The Steppin game has experienced a rough year with everything from fights in the club (clearing my throat), to individuals being blasted on Facebook. Fake accounts are being created on Facebook to expose people, accounts are being hacked, and a cloud of distrust has floated over the game. On Facebook in particular, it affects you in ways you don’t even realize. I used to get a friend request and if it seemed like we knew enough of the same people, I’d accept you. That changed to me reviewing your page to see your pictures, whether you looked halfway respectable, what city you’re from, and whether I’d seen you before. And now, 9 times out of 10, if I don’t know you I generally won’t accept you (for more reasons than I have time to list).
Old schoolers have traditionally blamed new Steppers for shaking up the game. While this is not always true, you find sometimes that the culture of other communities are brought into the Steppin world, causing conflict initially. That is not to say that the Steppin world doesn’t already have its share problems. Generally however, even Steppers who don’t like each other are able to coexist in the same space peacefully. Let’s be clear on one thing though; fights and conflict have always existed on the Steppin scene. Steppers have come to blows on countless occasions throughout my 13 years of dancing, and from what I’ve heard, it started far before that.
A number of situations currently however, have spawned from comments and attacks on Facebook. This phenomenon isn’t new either, and if anyone is qualified to speak on it, it’s ChiStepper.com. In 2006 ChiStepper.com created the Steppers forum, and when you think about it, it really was Facebook before Facebook. Steppers could friend one another, add pictures, music, and create accounts, sometimes using anonymous profiles. It was during this period that I really began to see the appetite some Steppers had for destruction. Many of us loved the forum because it was a place for you to get honest feedback on what was going on in the Steppin world, but in a “controlled” environment. If a party sucked, you’d know about it on the forum on Monday. Every now and then however, someone would get into it and write some of the vilest things you could imagine.
What I find funny in retrospect is when it happened on the forum, people would get mad at ChiStepper.com, not the people who actually wrote the mess they were reading. I would always say, imagine what would happen if I wasn’t moderating this forum. See, the forum had rules! You could write whatever you wanted to write about another person, as long as it wasn’t anonymous and the other person didn’t object to it. That is to say, negative words about another person could only stay on the site if both people agreed to attack each other. It might sound crazy, but it was my way of ensuring that both parties were willing participants in the beef. So you could have a fake profile, but you couldn’t attack people from it. With that said, a Tamara Jackson situation could have never existed on the forum. Now though, it almost seems silly to try and blame Mark Zuckerberg for what is taking place on Facebook today. To that end, Mark Zuckerberg has always said that Facebook was intended for “REAL” friends to communicate.
Interestingly, what I would find on the forum is that even the people you might think are sweet as pie, would create anonymous accounts to try and blast someone. I’d find out because sometimes they would make a mistake and forget to logout of their fake profile, and post something nasty under their real name. When this happened they’d be calling me frantically, while I was at work, to ask me to take it down before someone saw it. Screen shots were not popular back then, especially on cell phones, so usually if you caught the mistake fast enough very little damage would be done.
Some people didn’t mind using their real name to say their piece however, and now, in an uncontrolled environment, me and the people who used to read the forum, get to see how these types of situations play out without moderation. Facebook, unlike the forum, is uncontrolled. What this means is, what people write about you is exposed for the entire world to see, whether you like it or not. Even when you block or unfriend someone, their comments about you can continue to live and influence people without your permission. This is quite scary when you think about it. This type of situation can affect your job, kids, etc. Then, family and friends who have nothing to do with Steppin and have no understanding of how insulated the dance community is can take offense to attacks on their loved ones, and take things to another level. For this purpose, playing the Facebook game is quite dangerous.
I can say for myself, I even took offense to the people who commented on negative things written about me. I mean, if somebody shits on me and then you hit the “like” button or make a comment, in my opinion you’re cosigning them. From this, relationships are destroyed. The one difference about the forum is generally when people beefed, the forum community would intercede to try and create peace. On Facebook however, it seems that most people who respond ignite the situation further and give high-fives for really digging into somebody.
So while Facebook is not totally to blame for the recent troubles in the dance community, watching how you contribute to social media might be a wise choice. As sick as I think the Tamara Jackson situation was, I think it helped in a weird way. It forced people to examine who they friend on social media, to watch the things that they say, and to even be a bit more responsible for what they post. Speaking of responsibility, in 2008 I got tired of babysitting the forum, on top of the fact a lot of people were gravitating to Facebook, and I decided to scrap it. When ChiStepper shed the reputation of “keeping shit started in the Steppin community” our advertising revenue nearly doubled.
My point is this … people are watching you and what you do whether you realize it or not. Be careful of the reputation you create for yourself through something as benign as Facebook because there might come a time when you want to do something meaningful in the community but you don’t have the respect from the people to pull it off. People will laugh with you today, and laugh at you tomorrow. Let’s keep the dance fun and address our adversaries through more personal means. Arguments and fights have always been around, and they will continue to happen, but for most people Steppin is what they do to relieve their stress and get away from their problems. As dysfunctional as we are, this is a community of dancers and a family that extends itself during each other’s times of need. Whether you like it or not, we all share in the responsibility of keeping the dance fun and welcoming.