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What is our community purpose?
Our goal is to create a supportive, respectful, and intelligent atmosphere in which people can feel free to tell stories and discuss whatever is on their minds, whether they choose to do it in chat, during the broadcast, on our mailing list, or on our boards.

What is the FAQ?
This FAQ is a work in progress, a philosophically defining document that should stretch and fit the needs of the community as it changes and develops new ideas. Any member can suggest an amendment to the FAQ. If it sounds reasonable, we can put it in. The adventure of how the philosophy will grow is the journey into the unknown, which is the life blood of any community.

A little web sociology mixed in?
Web Sociology occurs when folks discuss topics like gender, religion, sex, politics, personal growth, etc., online, with people from all over the world, all ages, male and female, parents and non-parents etc., and actively work to achieve synthesis by listening to different perspectives, disagreeing perhaps, and then learning from them.

We do this actively at RFM.

How do I know whether I am on-topic or not?
The phrase "on-topic" is not really as relevant here as it is on a list focusing on user problems with Cisco routers, where the subject is easily defined.

Members are free to wonder about things, whether they be issue-oriented or personal in nature. You can talk about what is on your mind and discover new ways of looking at things. That process of discovery is more important to me than the topic of conversation. And the emphasis is on the things people can discover when they treat each other's feelings with respect.

I am fascinated by the thoughtful interaction that takes place between people who meet by chance in an online environment. What wisdom will this specific combination of discussants define? Finding the answer is web sociology, too. :-)

What is the difference between your chatroom, mailing list and discussion boards?
RFM is mostly a chat community, where members communicate with the characters in the broadcast studio. Our mailing list has been used for RFM announcements, and people have used our boards to post stories and opinions. But the mailing list is open to a discussion topic if anyone feels there is an issue of importance they need to get feedback on.

Should I interact with RFM at work?
I would suggest not, especially if you must report to your boss on how you are using your time. I would join this community at home.

Is there anything at all that is not permitted on this list?
This might be a little too rosy for me. I live in the real world.

We draw a difference between "inside advertising" and "outside advertising." We are delighted to highlight the projects of community members. For example, regular chatroom members can include a picture of their business in their member profiles. Artists who have played for us get an artist's page, with pictures and sound clips of their CDs and latest performances. We call this inside advertising, with permission. Outside advertising, or spam, is not permitted.

Reprint Permission Request Procedure
If you get an idea about other artistic and educational ways you would like to showcase this community, they are welcome. Creativity is a vital life force of any community. So that these projects can proceed smoothly, I am providing a procedure to request reprint permission from RFM creators for not only their artistic contributions, but for using the personality of any member as a character in a fictional representation.

  • Collect the texts you would like to use with the authors' names and email addresses.
  • Write individual email letters of permission to each author. In these letters, describe the purpose of your project and where it will be displayed, and include the quotes you wish to use.
  • Have the authors include your permission email in their reply stating their decision. Then you will have a written record that you got permission to use the stated text for your stated purpose.
  • Then separate the "yes's" from the "no's", and GO! Total Score. :-)

Nothing you say on the internet is really ever private. It can be forwarded. The most common breaches of trust are not from people you don't know, but betrayals by people you thought you knew. With all the variations between online and real personalities, the only security on the internet is silence.

The revelation-privacy balance is perhaps the most important social skill you can ever develop in an online community. I made an imaginary graffiti wall in my mind, and on that wall I spraypainted: "This is who I am, this is what I feel, and I don't care who knows it." Anything in front of that wall is fine to post. Anything behind that wall should be kept close to heart. It is up to every member to make an "informed decision" about what they post so they don't suffer the consequences of getting addicted to revealing things past their comfort level. Technology will never be able to take care of you.

That said, we have all made mistakes of revelation. I have made them, too. Sometimes the egg cracks open and the yolk comes out. What's in that yolk isn't always sane. My hope though is that the list will be sympathetic to the fact that as much as we try to be in control, human beings can never do anything perfectly all the time. If someone makes a mistake in revelation, my hope is that we will have enough skill as a community to treat that information with respect.

I call them readers or viewers. For some, the privacy balance is silence. They might be shy, or too busy, but these people participate too, and I respect them. Because they are such a ubiquitous fact of internet life, their audience-like role kind of makes posting to an online community into a performance, I suppose. They exist, and I welcome them. I believe it is the DJs, poster's, and/or chatter's responsibility to take their existence into account and decide what they feel about it before they say something in our broadcast, chat room, boards, or mailing list.

A friend once wrote to me, "Anonymity protects our egos from the evil we do," and I think she was right. We certainly use chat nicknames around here, but people know eachother's names. When you say something, it is always good to believe in it enough to sign your name.

The Negative Stuff
I am no fan of negativity. But I have to recognize that there are certain behaviors that harm list communities.

I cannot anticipate all the situations that would come up. I can only think of situations mentioned by others and things I have seen before in other online experiences that really bothered me.

If something that isn't in this document comes up, we will all deal with it then and an amendment will be suggested, discussed, and added. But for now, I am including some negative questions and answers for this purpose.

What would be better kept private?
If a married person decides to have an affair with someone else on RFM (married or single), I would prefer they do all that stuff in private. I do not judge people on those issues. They are none of my business, and none of anyone else's business either. I mention this because someone told me that on a list she was on, the public display of romantic sentiments between two married people irrevocably harmed the community. So I figure if we know it doesn't work, don't do it.

Also, the finances and medical histories of the RFM Staff are private. Any individual can choose to reveal their personal information in any way they wish, but it is not a requirement that the community invade the privacy of a staff member to answer a question on a bulletin board. If someone has a personal question about RFM that they need answered, they can send our staff private email.

What would get me kicked off RFM?

I have no intention of creating an atmosphere where people are afraid that if they have an opinion on a topic, they could get kicked off, but I hope everyone would agree that they would not want to be subjected to these types of dysfunctional behavior:

Hate Speech
Two examples: If a person starts a thread entitled, "All Jews Are Nazis," or uses the N-word in an agressive, abusive manner to signify a racist sentiment towards another list member, I wouldn't have any problem with them leaving.

Violent Sexual Fantasies
If someone uses abusive sexual language towards another member in a hateful way and/or posts a violent sexual fantasy about them to the list, they should go to alt.insane.sexual.dysfunction.

Unsubscribing a member without his or her knowledge
The decision to subscribe or unsubscribe to a list is private. Someone should not go to a list web page and unsubscribe a member without prior consent.

False Email
Sending email under another member's name with the purpose of misrepresenting that member's views for prurient interest's sake will not be tolerated.

Email Harrassment
If a member, participant or lurker, subjects another member to malicious email harrassment based on what they have said or posted on RFM, it will be considered a breach of trust.

Forget it. Bye.

When people join RFM, they do so to discuss what is on their minds. They do not join to be exposed to sociopaths, so we will make it our duty to assure people who are considering joining our community that we will be vigilant in dealing with dysfunctional behavior when it is exhibited. Of course, my hope is that this whole section only has to be included as a formality.

Online Citizenship
For the last section of this FAQ, I offer my member citizenship guide. I am now coming to believe that to be a healthy member of an online community, there has to be emotional self-sufficiency on a number of fronts. These are serious spiritual issues and perhaps dealing with them well in an online environment can help with dealing with real life, too.

Being able to take responsibility for your own security speaks to the ability to conquer your own fears and still function. In the emotional design of a community, one of the things the creator has to think about is -- at what point in the fear/risk balance do you want to say, "If you fear this much, it might serve your interests more not to be here for we do not believe technology can take care of you past a certain point." I suppose the answer to this question is one every member has to make for themselves. We'll help if we can, but help and protection are two different things. We are saying up front that members are responsible for their own words.

Leaving an Argument
Leave an argument when you percieve it is getting too personal for the other person.

Once on a mailing list I ran for four years, a woman came out for Megan's Law becasue her niece had died a brutal death. Three young guys came at her with the pain of being falsely accused. They were engaging her in objective debate. They might have been right in their arguments but they did not percieve that this woman could not take it. Look at the wound. If you see a wound is too great, let go of the argument.

After a pounding, she went nuts, quit the list and kept emailing people for months. That is when we, as a mailing list, learned to play better basketball. Don't stifle free speech, but use some judgment and have mercy on a wounded soul. Judge who can take objective debate and who cant, and argue another day. It doesn't hurt.

Place faith in yourself as opposed to projecting faith onto the community as a whole or on any one member

This might be the toughest issue of all, faith. Recently, one of the best friends of RFM wanted to give us experience with professional actors. So he called his brothers, professional comedians, to come work with us. They cancelled twice. Then he said he'd bring his father, a famous character actor. No one believed him. He never called. He finally called one hour before arrival and the father came. Only one person was there to do the interview. Our friend felt that this project was the next big thing, put his faith in it, tried to give it his most precious gift, and human administrative miscommunication hurt him badly.

I am still talking to my friend. No rifts here, but I dont want this to happen again.

It is so easy to have faith in an artistic project. But I am coming to believe that it is the most dangerous thing of all about online communities. I feel members should have faith in themselves first. Don't substitute the online community project, or any artistic project, for the faith you should be able to carry with you. Human frailty will break it every time.

Taking care of your own fears, your own faith, these are pretty heavy philosophical issues to deal with. "I just thought I was joining a mailing list to talk about birds." I have always found it was more than that.

Fantasy and Reality
Find balance between the real and online worlds so that the community doesn't become 100% of your life.

One of the fears that cropped up on the mailing list, where I made my fateful errors, was that someone felt I was defending the existence of lurkers becasue there were authors among them who were going to write the story of the list as "fiction," and make a lot of money from it. This person had made this mailing list his whole life.

There are many reasons I value silent readers, and I won't go into that here, but this scenario was not taking place. This was a fantasy that gripped someone who, in my personal opinion, had put too much of himself into online life, to the point where fantasy and reality had become blurred.

I think real life gives a tangible balance to online life, so that fantasies do not run wild and trigger emotions about things that don't exist. It makes a healthier online community member if the person takes the responsibility to find that balance.

Honesty and Revelation
Have the confidence to be honest so that when you write something you feel is appropriate for your community, it doesn't matter who knows it. This is who you are, and you trust others to respond to you as a human being, with respect.

This is the point within yourself you have to come to, to be a valuable contributing member of a community. Then you can reveal. If you can only get to this point about baseball, then you only talk about baseball. No problem there. But when you can throw your soul out there, that is when the magic begins.

So how do you do that with all these serious philosophical lines? I don't know. I suppose one just has to try it and see what happens.

But creating from an idea, using a network to make it real, that's the passion of communities. The network never says no. Only a stupid boss at the office does that. The network just goes on. That is why I do it. The freedom to create is like nothing I have ever experienced before.

Thank you
So here it is, the FAQ for RFM. Thank you for reading this far. I hope we piqued your curiosity. If you have any questions, you are always welcome to write to me at barbara@panix.com.