I’m talking about the pack mentality you see on the internet from time to time. Somebody does something daft or says something they probably shouldn’t have said, and before you know it, the call goes out online to come and mock/boycott/spew venom at a man or woman you don’t know and probably never even heard of.
I first noticed it last year, when a writer voiced strong anti-gay feelings on his blog. Someone I respect posted a link to that journal entry, and while he/she didn’t exactly yell ‘Dog pile!’ it was pretty clear they didn’t approve of what this person had said. I remember following the link and being shocked at the hundreds of vile, nasty comments that blogger received, most of them from folks who, like me, had probably never read the man’s journal before, but had been directed there from another blog post, facebook or Twitter message etc.
What is it they say? “You have the right to free speech, and I will shout down anyone who dares say different.”
Even though I disagreed with the blogger’s anti-gay sentiments, I soon forgot all about him, but I lost a lot of respect for the person who posted the link that day.
Last month, another author made a different kind of mistake. She responded online to a negative book review in a foolish way. Over the next week or so, things got worse until the author made a really silly post on the reviewer’s blog. The word went out online about the ‘crazy author who can’t accept a bad review’ and within a few hours, the number of comments on that blog post went from seven to over 300, at which point the blog owner froze the thread.
Was that author wrong to complain? Yes.
Did she behave like an idiot? Absolutely.
Did she deserve to be vilified online? Absolutely not.
As I read through the comments on that post, I found the author’s attitude to be unprofessional, immature and childish, but what I found repellant was the apparent delight some of the commenters seemed to feel at this person’s overreaction to a bad review and her subsequent behavior. It reminded me of the pack mentality you see when youngsters form a circle to laugh and jeer like hyenas while the alphas in their group pick on someone for fun.
Just yesterday the word went out to boycott a website provider because the company’s CEO had filmed himself shooting an elephant.
Was that a good thing for that CEO to do? I don’t think so. Frankly, I don’t see the point of hunting for sport unless your prey has at least a 50% chance of killing you first.
Should we boycott the company that CEO runs because of it, in an effort to get him sacked? Absolutely not. Why should he lose his job (and his family its livelihood) because we don’t approve of something he did that’s unrelated to his business?
So what’s my point here?
It’s quite simple. If someone goofs up online and you feel it’s relevant, by all means refer to that mistake, and mention why you think he/she shouldn’t have done what they did. If there’s a lesson to be taken from what happened and you want to post about that (as many of my online friends have already done about the author’s response to a negative review), I say go for it. In fact, do whatever you want. It’s your blog/facebook/Twitter account after all.
However, if you only post a link to something so your readers can join in the mockery/righteous indignation, or you want to round up supporters for a boycott/witch hunt in order to ‘punish’ someone by trying to get them fired, don’t expect me to join in. If you ask me, that kind of post says more about you and your character than it does about the person you target, and none of it’s good.
How about you?
How do you feel when you see a post like the ones I described above?