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September 23rd, 2014

Bullies in the Machine or Pick On Someone Your Own Size

Decency…it’s what’s for dinner forums.

It wasn’t but a few days ago that I approached the KDE community in Google Plus to ask a question. In asking that question, I included a screenshot to present a graphical representation of my problem. Three community members responded right away. The first two responses were legitimate queries: questions seeking to gather information needed to calculate an effective attack vector. The third response was…well, not so much.

“Stop, I can’t. My eyes are bleeding. x_x “

The remark about “eyes bleeding” was obviously a reaction to a perceived lack of aesthetics in the screenshot. And yeah, it pissed me off. I didn’t seek a critique on my icon set or color scheme. I was asking how to fix my friggin’ frappin’ problem.

Linux forums 01With my verbal weapons cache set to full snark, I proceeded to dress the commenter down for the misplaced and unhelpful comment. I trimmed and honed every word so that my obvious displeasure at the opinion would not be mistaken for anything else.

There are specific and discrete techniques that can help you call someone a jerk. I used a method designed so that the target momentarily believes that you are a nice guy, while everyone else in proximity is checking their clothing for blood spatter. I have become a master of this technique. Whether that’s good or bad, I dunno. It is what it is.

That wasn’t the end of it, however.

Two hours later I found myself mentally going over what was said and implied during that exchange. By that time, what I mainly wanted to figure out was why I unloaded both barrels on the guy. My curmudgeonly old skin isn’t any thinner these days – quite the contrary.

In retrospect, the poor guy was probably attempting to interject his sense of humor into the thread. Why I chose to take offense, I couldn’t quite figure…not at that particular moment anyway. I accepted that my Inner Jerk and I had become one and searched for the thread to apologize. Too late…someone had pulled it down. I looked for 30 minutes; it had evaporated…just like my anger.

About that time, it dawned on me. It became clear why I felt the need to do some finger-wagging and looking over my glasses and down my nose at him.

It was my Reglue kids.

I don’t mean “my” Reglue kids as in child support and coaching little league games. I refer to “my” Reglue kids as those whom I have spent hours teaching ways to maximize the use of their new Linux computers. Our installation visits have been measured at three hours on occasion. By the time we leave a kid’s house, (s)he knows how to use the machine to do everything it might be needed to do…and then some.

My aggravation with the KDE commenter was an unconscious response to how some of our Reglue kids have been treated in various distro forums over the years. Some of these kids are tender in age, twelve to fifteen years old, and they have no idea of the vitriol they can experience by simply phrasing a question incorrectly.

For three years, we set our Reglue kids up with accounts for their particular distro’s forums. I even went as far as announcing on the forums that Reglue members would have our logo as an avatar, so that forum users could recognize they were talking to school-aged kids. Sadly, that didn’t hinder many from using rude, abrupt and even hurtful language.

Let me give you some examples I’ve collected since 2008. These two should illustrate my point nicely:

May 23rd, 2009

140922-02Reglue kid: “Hi, I was wondering if anyone will tell me the best way to learn how to use the black screen to do stuff. It looks cool.” (Fourteen year old young lady — mathematics prodigy.)

Basement-dweller-with-the-social-skills-of-a-hand-grenade: “What do you mean by ‘black screen?’ Do you mean the terminal or console?”

Reglue kid: “Yeah, I guess that’s what I mean. It has the blinking thing and I want to learn to use it.”

Basement-dweller-with-the-social-skills-of-a-hand-grenade: “Then why don’t you try searching for what you want to do on Google? You should have done that in the first place. Who the hell let you behind a computer anyway? Come back when you get even a fraction of a clue. Expletive moron.”

If that’s not bad enough, it gets worse.

August 8th, 2012

My name is Rianna and I am new to Linux. I am having trouble finding out how to make an icon for a program appear in my bottom bar. Can anyone help me?”

Slacked-jaw-moron-who-probably-got-beaten-up-for-his-lunch-money-in-grade-school: “Yeah, that’s easy. You just click on the icon you want to put down in the bottom panel, then reboot three times. It’s gotta be three times exactly and you have to do them one right after another real fast. If you wait too long between reboots it won’t work. On the third reboot, it should be there.”

Rianna: – “No, that didn’t seem to work. I’ve tried it several times just like you asked and it didn’t do anything.”

Second-jerk-who-picked-up-on-the-game: “Well, I see what what went wrong. Sidewinder forgot to tell you that you have to unplug the monitor between the second and third time. I can’t believe he didn’t remember to tell you the most important part.”

Rianna: “Pardon me, but I don’t see how any of this can put an icon in my bottom bar. Are you guys fooling with me?”

Slacked-jaw-moron-who-probably-got-beaten-up-for-his-lunch-money-in-grade-school: “Fooling with you? I have more important things to do than wipe a newbie’s snotty nose. Don’t come back here until you can appreciate the time and talent on these boards that are trying to help you.”

Rianna: “I’m sorry, but I’m real new to this Linux stuff. I mean, I like it and everything but it’s just different than I am used to. Thank you for your help.”

Two days inactivity on the thread.

Another-guy-who-picked-up-on-the-thread: “Rianna, someone is having some fun at your expense. Have you gotten the icon to appear in your bottom panel yet? I can help if it’s not fixed yet. If not, let me know which environment you are using in ZorinOS — Windows 7, XP or Gnome.”

Two hour lapse.

Rianna: “They set this up with a Gnome panel, top and bottom.”

Another-guy-who-picked-up-on-the-thread: “Easy enough. Open your menu that shows you all the apps and then put your mouse over the one that you want to move, then by using your left mouse button, drag it down or up to the part of the panel you want it to stay in and let go. Let me know if that helps.”

Rianna: “Wow, that was so easy. I can’t believe I couldn’t figure this out for myself. Thank you so much.”

Another-guy-who-picked-up-on-the-thread: “I’m sending you a private message on your account here and I’ll give you the URL for a Linux help site that is much better. You won’t have to deal with idiots like you did here earlier.”

Rianna: “Thank you again. I can’t tell you how excited I am to use Linux now. It’s really much easier than it was on my Mac.”

Linux forums 03Personally, I never run into anyone quite as rude or mean…even since 2005. Then again, I had a pretty good idea when someone was trying to goof at my expense. Since 2012, we have formed a core of seven people at Reglue who take questions from our new Linux kids.

As for Rianna, there’s more to the story.

Rianna entered her second year of college in 2011. She began her undergrad studies with a fantastic Dell Precision M4600 and we expect that quad core with 16 gigs of RAM laptop to get her through undergrad work and into her graduate studies (she’ll be working on a Masters in Social Work).

When Rianna posted a note at the Student Union that she needed tutoring in calculus, a young man, Richard, contacted her and worked with her for two semesters. What’s so cool about that? Richard is the same guy who finally got her set straight on getting the program icon placed in the bottom panel on her computer.

It is indeed a small world.

They are both studying at Texas University in San Marcos and we will be having a get together at Logan’s Steakhouse there in the next couple of weeks. I am amazed at how things can connect us…whether we want it to happen or not.

Absolute creeps like those mentioned above have probably done more damage than most anything else I can think of when it comes to keeping new Linux users on track. Hey…you want to play around and have fun at someone else’s expense, that’s fine. Just go find someone else who is as big of a moron as you. Hopefully, the two of you will stay occupied enough to keep you from causing trouble elsewhere.

Hopefully…

Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project, which refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area. Follow him on Twitter @Reglue

15 comments to Bullies in the Machine or Pick On Someone Your Own Size

  • Duncan

    I’m not much of a forum guy but I spend a lot of time on the mailing lists. I’m known for my long and detailed replies, which rub some folks the wrong way, but I have stacks of thanks, too.

    My favorite experience would be when one guy started critizing me out of the blue, and… I’m not sure how many people, seemed like 20 or 30, mostly lurkers that never otherwise posted and that certainly I and I’m sure he too, had no idea that they existed, stepped up to defend me. They were the folks I had helped over the years on that list, perhaps not in reply to them directly as many of them were lurkers, but replying to others, with questions they too had, that I had answered.

    It’s a strange, awesome and humbling feeling seeing people appear “out of the woodwork” as it were, defending you from an attack, because you helped them at some point, not even necessarily replying to them, but replying to someone else and helping them too.

    Meanwhile, if someone posts in HTML or top-posts or something, if I’m already replying I’ll ask that they use plain text and/or reply inline next time, but I always do my best to answer the question at the same time, and I never reply simply to tell them to do it different, unless I DO have an answer I think might help, in addition to my request that they change their posting behavior.

    And I always try to keep this question in mind when I’m replying. If I can’t help, why am I replying? I have other more useful things to do with my time.

  • Duncan

    BTW, if you ever stop by the kde-general or kde-linux lists you may see me there. =:^)

    Duncan

  • Abdel

    There are those and there are others who are pretty much as worse. Whenever you mention one positive aspect of Linux, they do their worst to find fault with it splitting hairs in the process, presenting too far-fetched analyses and making the most unlikely disastrous predictions for the Linux future.

  • Ken said: “In retrospect, the poor guy was probably attempting to interject his sense of humor into the thread. Why I chose to take offense, I couldn’t quite figure…not at that particular moment anyway.”

    You give this douchenozzle too much credit for even having what remotely would be considered, in the infinitely broadest definition of the term, a sense of humor. Congratulations on flattening this poster — it was well deserved.

    Good article, and while I know the number of less-than-helpful folks out there on the forums are a vocal few, a tip of the hat should go to those who help out day in and day out on formus.

  • Eddie

    I feel that when someone approaches a forum or mailing list looking for help that it literally is our DUTY to point them in the right direction, and if we cannot give them the answer they seek outright, then we should put them on the right road. When I see people who act like morons online, I just feel pity for them, and I step in where I can, for I too….as I’m sure all of us were at one point, was a new-guy/gal, and there’s NO worse feeling than being made to feel like you’re a two year old at a physics convention. So for all of us who “give a damn” and do the right thing, bravo to you!…and for those who are the scum of the internet, well….there’s not much to say to you, since single celled organisms aren’t too bright!

  • tracyanne

    I don’t post on Forums these days, well not Linux Forums (I do offer help and advice and promote Linux on my own social network site), but, outside of internet searches for specic issues, I steer clear of Linux Forums these days.

    I used to post a lot on the Mandrake/Mandriva Forums, both to reply to queries and to post my own. But I haven’t joined a Linux Forum since I joined, and later dumped, the Ubuntu Forum, after the Admins removed my thread about Ken’s attempt to sponsor a Linux race car.

  • Colonel Panik

    Remember Libranet? Back around the turn of the century this
    weird Linux distro popped up. It was GREAT, easy and powerful.
    Their forum was a full contact event. Those of you who know
    the meek, humble Colonel can understand that harsh language
    directed his way would be rather off putting. That forum may
    be the reason Linux has not achieved world domination.

    The problem is not the “forum” format. I have relied on
    several auto forums to keep the old iron running (plastic in
    the case of my Saturns) and the forums have saved me money
    time and hair. I am guessing it is the fact that with car
    guys if your ego gets out of hand they will ask you to
    show up at the track and prove your self? Geeks with egos
    mostly have no way to show cred.

    tracyann said she has left the forums behind… yes, Linux
    forums are a thing of the past for me also.

    I would rather post at /. (lol that was sarcasm)

  • tracyanne

    Hi Colonel, it’s been a while since I stumbled over you in the interweb, life been treating you well, I hope.

  • Anon

    People are rude, and people are mean, it’s just a fact of life. It’s not limited or constrained to forums, just drive down the road and you will probably see at least one person raging, and probably over something they themselves caused.

    I don’t visit forums too much either anymore, it’s really pointless. It tends to degrade to pointless banter of people clubbing each other over the head over silly things, people calling other people trolls (whether they are or not) or shills (again whether they are or not) or degrading the thread to insults because people don’t want to listen to things they don’t want to hear and insults are the best way to derail a thread.

    It’s completely pointless. Unfortunately, when the helpful people leave you’re left with a cesspool of ignorance for the “new” people who are looking for answers to their problems to find.

  • […] Bullies in the Machine or Pick On Someone Your Own Size […]

  • Fargo

    I’ve come to the point that I picked my distro based on the forum. I don’t need geeks telling me how great they are. I need helpful friendly people who are willing to help me and any friends I introduce to Linux. I’m currently using SolydK and find the forums and Schoejle the distro creator very friendly and helpful. I will be here a long time.

  • Paul Sams

    When I first started with linux way back when. I hardly knew how to ask a question. There were some very helpful folks, but the unfriendly remarks were hard for me to take. Those that did help me were invaluable. I’m sure there are many more people who have offered good advice, but the first time I came across a “howto” written by Carla Schroder, I found some who could walk me through it. She has a way of writing that makes you feel she is looking over your shoulder giving advice. Yep, I am a fan of Carla Schroder!

  • joncr

    Agree, 100 percent.

    In essence, it’s cult behavior.

    (My pet peeve is the answer that doesn’t answer the question, but instead tells the poster he’s stupid and doing it all wrong. E.g., “How do I stop Thunderbird from ….?” “Use Mutt.”

  • golodh

    The negative forum experiences are very recognisable, unfortunately, and I’ve made myself less than popular on several Linux forums by pointing this out.

    Fortunately there are ways around it (apart from being lucky or developing e thick skin).

    The easiest way to get round the problem is to spend more time Googling for an answer before you post. I’ve made that a habit. It’s not just to avoid posting questions people might find too basic, but especially to pick up anything that provides a more or less systematic coverage of the software package I’m trying to work with. It’s often quicker than asking someone because you don’t have to spend the time to phrase your question in a way people will understand or wait for someone to answer.

    The second-easiest way is to be discriminating in which forum you ask on.

    First off I try to match the question to the general level of the forum. If it’s too high-brow I usually don’t even dare to post. I also tend scan a few threads for helpfulness, and leave promptly if I see there too many “RTFM u n00b”-type of posts.

    I therefore try to avoid forums that have lots of posts from younger age groups, especially pubescents (sorry but there it is) but instead look for forums with older people, or forums dedicated to a particular (not computer-related !) topic that also happen to deal with computers.

    Just my two cents.

  • Bob

    Great article. Unfortunately, it only takes a couple of “snarky” responders to spoil the forum/blog. While every newbie (or even somewhat experienced user) may not know how to phrase a “google” search for best results, they are desparately trying to find an answer to their problem and end up on a forum with more technically astute (and/or work in the IT field) where you may find that occasional snarky responder. Assuming one that “just knew” that they could get the needed help on that one, specific forum/blog is a erroneous assumption. More than likely, they stumbled onto it by doing a google search.

    BTW, I found your excellent article via a reference to your site by Jim Lynch, IT World.