Building and running communities is hard work. What is seen by some as simply a means of providing enough hands on deck to get things done is actually a much larger and more complex web of relationships, politics, resources and diplomacy. There are various factors that help community, and various factors that inhibit it – one key inhibitor being misinformation.

Since I have been working with community, I have discovered that misinformation and incorrect communication are the source of 95% of conflict and disputes. But what do I mean by the terms misinformation and incorrect communication? Put simply, any information communicated that is not known to be accurate, but communicated or inferred as accurate is misinformation. An example:

Jane talks to James about some problems with a community member called Dave:

Jane: “Well, Dave just went ahead and just switched the server off…” James: “That is terrible!”

(Jane does not actually know this fact is accurate, but heard from Sandra that Dave switched the server off, who in turn heard it from someone else who assumed it)

The problem in situations such as this is that an assumed fact is communicated to another community member with a veil of authority, and the nature of the assumption is not clearly expressed. If the assumption was clearly communicated, this is fine. Imagine this scenario instead:

Jane: “Well, I heard a rumour that Dave just went ahead and just switched the server off, but I am not 100% sure it is accurate”

James: “If that did happen, that is terrible!”

Its only a few extra words, but the clarification is utterly essential. When assumptions and rumour start getting spread around a community as fact, bad things happen.

What makes these kind of situations even more difficult is when personal relationships or conflict cloud the issue. In the above examples, imagine that Dave and Jane have already had a rocky relationship and don’t get on all that well. If Jane feels Dave has already compromised the community in the past, it is extremely tempting to assume that Dave has just switched off the server, despite the actual facts being unknown.

This can also occur in instances of celebrity. We have lots of rockstars in the Open Source and Ubuntu world, and in some scenarios an accurate communication is overshadowed by showing off that the person spoke to a celebrity. An example:

James is talking to Jane about how Dave acted like an idiot:

James: “Yeah, I was talking with Linus the other day when Dave started accusing Sandra of these problems”. Jane: “Wow you spoke to Linus?”

(Dave never accused Sandra of anything)

In this scenario, James is merely bragging about talking to Linus, and the secondary communication of Dave is deemed less important and therefore the accuracy is sacrificed in the light of fanboying Linus.

Unfortunately these kind of incorrect communications and misinformation happen all over our community, and I would like to encourage everyone to think twice when it comes to these kinds of situations. There is nothing wrong we making clear that something is an assumption or second hand knowledge that may not be 100% correct. Little improvements like this can have hugely positive impacts on our community.

So the rule of thumb is is “to assume makes an ASS out of U and ME – clarity is key“. :)

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