As meatspace pioneers, we are navigating a communication medium with ambiguous and complicated social norms. Everyone is well-aware that meatspace is public, and we never know who is "lurking," or watching our conversations without showing themselves. Even we regulars lurk sometimes; at work or when we're busy with other things, we check-in and see what's is going on but choose not to join the conversation. For the most part, this behavior is benign for both the chat community and the lurker themselves.
I liken lurking on meatspace to covertly listening to a conversation in a public place. The lurker may or may not know the people engaged in conversation; they might just find it interesting enough to listen-in. I am sure lurkers' reasons for not joining the conversation are varied-- fear of rejection by the group, intimidation, the need to become familiar with the medium or the regular users before joining, or maybe some are purely watching for entertainment's sake. When a new person lurks for a while, learns a little about members of the meatspace community, then leaves, no harm is done. In fact, many active meatspacers admit to lurking for days or even weeks before they felt comfortable enough to interact, and we are so glad that they stuck around!
Lurking can, however, become destructive. For example, when comments, gifs or even entire conversations are misunderstood or taken out-of-context. If you are standing out-of-sight and hear someone say something that upsets you, common sense would dictate that you would continue listening to make sure you understand the context of the troubling comment before acting on your worries. The same rule must apply to meatspace.
Ephemeral chat is not like Twitter or Facebook-- a user cannot see something and think, "I don't have time for this right now. I'll wait a bit and come back to it later to see how the discussion played out." The conversations are real-time, and will disappear within minutes from everywhere but the participants' memories.
While it is true that the ephemerality of meatspace is perceived and not absolute because people can save gifs and comments to their computers, it is also true that one must actually be present in the chat in order to save anything. If a person is distressed or confused in any way by something they see or read on meatspace, the only way to understand the situation is to continue watching. If extensive viewing does not put any troubling thoughts to rest, the lurker MUST ENGAGE. We have plenty of deep, philosophical and even controversial discussions on meatspace, and if the right (or maybe wrong?) person is watching, unintended offense and irritation are inevitable.
This situation has, unfortunately, unfolded in real life a couple of times since many of us started using meatspace last October. At least once in someone's personal life, and once on the internet, with both personal and professional implications. Of course there could be many more examples that none of us are aware of because the unhappy lurker chooses to remain hidden.
In closing, here is my advice to any meatspace lurkers reading this: an important part of the process of making and keeping friends is sharing personal opinions on contentious topics. Although you may know many of our professions and employers, or even know us personally, that does not give you license to interpret snippets of conversation and publicize them as you see fit.
If you feel incited or disturbed by something you read or see on meatspace, the only truly respectful and polite way to handle the situation is to JOIN THE CONVERSATION. If meatspace is just too intimidating, then confront the offending person/people individually, either via twitter, or, if possible, in person. All we ask is that you act diplomatically and with an open-mind, as we regulars generally try to demonstrate.
We are an inclusive, close-knit community, and I promise we don't bite-- except in self-defense.