Thanks for this topic. I have a few thoughts I would like to share.
When we started Dhamma Wheel we wanted to establish a vibrant venue for those with a genuine interest in the Theravada. Hence, the terms of service
were framed to maximise the potential for members to discuss the Dhamma in a supportive environment that is safe (or as safe as can be expected) and the expectations of behaviour are defined by the values of friendliness and mutual respect.
We also recognised that the creation of an optimal forum culture can only be achieved in partnership between the admin/mod team and the membership. Hence, again enshrined within the Terms of Service are the expectations of "self-moderation" and the observation that "behaviour breeds behaviour". Someone may not be able to do anyting about someone else behaving badly but one can choose how one responds to the behaviour of another. In a private discussion I was having with Retro, he said on this point:
As far as I see it, whilst we manage the forum through moderation and governance, everyone has the capacity to demonstrate positive leadership here... they can do so through being exemplars of good behaviour, by actively reporting ToS violations before they send topics off-track, by encouraging and supporting others, by patiently helping newbies, voluntarily stepping away from discussions that are going around in circles, volunteering to lead things in the study group or facilitated topics etc.
If people care about the community, then it is incumbent upon them to do what they can do to support and improve it, just as they would for any flesh-and-blood community
And I think that's a very valid point. As administrators and moderators, there is a limit to what we can do to provide an optimal environment. There is, however, a lot that you can do to not only maximise your own experience - but that of others.
I also think that if more of the membership knew what went on behind the scenes there would be a little more tolerance of the odd smart-alec comment that gets posted. There is a lot of work that goes into maintaining Dhamma Wheel and providing an environment to discuss the Dhamma. As most of our members are aware (either directly or via observation), Dhamma Wheel is actively moderated and is moderated according to our Terms of Service. Posts which are clear breaches of the terms of service are routinely removed from view, delinquently disruptive members are counselled, receive official board warnings, suspended and sometimes banned permanently. We also remove spam advertising and the disruptive influence of online trolls such as Element. On top of that we are trying to keep abreast of all contributions and to make time to contribute ourselves. I don't mention this to beat our own drum but there is a lot of activity behind the scenes.
The other thing I want to say is that sometimes, sometimes,
what appears to be a smart-alec comment may actually be a serious question. On an online forum we're at a serious disadvantage in that we don't have access to non-text-communication ques such as body language or vocal intonation to guage whether someone is being intentionally sarcastic or is genuinely seeking to closely examine a difficult point.
So, in closing I would like to ask some questions (and you don't have to post a response):
Would you like to take greater ownership and responsibility for the development of this cyber-community?
If so, what are you going to do to actualize that change?