Civility In the Internet Age

Is the Internet Age killing civility?  I wonder about this a lot.  The REALbasic Forums and NUG posts are often filled with vitriol (always wanted to use that word) and personal attacks.  It’s as if the poster didn’t even realize that another human being is on the other end reading their post.

I’ve had bug reports that are very insulting.  Reporting the bug is one thing but often times the comments get personal.  I’ve had people swear at me in an email.  I think that they’re used to being ignored by tech support so they think that being as mean as possible somehow gets more attention.

In those few cases I simply put their tech support question at the bottom of the queue and deal with them after all the other stuff.  Occasionally I respond via email that real people read their tech support emails and that we were offended.  Mostly they write back to apologize.  Sometimes.

I can understand their problem to a certain extent.  When your software isn’t behaving and keeping the customer from doing their work it’s a huge problem.  If you’ve ignored their emails and phone calls then I can understand why they’d be rude but I pride myself in being responsive to my customers.  It takes but a minute to respond with a “we received your email.”

Generally phone calls go better because there’s an instant verbal connection.  We’ve also been taught since childhood to be polite on the phone.  Maybe it’s the lack of a ‘connection’ that causes the problem with email and forums.

A few years ago I was dealing with a developer out of California.  The other developers on my team hated dealing with “Jack” because he was always very rude, uncompromising and swore like a sailor.  He wasn’t a nice guy.

Jack called me one morning while he was driving on the freeway and started reading me the riot act and calling me every name under the sun and asking me why my code didn’t do something.  I was very mad and was about ready to tell him off, but decided that would get me fired pretty quick.  Jack was being unreasonable and not being civil so I simply told him to call me back when he wanted to treat me like a human being.

Silence and then an “okay” from the other end.  Jack hung up and I knew I was going to get a phone call from the boss.  Time to start updating the resume, I thought.

Sure enough, thirty minutes later my boss calls up – ecstatic.  “What did you say to Jack?” he asked.  I told him and all he said was, “Wow.”  Seems that Jack had been tormenting developers for years and it was even worse than I had been told.

Oh, and Jack called me that afternoon and apologized.  I never had a problem with Jack again.  The drawback is that I had to deal with Jack again and again because no one else wanted to.

How do you deal with the tech support emails and forum posts that are not civil?  Do you ignore them?  Do you let them know that their behavior is unacceptable?