Forum Excuses for the Badly Behaved

Bob Leggitt | Tuesday 6 March 2012
Forum rules

It’s a fact. People behave like infants on forums, message boards and networking sites. No matter what anyone says, it’s really, really hard to be a full part of an online community and not, at times, get out of your pram and yell: “GET TO F*** YOU PLANKTON-BRAINED PIECE OF STINKING SH*T!”. Then you think: “Oh God, WTF did I do that for?… Now everyone’s gonna think I’m total tool. They’ll all spend the next five years reminding me about this. They’ll start calling me Fred ‘get to f***’ Bloggs. I can’t deal with that. What I need, is an excuse…”

And haven’t we just seen some excuses over the years on forums and social networking sites? Personally, I find the excuses more entertaining than the outbursts which prompt them, so I thought I’d present a rundown of what I think are the most popular get-outs on the social web. I’ve tried to ascertain how successful these excuses are likely to be, but it’s very difficult because no two forums are alike. There’s no shortage of excuses though, so take your pick.

“I’m being abusive for medical reasons!” A good start. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, given that illness is used so often as an excuse in life offline, when people cite it as an explanation for unacceptable conduct on forums and networking sites.
“I wasn’t being funny – it’s just this condition I’ve got. Makes me threaten to kill people's parents. I’m a great guy really! I can get my doctor to come on here and back me up if you like…”
Of all the excuses described in this piece, this one probably has the greatest element of do or die. It depends on the forum as to whether or not the majority of members will accept a medical condition as the explanation for abuse. But if members do reject this excuse, you’re probably finished on the forum.

“This is a public forum!!” Why is it that when people say something vile and obnoxious on the web, and then they get called out for it, they respond with:
“This is a public forum!!”?
Like the fact that the forum is public gives them some sort of special right to spit abuse at people. It’s a public world, but if you get challenged for giving people abuse at the roadside, you don’t say: “This is a public street!!”, do you?

I know that what people who say “This is a public forum!!” really mean is that because the forum is public, anyone can post on it, and therefore their opinion has as much right to be aired as anyone else’s. That’s true, but they haven’t been called out for airing their opinion – they’ve been called out for having an opinion that stinks. “This is a public forum!!” is accordingly very lame, and those who say it should either properly defend their position or apologise. But surprisingly, this (non)excuse does often work extremely well.

“Freedom of speech!” Another abysmally stupid excuse for abusive conduct on the web, but once again, people accept it and for some reason find it difficult to argue against. One of the reasons this excuse is so widely used is that not only do so many people accept it, but almost inevitably it’s followed by a stream of posts in support of the abusive member’s right to ‘free speech’.

What the supporting members fail to realise is that in most cases they’re not defending the right to free speech at all. They’re defending the right to be abusive. Free speech has to go hand in hand with responsibility. If you can’t use free speech responsibly (i.e. in a way that doesn’t deliberately hurt other people), then it gets taken away. It should be no different on the web. Freedom of speech is not an excuse for abusive conduct, just as freedom of movement is not an excuse for smacking someone in the face. But as I say, it’s still a popular forum excuse, and from what I’ve seen it’s more likely to work than fail.

“It was a joke!” Countless transgressions on forums are dealt with using this easy get-out. “Where’s your sense of humour gone peeps? Surely, when the moderator told us he was going go-carting, and I said: “I f***ing hope the tw*t crashes and loses the use of his fingers!!!”, you could all see I was simply coining an affectionate witticism?… I do not genuinely wish him to crash and break his neck! I simply feel that he is a poor moderator, and I was making the joke that if he wasn’t able to use his fingers, he could not type out written warnings or suspend me.” Erm, so, yeah. That’s how the “It was a joke!” excuse works. It’s probably the least likely excuse to cut any ice, because people recognise that even in jest there are some things you shouldn’t say.

“Huh? What did I do?” Some forum members can simply brazen out atrocious behaviour with a claim that they don’t understand what everyone’s making a fuss about. It can be quite effective. It’s a bit like when a politician does something staggeringly stupid, and then either claims he did it with the best of intentions, or outright denies it. The public knows he’s lying, the media knows he’s lying – the population of your fish tank knows he’s lying. But he’s gonna get away with it, because in the end, there’s a weary and inevitable pointlessness in trying to get someone to admit something they’d have to be congenitally stupid to admit. So, theoretically at least, if you insist hard enough on a forum that you don’t understand what you’ve done wrong (in lay terms, that just means you put “Huh?” in every post), people will quickly tire of trying to educate you, and they’ll move onto someone more receptive.

“I am leaving the forum!”… If you can’t explain yourself, what better way to get people back on your side than to make yourself into a martyr? This ploy doesn’t always work of course. If you’ve cheesed off the administration they’ll have your avatar down and your log-in disabled before your ‘final’ post has even shown as published in your browser. But sometimes a good old, snivelling “I am leaving the forum” (assuming you can make yourself sound sufficiently suicidal) will at least quell the worst of the outrage when you’ve behaved like a complete git.

“I was drunk/drugged/’shroomed off the face of the earth!” We’re getting down to the real nitty-gritty now… “OMG guys!… What can I say?… Woke up this morning and logged in, and it appears that last night, after my potato salad was cruelly spiked with an assortment of some of the most viciously powerful fungal substances in England, I lapsed into a bizarre altered state and admitted to fancying both Caroline Spelman and Boris Johnson, before demanding an immediate ban for everyone who followed my post with the word “LOL”, or with that smiley which rolls about soiling itself with laughter.” It’ll depend on your general character as to whether you can get away with this. If you’ve always come across as the sort of cat who might be prone to vertical drinking, most members will probably believe you. If you’re more measured and have a history of being quite calculating and manipulative, this is unlikely to work.

“It wasn’t me!!!” You guessed it, didn’t you?…Yes, without a shadow of a doubt, the number one all-time classic excuse across networking sites and forums is a complete denial of responsibility on the basis that, er… someone else did it… “Sorry about that everyone! I left my account logged in and my utter and complete swine of a brother/boyfriend/girlfirend/workmate decided it would be really funny to, like, publicly call you all tossers, neg-rep the lot of you, and report every post in this thread (except my own) as abuse!... If I change all your reps back to positives, can I have mine back please?”… This get-out is saved only for the very most serious situations. It’s like a pilot’s ejector seat, which is only to be employed when you’re nosediving towards total destruction at around 900mph, with your gob wide open because the G-force is too great to actually shut it. I’ve seen quite a few instances of this rather desperate ploy, and in fact, in every case, it’s convinced the majority of people and dampened the fire. But it probably wouldn’t work more than once, and there’ll always be those who can analyse posting traits potentially in the vicinity to expose your trick.

If you use forums or networking sites, defo bookmark this page. God forbid that you ever need it, but if you do, you've got your own little multi-faceted insurance policy - ready and waiting.

You can find more about forums in...