Forums: the good, the bad and the potentially ugly

| 6 Jan 2012

Classic car forums: love ‘em or hate ‘em?

They often provide invaluable advice and help from like-minded enthusiasts when you have an issue with your classic. I’ve been a member of all of the ones relevant to my ownership of various marques over the years and I can honestly say that the pros definitely outweigh the cons when it comes to signing up.

Recently, though, I was reminded that it is possible to leave yourself open to abuse when posting about a problem. I simply asked just how heavy the clutch pedal should be and, before I could say ‘dot40’, my sexuality had been called into question!

Now of course, I know it was meant in jest, but nevertheless I replied promptly – pointing out that as an ex-lorry driver with a penchant for Yorkie bars, I wasn’t particular to dressing up in ladies’ clothes at the weekends.

‘Sorry petal’ was the reply. It seems that I had failed to convince the poster of my machismo. Or was that, too, meant in jest?!

That is the problem with forums and messageboards – the atonal nature of electronic communication means that you have to work quite hard to figure out if someone is pulling your leg or going in for the full-on character assassination, and often all it takes to swing between the two is a misplaced exclamation mark.

As a result, you can all too often watch a bit of (what seems like) innocent banter between two forum posters explode into World War 3. And that isn't healthy for anyone.

Of course there is the other problem with relatively anonymous banter. The poster may well have the profile twotonnepete72 from Norwich, but for all you know, ‘he’ could actually be someone called Tamara in a Laura Ashley dress, sitting in a waterfront appartment in Chelsea.

The more humourous vagaries of internet forums aside, I will admit to occasionally being a little disappointed at the responses I see on messageboards.

The reason for someone posting in the first place is often to ask for help and for the benefit of someone else’s knowledge in a respected community. So it is a shame when this is overlooked and the responses can be less than sympathetic, or even downright aggressive. Fortunately, this has been a rare thing in my experience, but it does happen. 

I have seen replies that are based on a level of assumed knowledge. Read between the lines (or, disturbingly, sometimes you don't have to) and what it says is: “Why the hell would you want to do that? Are you stupid?” Step away from the keyboard Tamara!

For example, a posting I once made attracted one slightly disparaging reply from another member who claimed I was doing everything wrong. “Compromise”, “Botched” and “Cheapish” were words used. Now, I am no fan of emoticons as they are called, but it occurred to me that with the simple addition of a ‘winking emoticon’ at the end, this possibly innocent post would have been taken as banter instead.

Was it even meant in jest, though? I guess I will never know (smiley), but it goes to prove that a couple of minutes re-reading your post before pressing the send button may well give you the opportunity to ensure it is taken in the spirit intended. In fact, the vast number of subsequent posts from other members, telling me to ignore the comments was overwhelming and confirmed that forums are an excellent and indespensable resource. 

They each have moments of breakdown that requires intervention from a mediator, but get a bunch of blokes (or women, sorry Tamara), together in any situation and the chances are there will be the odd disagreement.

Even the possibly negative poster made me stop and think about my approach for a moment and that can never be a bad thing, can it? But we should all be mindful of how what we write might be interpreted by others.

I hate to think that some younger, perhaps less knowledgeable people trying to break into our hobby - exactly the ones we are encouraging to get into classics - might be scared off instantly by an unpleasant encounter with a rude or dismissive poster on a forum. Especially if it was only meant to be banter!

Keep on posting chaps and lasses, but please, be nice.