The Chat Experience

Initially when one of our staff proposed offering chat service as part of Iran Online Forum, we were not sure about its impact. One of our key people was totally against the idea and was concerned that individuals could misuse it. However, after long discussions, it was decided that there would be a Chat Service.  Soon after, we installed our first chat software.

Since then there have been many times where we questioned the wisdom of our decision.  Initially we used a very simple chat server software. We believed that if people could freely voice their opinion, they would not resort to profanities or name calling.  Soon after, we learned some people are not as logical as we hoped them to be.  We noticed that few individuals constantly misused our free service. We thought that over time these individuals would realize they were the ones that hurt the most and would stop abusing the system.  But they were filled with so much hate and distrust and needed to destroy everything around themselves. It was impossible for them to realize that they are living in the center of their self-created ruins.

The sad part of this is that many of us can look inside ourselves and see traces of the same behavior.  Yes, centuries of oppression, social injustice and cultural poverty do that to the best of us. One of our frequent users of the Chat service said it best in his email. He said: "It bothers me to see the individuals that misuse the chat service because they remind me of myself and the way I was …"   Fortunately, for the majority of us these behaviors are a thing of distant past.  We look back at them and realize how far we have come and at times we wish that this journey would never end.

About three months ago, we decided to employ technology to confront the social shortcomings that may still be lingering in few individuals.  One of our staff was tasked to come up with a new chat server software.  After few weeks, he was able to implement the new Chat Server software that met our unique requirements.  The result is our enhanced chat services that have become more popular than ever.

The new system provides more control both for the users and for our Chat Master.  Even though the chat lines are not monitored, the Chat Master now has the possibility to block access by those who decide to misuse the system. In a few occasions, we had to reluctantly exercise this feature.  But the good news is that out of thousands of people who have been using our chat service, we only had to block less than ten users.

It is our policy to minimize our interference in what is discussed in the chat rooms.  We do not take sides or force our opinion on our visitors.  However, we know that like us, all of our frequent chat users want the basic standards of behavior to be observed in the chat rooms.  Therefore, if we visit a chat room and notice that an individual is not conversing in an acceptable manner, we do not hesitate to block his / her access.   We have noticed that our frequent chat users are usually as protective as we are in maintaining a healthy and open environment.  They ignore those who try to agitate and disturb the chat rooms and manage to maintain a friendly environment.

Our chat visitors talk about every possible issue.  Discussion topics in the chat rooms are the true reflection of what is going on in our society.  Our people are used to hearing propaganda about ones political aspiration or failed attempts or to engage in political discussions that are mostly confrontational.  Iranians need more forums to freely speak their mind and practice freedom of speech.  Freedom and democracy can only be learned and appreciated through practice and experience.  It is not a surprise that most of us have difficulties understanding that freedom for all may mean less freedom for individuals.

We hope that our chat rooms provide a forum where opposing views can meet and exercise freedom of speech in a civilized manner. We also hope that we do not have to exercise our control over what is discussed in the chat rooms. However, until we all learn to listen and respect each other's view, resorting to technology seems to be a viable alternative.

Iran Online
July 1997