Sunday, December 15, 2013

Television Without Pity: The Internet's worst forum


A while ago, I joined an Internet forum called “Television Without Pity”. It’s a discussion site featuring just about every TV program you can think of, from over the air smashes like The Big Bang Theory to obscure cable shows like Longmire. The boards are lively and can be a great source for interesting discussions, many of which are illuminating. However, the boards have a reputation for moderators who are extremely heavy handed with their polices, banning and warning people for the most innocuous of things. I was no stranger to moderator antics, since I received many “notes” from the moderators. All of these notes were nitpicky in nature, with the moderators seemingly taking apart every word I’d written and admonishing me for the tiniest of faults, as if I was a kid that needed to “learn” from “Daddy Moderator”. It was annoying, but I thought I could live with it since I wasn’t actually being disciplined for this stuff- because then it would be petty.

Then…it happened.

I was on the forums the other day discussing Elementary, the show that reimages Sherlock Holmes as a in the modern world in New York. Three weeks ago, the show began a storyline where Sherlock Holmes’ methods have resulted in him becoming a bit of a “persona non grata” at the NYPD. The highlight of Holmes’ alienation was getting ignored by the one detective he admired and respected, Marcus Bell, who took a bullet that was intended for Holmes shot by a man who confronted Sherlock claiming his methods cost him his job.

I won’t get into the details of the story since it’s not relevant. In any case, the discussion eventually seemed to break into two camps- one camp that thought the storyline was well done and natural and the other that thought the storyline was forced and misrepresented what actually happened. If anyone is interested in reading the discussion for themselves, here's the link to where it all started:

http://forums.televisionwithoutpity.com/topic/3213462-elementary-the-case-of-the-englishman-in-new-york/page-133

It starts from that page to page 138. I'm Danielg342, in case anyone wonders.

So we all dug in our heels and just went back and forth…it was actually quite a lively and entertaining discussion, and- from my vantage point anyway- the users seemed quite passionate about their positions but still respected each other, a rarity on the Internet (just yesterday I was subjected to name-calling and belittlement by someone on Facebook for daring to challenge her friend’s opinion, who had the gall to say I had offended her friend despite the fact I did not say anything that attacked her personally).

Anyway, I remember at one point in the discussion I thought that maybe we were all getting a little carried away, so I took charge and made a post trying to summarize what I thought were the positions taken and tried to get the discussion back on track (this post has since been deleted by the moderators). I also decided to restate my take on the matter because I thought it got lost in the milieu. Then the discussion resumed, back on track.

Then I got a message today from a “Pemberton”, who told me I shouldn’t make posts summarizing positions, and then scolded me for parsing other people’s posts, breaking it down and responding to the post in that way. Then I was told that “this is not a debate class”, told me I was being argumentative and took me to task for simply defending my position multiple times, saying that I was “alienating” other users and that I’m not here to make others “see the light”. Pemberton also told me that I was telling other users they were wrong, when I did no such thing. Oh, and I got my first ever warning point on the forum, after just a year on the forums. Yay.

I sat there and thought, “who are you to tell me that I can’t defend my positions”? I understand the spirit behind what Pemberton had told me- debates on an Internet forum do get heated, and when they get heated, flamewars eventually develop, and Pemberton would like to avoid that. Furthermore, anyone who’s a veteran of Internet forums has dealt with one user or a group of users that never “give up”, always finding a rebuke for whatever response you make. I understand that also gets annoying.

However, the warning falls flat for several reasons. Firstly, Pemberton made the mistake of assuming the tone behind my words, not realizing on an Internet forum all you have are just the words and not a voice saying those words, so you can’t actually tell if the writer actually is being disrespectful. Furthermore, on a discussion forum, debates are going to happen, and they happen all the time- in fact, lively debate is what gets people to visit forums in the first place. I was strong in my opinions, but so were many other people in that thread- it’s come to be expected, and if someone attacks a point I’m making, I’ve got every right to defend it, as many times as I feel it is necessary. I understand that can get frustrating, but that’s the nature of the beast- topics for discussion in theory have no end point, so as long as someone is refuting a point I’m making, I can refute theirs…ad naseum. The argumentative part is downright absurd- a forum is in the business of making arguments, so *of course* I’m going to be argumentative, we all will be. Lastly, everyone who ventures onto a forum should expect responses to what they write, including responses that will attack their points- if they can’t accept that, they really need to get off the Internet. If I’m not immune to criticism then neither are the other users who I interact with.

The main issue with the warning, though, is that it’s conflating actions that could lead to annoyance to ones that are actually annoying. I understand that passionately and vigorously defending your points can lead to others getting frustrated and starting flamewars- but just because they have in the past does not mean that they will. If people take great care to make sure that all they do is attack each other’s points and not each other, passionate, fiery debate can occur- in fact, in many ways it can be illuminating and even entertaining (why do people think shows like Crossfire or The Lang & O’Leary Exchange get an audience?). I can understand if I got a warning because I called someone a name because of what they said, or inferred something about their character because of what they wrote, but I did not do that- I just attacked points, not the people, which is the way it should be. Personally, I’d rather engage in discussions where the people are passionate about their positions- that means they care about what they’re talking about, and will always ensure the discussion is enriching. Besides, who hasn’t enjoyed hours-long discussions that leave both people feeling illuminated? As long as people are respectful, passionate debate is respectful- and should be encouraged, not curbed.

I thought about challenging the warning and going back to Television Without Pity, but, given the mods’ extensive history of pettiness, I don’t think there’s much of a point. So I’ve decided that on my blog, I’m going to review the shows I used to review on Television Without Pity- because on my blog, discussion is always encouraged.

UPDATE:

I went to check the “Elementary” thread just out of curiosity at around 11:59PM on December 15, 2013 and noticed this missive from the moderator named Howard. This is being quoted verbatim:

(Actual link to the post: http://forums.televisionwithoutpity.com/topic/3213462-elementary-the-case-of-the-englishman-in-new-york/?p=16186779)

“I’ve deleted over a dozen posts that were repetitive, boards on boards, and testy. Because of that, and because it was more than just two posters, I am closing the thread until tomorrow evening. It will reopen at 7pm Central (Editor's Note: this refers to December 16, 2013 at 8PM Eastern Standard Time).

Please keep in mind that this isn’t a debate or a court of law, and no one is going to 'win.' Several of you are posting as if you think you can change the opinions of others if you just find the right way to say something, or say it often enough that others will get tired and give you the last word. That’s the wrong attitude to have here. And stick to sharing your own take on the show rather than question others’ take, or demand that they justify it. You can disagree with others and lay out your own opinion about the show without doing either of those things.”

Yup. I really don’t know how you can disagree with someone else without questioning their opinion- a disagreement means you’re questioning their assertion. Plus, Howard didn’t seem to realize that many people in that thread weren’t just making opinions, they were stating things as fact- stuff that asks for justification.

I already touched upon the “debate” part in my previous post, so I won’t get into that.

The “boards on boards” bit came from a comment I made about the show having double standards for its characters, done by directly quoting and responding to a comment that highlighted this occurrence on the show (both comments have since been deleted). Howard sent me a warning thinking that I was referring to other posts on the forum, who were saying the characters had double standards. Howard obviously didn’t bother to read my post and realize that I was doing no such thing- but, then again, why should I think the moderators actually would want to take the time and do things the right way?

Not to mention the irony of Howard saying that we can’t tell others to justify their positions when there’s no way for us to ask him to justify his.

Gotta wonder how great the user turnover is with actions like this.

-DG

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