When a member of an online community announces they are leaving, usually after a protracted disagreement with other members of the community.

“I’m gone. You all enjoy your little discussions.”

This definition really needs to be expanded to include the serial flounce or the flounce yo-yo, those that rejoin communities after a melodramatic exit, usually with much pomp and grandiosity, only to leave again ad nauseam. And with guilt laid on with a trowel.

At the core of this dumbness is a basic reality – some folks should just leave the internet alone, for all our sakes, but especially their own. The old maxim is as valid is everif you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. To venture into any online community with the assumption that you will never receive criticism, and even occasional abuse, is beyond simply naive – it is fragile Pollyannaism. Especially when you spend significant amounts of time criticising others whilst perched precariously on a self-constructed moral high ground. It courts psychological disaster.

These serial flouncers should, in ideal circumstances, be little more than comedy relief or a sideshow distraction. People to poke fun at, fish to dangle baited hooks before and watch the reactions. And in an old, pre-web and pre-unwashed masses internet, they were. There was little pity for amateur dramatics and self-pitying onanism. It was dealt with ruthlessly and the world was a better place.

Unfortunately now, with sensitivity training rammed down our throats at every turn, and gratuitous displays of sympathy being elevated to some kind of mark of a greater humanity, the territory is ripe for opportunistic exploitation by the professional flouncer. They descend to feed on this sympathy like vampires.

In many ways this is like hypochondriacs feigning illness to collect get well soon cards. There is nothing humble about the flouncing grievance process. It is intentionally made public, with extra nauseating punch when done via a proxy manipulated into doing it for them, and it is done with the knowledge and expectation of a gush of obligatory, even mandatory, condolences. It is ultimately an exercise in mindless self-gratification.

Having irreconcilable differences with online forums is not in itself that unusual. It happens to most people at some point or another – there’s no shortage of fora out there that are either simply deranged, derangedly censorious, are incoherent gibberish or all of the above. The dignified response is to simply walk away – no announcements, no press conferences. If other fora members feel you have been treated unfairly, or will feel loss if you no longer contribute, they will usually contact you. There is no need for town criers. But this course of action is too risky for the flounce – it runs the risk of the devastating realisation that maybe nobody cares. Hence the compulsion to make a highly visible exit – and thus force your hand and obligate expressions of sympathy from other members who really don’t want to run the risk of being labeled heartless bastards and bitches.

This approach is scientific and reproducible. You can test this for yourself. Next time you witness a flounce, instead of joining the sympathy chorus, try suggesting they –

  • stop taking everything so seriously
  • stop taking everything so personally
  • stop assuming every comment that is posted is addressed to them personally
  • lighten up
  • grow a hide
  • consider that perhaps a 100% of the problem is not always 100% of the other person’s fault

– and watch yourself become an instant pariah. This is the converse of the sympathy violin game and where the real damage to online communities is done. The serial flounce subtly alters the forum ecology and silently introduces a tacit regime of censorship – the flounce insinuates itself as an endangered species deserving of special considerations and protections, and that the forum had better respect this or else.

If you have ever dared to openly criticise a flounce, you automatically become what is technically known in hip ‘net lingo as an asshole. Assholes gravitate towards each other and you will inevitably come into contact with other assholes that have been similarly short in the appropriate sympathy stakes. The shared observations of assholes is that they feel like they are being forced to walk on eggshells, to deliberately dumb down what they say to remove any remote possibility of misinterpretation and offense, and that this exercise is largely futile because any flounce, once they have decided they will be offended will find some way to do so no matter what.

The effect on a community is corrosive – it ceases to be a free and open forum (assuming it even claimed to be one in the first place) and, if unchecked, “equality” of membership becomes a staggered heirarchy where the flouncers gravitate to the top to occupy a position of infallibility beyond criticism and the assholes settle to the bottom. Discourse ceases and it becomes largely an exercise of “me too!” groupthink, the assholes leave, with silent dignity noticed only by the remaining assholes who soon follow, leaving a community of uniform mediocrity where challenging boundaries has become taboo. This sad story plays itself out over and over and over and makes the ‘net more like network teevee everyday.

What can you do about flounces? Well, a cost/benefit analysis is a good start. While many flounces can and do provide meaningful contributions to their communities, are those contributions of higher worth than the drama queen theatrics and the dumbing down of the community in general? To silence the contrarians and risk losing their participation? This is an easy trap to fall into – after all, the latter do not make so much noise when they vote with their feet and their loss is only apparent over time when discussion quality noticeably deteriorates.

And is anything really worth encouraging those with such emotional instability? Really, at the end of the day, this kind of behavior and emotional brinkmanship is not indicative of an intellect in full possession of itself. Flounces have an open-cut mining approach to the forums they habituate – they trawl through every last comment made and just assume everything revolves around them and is personally directed. In fact, if there are any flounces reading this, it is guaranteed that each, without exception, will assume this rant is directed personally at them and only them. Nevermind that I’ve lost count of the flounces I’ve seen around poisoning the ‘net, or that I could list a dozen now without even thinking. Each one will believe that this is all about them and them only.

This is more than just a wee bit paranoid and narcissitic. It is not really the kind of personality you would want to invite into your flesh and blood life, so why have this idea that welcoming it into a community is going to have any net positive result? This too is foolish, Pollyannaist thinking. No good ever comes of flounces in the long term. Ultimately, they are just parasites that feed off emotion. If any real consideration is given back to the community, it is always going to be a secondary consideration. With the flounce, everything is “it’s all about me!”

Being an asshole, I have a zero-tolerance attitude to flounces. I liken then to termites or tape-worms. Prevention is infinitely better than cure – they should not be allowed to take root in the first place. But if they do, let’s get rid of this nauseating faux sympathy for them – it is the source of their sustenance, it’s what they live for. Consider it all in the bigger picture. Flounces are never worth it. Ever. Don’t even let them in the door.

Update: July 4 – Oh wow. Just wow. You can’t make this shit up. This could have been written as a deliberate parody, a flounce Poe, but I assure you its not. It’s pretty much a checklist of an emotional juvenile meltdown tantrum –

I am leaving this group, for largely the same reason I left other groups.
Hypocritical people who claim to think critically, sit there and talk about how horrible Christianity is yet go out and treat others horribly.
People have resorted to personal attacks and refuse to read the resources provided.

Here is a snippet of the emotive blackmail  linked from the outburst –

I did my best to remain civil. I was not treated with the same civility. I was instead told I was not a freethinker because I think that people shouldn’t say misogynistic or racist things.

Yes, this is the persons own choice of avatar.

Read at your own risk –

‘Tardbook link – http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150213031235210

Pastebin copy – http://pastebin.com/MgR8rkuV