For as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to chat about Doctor Who on Facebook.
The internet used to be so uncomplicated. It was the domain of the educated and the tech-savvy: merely being able to use it was, in some respects, an initiation ritual. Over twenty years on and the playing field has levelled, but we’ve paid the price in terms of the sorts of people who hang out here, many of whom display about as much discernible intelligence as your average Jeremy Kyle guest. Intelligence is only a part of it, of course. There are also the malicious, the malingering, the master manipulators of media (Britain First, I’m looking at you). Put another way, there are some horrible, horrible people out there, just as there are in the real world.
But everyone is on Facebook. And Facebook is a curious beast, in some respects reflecting the best and worst of us. It has the power to do tremendous good and wreak untold damage. It promotes important causes and helps find missing children. It also spreads unfounded rumours and facilitates witch hunts. Over the years I’ve actually had some scintillating debates. I have also spent more hours than I care to measure deciphering ill-conceived text speak apparently written by people who didn’t realise that the evolutionary ladder was in fact a ladder, and mistook it for a chair. There is only one place to go for conversation that is more inane than Facebook, and that is YouTube.
Still, a system is only as good or bad as the people who use it. A friend of mine once told me that Facebook was “full of people seeking self-gratification through likes”. I argued (and still do) that this was the way society had worked for years – that it was the coolest trainers, the best clothes, the right computer that gave you cause to boast in the playground. Facebook didn’t change who we are. Facebook – its accessibility, its ethos of unmoderated laissez-faire, its in-built narcissism – gave us the means to transform the internet so it reflected who we were all along.
Into this new world I’ve plunged, for better or worse. Now: there are right and wrong ways to engage with people. I know this, and after years of practice it was something I’d assumed I’d mastered. It’s therefore disconcerting to discover yourself cast adrift by moderators not once but twice, for no practical reasons that you can fathom. But here’s the curious thing: in both cases, I got kicked out of Doctor Who groups. Twice, in the space of just over a week. What remains of my journalistic integrity is enough for me to avoid naming them publicly, although I welcome speculation and guesswork, which I will of course neither confirm nor deny.
The first group had me as a member for a fortnight before ejecting me for something that was (I can’t give you details, but trust me) utterly trivial. The second group I was in for about two and a half minutes. In companion terms, this makes me Adam Mitchell. That’s a quietly upsetting thought. I don’t even have Bruno Langley’s admittedly impressive torso. I don’t want to turn this into one of those whiny self-examination pieces, but what had gone wrong? Was I being unreasonable? Or was it that Doctor Who groups attract admin staff who have a tendency to be utter t***pots?
After some reflection, and not a little research on my part, I’ve worked out that it’s the latter. I’m still trying to fathom out the reasons. Perhaps it’s a fan thing. The facilitation of such groups requires in many ways a detailed knowledge of the source material in order to maintain some semblance of order. Shouldn’t it follow that in many cases the people in charge are unable to tell when fandom stops and objective moderation begins? I’ve long maintained that it’s dangerous to allow the fans to write Who (such a state of affairs is how we wound up with the train wreck that is Doomsday). Why should the same not apply?
Anyway, you don’t need me to give you a list of ins and outs of respectable internet behaviour. But I have prepared a brief list of things that will, in a considerable number of Who-themed Facebook groups, probably get you banned.
- Criticise a positive review. This applies particularly to NuWho, which is sacred territory and must constantly be bombarded with sycophantic adulation – the word ‘genius’ is advised, but in the absence of that, anything along the lines of “OMG AMAZEBALLS I AM LITERALLY CRYING MY EYES OUT” will do nicely. Staying positive is an absolute must, because (and I have actually been told this) the BBC top brass read every single one of these pages regularly and use our comments to hire, fire, and even commission new series, so it’s important to be responsible. But it also works for Classic Who. I don’t care that it’s The Twin Dilemma; we don’t need that sort of Baker-bashing naysaying around here, thank you very much.
- Criticise a negative review. Because no one likes it when you tell them they’ll never get anywhere if they watch every 1980s episode through blinkers.
- Call out the moderators for unreasonable behaviour. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing. It is a moderator’s right to be cajoling, obnoxious, ill-mannered and then to remove you from the group with no prior warning and for no apparent reason, before ignoring every subsequent request for an explanation. Roger Delgado may have been universally known as the Master, but on Facebook, Admin is king. Did you not know that, you grovelling insect? Kneel! Kneel before the might of Sutekh. Now, drop to the floor and give me two hundred.
- Block the moderators. See above. I know they called you a t***pot, but you’re just going to have to lump it.
- Post anything that is at odds with the moderators’ particular tastes. This means anything they do not consider it acceptable to like, particularly if it gets in the way of discussions about Tennant’s coats or animated GIFs of Matt Smith crying. These are fine, but anything else is ripe for a cull – or, to quote one particular member of admin staff, “I won’t allow pre-2005 Who crap on here”.
- Post anything that is at odds with the house rules. If this seems like a reasonable request, it is worth noting that some groups do not actually tell you what these rules are; they merely indiscriminately block. Tough. It’s up to you to figure out the group policy. Look, Nyssa could do it. Quit whining and get mind-reading.
- Do the moderators’ job for them. To be clear, this means explaining the rationale behind house rules to disgruntled newcomers. You only think you’re helping. This is exclusively admin territory and woe betide you if you explain to someone why a particular (ostensibly discriminatory) rule might be in place – particularly if, in the process of doing it, you actually explain things better than they generally do. Leave it to the moderators, even if the moderators’ response is to refuse to explain anything.
- Announce that you think Star Trek is better.
Your own experiences – names and identifying details removed, of course – are welcome. I’m aware (I’m always aware) that I’m probably preaching to the choir. But perhaps if you happen to know any particularly zealous moderators who might want to take a look at their own behaviour, you could point them in the general direction of this article.
I mean, I’d tell them myself, of course. But they’ve blocked me.