What Usenet Dark Humor Teaches Us About Constructive Online Conversations

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Every successful debate on the questionable affirmation of offensiveness is based in A complex moral web of intention and consequence. Supposedly immoral actions are analyzed through consideration of what the instigator hoped to accomplish and who was affected. Different schools of thought have immensely varying balances of these two factors, and when pitted against other philosophies, can inadvertently result in debates recklessly switching between focus on the morality of the action in question and the strength of the moral set up of each arguer’s way of thinking. Tension ensues, and no intellectually and morally satisfying conclusion is reached.

Many chaotic conversations across the internet, particularly those about life in the digital world, happen through this exact process. Individuals lack the discipline to focus on having a specific conversation about online conduct, resulting in a failure to establish guidelines on acceptable online behaviors. Tension thrusts itself in between the conversing parties, escalating debates into worthless blathering nonsense full of morally questionable aggravated behavior fit for many more separate discussions on online implementations of morality, themselves likely ending in similarly emotional states. We arrive at a self fulfilling cycle of tense online debate culture continuously standing against properly throughlined discourse.

Humor is the subject of some of the most exaggerated and consequently telling examples of this process, creating situations in which many jokers try or claim to be trying to have a good time, and are allegedly hurting others, supposedly unintentionally. Different parties have varying interpretations of what malicious actions and harmful responses look like, creating much confusion over the truthful nature of all the claims, allegations, and suppositions made by the comics and victims at hand. With additional conflicting opinions taking the form of diverse moral explications of specific jokes, intents, and harms greatly differing from viewpoint to viewpoint, common ground rules on what humor is acceptable become essential. As such, discussions of intentionality and morality can be kept from escalating out of control, holding humor-stemmed online cycles of moral debate at bay.

To understand how this can be done, we can study a Usenet discussion board on Jewish genocidal-based humor, significant portions of which makes harsh fun out of serious and fruitlessly sarcastic questionings of the Holocaust’s tragic nature. One such example details the subtly idiotic intricacies of  Richard E. Harwood’s book Did Six Million People Really Die, a serious attempt to demystify supposedly worshipfully accepted inexact notions of the Holocaust with a clever false fact refutation. User Samael Deicide posted the work in its entirety, receiving numerous comments berating certain passages through an array of darkly comic declarations, including sardonic snivels, exasperated mimications and farcical cries of “gotchya!”. Practically every comedian played out their little game of mockery to great effect, scorning Harwood’s buffoonery with just a few personal digs to illuminate but not trivialize a carefully constructed exaggerated reality fit for fun and condemnation. 

Yet one reply got quite a bit too emotional, exclaiming, “What a loaded pile of useless BS! What a loaded pile of useless hoarse manure! I want to kill this man. You have inspired me to go back in time and protest their way.” Samael Deicide replied, “Do not comment like this. What is the point? No one here is like this. You are not funny. Humor is routed in real life,” with a moderator replying, “A very good principle we all adhere to. Do what you want. But don’t do that. And do not insult anyone here, I know your type.” The discussion board was mainly moderated by social acceptability, where users agreed to follow a style of conversation that used humor to point out what was wrong about a target, even in the simplest of ways. Angry rants were looked down upon, seemingly to keep the group from spreading hate serving no useful purpose. As a result, no forceful and incessant rules existed on styles of supposed humor that may have unintentionally kept many darker but still somewhat grounded jokes from being written. Of course, successful moderation through elimination could have filtered false examples of such humor, but given no harmful effects on the board, it makes sense to risk potential misguided community scorn rather than potential elimination of valuable humorous conversation. Notably, the comment starting this little debate was aimed towards a British National Front member from decades ago, not a member of the board or a group of identification one might have been a part of, posing no common harmful effects on the small social group. Given the latter segment of the moderator’s comment, such behavior would likely have been dealt with in some way, building a consideration of humorous motivation in addition to outcome. 

Looking at life outside the digital world through its social conventions, we can identify worth in the board’s moderation that reflects a stronger consideration of a potential online reality based in more realistic human ways of thinking. In common society, guidelines on what is acceptable create order and comfort in fields of existence law cannot affect, providing aid with social interaction, organizing day-to-day life, dealing with discomforting actions all around us, and pretty much every element of coping against the existential troubles continuously plaguing our minds. A philosophy of life common amongst almost everyone around us is formed, which unfortunately results in incredible amounts of bias running many social guidelines. As such, the method of discussion in the covered Usenet group allows for interactions reflecting implicit forms of mental comfort and discontent in addition to rules of discussion dictating what obviously can be ruled harmful to a greater good. Alienating digital walls are lowered, and it becomes slightly easier to understand each other. Humor can be linked closer to social commonalities, making it easier to have constructive conversations in situations when rules are not able to be present. And naturally, a lack of adherence to strictly rule based conversement causes more conversations built on biased views of humor to occur. Certain interactions become worth something only for specific people’s ways of thinking–what offends and humors on a personal level rather than the community as a whole. 

In such a way, the discussion board is not, at face value, discernibly better or worse off than it would be based more firmly in moderating rules; little examples of tension and how it is resolved make a conclusion quite hard to deduce. Luckily, we can somewhat accurately predict that a generally positive impact is made, given how unified the board is in style of humor and discussion. Social convention generally works better in smaller environments less prone to bias and significantly diverse ways of thinking, demonstrating how important it is to streamline the creation of guidelines to make sure that they help with scenes of comfort common to more people. 

With a bit more structured control in this regard, online conversations find a life-like structuring ideal for helping to eliminate harmful online debate. They are able to provide order in the moral considerations of humor and other topics of discourse, allowing for a greater adherence to the good of communities over individuals. While there are other successful options to help stop the online cycle of harmful debate, they usually entail exaggerating the lifelessness of online communities, exaggerating rules to incessant degrees along with an insensitivity towards how people really think. And so it becomes clear how essential it is to adapt a similar process of implementing such social structures in every corner of the digital world, fashioning it into such a pleasurable place to thrive in.

Works Cited

Deicide, Samael. “Did 6 Million Really Die?” Humor Jewish Genocide. Harwood, Richard E. “Did Six Million Really Die ?” Goodreads, Goodreads, 1 Jan. 1974, http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15991018-did-six-million-really-die.

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