Billing itself “the online Journal of F1 opinion,” Formula1blog brings together Formula 1 fans from around the globe to share their passion about the sport in an intelligent, mature and civil way. Created in 2005, it calls itself “something different and fresh, not just rag chewing with a bunch of tobacco-spitting goof balls who want to pretend to appear as reputable F1 news sites” and certainly not a site for “forum troll’s, flamers and disenchanted malcontents.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? Read the Q&A with F1B founder Todd McCandless below and find out why this approach has been so successful.
CiviliNation: Tell us about formula1 blog.
Todd McCandless: Formula1blog.com started in 2005 with a mission to become the Journal of F1 Opinion. We enjoy nearly 40,000 downloads of our weekly podcasts per month (which is the highest and most rated F1 podcast on iTunes) and millions of pageview per year.
CiviliNation: On your website it says “When I started Formula1blog.com back in 2005, I did so because I could not find a safe harbor for new and veteran Formula One fans to discuss their beloved sport without trolls, bullies and flamers.” What kinds of problems did you see?
Todd McCandless: It was a common theme, to be honest. Whether it was blogs, forums or websites, the engagement was often festering with trolls, vulgarity, vitriol and heavy handed screeds—not true engagement and sharing of opinion. I found it very odd that with the evolution of the Web, people seemed to be bereft of basic courtesy and the ability to engage in polite digital conversation even if that discourse was at odds with each other. It was as if everyone had become 15-years-old and discovered that the least common denominator was an immediate personal attack to marginalize an opinion that differed from his or hers. I’ve often called this the bravery of being out of range, but it is something more, something slightly insidious to be honest.
One of the keys to new Formula One racing fans is finding a place where they can ask questions, no matter how rudimentary, and feel safe for doing so. Before I started F1B, I would post comments on other sites, and the trolls would berate anyone with a low post or comment count. Forums seemed to breed pride over length of membership and post or comment count. A person who had 12,000 comments in a forum would often tell a new member that they were idiots and knew nothing because of their low post count. I found that astounding as I have been watching the sport since 1972 and most of these people weren’t alive then. Forum software breeds this pride and arrogance. I even had a moderator accuse me of being a redundant news site, which, of course, couldn’t be farther from the truth, and this was a moderator on a forum for a major American broadcast network.
I discovered that true engagement was never going to happen in places where the members didn’t share a commonality and respect for each other, so I created F1B with that intent.
CiviliNation: On your Code of Conduct page it says that there is “one simple rule at F1B: Decorum and Civility!” How do you define decorum and civility?
Todd McCandless: To us, Decorum & Civility is the one rule we do have at F1B. It means that we encourage everyone to engage and share their opinion but to do so with decorum and civility… which means no personal attacks. You don’t agree with someone? Fine, simply say “I don’t agree with that and here is why”. No personal attacks. An opinion is simply an opinion but a person is much more. We feel that our community deserves more from engagement and we work very hard to deliver a safe harbor for all of them.
CiviliNation: Have there been any incidences where readers or community members violated the rules? How did you manage that?
Todd McCandless: I have only had to ban one person since 2005, but I would be remiss in not admitting that the occasional outburst doesn’t happen. What we find is that it usually comes from a person who saw a Tweet or Facebook post and then happens to click through to the site. They are not regulars at F1B and it immediately shows. The prevailing notion—and this is why I love the work your organization is doing—is that you can drift from site to site and forum to forum and the conventional culture is to offer a drive-by commentary ripe with foul language and vitriol. This has, sadly, become perfectly acceptable and the norm for many. Most people wouldn’t walk into a coffee shop, hear a person talking and walk up to that individual and say, “you’re a @&$#%& idiot… you don’t know #$%&$ about that!” So why do you do it online?
When a person does discover F1B and lobs a foul grenade in the discussion, our members are the first to respond and usually say something like, “Dude… decorum and civility, we don’t stand for personal attacks at F1B and here is a link to our code of conduct.” I’ve had to do very little policing of the site because we have such a great community that takes care of it themselves.
When someone does continue, I will weigh in and politely explain that there are lots of places that this type of discourse is allowed and even encouraged, and we would recommend visiting those sites instead. We really do appreciate them taking time to share their opinion and would love to have them as a part of our community, but they must follow our one, simple rule… decorum and civility, which means no personal attacks.
CiviliNation: You’ve had great success in creating a fun and engaged community. Given this success, why do you think that other communities don’t follow suit?
Todd McCandless: I honestly wish I knew the answer to that question. Why would a community that I frequented back in 2004 and 2005 allow the language, comments and personal attacks? Why do they allow it today? I thought, at first, it was just an issue of youth, and that can still be part of the equation, but I’ve seen some very harsh words from adults, and it really is disheartening. The impersonal nature of the Internet creates and isolation that has apparently has never been properly defined. When people are giving their opinion they do it with bravado and can troll those who disagree with immunity. Perhaps, and just perhaps, F1B has discovered that when a people want something, they will change their tune. Being served at a restaurant places you in a very different mindset than being the one serving at the restaurant. I will always try to exhibit servant leadership, and maybe it is this that sets F1B apart.
CiviliNation: What recommendations would you give other sites that are interested in growing their communities and at the same time supporting a positive online culture?
Todd McCandless: I would say ignore the lack of traffic and get back to building a community that you really want. Define the code of ethics for the site, and that becomes the grand equalizer that all of you follow. Sure you can allow trolls and drive-by shooters, and the increase in traffic is nice, but I think it is better to create a safe harbor for your members at the expense of traffic. Lead by example even when trolls do arrive at your site. I’ve been personally attacked at F1B but try to remain calm, keep the temperature cool and continually ask them to find a much better website that encourages their method of discourse. Lastly, never take your community for granted, and always remind them how honored you are that they are the reason the site exists and that they are the creators of the culture by which all of you participate. Decorum & Civility… no personal attacks!