>A PRIMER FOR ONLINE ACTIVISTS > >INTRODUCTION: > >Although this document was conceived as a guide for >new animal rights activists, the principles discussed can >be generally applied to virtually any activist working >online. It is not intended to be a list of absolute >rules, nor is it meant to be a strict characterization >of my own posting style. It IS meant to be used as a >reference by people who have little or no experience >with online activism. > >ONLINE DIALOG: > >The Internet has been around in one form or another >for several decades. This, along with the somewhat >parallel development of dialup Bulletin Board Services >(BBS's), has resulted in the evolution of an Online >Culture of sorts, with its own "nettiquette". For >someone posting online for the first time, cyberculture >can be confusing at best, and downright offensive at >worst. Since the Internet isn't going to change for the >sake of new people (known as "newbies"), it is important >to be able to understand this medium, and to use it to >communicate effectively. Since the cyberculture >vocabulary extends to acronym-like abbreviations, and to >punctuation-based indicators of tone called >"emoticons", I have included a short list of the most >common shorthand expressions, and a helpful link, at the >end of this document. While it is very important to >understand whether the post to which you are responding >was intended to be serious, or just tongue-in-cheek, the >most vital aspect of online activism is your own >presentation; how you represent yourself and your cause, >and how well you communicate. > >FIRST IMPRESSIONS: > >When you are posting online, people don't know what >you are like, how nice you are to your family, or how >intelligent you are at your job. They often don't even >know your gender. Consequently, your online identity >consists almost entirely of what you write. I say >"almost", because many people adopt online aliases, >either to help protect their identities or to make a >statement about who they are and what they believe. >This means that if you post under the name >"MoltenDeath" or "AK-47", you have lost quite a >bit of your audience's respect and empathy before you >write a word. If you want to use an alias, it's a good >idea to pick one that isn't instantly offensive. > >The first time that you post in a newsgroup or other >online forum, it is important to think about what you >want to say before you click the "send" button. If you >are angry, take the time to calm down a bit before you >respond. Your first post doesn't have to be profound, >but it's a good idea to avoid being remembered as "that >jerk". This is of course a good idea for all posts, not >just your first one. Depending on the situation, you >may want to indicate that you have been following the >discussion, and perhaps explain why you have decided to >participate. That doesn't mean that you are expected to >tell the Story of Your Life in your first post, or that >anyone will appreciate it if you do. > >It's generally better to slip into a discussion than >to crash it. That means following a topic "thread", and >reading a few older posts if necessary, before you >participate. Try to get a sense of the topic, and of the >positions and personalities of the people involved in it. >This will help you to contribute something meaningful. > >CIVILITY: > >One of the worst things an activist can do in any >discussion is to lose his or her temper. This may not >be obvious to everyone; there are many people online >who view personal insults and inflammatory rhetoric >(known as "flames") as a perfectly acceptable everyday >conversational style. Some people, often called Trolls, >post not to advance the discussion but to provoke angry >responses. Don't fall into the trap of fighting Fire >with Fire; the only people who truly appreciate that >sort of "debate" are those who will never change their >minds, and those who make better opponents than allies. >The better way to win a skirmish is to be the one who >remains calm, not the one who comes up with the nastiest >flame. If you do lose your temper, apologize. When >dealing with people who just can't be civil, humor, >used in an appropriate manner (not as a substitute for >debate) can be effective. Avoid "baiting", or >deliberately provoking anger. > >ARGUMENT 101: > >When debating matters of fact, avoid the pitfall of >posting your own opinion as established reality. If you >believe that something is true, but do not absolutely, >positively know it to be true, it's a good idea to >indicate that by writing something along the lines of >"It's my understanding that..." or "I'm pretty sure >that...". This can save you enormous grief if you turn >out to be mistaken. On a similar note, remember the >Monty Python "Argument Sketch": contradiction is not >debate. Support what you say with reasoned arguments, >facts, or both. > >When paraphrasing someone, never use double quotation >marks. Use single quotation marks, or none at all. Never >edit a quote to change the meaning, and if you do edit >for length, indicate that you have done so. Always >indicate whom you are quoting. > >There are a handful of descriptive terms that get >bandied about in online discussion groups. They >describe tactics that do not represent honest >debate. Avoid stating that a person or source is >completely untrustworthy because they have lied in the >past ("poisoning the well"), appealing to emotion rather >than intellect ("ad hominem"), excusing behavior on the >grounds that the opposition engages in it (tu quoque), >and avoid attributing a position to someone that they do >not hold, and then rebutting it ("straw man fallacy"). >You may be accused of engaging in these tactics anyway; >be prepared to defend your posts in a reasonable manner. >Avoid using a double standard: judge your opponents and >their organizations by the same ethical yardstick you use >to judge yourself and the organizations that you support. > >Even when arguing passionately, try to refrain from >using excessively dramatic language, and, especially, >don't make sweeping generalizations. The latter can be >used to dismiss your position out of hand, even if it is >quite valid in a more limited sense. For example, the >statement "Many animals in slaughterhouses die in a >manner that isn't fast or free of extreme suffering." >is a little dramatic, but defensible. The statement >"All animals in slaughterhouses die a slow, horrible >death!" is not accurate, and will, rest assured, be >used to discredit you. > >LISTEN!: > >The most valuable asset that an activist can bring >to a debate is an open mind. Listen to what your >opponents are saying, and if it repels you, think about >it anyway. Even Trolls can present valid arguments. >Remember that no side is wrong (or right) about >everything, and that you can learn valuable lessons >from your opponents. What you learn can help you to >grow as an activist and as a person. Try to give >yourself some time away from the fray on a regular >basis; it will help you to remain calm, sharp, and >most importantly, sane. > >SOURCES: > >When looking for facts to support your argument, one >of the absolute best places to look is in the material >provided by partisan, biased organizations *who support >the opposing position*. Quote a statement by PETA to >support a pro- animal rights argument, and the >opposition will laugh. Quote a statement from one of >their own sources, like the NRA or AMPEF - one that >presents facts that speak against their own interest in >this case - and they will be hard pressed to refute it. >Relatively neutral sources, of course, are also >excellent. Remember that all sources are biased in one >way or another, and don't treat any advocacy group, no >matter how close to your heart they may be, as >infallible. Above all, think for yourself! > >NETSPEAK: > >IMO - in my opinion >BTW - by the way >AFAIK - as far as I know >LOL - laughing out loud >ROTFL - rolling on the floor laughing > >EMOTICONS: > >:) happy, friendly, or joking >;) winking or joking >:( unhappy > >Many variations of these, and others, exist. >They are used to indicate tone and mood in a medium >where those things are not always readily apparent. > >The use of asterisks to indicate *emphasis* (as >italics are used) may be desirable, because typing in >all capital letters is often considered to be SHOUTING. > >More useful information for newbies can be found at: >http://www.newbie.net/ > >Copyright 1999 by Michael Cerkowski >Distribute freely, but do not modify.
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