Many newsgroups and internet mailing lists would work better if they abided by what today I’m calling the “bok choy in your teeth” rule.
The what?, you may be asking. Allow me to explain.
Say you’re out at a lunch with a bunch of your friends. One of your friends has eaten some bok choy and has some stuck between her two front teeth. The best way to deal with this is to lean in and whisper “You have some bok choy in your teeth.” Maybe you could offer her a toothpick and a compact mirror, or point out (in a subtle way, mind) where the bathroom is so she can take care of it in a discreet manner. You don’t deal with it by whispering about it behind her back loudly enough for her to hear, or to announce in front of the entire table “OMG YOU HAVE BOK CHOY IN YOUR TEETH AND LET ME TELL YOU THAT SHIT IS DISGUSTING.”
How does this apply to internet fora, you may ask? Well, sometimes people will post something in an incorrect manner — like, say, putting up a social thread in a chatty swap group that might not have a dedicated side group for the more digressive conversations. Unfortunately, many groups opt for the less constructive ways of resolving these kinds of low-level conflicts. Recently, one of the groups in which I have been involved for five years had dealt with a small disagreement in both a passive-aggressive manner (in this case, hitting the “disagree” button at the bottom of each Ravelry group post), and in a confrontational, defensive manner. (One of the mods came into the aforementioned thread, “owned” her disagree, and went on to talk about the discussion among the mods about this horrendous insult to Bob and humanity.) The ensuing discussion led to some positive changes — among them the establishment of a side group for non-swap-related conversations — but the mods dealt with this in a manner that singled out the offending, unnamed community member.
Whether it’s bok choy or digressions upon digressions, the best way to deal with this is to be straightforward and polite. The first step is to assume good faith. No one gets leafy vegetables wedged between their front teeth by choice, and likewise sometimes even the most stalwart community members can make honest mistakes. (Obviously if said community member is posting screenshots of shock sites, you can’t assume good faith, but this is kind of an outlier.)
The second step is to be subtle. This means you don’t point and laugh at the post in question. Sending the accused a personal message (instead of posting in the thread) that says “Hey, this might not be the best place to make this post, I’m going to lock it up now” is a good start. If there’s a side group for off-topic posts, offer that as a potential alternative location for the post in question. When corresponding with the offending poster, using “I” statements instead of “you” statements makes your approach less confrontational and leads to less drama down the road.
Okay, so you’ve addressed the mistake with the poster and closed down the offending post…but you don’t want anyone else to make this mistake. What do you do? Advertising the off-topic chat group is a good step. When doing this, don’t mention the conflict with the community member. “If you’re feeling chatty, go to [our chat group]” helps discursive members find someplace in which to jibber-jabber to their hearts’ content. Saying “Due to high volume, we don’t allow off-topic threads, and after some user decided to post a chat thread we decided to make [a chat group]” does nothing but make you look like Regina George. Likewise, depersonalizing any amendments to the rules looks classy and diplomatic. Posting in the rules thread “Hey, we know you folks can get gabby, and here’s a group for our off-topic chatter” is a good look. Giving a three-paragraph explanation for this with veiled references to “members” and “incidents” is a really unpleasant way to go about addressing these and other issues.
TL;DR: Be nice to people. How would you want people to react if you had a big green leaf stuck between your incisors? Think about that before you react.