Participating in a chat group can be a positive experience if you're willing to work at it. My group, the Acoustic Coffee House, is on the Care2 network. There are about 3,225 members and who knows how many stalkers. We talk about everything from folkmusic to politics. Sometimes things get out of hand but not often.
Most of the problems we experience are due to the frustration people feel with external events such as hurricane Katrina or the occupation of Iraq. These are difficult issues and people sometimes have problems expressing themselves. Kitty West, the folksinger, is a great role model in our group. She has a lot of patience and an uncanny way of working with people on a personal level to discover what they really want to say. Basically it's just plain old common sense, treat others like you'd like them to treat you.
Hey, isn't that the "golden rule?"
We occasionally run into what you might call a "trouble maker." These are people who join a group just to stir everyone up. This is where good hosting comes in and it takes awhile to get the hang of it. As a host, you need to peruse the message threads even though you may not be interested in each topic. We scan for abusive language and then remove the offending participant from the group. Blocking a member makes a clear message that the group will not tolerate abusive behavior. It also says the hosts care about the experience of all members. Its hard to do the first time but its the only way to create a "comfy" group.
In closing, I offer this caveat. Chat groups can be very compelling. You find that there are thousands of people who care about what you have to say. However, these virtual friends are no replacement for real relationships. So, enjoy your chat group but have a life too.
Spend some time interacting with your "real" friends and loved ones every day!