Author Topic: When a thread goes wrong  (Read 5497 times)

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AllTheThings

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When a thread goes wrong
« on: December 10, 2012, 01:21:19 AM »
I'm wondering what you can do when a thread has gone off in a completely weird direction that results in the original situation or question being completely forgotten? Like if someone misunderstands something in the OP and people start responding to the misunderstanding rather than the actual post. Or if someone makes an off topic post and everyone starts talking about that instead.

I recently saw this happen in a forum I go to sometimes. Basically, the OP of a thread posted about something that had happened to him IRL which had upset him. The story was a little long, so at the end of the post he wrote a short analogy that had a similar scenario to the real story to explain why he was angry, just in case people got a bit lost in his story. I thought the analogy made sense, and it had the same general principles as the real situation. Even so, like all analogies that are written in about 5 seconds to illustrate a general point, it doesn't quite perfectly fit into the real scenario. Nevertheless, I understood why he used the analogy and I got where he was going with it.

But for some reason, a ton of posts only commented on the analogy. They were asking completely random questions, wondering why the clearly fake people in the analogy were even in this situation in the first place, why didn't they do X, why didn't they do Y, etc. Almost all of the posters completely ignored the actual situation and instead commented on the fictional people. They probably didn't read the whole post and just skipped to the end. Then others joined in, likely without reading the whole thread, and it got worse from there.

Is there anything you can do when a thread goes wrong, or is it out of your hands once you post the OP? Does it matter if you are the OP trying to get your own thread back on track, versus just some random poster who wants to get it back on track?


I just remembered that this happened to me once, awhile ago. I said something in a post about how I realized my "little" sister (age 19 at the time) was "all grown up" when I came home to find her drinking beer with our dad. I forgot that a parent giving alcohol to their child at home isn't legal everywhere, so I didn't think to clarify that my dad hadn't done anything wrong. When I came back to the thread, I found a ton of posts all telling me how illegal that was and how awful my dad was for doing that, etc. I ended up cutting my losses and leaving that thread. Personally, I think those posters should have minded their own business regardless, but whatever.
« Last Edit: December 10, 2012, 01:37:14 AM by AllTheThings »

Danika

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2012, 02:05:44 AM »
I'd like to know the answer, because I only belong to a few forums, but I feel that it happens here on EHell more than it happens anywhere else I've seen.

I know you can hit the "Report" button and complain if you are very offended by a post, but often, the first post is just a question or a clarification, so whether I'm the OP or just a participant, I don't find it overly offensive. Then, the second post on the tangential subject is just a reply to that question, so I don't want to report that either. Then, the third post on the tangential topic is generally not offensive all by itself but it's getting close to beating a dead horse.

So far, I've just ignored those off-topic posts altogether because I don't want to add to the drama. But I would like a better way to deal with it.

artk2002

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2012, 12:28:05 PM »
There's very little you can do, and I'm very happy with that. If you think that a thread has gone completely off you can report it to the mods here, but I don't think that keeping things to a very narrow focus is right. This is especially true when I see people trying to rein in a thread because it's going in a direction that is uncomfortable for them -- in particular, when things don't go the way that the OP wanted.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

O'Dell

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2012, 12:41:46 PM »
I think it's like conversation in real life. Sometimes you introduce a topic and it gets away from you and goes off in an unpredictable direction. Etiquette-wise I think it's okay to try to divert people back to the original topic or to let the conversation flow where it wants. It's a judgment call which you chose. It's just harder online to get a read on what will work to change the topic back.

I also think it's okay for anyone in the conversation to try to divert things back to the original topic or to correct misconceptions.
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Bexx27

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2012, 12:44:43 PM »
I think the best way to handle it as another poster is to post in the thread yourself, giving advice that's relevant to the OP's actual situation and/or pointing out where others seem to have misunderstood. The OP can respond to clear up misconceptions and ask again for advice concerning the actual situation, although I don't think the OP gets to dictate the direction of the thread.
How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these. -George Washington Carver

TurtleDove

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2012, 01:40:41 PM »
I think the best way to handle it as another poster is to post in the thread yourself, giving advice that's relevant to the OP's actual situation and/or pointing out where others seem to have misunderstood. The OP can respond to clear up misconceptions and ask again for advice concerning the actual situation, although I don't think the OP gets to dictate the direction of the thread.

I agree with this.  My main issue tends to be posters with an ax to grind who paraphrase or hyperbolize what a poster said to make it sound outrageous and then other posters pile on to how outrageous the first poster was for saying something she never said. 

Mikayla

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2012, 03:00:36 PM »
My thoughts are similar to O'Dell's.  There are times when it's not wrong to do a friendly auto-correct, and it's  not an issue of trying to control the thread.  It's an outright hijack, and I've seen this many times, including here. I did it myself, once. 

Not all hijacks are that clearcut, of course, and they're more like offshoots of the OP.  These are the judgment calls.

An example of a clearcut one (this is theoretical!) is someone asking if it was rude for them to say "blah blah blah" after they got rear-ended.  The first few posts provide input on what else could have been said, and then 10 posts later, you're getting comments about the car model each was driving, links to the National Transportation Safety Board, complaints about other driving pet peeves, and questions as to whether the other driver was cute.  This is a hijack :)

Lynn2000

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #7 on: December 11, 2012, 08:45:27 PM »
I think the best way to handle it as another poster is to post in the thread yourself, giving advice that's relevant to the OP's actual situation and/or pointing out where others seem to have misunderstood. The OP can respond to clear up misconceptions and ask again for advice concerning the actual situation, although I don't think the OP gets to dictate the direction of the thread.

I agree with this. If it's a matter of outright misinformation being propagated, or people getting fixated on a small detail, I think the OP or another poster can try to politely steer things back on track. Personally, I would just try to make my post relevant, and not actually say, "Hey guys, we're getting off-track here." But, others are better at saying something without sounding scolding.

I think sometimes a thread wanders off because all the good, relevant advice has been given, and now we're just going on to tangents that at least a couple of people find interesting. I don't think the OP can say, "Wah! This is my thread, quit mucking it up!" But, if the OP still has questions or feels they haven't gotten relevant answers, they can certainly post something polite to that effect.

I generally only report a thread if it seems to be getting heated, not if it's just wandering away from the original point. But I think when in doubt, it's fine to report, and let the mods be the judge of it.
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Allyson

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #8 on: December 11, 2012, 10:34:48 PM »
There's a huge amount of variation, and the 'thread gone wrong' can be anything from an OP complaining because everyone didn't agree with her, to absolutely everyone focussing on one minor point (I see this a lot where lots of people will suddenly focus on something about the OP's relationship even when that wasn't the main thrust of the question), to people just straight-up going off topic. And it's not really easy to get a consensus on which thread is which.

So, with that said, I agree that 'deal with it as another poster' rather than have the OP get jumpy and offended or post multiple times to try to get his/her thread back on track seems best. Or contact a mod. 

This happened to a friend of mine recently on Facebook. She was asking for thoughts on how to talk to a friend with an eating disorder, what things were best to say and so on. She got a whole bunch of unnecessary lecturing about how 'it's a mental illness!' which she pretty clearly already knows. I answered as though this hadn't happened and gave her advice, and a few other people followed suit.

lkdrymom

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2012, 11:32:37 AM »
I agree with Allyson. Often I have asked how to deal with a situation and suddenly I am getting  a bunch of comments on the state of my marriage.  I didn't ask for marriage counselign, I asked for the best way to deal with the one incident I posted about.  Next thing you know 'interesting assumptions' are flying everywhere.

AllTheThings

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #10 on: December 12, 2012, 11:37:02 PM »
I think the best way to handle it as another poster is to post in the thread yourself, giving advice that's relevant to the OP's actual situation and/or pointing out where others seem to have misunderstood. The OP can respond to clear up misconceptions and ask again for advice concerning the actual situation, although I don't think the OP gets to dictate the direction of the thread.

I agree with this. If it's a matter of outright misinformation being propagated, or people getting fixated on a small detail, I think the OP or another poster can try to politely steer things back on track. Personally, I would just try to make my post relevant, and not actually say, "Hey guys, we're getting off-track here." But, others are better at saying something without sounding scolding.

I think sometimes a thread wanders off because all the good, relevant advice has been given, and now we're just going on to tangents that at least a couple of people find interesting. I don't think the OP can say, "Wah! This is my thread, quit mucking it up!" But, if the OP still has questions or feels they haven't gotten relevant answers, they can certainly post something polite to that effect.

I generally only report a thread if it seems to be getting heated, not if it's just wandering away from the original point. But I think when in doubt, it's fine to report, and let the mods be the judge of it.

I agree with this. People deciding to just talk about something else isn't something you can really control, but if people have misunderstood the post or aren't answering the question in a meaningful way, I think someone should be able to say something.

LifeOnPluto

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #11 on: December 15, 2012, 12:08:10 AM »
I think the best way to handle it as another poster is to post in the thread yourself, giving advice that's relevant to the OP's actual situation and/or pointing out where others seem to have misunderstood. The OP can respond to clear up misconceptions and ask again for advice concerning the actual situation, although I don't think the OP gets to dictate the direction of the thread.

I agree with this.

I'll also add that occasionally, details which the OP might think are minor, are actually quite important to the majority of people. For example, a poster might write about how they snapped at their spouse and ask for advice on how to apologise. In passing, they might add that they snapped at their spouse because the spouse got stinking drunk / refused to do any household chores / hocked the TV / insert other reason. Posters might then focus on that "minor" point, by stating that the OP had a valid reason for their actions. Even though those posters are not addressing the initial question (ie they're not giving the OP advice on how to apologise) their tangential comments are still providing valuable perspective.

Basically, my point is, I don't think tangents are ALWAYS bad.
 

GratefulMaria

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #12 on: December 17, 2012, 10:46:40 AM »
My thread about MIL's monopolizing the floor got some really effective statements to use, which was exactly what I needed and requested.  But the replies beyond my specific question were and are invaluable for anyone else dealing with the same thing.  I think, for example, posts that suggested considering a medical evaluation were appropriate whether or not they applied to MIL herself at the time.

I also get what lkdrymom means about interesting assumptions.  I've sometimes seen an OP ask for specific advice, along the lines of "Anyone have techniques I can use when my toddler does such-and-such?"  (So I'm referring to a parenting forum of which I'm a member, and not just eHell.)  And once in a while, someone will post, "Why would you think it's all right for your child to do that?" when it seems as though an effort to address it clearly indicates the OP feels otherwise.  Looping back to things that seem like a tangent, though, sometimes information about a possible cause can help another person going through the same situation as the OP for different reasons.  A thread on another forum I frequent started with a post about addressing a specific encounter and led to a woman getting help in leaving an abusive situation.  The reason it worked, though, was the responses were phrased as gentle questions and observations rather than assumptions.

ettiquit

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #13 on: December 19, 2012, 09:17:57 AM »
I agree with Allyson. Often I have asked how to deal with a situation and suddenly I am getting  a bunch of comments on the state of my marriage.  I didn't ask for marriage counselign, I asked for the best way to deal with the one incident I posted about.  Next thing you know 'interesting assumptions' are flying everywhere.

POD

I get why tangents occur and how they can sometimes be helpful, but if the tangent is clearly making the OP uncomfortable (and particularly if they've directly asked that it stop being discussed), the polite thing to do is to respect that.  I had to have my last thread locked because of this (I actually asked for it to be deleted because I was extremely unhappy with things being said) and I'm trying to be very careful with how I phrase my questions when I do start threads (which is rare) so I can avoid this.

Mental Magpie

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Re: When a thread goes wrong
« Reply #14 on: December 29, 2012, 06:56:32 PM »
I agree with Allyson. Often I have asked how to deal with a situation and suddenly I am getting  a bunch of comments on the state of my marriage.  I didn't ask for marriage counselign, I asked for the best way to deal with the one incident I posted about.  Next thing you know 'interesting assumptions' are flying everywhere.

I saw a thread going in a completely different direction (ie marriage counseling) and tried to rein it back in.  I got told I was trying to control what other people posted and that I wasn't a moderator, and if I didn't like it, I should have reported it.  All I was trying to point out was that the OP wanted one thing (how to deal with a situation) and the thread was heading in another (marriage counseling).  I won't do that again.
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