The ‘LOST’ Usenet Rules and Regulations: The Respectful TV Nerd

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When I first heard about this assignment and learned about the time period that UseNet existed in, I immediately knew the kind of discussion I wanted to find: I needed to know what people were saying about the TV show Lost. With one quick search, I found the newsgroup comprised of over 70,000 messages. Before I began scrolling, I wondered what the vibe of the group would be. This assignment wants us to explore how the idea of Usenet’s self moderation worked and how it was reflected in the messages people sent. My assumption, knowing the quality of people on the internet now and understanding just how expansive this group was, that there would be a lot of crass humor, language and illegal content that would have slipped through the cracks of what, I thought, could only be a handful of people regulating the group. And while it is true, that there is a large handful of posts promoting pornographic content (or what is probably viruses or other scams) and there are a good handful of discussions with inappropriate, sexualized or misogynistic content regarding the TV show, I was surprised to find that for the most part the newsgroup was pretty well regulated and fostered some pretty interesting and civil discussions about the show itself.

Perhaps the best example of this is a discussion simply titled “Dreadful.” discussing the contents of Lost’s very controversial finale. It was an episode of television that divided fans almost immediately, so with the initial poster calling it a “huge cop-out” and an “Epic FAIL [sic]”, I expected the 12 post long discussion to get pretty heated. Instead, though, people responded to the original comment from both sides of agreement and rebuttal with level-headedness, while still staying true to the internet culture and jargon that we can see beginning to form. Now, that isn’t to say people weren’t aggressive (or perhaps passive aggressive), but they did it in a way that was surprisingly scholarly, with one replyer discussing the finale’s “commonplace cliched spiritual” and “saccharine… Hallmark” qualities and another literally quoting Mr. Eko from the show itself to prove their point about the show being more spiritual than scientific and that fans expected too many answeres. This sophistication and respect shows the success moderation had on keeping these discussions not only civil, but also focused. The replies and in depth analysis this thread and other posts go into show the geeky super-fans that this group gave voice to that would not be possible without some form of moderation, weeding out extraneous posts and setting rules for what is considered an appropriate discussion topic.

Speaking of rules, there is one very interesting aspect of this post that shows the level of moderation this newsgroup had. The thread discusses Lost, but then expands onto discussion of a different show: Ashes to Ashes with one user comparing its ending to the ending of Lost. While this could be seen as off-topic and perhaps not appropriate for the group, instead of removing the messages, the moderation saw the title of this part of the thread be altered to “Dreadful. [SPOILER Warning for Ashes to Ashes]”. This slight tweak shows the level of respect they had for following some form of rules (which I sadly could not find in my search). This decision is great as it broadens what is allowed to be posted, allowing discussion to move beyond just the show, but how the show works in relation to other media, while still being respectful to readers and cinephiles who do not want to have new content ruined for them. It overall creates a very welcoming and beneficial environment for Lost nerds everywhere to safely discuss their favorite show.

All that being said, it is impossible to ignore the reality, that this thread does see the beginning of internet jargon and the idea of the keyboard warrior beginning to form, as combined with all of this respectful discussion is some indication of classic online hostility. One response goes into some civil analysis about why they think the ending was good, before then saying the original poster not liking the ending “makes [them] a douchebag [sic]” Another user passive aggressively talks about how “‘Lost’ was never a show for atheists”, hinting at how the original poster ‘just doesn’t get it’. All in all, though, there is still a much larger emphasis on actual discussion of the show as opposed to ad hominem attacks of character. The respectful nature still overpowers the more aggressive, toxic aspects… in this group and for now, at least.

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