Keeping it Real (Civil)

The internet has allowed us to spread, grow and stay together as a worldwide gaming community. It also accelerates conflicts and acts as an imperfect medium for communication. Cultural interpretation, nuance and meaning can be lost when you’re behind a keyboard. Instead of another person, we have only their words to represent them. Even the most eloquent speakers, or talented writers, can totally lose their cool—or be taken in a different light than intended.[1] We can’t always anticipate how our communication will be taken by others, but there are things we can do to help mitigate how harshly or how often miscommunication occurs.


Before We Speak

There are a few things to keep in mind when talking with others on the internet. Are we consciously aware something we say may offend people? Do we have an urge to say something hurtful or petty to someone else? Is a face to face discussion an option, and is it advisable? For every moment of unconscious misstep, we have an equal number where we know we’re rising to the bait. And we want to. Your body chemistry and your brain want to get in there, fight and win. It’s after the red haze dissipates that we remember that the internet is forever. Your website or your actions on social media can be screen shot, archived, discussed, and preserved. Like a fly in amber, we can spelunk through old flame wars. So before you weigh in, particularly on sensitive subjects, ask yourself

  • Is this the time to share my thoughts/response?
  • Is this the appropriate place to share my thoughts/response?
  • Is there a way to say this without being mean?


Once we enter a discussion, we cannot control how people respond to us. We can make a choice to be civil and respectful. In customer service we would discuss the concept of escalation. As a customer feels wronged, that the other party does not sympathize with their plight or understand it, they escalate the conflict. You do not want to be That Person that escalated on someone else. Even when people lose it, and the last thing we want to do is think happy thoughts about them, it’s one of the ways to keep the conversation on track as a dialogue, not a fist-fight. On the other end of the internet connection are other living, breathing, real people. If we say they don’t deserve a modicum of decency and civility, we say that we too do not deserve those things.

Table Flip: The New Olympic Sport

Once someone loses it and has an angry outburst, rage quits a thread, goes off on their social media: evaluate what responses are possible. If it strikes you as a moment they need to walk away so they can come back and be civil later, let them go. If someone says they’re logging off, need a break, consider the discussion over. They’ve recognized they’ve hit a very serious limit, and respecting that limit often makes for better communication later. People don’t want to communicate with someone who doesn’t respect their boundaries. Sometimes, people can’t finish a conversation on your schedule. It sucks, but ask yourself if you want it finished out of an emotional response to the conversation, or because something hinges on this immediately getting wrapped up. Conflicts that interfere with a product release, who you might be rooming with next Tuesday at the out of state convention? These would be conflicts that can’t wait long. Arguing with someone else about a matter that isn’t time sensitive? If you or someone else table flips, it’s time to take a breather.

Take Ten

Why is something getting to you? Does the argument strike a chord emotionally? Are you having a bad day and reading someone’s statement as containing a message they didn’t intend? Is something biologic going on—such as a headache or low blood sugar? You can work on quelling rage when you understand where it comes from and what are constructive ways to address the rage. Rare is the argument when we can do both in the middle of a chemical reaction that feels like the White Sands missile test. You lose access to your ability to obey Wheaton’s Law[2] and will only regain it once your Hulk like rage has subsided.

Picking Up The Mic

At some point during the argument, you may mic drop.  You could have said your unvarnished, unfiltered two cents and dropped the mic. If you come back to the conversation, picking up your side of it needs to be done as calmly as you can manage. If you want others to hear what you have to say, maybe even change their responses, you can’t scream into the mic as soon as you get back on it. You’ll create a new loop of the argument, covering the same logic-devoid and screaming ground. I know ground doesn’t scream, just go with me.

After you take ten, however long ten ends up being, you need to come back knowing

  • Why am I angry?
  • Why are they angry?
  • Do either of us understand why we’re angry?
  • What do I want to say that I haven’t already?
  • How do I say that constructively?
  • Do I need to apologize for anything I said/did before coming back to the conversation?


Sometimes, we’re going to screw up. And that’s a fact of life on the internet. But when you own your mistakes, and make amends, that’s preserved too. When we come back and pick the table back up, we have the option of sitting down with the people we disagree with. It doesn’t always end happily, but it’s important that we try.

What are the ways you stay calm during conversations on the internet that anger you? Share any tips on fostering civil discourse in the comments.

[1] For a resource on this topic, see Ryan Macklin’s blog post You Don’t Own Your Message, January 31st, 2011.

[2] Don’t be a dick, for those unfamiliar.

About l

L is a freelancer currently working as a writer, editor, journalist and game designer. She hauls a suitcase decorated in stickers as she blogs, travels, and tours. She makes her home in Washington, California, and wherever the tour stopped last night. You can follow L on twitter (@lilyorit )

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