How to Not Be a Bullying Mob
July 5, 2015 10:25 PM   Subscribe

Are you angry on the internet? That's ok! Perhaps, though, this would be an excellent time for you, angry person on the internet, to review (MeFi's own) Andrea Phillips's helpful flow chart of how not to be a bullying mob. [via mefi projects]
posted by MeghanC (31 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
I like the idea of this, but the power differential thing is really hard to measure. A lot of things feel like persecution, especially when you're mad, and a lot of groups use false persecution as a tactic-- it's something you see across pretty much all hate groups. This is one of those tools that might work well in some hands, but that a lot of people clearly engaging in bad behavior would be able to claim they're following.

The devil can quote scripture to his purpose, though, so it's possible that "well it can be interpreted badly" isn't really a black mark and just means that language is imperfect.
posted by NoraReed at 11:16 PM on July 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


The difference in scope of the level instruction on the flow chart focused on individual, bottom-up choices and actions ("Patricipate in hashtags, blog and post, but don't tag individual people") and the scope of the project ("Don't be a mob") are hard to reconcile as well. Some (all?) mobs have their own top-down organization/communication entirely orthogonal to the mechanisms of a chart like this.
posted by Earthtopus at 11:25 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think that in a lot of things, the power differential thing is really easy? Frex, the recent kerfuffle with John Green, wherein Green and then quite a few other big-name YA authors basically piled onto a teenage tumblr user. There are a lot of very clear power differentials--celebrities on Twitter who send their followers after someone who tweeted something that the celebrity in question found offensive, adults talking to teenagers, etc.

I sort of feel that in the ease of communication afforded us by the internet, people often forget that they're not just talking to their peers, and end up being really sort of abusive towards people who are young enough that they can't even drive yet. And on one hand, that means that we get to hear the voices of a lot of people who might otherwise not be heard, but I think that there's also a responsibility to make sure that the collective we responds appropriately and kindly to that.
posted by MeghanC at 12:02 AM on July 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


the recent kerfuffle with John Green, wherein Green and then quite a few other big-name YA authors basically piled onto a teenage tumblr user

Please cite your source. I went looking for stuff on this and found only 1) Green defending himself from accusations lacking anything close to evidence, and 2) Clickbait-outragey headlines from media sources I've learned not to trust. (Daily Fail, anyone?)

But if there's evidence that they piled on some poor teenager, then please, share it with the rest of us. 'cause otherwise it's just a perpetuation of a dogpile on Green, whose largest offense seems to be that he's a charismatic public figure.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:27 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


First decision box is wrong, should be: Are you angry? yes ---> Go watch cat videos.
posted by sammyo at 12:32 AM on July 6, 2015 [25 favorites]


Augh, that John Green thing made me SO MAD, but it seems like "if you are a celebrity, don't mention the social media profile of some rando individual by name, your followers will mob them". Like, all the tumblr-er(s?) in question said, as far as I could tell from who I was following, was "the way John Green behaves makes me uncomfortable and sets off my creep-dar", which is a totally legitimate feeling to have, and the response from him-- as well as other authors-- was to take this as "John Green is literally a pedophile", and given the social status that Green has in the community, doing things that make these kids uncomfortable talking about the behavior of adult men who socialize in their spaces when they don't have the vocabulary to necessarily speak about that stuff well-- it encourages a lot of really problematic attitudes and enables the victimization of kids by adults in similar situations who are able to capitalize on the lack of skills for talking about that kind of thing.

I get the knee-jerk reaction to defend himself, but he escalated the "accusation" from someone thinking John Green is creepy to saying that he sexually abuses children. Additionally, by reblogging it from the original source in the way he did, he sic'd his mob of fans on her, and, well... I checked, and that tumblr isn't there anymore. If John Green's fandom is like pretty much every fandom out there-- and it's big enough that I have no reason to believe it isn't-- I'd guess she probably got enough abuse for it that she closed it or changed her url. Oh, and when you get that kind of abuse online? Some of it is ALWAYS sexual.
posted by NoraReed at 12:39 AM on July 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


The big point that this chart gets across that I think needs to be emphasized you have to be very careful about identifying an individual person, because the consequences can quickly spiral out of control and way out of proportion to the initial grievance.

The other side of this is that people need to be a little less trigger happy on the citation needed when someone is talking about some behavior that upsets them.
posted by zixyer at 12:53 AM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Scaryblackdeath, there were no accusations. It was literally a post that said that the poster felt that Green was pandering and creepy. Which, you know, is a thing that she is allowed to feel, and allowed to express. Camryn Garrett at HuffPo has a piece on it, including links to Green's response (which, in case you're not familiar with the way tumblr formats things, has the original post alleging creepiness at the top, and his response underneath) as well as some of the many pointed pro-John-Green tweets that were sent.

Anyhow, I mentioned that as an example of an obvious power imbalance, not to start a discussion about Green, which is, I think, an entirely different post.
posted by MeghanC at 1:02 AM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mod note: re: not to start a discussion about Green, which is, I think, an entirely different post. Yeah, this is going to be a little tricky, because we are talking about online mobbing/bullying – and possible specific incidents of this can be pertinent as examples, but they also have an extremely high risk of taking over the entire thread as runaway derails, so I'll just ask everyone to try to avoid that. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:12 AM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Even if people only adopted the third bullet point, the internet (and the world!) would be a much better place.

... the power differential thing is really hard to measure ...

It's worth noting that both answers to the question advise against publicly attacking or shaming individuals. The main difference is whether to approach them directly about it, and I'm not convinced that relative power or authority is the only deciding factor on that.

... language is imperfect.

People are imperfect.
posted by oheso at 3:15 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


At first I liked this, but now I'm wondering about specific cases. Let's say someone's misbehaving at a convention. The flowchart's advice would be:
– if you know them, speak to them directly.
– if you don't know them then "participate in hashtags, blog and post, but don't tag individual people. Even bad ones."

I'm not sure this is good advice. The proper thing to do is probably report to the convention committee or security personnel, no? And if they're not responsive, and the person is a danger to others, then it really might be a good idea to call them out publicly.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:06 AM on July 6, 2015


Are you at the convention? If so, I don't think this really applies; it's about online interactions, not offline ones.
posted by Shmuel510 at 4:31 AM on July 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Let's say someone's misbehaving at a convention.

"Are you angry on the internet? That's ok! Perhaps, though, this would be an excellent time for you, angry person on the internet, to review (MeFi's own) Andrea Phillips's helpful flow chart of how not to be a bullying mob."
...
"I've been very concerned the last few years with how easily we are rallied into howling mobs baying for blood on social media."
posted by Etrigan at 4:42 AM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Something that's missing which would maybe apply more to places like MetaFilter than tumblr would be "are other people already addressing this? Support them rather than launching your own attack." Once a couple of people have responded to a comment, it's better to say "I agree with A, B, and C that this is a problem, and [related thought]" rather than "X, you are wrong!"
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:57 AM on July 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


Oh my goodness! Good morning!

On the power dynamics issue: I tried to fashion this such that it's not a big deal if you get that question wrong unless the difference is very, very large. So let's take, oh, epic fantasist Scott Lynch: more famous than me, sells more books, has lots more fans and followers, etc. etc. But I'm pretty confident if I were to pick an internet slapfight with him and he blog-posted about it, I would not be hounded off the internet. On the other hand, if I were to pick an internet slapfight with someone like, say, Wil Wheaton, even if he talked about it without naming names or tagging me, the audience of spectators is so enormous that a fraction is guaranteed to want to put two and two together and come after me, because curiosity and then loyalty.

So goes my logic, at least.
posted by Andrhia at 5:05 AM on July 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


I await an oral history of flowcharts
posted by thelonius at 6:08 AM on July 6, 2015


I thought the answers were switched on the "more/less powerful" one, so that if you're more powerful you should "stop" and "don't be a bully" but if you're less powerful you should proceed and "keep it civil." But now that I reread it seems like both could apply to either.

As previously noted, self-assessments about whether you're more or less powerful are notoriously unreliable, as the worst people in the world always feel like they are unfairly persecuted no matter how much power they have. :(
posted by edheil at 6:17 AM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wanted to say that I agree with the commenter on the blog post who suggests the flowchart could contain a "consider oops before evil" step.

I feel all too often I see people online assume bad faith or ill intent that isn't actually present... and then the collective reaction is so out of proportion to the offense that instead of educating or convincing others, the person attacked & those observing will double down, or feel unjustly shunned & shamed, etc.

Basically not only is it unfair (especially knowing it's hard to read tone online, or when something is taken out of context, and so on) but it doesn't serve your greater point anyway when random "oops" comments or misinterpreted people get caught in the crossfire - it can actively hurt it.

Being angry is often so justified but being a bully is never a good look.
posted by flex at 6:20 AM on July 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


This is all well and good for other people, but my cause is so obviously self-righteous that it justifies the use of any tactics in destroying my enemies.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:40 AM on July 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


My frame of reference is that NASA guy who was wearing that problematic shirt of sexy women, a pile-on which I'm ashamed to have joined, in retrospect. So generally, women are in a position of less power than men, and institutional sexism is a real thing which we must fight... but as a whole, the collective force of Feminism on the Internet had a lot of power compared to that one dude. And the way in which we addressed that issue made us just look like bullies, which got all these MRA types involved, whereas maybe if we have focused more on, say, what's happening within NASA that would result in someone going on-air wearing a shirt like that, we would have generated a more productive discussion than calling out that one guy's questionable fashion choices and treating him like the avatar of institutional sexism in the sciences.

I think pieces like this, and the ones encouraging "call-ins" rather than "call-outs" are really good and useful. The internet's a new tool and it can be hard to remember that what we consider our one voice has a very different effect when added to thousands of others, both in good and bad ways.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:48 AM on July 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think there wasn't as much of a pile-on as the usual exaggeration of the shitty side and rationalizing used against feminism. Still, I really, really dislike threats, and wish more people talked about how prevalent it is.
posted by halifix at 8:12 AM on July 6, 2015


Recently, I made a rule for myself where I will no longer read or engage with or spend any emotional energy on any news story that boils down to: "PERSON HAS BAD OPINION." No matter how powerful that person is; no matter how bad or downright malevolent that opinion might be, no matter how many smart people I respect and trust are arguing that the fact that this PERSON HAS BAD OPINION signifies a whole lot more about the rottenness at the core of our society - nope. Not reading it, or any story about it.

There is no shortage of injustice in this world. People are going to have bad opinions until the end of time; I could spend every minute of my life getting mad about them and never make an appreciable dent in the tide of Other People's Bad Opinions. There are thousands of ways I can keep trying to make the world a better place, even if I make an executive decision to never again to expend time or energy thinking about the Bad Opinion of someone I don't personally know.

Try it yourself - scroll down your Facebook feed and see what things people are pissed off about, and see how many you can re-label "PERSON HAS BAD OPINION," and then hide those stories. It's a very freeing exercise.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:28 AM on July 6, 2015 [15 favorites]


So generally, women are in a position of less power than men, and institutional sexism is a real thing which we must fight... but as a whole, the collective force of Feminism on the Internet had a lot of power compared to that one dude. And the way in which we addressed that issue made us just look like bullies, which got all these MRA types involved, whereas maybe if we have focused more on, say, what's happening within NASA that would result in someone going on-air wearing a shirt like that, we would have generated a more productive discussion than calling out that one guy's questionable fashion choices and treating him like the avatar of institutional sexism in the sciences.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that there is nothing you can do to make your activism "friendly" enough for the kinds of people who join MRA groups. Nothing. You get caught up in double bind there--either you're so angry and so rude that no one can listen to you because you're so hurtful, or else people straight up ignore that there is a problem and say "oh, well, you're making a big deal out of nothing." There's none so blind as those who willfully refuse to see, you know? And people--since this is about sexism, let's say women--women will try and try to politely get across that this small rude thing is hurtful, or it's insulting, or it's really frustrating to get talked over and mansplained to or to have yourself only discussed as a potential date or whatever the small insult of the moment is. Lots of small moments across lots and lots of people, and women cumulatively taking the brunt of them.

And then something blatant and visible happens like that guy's gaffe, and some people who are particularly sick of it all shout about it in their frustration. And a lot of other women who are just as frustrated from years of small pricks and chafed sore spots go "Oh we are finally talking about this!" and take the opportunity to chime in. The whole topic becomes about more than just the one relatively minor fuck-up, because people are so resistant to talking about the more minor stuff that builds and builds before that. And that's a problem specifically because people don't react and readjust until sufficient other people--women and their allies--say, loudly and unignorably, that this stuff is not okay.

It sucks that no one ever told that guy that maybe wearing a shirt covered in naked women at work was not a good idea, and it sucks that apparently no one had gotten around to telling him that it's especially a bad idea at a national press conference, and it sucks that he benefited so much from institutional sexism that he had never had a female colleague or friend or mentor tell him "Hey, that shirt is going to make junior women uncomfortable" before.

I mean that. It really sucks to find out that you were ignorantly hurting people and that an action you thought was innocuous good fun was being perceived as anything but. It sucks to make a mistake and find yourself at the center of thousands of people using your gaffe as a chance to force a wider discussion about sexism because you were ignorant and you were visible.

But.

A lot of times, these angry flare-ups are the only things that make the complacent sit up and take notice. Without them, the MRA types and the "feminists are just bullies!" types are quiet, sure... but the naked lady shirts of the day keep getting worn, too, and the small chafing pin-pricks of sexism get allowed to stand, because the ignorant people blundering through them have never bothered to think about the consequences of those actions for women. Ignorance does at least as much harm as deliberate malice, in my experience, and it's hard to get the worst actors to take you seriously as it is without also having to bend over backwards to be "sufficiently nice." Because the thing about being "sufficiently nice" is that the goalposts will move, every time.

And the other thing about incidents like that is that you can use the specific event to vividly say "imagine what it would be like to be where I am in this place" and try to bring it home to the complacent but ignorant, in a way that you really cannot do if you are talking in vague phrases like structural oppression. If you want people to take notice, make metaphors and talk about the experience of being marginalized in bright, vivid emotional terms. Talk about being edged out of the room, talk about the thoughtless insults, talk about having your competence questioned at every turn, sketch out what that experience is like. I guarantee it will stick with your average well-meaning, thoughtless person who hasn't experienced that kind of dynamic way more than just talking about the statistics and the abstract realities will, even if the abstract numbers and stats are what backs you up to get your foot in the door and be believed in the first place.
posted by sciatrix at 9:20 AM on July 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


> Try it yourself - scroll down your Facebook feed and see what things people are pissed off about, and see how many you can re-label "PERSON HAS BAD OPINION," and then hide those stories.

I agree with this in the sense that I don’t think it’s useful to try to gang up on randos who have shitty ideas — even really shitty ideas, and even really notable people, unless we’re talking about politicians or judges or other government officials whose shitty thoughts are unrepresentative of the country they work for.

I wouldn’t want to hide those stories entirely, though, because those stories are a good reality check on the progress we think we’ve made. Not the most outrageous example, but here’s one that comes to mind: I remember during the 2008 campaign there was someone being interviewed by a local TV station on the day of the West Virginia Democratic primary to say that she voted for Hillary over Obama because Obama is a Muslim, and that troubled her. To which the reporter said, “Just for the record, he says he isn’t a Muslim…” and she replied, “Yeah, I know what he says.”

Now, I don’t know that woman’s name, and I don’t have any desire to find her Facebook page and call her a horrible person, or find her employer and demand that she be fired. If you’re a bigot in your private life, I’d like to think your punishment for that is to be subjected to the very social order you’re scared of, and either eventually change your mind or die a bitter and hateful person.

But I would still want to remember that she said it, and remember that for every person who will say it on camera there are ten thousand who believe it but have the sense to know that they should keep it to themselves. I want it in my brain-bank for when someone tries to claim that racism is over. Or, regarding this example, when Geraldine Ferraro tried to suggest that Obama was lucky, politically speaking, to be a black man named Barack Hussein Obama instead of the white Christian wife of a former president.

I like the site Fat, Ugly, or Slutty because the point of it isn’t to track down the people who say vile shit on Xbox Live. It’s simply to document how it happens, and how often, in a “if you didn’t know, now you know” sense.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:48 AM on July 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Thanks for your reply, sciatrix, I don't disagree - and I never meant to imply that we should let the action of hateful MRAs determine our reactions - but I do think the guideline of targeting institutions as much as possible over individual people is a good one. At a certain point, all of Twitter piling onto one individual person about a dumb, privileged thing they thoughtlessly did just has seriously diminishing returns. I'm not saying we shouldn't talk about it, but pivoting that conversation to address bigger institutional problems that lead men like that to wear shirts like that is just more productive.

I saw some people saying "okay, this dude now knows his shirt is a problem, but seriously, NASA, none of you pulled him aside and told him this is a bad idea? WTF? What's going on that this is considered acceptable workplace wear? How can we start empowering people to have these conversations in our own workplace, and how can we stamp out the culture that makes it acceptable for men to wear these t-shirts?" and I feel like that's a great model to follow.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:45 AM on July 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I think I mostly agree with you too! Totally, let's use these public acts of sexism as a springboard to talk about the institutional stuff, and don't center all criticism on individuals when institutions are also clearly in need of changing. With respect to that incident, I also saw a bunch of posts using him as a springboard to explicitly talk about more structural issues, and I think what I'm reacting to is the characterization of those posts as part of an "internet twitter maelstrom" that is undeserved and unjustified etc etc.

I've been seeing a lot of pushback about the public discussion of Taylor lately for a gaffe eight months ago that, from my perspective, people had already more or less quit talking about. It's been really raising my eyebrows because I'm used to seeing pretty much any open criticism of a sexist act get hit with a backlash of "oh no think about the feelings of the guy who screwed up!" and re-centered around him immediately. And I've been thinking about how every time a woman says "This guy said something sexist and inappropriate at a professional conference" on twitter, well, if anyone's going to suffer long-lasting public consequences it's often her.

Which is of course its own argument for going "Wow, what an idiot, now let's talk about the culture that let him do this dumbass thing in the first place" when we criticize public figures who do something sexist in the first place. The more we center focus on institutions, the harder it is for MRA-types or people who feel sorry for the guy who screwed up to derail the conversation to focus on callout culture and how women are terrible shoals of piranhas on twitter or whatever. It's a pretty good tactical move in its own right.
posted by sciatrix at 11:00 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Having a clear objective in mind is also helpful. Barring a clear and articulable case for another result, the default objective should be a simple, sincere apology. And we should be willing to accept that apology and move on.

If you can't articulate a goal or accept an apology, that's a tipoff that your anger and outrage are unconstrained and that you're at risk for behaving like a bully and/or part of a mob.

We all say and do stupid things from time to time: sometimes it's the result of a personality defect or flawed outlook, sometimes it's thoughtless oversight, sometimes it's just an accident or misstatement. Whatever your suspicions, skip playing mindreader and give people the benefit of the doubt, especially when they ask for it.

Nobody likes being chastised or admitting when they're wrong; it can be awkward, humiliating, and cause people to become defensive. If we want to encourage people to admit mistakes and correct them, we should be better about accepting apologies. If people acknowledge a mistake, apologize for it, and (if appropriate) make amends, we should accept it graciously, accept them back into the fold, and move on.

If we don't give people a face-saving way out, they may dig their heels in or double-down on the bad behavior. Treating accidents and misdemeanors as felonies also risks turning the perpetrator into a victim, and creating the impression that an otherwise well intentioned correction (and those who support it) are the bigger problem.
posted by Davenhill at 12:12 PM on July 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


On the flipside, acting as if you have been accused of being the Grand Dragon of the KKK when someone says "Hey, that thing you said hurt my feelings and kind of offended me," is also really unhelpful.
posted by rtha at 12:55 PM on July 6, 2015 [16 favorites]


On the flip-flipside, when you come up with a complaint out of the blue, "I disagree, but sorry if I offended you" is perhaps not ideal, but is actually *not* a "non-apology" as people like to call it, and is about the best you're going to get short-term, given the circumstances.
posted by smidgen at 3:26 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I saw some people saying "okay, this dude now knows his shirt is a problem, but seriously, NASA, none of you pulled him aside and told him this is a bad idea? WTF?

Point of order: That dude worked for the European Space Agency, not NASA.
posted by grahamparks at 3:38 AM on July 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Whoops! Thanks, grahamparks. I only remembered the details fuzzily and should have double-checked.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:46 AM on July 7, 2015


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