Saturday, December 1, 2007

Forum Etiquette

I am suppose to be writing my annual Christmas letter today, but instead I got caught up in a long email discussion on forum-based etiquette. This one poor old clueless lady got into an argument on a forum, and then starting posting people's personal email replies to her on the public forum. After a day of this, it got to be so bad that they had to take the forum off-line so noone could post. Thankfully, my friendly but not written for public consumption emails to her were not posted on the forum because it was already after they took the forum off-line - but she did try to post them!

*Disclaimer/update - Actually, the list was experiencing technical difficulties, so they did finally post. My emails were "friendly" and written with good intent, but they were not written for public consumption - in other words, when I wrote them, I did not write them to be read by important professional people who are members of this particular listserv. I am not going to post those particular emails on this blog, because I am truly embarrassed by them. This is definitely in my top ten of embarrassing moments. At least, it was not my fault that they were posted!

So here are my emails to her to try to explain why everyone was so upset. I am not including her emails or replies to me or even the forum, because I do not have permission to do so.

This is just one of those things that really "got my goat" so I was a bit long-winded in my reply.

So what do you think about it all? Leave a comment and let me know - am I right in all this?


Email #1

I just realized that all your email posts on your replies were actually personal emails to you, and not just emails to the entire list. In other words, you did not have permission of the author of those emails to post it in a public forum. In fact, I am a member of several "group/discussion" lists, and I have never seen a person post personal emails of other people on a forum. I think that if s/he did, the moderator would quickly remove him/her from the list. I think you are trampling on people's right to privacy when you post people's personal replies to you on a public forum without their permission. If they wanted their reply to you on a public forum, they would "reply all" instead of "reply sender". That is simply implied in the basics of forum discussion boards. I do believe that you have the right to send an offensive email to the moderator for review, but not to the entire forum. It would be like sending a letter in the mail to a friend, and then having the friend xerox copy it and send it to all her friends. A friend would never do that. It is just common courtesy not to do that to a stranger either. I believe that this is morally not right.

Sincerely, Melissa

Email #2

But the emails I sent you were not posts. I did not send them to the forum. They are not on record on the listserv. They are only on your gmail server. They are in your personal gmail box. No one would ask you for your personal email records. They are personal, not public. That is the whole point. I don't think you know enough about internet forum etiquette to be posting on a forum. Thankfully, I believe all the forum-based emails are now being filtered through the moderator because of you, and the moderator will not allow personal emails to be posted without the authors permission. If you belong to any other forum, for your own sake, please do not post people's personal emails to you on a public forum. You will be kicked off. People write completely differently in a private email than they do in a public one. Internet etiquette allows you to forward any offensive email to the moderator, and the moderator will then either intermediate or kick off the offensive party. But its still considered a private matter between you, the offensive party, and the moderator. Its not for the entire public forum. Basically, you will not be allowed to post people's personal emails to you. It is not considered good manners on a internet forum.

Email #3

I believe that when the subject line reads re:anything, it is for you to know what the subject is about, and is just a courtesy matter so you will know what the email is regarding. I do not believe that it connects itself to the post in any way.
Basically, private emails are not for public records. No one even knows how many private emails you received because of your posting. They do not show up anywhere in a public way, and no one will ask you for private emails regarding certain posts. They are in your gmail box, and there they will stay unless YOU put it out there on the forum. Noone else has access to them but you.
Regarding public officials, they seem to want the public business discussed in work emails to be made public. Not private friend emails from their home-based computer. Private emails to you, even if generated because of a post on a public forum, is in no way considered "public business". They are considered private, friend-based emails. Even if they are offensive.

As I have said before, when people email you privately, they are expecting/assuming/implying that those emails should stay private. I think that most people do not post other people's private emails under the assumption that it is just "not done" and that it would be rude and inconsiderate. It is one of those cultural things that everyone assumes that everyone else knows. I am replying to your email now, because I tend to be a helpful, librarian-type person. ;) I belong to around 10-15 forums, and I have never come across this problem. If I did, I would naturally email the moderator stating my outrage that the person was posting my private emails. I suspect that is what happened in this case. All the people that you posted their private emails to you probably went immediately to the moderator and complained. And now I suspect that the forum has been taken off-line in order for them to deal with this problem.

As far as the offensive email is concerned, I do believe that it was more offensive that you posted it so that everyone inadvertently read a cuss word when they were not expecting a cuss word on a public forum. I think the other emails to you were expressing their outrage that you would post a cuss word on a forum that was sent to you privately. That person who sent it to you definitely did not send it to a public forum. Only you sent it. So basically, you sent a cuss word to a public forum. No one else did this. Just you. Noone else had access to it except you. That is why they are all upset with YOU.

Basically, sometimes you will get very nasty emails sent to you privately that were generated by a topic on a public forum - even Christian ladies forums. :) The only correct thing to do is bring it to the moderator's attention, or work it out privately between yourselves. If you do not want to belong to a public forum that might possibly cause you to be sent offensive emails, then I suggest you unsubscribe, and just not belong to any public forum. It has happened to all of us, and is just the nature of the beast. You just move on, and make friendships (through both private emails and public posts) with all the nice people on the forum, and ignore all silly/ignorant people on the forum. I enjoy belonging to all my forums, and have made many "internet" friendships with people through the forums. But as I said before, I would never post a personal email to me from them on a public forum without their permission. Sometimes, I have actually asked their permission, ie. That is a great reply - I think it might benefit everybody - could I post your reply on the forum, or would you post the reply on the forum? - and then if I receive a reply back giving me permission, I would cut and paste the permission emails as well as the beneficial email to post on the forum, to show that I followed proper protocol, and that noone has the possibility of being embarrassed or getting their feelings hurt.

If for some reason you do want to reply to their email on the public forum, then you would just cut out their part, and only post your own reply in your own words.

This is a long email I know, but I just wanted to make sure you understood where everybody was probably coming from, and why they were so confused, upset and hurt by you posting their private emails to you on the forum. Especially those who did not send you an offensive email, but was just trying to be friendly, and you tried to post their/my emails to you on the forum.

I hope this helps you. Don't be surprised if other people email you saying the same thing. ;) I expect a lot of people will be expecting you to apologize for putting their private emails to you on a public forum. That's up to you, of course. What I've been trying to say in a really long-winded way is that most people would find that your crime of posting private emails that were not meant to be seen by the public was more offensive than someone writing to you with a cuss word. Just know that you have probably upset a lot of people, including me.


PS. I am posting my replies to you on my blog. I will not be posting your replies to me, because I have not received your permission to do so.

Email #4

I am sure all this will be cleared up when you speak with the moderator. I think we might be having a "generation gap" problem, because it flabbergasts me still, and others that I spoke to, that you would think it was ok to post personal emails on a forum without the author's permission. That is what it boils down to. Whether or not it was a public or private forum. No one of my generation -early 30s - would ever think that was ok, as we have grown up with the internet and all its social myriad of rules and regulations. They really should publish a book about the social rules of the internet, for those who do not know the internet very well. Or maybe there is one out there....I know I read an article about it once.

It is obvious that the moderator doesn't think its ok either, as the list is now off-line as they sort through all the emails pertaining to this matter. It doesn't matter whether people "like" you or not, it is simply not "done" to paste personal emails on any type of forum without the author's permission - sorta like copyright issues, if you want to look at it that way.

Oh well, I guess we will just have to disagree, and I highly doubt you will be let back on the forum if you can't follow the rules.
Please keep in mind that if you post personal emails on any type of forum in the future, you will probably be kicked off by the moderator, because people will not tolerate that type of behavior.
In other words, with the people that I have discussed this with, they believe what you did was a worse crime than those who sent the offensive emails. So you have exposed nothing but your own behavior.
Its been an interesting discussion, and I will probably continue to discuss the issue among my friends. You should discuss it among your friends, and see what they have to say.

Email #5:

I think that is the heart of the matter, that is where we completely disagree.
Private emails sent to you are not "open records". I do not know of anyone
except you who would think that they were. Those private emails are only in
your box, and in the author's email box. They are on no public server whatsoever.
Therefore, they are not open records. They only became open records when you
decided to try to post them to the forum. And then you discovered that caused complete chaos, so much so that they had to take the list off-line.
Once again, please discuss this matter with your colleagues, friends and
relatives. I think you will be surprised to find that most will agree
with my stance on the matter. I have yet to find anyone who agrees with
Anyway, thanks for replying. I have enjoyed our discussion. And I have
been a lot more candid with you this way than I would ever be on the list.

Email #6:

This listserv is provided through a publicly funded organization - you are correct there. So, e-mails sent to the list are technically open records - you are correct there. However, an e-mail send from my e-mail address to yours does not go to or through the forum/listserv.

It therefore has nothing whatsoever to do with the publicly funded organization except that I got your e-mail address from the list. I may be contacting you about a subject that is being discussed on the list, but I am contacting only you, not the list.

Only e-mails sent to the list/forum are public. Period. Anything else is a message from one individual to another. The e-mails you sent to the list to which people objected were originally sent to you - to a private address. Whether they were about the list or from people who are members of the list does not matter. They were not sent to the list and therefore are not public.

Here's how it works. Think of the discussion list like a group of people sitting at a big conference table. When you send a message or a reply to the list - it's like talking aloud to the entire group. Everyone can hear, anyone can reply.

Now, if I send an e-mail directly to you, I send it to your email, not to the list. It's as if, while sitting at the table, I passed you a note. This message only goes to you.

If you reply to the e-mail I sent you by sending it to the list - it's as though you opened the note, read it and then read it out loud to the whole table and responded out loud to the whole table as well.

Now, if I had wanted the whole table to hear what I was passing to you in a note, I would have spoken out loud. I sent you a private note because I wanted to have a private conversation. Otherwise, why not just send the message to the whole group?

The whole purpose of sending a direct e-mail to another person on the list and not to the whole list is to say something that is intended only for that person. This is a perfectly acceptable practice and goes on all the time. Private e-mails are not public records. They are a way for members of a list to have conversations between themselves without cluttering the conversation going on amongst everyone else with their own discussion.

Particularly, if you got a note from someone at the table and you were upset or offended by it, you would not interrupt everyone at the table to tell that person what you thought. The polite thing to do would be to indicate to that person that you wanted to go outside and have your conversation there. That's pretty much what you do by keeping a discussion only in private e-mails.You are preventing your one-on-one conversation from interfering with the group discussion.

The way you report an offensive e-mail is to send it to the moderator. The way you annoy everyone on the list is to send the offensive e-mail to the list. These are not Presidential records, nor are they open records. They are private communications by their very nature. Because they were not treated as such, now no one can post to the list. You've caused a great deal of trouble by not adhering to simple etiquette - which granted, you may not have understood - and you need to realize your mistake and change your behavior. If you continue on the way that you have, you will most likely not be welcome on any type of listserv, public or private, or any type of forum, public or private.
Forums and Listservs are wonderful tools for discussion, and I would hate for you to have to miss out.


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