Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reality Check Forums

Allo there, chaps! Yesterday I was telling you about our original internet safari. Today I'd like to talk a bit more about that trip.

In July of 2007, we decided to head over to the Reality Check forums. This is a canadian forum which was attractive to us for a few reasons:

  • Quick moving board - that means little waiting to get a response to our antics
  • A wide range of topics and interests to discuss
  • The locals seemed to have a good sense of humor

This seemed like it'd an interesting place to explore. Here was one of the posts that outlined the project:

Plan of Attack: Brainstorm


Wherever we decide to explore, we should have an "intro" thread where we all make an initial appearance. Think of it as the opening credits to our TV show "....And Payne as Dr. Phineas T Poxswattle." *Payne poses*

We'll dick around on the forum, but most of the time, when something relevant is "happening", it'll happen in our intro thread. So as a brainstorm...

we all show up as safari explorers. In our intro thread we comment about the long dangerous trip through the internet, and the awful atrocities we've witnessed (you know like Goatse). We're looking for Dr. Livingstoned, who is lost on the internet. Smalltalk smalltalk adlib, etc

The next day, someone makes an alt of a "native forumite". He shows up in our thread and gives us some clues as to where Dr. Livingstoned is. Maybe he's been sighted viewing some other thread on the board.

Anyway, when we're ready to draw the antics to a close, Dr. Livingstoned shows up in our intro thread and we all shake his hand. Having recovered our teammate, we can leave this god-forsaken place. Then, before we leave, we'll post a link to the next message board we're exploring.

If we meet anyone supercool we'll link them to our forum.

anyone want to riff on this?

soon after, we arrived. We boarded en mass, set up base camp, and began spagging around. 

People made a variety of hilarious characters. I played the role of the safari guide. One of my favorites was Payne, our human pack mule. His job was to carry around all the heavy artifacts we had found as we crossed the internet. 

(right click -> view to see full image)

As we hunted for Dr. Livingstoned, the locals started to interact with us. In particular, one of the board's administrators made an account named "Dr. Livingstoned" and played along with us for a while, which we found hilarious.

Some of the locals thought we were awesome. Some seemed annoyed. This is typical of internet forums, especially larger communities. People get very attached to the comfort of static, and are wary of perceived threats. At some point, somebody called us annoying, and following suit, we dogpiled into that thread, being SUPER annoying.

Here are some screencaps, taken later of our ventures:

Americans Don't Understand Others part 1 , part 2 - our attempts to participate in serious discussion.

Machete Weight Loss Program part 1, part 2 - about weight loss

It wasn't long before I tried to log in and was greeted by the following message:

This was frustrating, but not unexpected.

Basically, a moderator had signed in, seen a bunch of new activity, seen a little bit of annoyed response, and decided to "get out the ban stick". Within an hour, we were all banned and most of our posts were deleted.

Most of our group was composed of experienced internet trolls who do see banning as a sort of challenge. To some, getting banned from a forum is a form of flattery. There was a bit of motion to return to the forum under proxy and begin gradually provoking tension, stress, and paranoia to the forum as we systematically dismantled social relationships. But this wasn't a trolling mission - this was a safari! We thought better of it and moved on...

One of the explorers, Knight Raider (a picture of david hasslehoff in a pith helmet), snuck back over to the forum under proxy, and posted the following message:

Dear RC Forumites--

Thank you for participating in the Exotic Internet Safari. It was a fun experiment for us, and we hope there are no hard feelings or whatever. If you'd like to join us on the next expedition, please stop by [Our Forum] tomorrow morning. We'll be hamming it up as explorers.

If you're interested in participating, you're welcome to tag along. The intent is to explore the internet and meet cool people. Please don't break any rules or intentionally troll unless it's hilarious.



He was immediately banned. Seems the mods had been set to "ban everybody" mode. Even new users who happened to sign up that day were immediately banned before posting.

We learned a few lessons here:

  • Apprehension can quickly slide into opposition. Forum Mods are territorial beings who don't want fecal matter where they eat. If provoked, they can be quite quick to respond.
  • Merely signing up en mass can be seen as a threat.
  • It's hard to get banned for being friendly, positive, funny, or cute. It's easy to get banned just for being condescending.

The real lulz came soon enough...  the admin of Reality Check found us and started lurking in our discussions. We found this out the next day, when somebody signed up to our next safari target ( with MY user name and started warning of incoming trolls.

That was the tip off. All we had to do was monitor who was reading the thread at our board, and we soon found Brutus. A little datamining, and we soon had all sorts of fun information about him -- like where he lived, the names of his dogs, and this amazing picture:

He posted, "Nice work on the google skills but you could have picked a picture where I don't look borderline retarded." We were frustrated because he was actively trying to thwart us, and fur was bristled. 

Once hostilities settled down a bit, Brutus confessed that he found the whole expedition amusing. "The whole group was fine but it would have been more interesting had you actually contributed to the forum instead of talking jibber jabber. The shock of 6 or 8 people all 'randomly' signing up and posting at the same time is enough to get some attention, you don't need to act so much." 

We all agreed to some extent - part of the game is to see how long we can last at a forum before getting mass-ejected. To succeed at this, we need to quickly get an intuitive sense of the social norms and protocols of the forum. While we shouldn't violate these standards, we should also try to generate an amusing sort of surprise. As I said, few forum moderators are prepared for a cadre of pith-helmet wearing explorers to land on their forum and begin spagging around. We just need to do this in a somewhat nondestructive, nonobtrustive way.

And THAT is the story of our first Exotic Internet Safari!

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