive, rude, or crass rarely accomplishes anything, it’s rarely actually USEFUL except in the most basic, lizard-brain sort of way.

I’m as guilty as anyone, and maybe more guilty than some. But in the interest of classing my own act up, and maybe mayyyyybbeeeee classing yours up a little bit too, I’d like to suggest a few simple ideas that might cool down our passionate chest-thumping ardor some. Or even just lower your blood pressure a little bit.

1) Let’s agree that no one in the world is all right or all wrong.

Think about it. That is some true ess right there. It’s not so much that chances are high that you’re wrong–it’s more that chances are high that you’re less right than you think. So when you talk like you’re all right.. well, you can see how that might be a block to things.

This is a trap I myself fall into all the time, both online and in the real world. You get so attached to the idea of being “right” that you lose your intellectual capacity to learn, to react to new data, new ideas with a mind capable of learning. At that point, almost without exception, any real benefit to you that discussion might have held disappears.

A corollary: if “I am right” becomes your principle point in an argument, just leave the argument. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses–you are already losing at that point.

2) Pretend for a moment that, regardless of who IS right or wrong, your opinion isn’t that important in the scheme of things.

You and I are two of nearly seven billion people on a small planet which at any time could be pulverized by an asteroid, with literally zero warning. In the scheme of things, our argument over who wins in a Hulk/Superman fight underwater just doesn’t mean that much.

I’m not saying we should give up all arguments because death is around the corner–but maybe we should comport ourselves as if those arguments are somewhat less important than we may be treating them. I mean, unless we’re talking about curing cancer or feeding children or something, it’s probably not a very important argument. This would apply to pretty much 1000% of comic book arguments online, honestly.

3) How you do things isn’t necessarily how everyone else does things.

There are a lot of different ways to get to a lot of the same places. Arguing about the route will seem silly once you get there. Respect that other people have their own opinions, their own methods, their own preferences.

And for god’s sake, if something you’re doing makes someone uncomfortable, just stop. Even if it doesn’t make sense, even if you disagree, even if you feel perfectly entitled as a Member In Good Standing Of The Internet (MIGSOTI) to impose your own style, don’t. Respect other people’s space and preferences and humanity. which reminds me:

4) Everyone you talk to is a human being.

Even if they don’t always seem like it, they are human and deserve some small measure of consideration just for that. People might come off big or tough or whatever, but odds are they’re someone with regular problems like you, who eat and sleep and poop and love like you do, and who make mistakes and say dumb stuff they don’t mean sometimes, just like you do.

And regardless of all that, thinking of people’s feelings, even if they’re not thinking of yours, is just easier. Not even out of kindness, or even class–it’s just easier. Whatever conversation you’re a part of, you would probably prefer it remain an actual conversation, rather than some penis-comparison contest or semantics showdown. Treating people with dignity pays real dividends, not only in the larger, more important sense, but in a pragmatic, this-conversation-can-still-have-value sense.

5) Use your real name.

Seriously. And if you run a site or have a blog or whatever, insist that the people who take part in discussions do the same. Unless you’re endangered somehow by revealing your identity, everything you say will mean more if it’s YOU that’s saying it. Come out of the shadows, quit snarking away, shad0wsnarker_2000! Commenting anonymously says two things: 1) that you do not stand behind whatever it is that you’re saying; and 2) that your comment ┬áis little more than a noisy distraction from whatever the adults are discussing. If you have something to say that’s worth saying, it’s worth attaching your identity to it, along with the respect and responsibility that identity brings with it.

There’s something to be said for clear, honest, direct discussion between intelligent people. You don’t want to turn into some querulous namby-pamby, genuflecting before you make any point of any real import online. But sometimes people get excited. I’m sure I’m not the first person to suggest pretending that whomever you’re addressing is actually sitting across from you at a table, breathing your same air. It changes the responsibility a little bit, you know? We’re all of us real live people, not just pixels and emoticons and clever screen names.

19 thoughts on “ETIQUETTE

  1. Trey Alexander

    Sniffle-sniffle, aw shucks, Dharb … that was awesome!

    Another corollary to add: Tone of voice does not carry very well in tweet-length writing, no matter how accomplished you are as a writer. Even if you THINK it is plainly obvious that you are joking, being sarcastic, or self-deprecating, chances are that someone reading it just won't "get it." Also, we often end up in the middle of conversations between two or more people who have an established relationship in person or online that does not typically include us; yet we try to enter into the foray with our own snappy bon-mots … and can easily end up with the virtual equivalent of beign the guy at the loud party who just happened to end a really dirty joke right after the music stopped — AWKWARD!

  2. DHARBIN! Post author

    I will allow this SINGLE anonymous joke post, only because I know the poster, Mr. Graham Sigurdson. Who is now revealed to all and sundry as shad0wstalker_2000.

  3. Graham Sigurdson

    Since we're on the topic of etiquette, is it possible for you to email me the link to that article/post that yourself, Chris Butcher, Lucy Knisley, and others were talking about on twitter?

  4. DHARBIN! Post author

    I'd rather not, Graham. It's just a dumb thing someone said on the internet about somebody, spreading it will only give it oxygen.

  5. 1076

    I'm not sure I agree with the last point.

    And please don't take my username as sarcasm, or insult. I use it everywhere on the web. It is, for all intents and purposes, as real an identity as the name my parents call me. Arguably moreso.

    But to say that anonymity degrades one's status, or opinion takes the idea a little too far, I think.

    Of course, I understand the line of thinking – we've all been irritated by the useless nonsense an anonymous poster has spout, simply for the sake of trolling. However, if they have something legitimate to add to the discussion, I don't think it's a reasonable first response to ignore them.

    I realize that you're talking about the normalcies of culture, and are specifically making the point that people can't control it; they'll just dismiss the anonymous posters. That, however, is the issue that I think should be addressed in etiquette – not the use of anonymity.

    To be fair, you yourself address the issue somewhat in your second point by asking people to be open to learning. With that said, I don't see why there's any problem with people wanting to remain anonymous. As long as their content is sound, then the name attached to only serves to benefit them. If it's not reasonable content, then they're not following other established etiquette so…ya know..why bother?

    Anyway, the rest of the post is pretty fantastic. A lot of stuff I practice, myself, and a lot of stuff I TRY to practice, myself…

    Always nice to see a kindred mind.


  6. DHARBIN! Post author

    I had to struggle with whether or not to let this comment through, well-put as it is, just because of the name thing. But I decided it was a little prissy of me to act all high and mighty all of a sudden just because I made that point about anonymity in my post.

    But I disagree–in part–with your point. On the one hand, I do agree that it's super duper in whomever's rights to go by whatever name they choose, whether given them by their parents or not. And it's also true that having an internet identity can potentially carry with it a certain cachet. But I think it's an exception rather than the rule. I think that using your actual real world identity in online discussions puts you in the position of backing what you say with the force of your identity and the implied consequence your activity may have on that identity. I get it that your 1076 name is to you just as binding and important as your given name, but that applies more to you in solo than it does to you in a community, unless it's a very focused community where you are very well-known.

    In general I think that screen-names, while perfectly fine in theory, can lead to a degradation of quality in communication when we're all using them. A muddying of the bandwidth, maybe. But, a name really is only an identifier, and so only has as much power or importance as the bearer and the community that name is used in give it. I think. I admit I'm groping around in the dark here a little.

  7. David Mercer (1076)

    Sorry. Didn't mean to cause a quandary. I don't have any problem using my real name. It's just abnormal for me. The only place I use my real name is on Facebook, and that's only because I signed up when it required a school email address which forced me to.

    1076, out of no discretion or attempted veil, is just the name I use. *shrug*

    And I certainly wasn't making a statement for choosing one's own name. I like the name my parents chose for me. It's just a bit confusing. They named me "Jeffery", but always called me "David". So that's what I meant when I said that it's an equal identity as the one my parents gave me – I could go around to half of my friends and they wouldn't recognize me as anything other than "David". "Jeffery" and "1076" are only as good an identity to me as the people who know me as that.

    It's with that in mind that I make the case for anonymity. If you are only as good as your name, then you're not really any good at all. To use an identity to benefit you in debate or argument is detrimental to the points you're making.

    Now, of course, I realize that it's an attachment that your peers can use as shorthand to size up whether your comments are worthwhile, but that's exactly the point. You are letting your name give you credibility instead of the content of your stance.

    Reasonably speaking, it's not a big deal. Those that would use your name as a grounding point would also be careful to scrutinize you, usually. But, those same people would also be willing to listen to an anonymous poster and dissect their points based on the merits of those points.

    As long as everyone is being courteous and following a loose code of ethics (which you have done such a wonderful job of laying some groundwork for), the debate will be civil. I just don't see how anonymity would degrade the conversation, when the other guidelines were being adhered to.

    I'll defer to your phrasing, though, and commiserate with the feeling of 'groping in the dark', because it's really hard to pick a harsh stance on this particular point.

    There are COUNTLESS examples of anonymity being a major problem. However, I can think of quite a few personal examples where anonymity simply wasn't an issue. Unfortunately, I haven't really been able to pinpoint what the differences are, other than the obvious ones. I just wanted to make it known that I'm not quite sure that I agree with the last point.

    Cast a little doubt, if nothing else.

  8. DHARBIN! Post author

    Yes, I think we probably agree more than disagree–I don't think that anonymity is in and of itself a bad thing; I just think that often anonymity removes the onus of consequence from things, making it easier for, while obviously not you or I, someone of less even temperament to splash muck all over an otherwise valuable conversation. But I absolutely agree that it's a matter of cases and perspective, and I'm skewing my argument based on my idea of where the problem (or this problem, anyway) lies.

    BUT! To clarify: I do NOT think that you should identify yourself in order to shore up otherwise weak arguments, or say "I'm blank-blank and so obviously I know blah-blah and don't bother arguing with me." I agree with you that, all things being equal, a well-placed point is a well-placed point. I think I'm approaching this more from the angle of feeling anonymity promotes sniping and egregious behavior in persons of, shall we say, less refined temperament than yourself. It is a case of bad actors ruining the well.

  9. Alison Sampson


    I'm writing to you in defence of anonymity when voicing opinions on the Internet. To put it briefly, we have to assume information on the Internet cannot be erased or hidden. Some of the people who may see our name mentioned may not understand our interest, or involvement, or point we are trying to make in a certain area, especially if it is of no interest to them. They may take this as evidence of poor character, not being 'our type of people', or just as yet another reason why they can't work with us. This is not anything to do with the level of discourse or verity of the person spoken with. working life is hard enough and I have no wish to make it any more difficult than it already is by complicating it in this way. All the matters I'm mentioning need not be the concern of anyone else who is an Internet correspondent. A pseudonym isn't necesserily a hiding place, it can be more of a convenience and I hope it is possible for it to be seen that way. I'd add, I'm writing here under my real identity, but would usually not use it, in the field we are in currently, for the reasons I describe above. I enjoyed your article. There is a strong case for a bit more respect all round.

  10. Phil Southern

    Many thoughtful comments following up on a thoughful post.

    I think it would behoove the vast majority of internet commenters to think about the permanent nature of their words and comments. I firmly believe that Allison, me, Dustin and everyone else has the right to say whatever they wish, and to espouse any opinion that they see fit. BUT, we are not guaranteed to not suffer any and all possible consequences of the use of that right.

    The same would be true for an interview you gave to the TV news, what you wrote in an opinion piece in the newspaper, what you publish in your own magazine, or if you were hanging broadsides–whatever.

    I use my real name on the Internet. I also don't say everything that comes into my head, or things I think will get me trouble down the line, or things that could get me fired at work, or things I would say in confidence to a friend from a bar-stool. I don't belong openly to every group that holds my interest, either.

    I realize that my "Good Name" is just that, and needs to be protected. While I can use the Internet from my home, I realize that it is just as open as the public square, if not more-so.

    Conversely, when someone espouses borderline racist political rhetoric on the Facebook, or preaches right-wing/left-wing/turkey-wing drivel to their followers on Twitter, I surely hold it against them!

    I think Dusty's maxim of not writing anything he wouldn't want his mother to read is a good one, and would probably go a long way to increasing the quality of discourse on not only the internet, but the world itself if we all followed it!

  11. DHARBIN! Post author

    Hi Alison! I don't think a pseudonym is always a hiding place, and there are plenty of situations where it might behoove you to have one, where it might be valuable. But I think that in a larger sense they can lead to a lack of responsibility sometimes. For instance if I wanted to troll or be crude or insulting or whatever it's a lot easier if I'm "trollbot1999" or something. But if I'm Dustin Harbin then I have to consider whether or not the cruel or demeaning or just plain rude thing I thought of saying is something I want "on my record" so to speak.

  12. Pingback: Dustin Harbin’s etiquette pep talk | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

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