Incivil Disobedience

One of the problems that seems to get brought up quite often is the incivil behavior that happens when strangers interact on the Internet.

There are a variety of motivations for that behavior, and I will examine them in turn.  But here’s the general list to let you stop and think about ones I might have missed if you wish:

  1. Impress others
  2. Share a bad mood
  3. Genuinely angry at the situation
  4. Pyschopathy

After looking at each of them, I will argue that (with the possible exception of psychopathy) they all stem from a single problem.

Impress others

This antecedent is rather specialized.  It occurs when there is an existing social structure in place, and a person wants to improve their standing in that structure.  It’s one that’s sometimes seen around FLOSS communities, because they create a natural social structure.

They also offer help or discussion of their projects, which leads new users to their doors at which they may be mistreated because some other participant feels that their relationship in the community isn’t as strong as they would like and believes that tearing into the user could improve their standing.

This behavior is especially prevalent in communities where it’s become a cultural attribute.  There are online communities that fit this bill, but so does the political and media establishment at times.

But that’s not the only reason that behavior occurs in relation to project-based structures.

Share a bad mood

This is another reason that it happens, and also applies to project communities.  If someone in the community is having a bad day and didn’t manage to extricate themselves from the community for the day to cool their heels, they may lay into another user, even a peer or a superior in the structure.

This one is hard, because the person is simply on tilt, and if it’s recognized as such the situation doesn’t have to become a burden to the participants and community.  But it’s too easy to overlook, and the natural reaction is to feed back into the community and make things worse.

Genuinely angry at the situation

Again one that is seen in project cultures.  Most commonly this is a matter of either RTFM (Read The Fucking Manual) or LMGTFY (Let Me Google That For You), but it could be something else, such as a peer pulling the rug out on a change the user worked on, or a user that feels like a change made increases the suck of the project.

They have a valid position, but they handle that poorly.


Psychopathy is a relatively rare psychological disorder.  It’s almost definitely not this, but it could be.  Maybe one in a hundred.

You will need to inspect the microstructure of their uncinate fasciculus for signs of underdevelopment, damage, or other abnormality, but be aware that could be a sign of other various disorders too.

Memory and emotion exercises may help over time, though at present the condition is largely considered untreatable.


Aside from psychopathy, the other three stem in part from insecurity, but there are other forms where insecurity plays a role.

In the instance of impressing others, the insecurity is with regard to the individual’s place in the community.  If they feel like they will be included and their opinion matters, they will not see the need to try to dig in further.

In the instance of a bad mood, the insecurity is of their own emotional state.  They have taken an emotional hit, and it is causing their brain to fixate.  They need to understand that the other community members have bad moods and they can avail themselves of the community for support for their problems.  They also need to find a way to normalize the firing of their brain.

And, in the instance of genuine anger they are insecure about their time and the presence of people that may not be as conscientious as they wish they were.  The best result for this case would be to take a moment to suggest the manual or search options, but to explain that they are willing to help. In this case it’s also notable that they are trying to ensure the community does respond to those that need help, so there’s also a measure of insecurity with regard to the community’s role and ability in providing that assistance.

Pulling it all together, a few things are apparent.  The main thing is that people have motivation behind their behavior, and while their motivation may be based on bad information, that doesn’t make it go away.  In order to get past the incivility on the Internet, the participants must not let the behavior of others push them to continue the bad behaviors or make them worse.

The participants must disobey the prompt that incivility poses.  They must respond with care and defuse the situation rather than buying into the false story that the misbehavior is merely due to that person being an asshole or a troll.

In the case of genuine trolls?  It’s still an insecurity.  If it’s a Foo user going in to troll the Bar project, they aren’t secure with their choice to use Foo over Bar.  Note you can replace Foo and Bar with just about any sort of rivalry or difference of choice.  It could be Cat and Dog, Allah and Yahweh, Coffee and Tea, etc.  Or Vim and Emacs.