Billy-Blob's Codicils
Creative Commons License photo credit: epiclectic

Bill Cosby did a show down at South by Southwest. I was at the conference with my brother Sean, and we wanted to go because it’s Bill Cosby, the legend. We decided that we wouldn’t get in line 3-4 hours before the show, like some people did. Instead, we would get there with 1-2 hours to go and, if we made it in, great.

We took our spot in line about an hour and 15 minutes before he was scheduled to go on. At that point, our odds of getting in looked pretty bleak. But we decided to wait it out. We met Anthony Lux, who was in line next to us, and ended up talking with him for much of it, and hit the food trucks with him after the show.

The line crept forward, during that hour and 15 minutes. Slowly. At some point, a person from the event came out and said it didn’t look good for us. Various people left the line, but we stuck it out. Eventually, you could hear Cosby go on, meaning we didn’t make it in before his show. But we decided to wait a little longer, as we were fairly close, to see if we could make it in to see some of it.

New “Friends” Appear

All of a sudden, as we were within 20 or 30 people of getting in, a man and woman appeared from a trailer outside the line and started chatting up my brother, all friendly-like. And edging themselves into the line. As we got to about 10 people away from the front, the woman lowered her voice ever so slightly and said something to my brother, along the lines of, “if anyone asks, we’re with you.”

At which point, I immediately said in a louder voice, “you aren’t with us.” She quietly said something in mock offense, but stayed in line. Sean, Anthony and I just kind of looked at each other.

Cosby Awaits

Finally, we made it to the front of the line. Anthony went in first, followed by Sean. And then it was my turn and I had a decision to make. Should I say something to the very stern looking man at the front gate? While it is easy to think “yeah, say something, call them out,” it isn’t without risk. Namely:

  • The very stern looking man didn’t see them cut. People, in general, are non-confrontational. When I tell him that these two people cut, they’ll deny it. It’ll then be he-said, she-said. Will other people in the line back me and say they cut? Probably not.
  • When it becomes he-said, she-said, there is at least a possibility that the stern looking man will look at all 3 of us as trouble and decide not to let any of us in. Fair? No. Life’s not fair, though.
  • Whether they get let in, or not, it creates a situation where they may want to get revenge on me in some way and I’ll need to keep an eye over my shoulder to make sure they aren’t hanging around.

Also, you have to keep in mind that I personally will reap no benefit from them not being let in. They were going to get in after me and they were not stopping anyone I knew from getting in. I would gain nothing from this. I stand only to lose by wasting time at the front gate, possibly being denied entry myself or having to deal with a couple of angry festival goers.

The Decision

In the moment, I decided to say something. That pretty much sums me up. When I am apart of a group, I am usually the one who stands up and plays the bad guy.

When I handed my ID to the man at the front gate, I leaned in and told him quietly that the two people behind me had cut in line (and I may have said that they asked me to say we were together). He looked at me and at them and asked them if they had cut. Of course, they said no and that I was “being an a**hole.”

Thankfully, the man at the front let me in. And then he proceeded to let them in, Anthony told me later, since I didn’t notice. So I kept an eye out. They didn’t cause any trouble (actually, I never saw them again) and the rest of us enjoyed a view of Bill Cosby for the rest of his show (side note: Oliver Platt was standing a few feet from us, enjoying the show).

That’s a Community Manager!

Later, when I had some time to think about what I had done, I couldn’t help but think “and that is why you began managing online communities. You are that person.” Let’s think about this.

I purposefully made a decision that I knew would make me unpopular, a decision in which I would gain absolutely nothing and could stand to lose the entire reason I was in line that evening, and I did it only because I felt it was the right thing to do. I had to say something. Some would call me crazy.

And yet, that’s good community management. Sometimes you have to make decisions that will make you lonely. Decisions that won’t win you any points, that won’t lead to praise, but decisions that you know need to be made because they are right.

Plus, there is a good parallel to moderation. You saw someone make a post that is inappropriate or destructive. But maybe no one else will ever realize it. For you to take care of it, it’s only more work for you, and for what? But, of course, you handle it. Because if you don’t, you’ll know you failed the community. And that’s more than enough.