I was recently involved in an interesting (read, troubling) exchange among community members that escalated to name calling and attributing sinister motives to one of the key contributors. I surprised myself by jumping in to defend the good guy, who is capable of handling the situation without my "help". As an experienced facilitator, this was a violation of Rule #1 - your job is to be objective, and the voice of reason, even if everyone else goes off the deep end.
I didn't have a problem the criticism, but I had had enough of the insentient troublemaking. In face-to-face situations, the individual would be asked to refrain from such behavior, and failing that, escorted to the door. Instead, it seems that after a couple of attempts by other bystanders to refocus the discussion, everyone else headed for the exits, not wishing to be a witness, much less a participant. This is how online communities come apart, and I am concerned that some irreparable damage has been done. It has certainly changed the tone of the conversation, from friendly to polite. Not the end of the earth, but disheartening, nonetheless.
So far, most of the FOC08 discussion has focused on the bright side of communities and their participants. Now, I'm reminded that there can be a dark side, or at least some bumpy bits. I'm trying to decide what this says about my role in the community, and the nature of that community and its members. I'm working on it...