It's the web

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"It's the web"

    - me, and many others, starting in the 1990s

The culture of cyberspace was shaped by the earliest explorers and settlers and has evolved over time as the "electronic frontier" has evolved. There are a wide variety of norms here; many of us who have been here for a long time see some common principles -- and some common patterns. [I am stating my own individual perspective here but I believe this is an accurate summary; I have talked with many others of all generations, genders, races, national origins, and belief systems who see things similarly.]

Newcomers may or may not agree with us, which is certainly their right; fortunately one of the principles is tolerance for different beliefs (articulated succinctly in the mid-90s net.bdsm community as YKIOK, "your kink is okay") as long as there is a willingness to respect others and a few limits that need to be set for legal, societal, political or human rights reasons (child porn is not okay).

The online world has a somewhat different language -- which shares virtually all its words with the offline world, and that creates some problems: different people use the same words to mean different things. (I am most familiar with this phenomenon in English but it seems to be equally true in other languages as well.) Many of the hard copy print dictionaries and encyclopedias have not yet been updated with this language; some but not all wikipedia entries have, and quality is less than perfect. This is a time when definitional struggles over language are particularly acute both online and off and so misunderstandings are frequent and tensions are high.

We respect your right to use words differently; we often can't understand what you're saying and so will ask for clarification, and tell you how we use the same words to mean something different (or different words to mean something similar). Please similarly respect our right to use words as we have chosen; if you don't understand, please ask for clarification rather than assuming it's an accusation. When newcomers attack our language as "wrong", this is roughly analogous to somebody from the US going to the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, China, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, or anywhere else and saying "you speak English wrong here". We don't like it.

We also have a rich, multi-perspective, contentious history that we are very proud of. Just as in the real world, there's a lot of struggle and unpleasantness in the history -- many people have been hurt in different ways. Just as in the real world, there's much much more collaboration and happiness and joy and friendship and even triumph. We have heros (some consistent, some situational, many of them very imperfect); we and they talk freely about their imperfections as well as their heroism -- and we unsurprisingly resent it when people try to trash or dismiss them in ways we see as unfair, especially if the attackers haven't done their homework.

Our history has shaped our environment, who we are, and how we behave. Please don't assume you understand us without at least making the efforts to understand our history.

We have different cultures and customs too -- a lot of them, often very different in different online communities (and sometimes even sub-communities within larger communities). Please don't assume that customs you are familiar with, online or off, apply within new communities you visit or hang out in. Take the time to understand local norms; when in doubt, ask.

Or feel free to ignore everything I've said here, and all the other people who have said roughly similar things. It's your right. If you choose this path, please remember that other people judge you by your words and actions; think about how this looks from others' perspectives; consider looking at some of the history of the patterns that tend to emerge in these situations; and remember that a lot of us here are pretty tired of people trying ignoring our norms and customs and attempt to impose their views on us.

It's the web.

See also: A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace