The Glia Society

The Glia Society

Guidelines for the Glia Society's online fora


For years, communication within the Glia Society was concentrated in an electronic mail forum and a bimonthly journal; from the later 2010s onward, the focus has shifted to other types of online fora, such as Facebook, Discord, and bulletin board. This change resulted from member initiatives and was not orchestrated from above. While the electronic mail forum has a set of well-formulated rules based on long experience, the newer fora are still mostly a Wild West in terms of participant behaviour, and the present document aims to observe certain less desirable tendencies in them, hoping that members will understand what is going on and adapt their conduct where needed, avoiding the need for explicit rules. Good, conscientious people require no rules as they are well-behaved from within; only misbehavers necessitate rules. This gentle approach to behaviour modification is typical of the Glia Society and has historically worked reasonably, though not perfectly.

A known problem with subtly explaining the observed behaviours and hoping for self-correction is that the worst offenders tend to ignore such and carry on as usual, while the already well-behaved wrongly apply it to themselves and commence to compulsively examine their every utterance to prevent the slightest appearance of undesired behaviour. On the other hand, established disadvantages of instating explicit rules are that (1) some begin to purposely violate the rules to provoke sanctions against themselves, to test how far they can go, and (2) others feel restricted by the rules and stop being active on the forum. After applying a sanction such as temporary suspension from a forum, it was observed in the past that such forum stayed inactive for months as if in protest. On the whole, having well-defined rules seems to carry the risk of stifling a forum and driving people to start new fora where they aspire to be free of rules, and then this whole process starts over again, like an air bubble under plastic foil.

Once new fora without specific formal rules gain momentum, complaints arise from members who feel harassed and insulted in that laissez-faire milieu, and appear to expect interference from above. In other words, one can never do it right. But one can try, and the newer online fora are now in the stage of gently trying to guide members toward civilized forms of behaviour.

Observation of some problematic forms of behaviour

Personal attacks

Insults and harassment are observed to occur in relatively unregulated environments such as these fora, and the Glia Society may have a limited responsibility in dealing with that and preventing it. Primarily, members should know better and treat others with a minimum level of respect. This is a matter of intrinsic civilization. It should ideally not be necessary for there to be a supervising body that corrects this behaviour through punishment, as if dealing with a group of school children. Nevertheless, excessive or repeated personal attacks are addressed with (1) temporary suspension from the forum, (2) permanent removal from the forum, and (3) eventual expulsion from the society. It is always exceedingly disappointing and flabbergasting when such measures are needed in a high-I.Q. society. The Glia Society's reluctance to apply hard punishment is reflected in the fact that only one expulsion for harassment has taken place in the society's existence, so since 1997. It is possible that several more would have been appropriate, and that we are erring on the side of permissiveness to avoid paralysing member interaction.

Speaking about persons not present

A key principle of civilized behaviour is not to speak about persons not present. Doing so is called "gossip" and invariably associated with slander, libel, and violation of privacy. Speaking about persons not present is likely to be perceived as disrespectful. Translated to online fora, "persons not present" could be interpreted as "persons not active in the present conversation/thread". It is observed that sometimes a derogatory nickname is substituted for the name of the non-present person being spoken of, possibly to prevent that person from finding the conversation in question via an automated search. This is a practice straight from the gutter.

While most will agree that it is a violation of privacy to spread private information of a third person, a borderline case concerns private information that can theoretically be deduced from other, publicly available information about that person, perhaps in combination with observations and data collected from others. Spreading such teased-out information and then defending one's deed by claiming that it is not privacy violation because anyone could construct the information from bits and pieces already known, that is reminiscent of the person who complained to the police about being offended by one's neighbour's walking around naked in his house for the complainant to see; when the police came to investigate the situation, they asked from where the offending neighbour could be seen, and were directed to the kitchen window.

"But you can not see into the neighbour's house at all from here", remarked the police.

"Yes you can, but you have to climb on the table first and raise yourself on your toes. Then use these field glasses and you will see what a creep he is", the plaintiff kindly explicated.

Another common violation is to reveal contents from private correspondence in an online forum without permission from the correspondent. It seems that many are not aware that this is an offence, hence its being listed here.

Spamming a forum

Persons with monomaniacal inclinations may be observed to produce many forum entries about their preoccupation in rapid succession with barely any response from other members. There must be a point where this becomes "spam" and should no longer be allowed, but where exactly one draws that line is arbitrary. The best solution is for such persons to become critical of their own forum activity and attempt to see it with detachment and objectivity.

The non-representative nature of online fora

It is observed that online fora are not representative of the society's membership in a few ways: (1) Only part of the members are present on online fora, and since they are there by their own choice, it is logical to assume that their personalities will differ on average from those of the members who choose not to be on online fora. (2) Among those present on the fora, a small subset tends to be responsible for much of the visible activity, and again this greater activity of a minority compared to the majority will result from personality differences. This disproportional representation of a vocal minority is a general phenomenon, not a major problem that must be fixed, but one should be aware of it, and realize that what one sees is not the full iceberg.