This article is off the beaten path and controversial, so caution is in order.  It has to do with the ugly side of community politics.  It stems from my interest in psychology so I feel the need to write about it.  So, be forewarned if that is not your cup of tea please skip over this article.

I am an amateur psychologist.  The complexities of people’s behavior has always fascinated me.  People interact with a variety of  nuances and fill a plethora of different roles in group interactions.  It is amazing how certain leaders emerge, and regardless of the setting, whether it be one group or another, there are always similarities in the group dynamics.

Community dynamics are similar across internet communities.  Leaders rise to power and fall from power, individuals become loyal followers, and some even become tenacious minions willing to carry out orders from the leader, even though they may be a bit questionable.  We have seen it time and time again. Although dynamics are similar in group functions, the internet has created a different form of interaction, replacing what would normally have been carried out fact-to-face.

Because of the internet people do not have the luxury of reading facial nuances and vocal tones when it comes to interaction.  Instead, they have to try and gauge meaning, emotion, and context through the medium of text.  This can be very hard to do, and as everyone has experienced, frequently leads to miscommunication and misunderstanding.  However, this medium of text works in the favor of some individuals, by giving them the opportunity to craft a persona that they would not normally have the  opportunity of creating when it relied on good ole face-to-face interaction.  Bottom line, it is more easy to mislead in a cyber world.

I believe that I have a good gift of judging personalities.  With more than 28 years in law enforcement, dealing with a plethora of personalities, combined with my education and interest in psychology, and coupled with a lot of trial an error, I believe I can usually figure out people pretty good;  their motivations, desires, and trustworthiness.

Internet communities are like countries of the world.  They have different landscapes that are tailored for various interests and needs.   Their political structures vary from democratic to totalitarian.  Some internet communities, in a similar way, are run by a group of elected leaders while others have individual leaders that range in personality from altruistic to despotic.

Community leaders can cunningly craft their individual personas easier via the internet, hidden behind a veil of well designed misinformation.  Many of these leaders elicit a loyal following who will defend them to the utmost not aware that a double personality exists.   The internet presents an opportunity for these individuals that would not normally rise to a leadership role.

The fluoroquinolone web community is no different.  In the past there have been a range of leaders.  Some of the more notorious were intelligent yet unkind.  They were psychologically influenced by the horror of FQ toxicity, combined with a cunning intelligence, and a good dose of narcissism.  Yet despite their personality flaws they served a purpose.  Similar to dictatorship regimes found in the modern world, these community leaders actually exerted a stabilizing force on the community.   A similar recent example was the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Whether you loved him or hated him, he exerted stabilizing force on the region.  Prior to his fall people in his country enjoyed more wealth then any of the surrounding countries. Since his ouster, the country has fallen into the hands of warring factions, wages have plummeted, the economy has faltered, and people have fled the country.

The same has happened in the FQ community’s history.  Leaders have been overthrown, forums have been shutdown, and valuable information lost.  In its wake, power vacuums were created and filled by new leaders that, in some instances, are not driven by the purest motives.    New individuals entering into the community, dealing with the horror that is FQ toxicity,  can easily be led into certain “camps” of information or worst into someone’s cult of personality.   Because of this, the pursuit of knowledge is thwarted and tacitly directed certain individuals. You may ask, “Are there actually those out there in the FQ community right now that would take advantage of someone in such a vulnerable state, just to fulfill nothing more than a narcissistic need?”  Unfortunately, yes.

In our case, what defines a wolf in sheep’s clothing?  That is a hard question to pen an exact answer to.  It is akin to pinning Jell-O to a wall.  You almost have to have sense for it.  In reality however, it is not really that hard to get a sense of, it just takes a lot of analysis while you are watching  the jell-o run down the wall.  if someone analyzes a leader in a contextual framework over a period of time such a writings,  postings, interactions, etc… one can usually see a pattern emerge.  The patterns are not always obvious because even the most tyrannical leaders will display certain levels of an almost altruistic behavior if it will gain them community credentials.  In addition to, loyal followers will often overlook disturbing qualities of a poor leader just to belong to the larger group or to keep from admitting they made a mistake in their misguided trust.

In my opinion there are certain warning signs that take place.  Initially the person, in question, will set up a group, etc… to fulfill their need to lead.  People will be brought in to the group that usually have some sort of connection to the leader, it could be along the lines of gender, political slant, schools of thought, common goals, but it will usually be a subset of a larger community.   Next, the person will build their authority, usually slowly and methodically.   Almost always the leader will present themselves as a champion of the “cause” and usually set themselves up as the self-appointed watcher of chicanery and group defender.  They do this by inserting carefully crafted self-aggrandizing statements  and making sure the group is aware of any outside praise or recognition the leader receives.  At the same time, he/she cleverly inserts crafted comments to let the followers know that he/she is just a commoner and is just one of them. This also serves to develop the loyalty of the members to the leader so they will come to the defense of the leader should the need arise.

At a certain time in the evolution of the group the leader will then appoint themselves to a position of knowledge, i.e…the “expert witness” scenario.  They will have attained just enough anecdotal knowledge of the subject, mixed with the ability to throw in carefully crafted technical terms, to appear as an authority on the subject, in our case fluoroquinolones. They will then advertise themselves, so to speak, by volunteering their “expert services” in publications and media outlets and actively seek to maximize their own public adulation .  They usually are not sought out, but instead seek out places to tout their greatly inflated knowledge.

You may be asking yourself at this point, “don’t I see these qualities in a lot of grass root groups?”  The answer is yes.  However, one needs to look at some of the underlying motivations to gauge the correct intent of a true leader.

  • True leaders are usually truly reluctant.   They will not promote themselves.
  • True leaders actively seek to minimize their own public adulation not promote it.
  • True leaders will be altruistic. Perceived altruism cannot be the sole defining factor because even despots can show certain signs of altruism to further their cause, although it is not true altruism.   Altruism in conjunction with other positive attributes is a better way to judge.
  • True leaders will lay down their leadership role to benefit others.  True leaders will not hang onto power and to benefit the greater good they will lay down their leadership roles.

There are those out there right now that claim to speak for the community when in reality they speak for themselves.  I used to think that the phrase ‘rising water floats all boats’ was always true, but that is not the case. Not while certain individuals are doing nothing more than fulfilling self aggrandizing and narcissist behavior. They detract from the actual constructive work the is being accomplished usually behind the scenes by people who do not want the all the public attention. It is unfortunate that this occurs, but like I said before, it is not isolated to the FQ community but instead part of greater community dynamics in general.

Some people, especially myself and others I know that have been around for several  years, are not particularly upset by these individuals and consider them an inevitable hazard of internet community politics.  As the saying goes, “You can’t have a picnic without ants.”

It would be nice if everybody was so easy-going and not controlling, but the sad fact is that these poor leaders do discourage some people and hinder community progression.  Normally affable people can become bitter an angry when they inadvertently get involved in different camps of community politics.  This becomes particularly difficult when folks become inadvertently involved and at the same time are dealing with something as horrible as FQ toxicity. To this day, I still see personal politics poison previously friendly interactions between long-time users.

The moral of this story, whether you are newly affected by FQ’s or been around a long time is to be careful. The Internet can be a wonderful resource which breaks down barriers that hinders the free flow of information.  However be as cautious as you would in your real “non-internet” life, if there is such a thing nowadays.  The online world makes it easy for someone to hide their true identity, motives, and desires.  Sometimes those who rise to power on in an internet community would never be able to rise to power in “real life” and for good reason. FQ toxicity is terrible thing that does not need to be compounded by being made an unwitting pawn in the motives of others.