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The Ugly Side of Beautiful

I love blogging, and I value the online friendships and connections I’ve made over the last couple of years, but every now and then I see the ugly side of social networking. It doesn’t show up too often, but when it does I find it disturbing, and if I’m honest, even a little revolting.
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? 

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( 99 comments — Leave a comment )
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Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:06 pm (UTC)
I read that review thread too, as I'm suspecting more than half of the Internet writing folks. I do follow such links, but I would never harass others. Gods know I've done and said IRL stupid things aplenty.

However, IMHO, one's right to free speech goes hand in hand with everyone else's right to point and laugh in the privacy of their own web connections. Preferably while nomming popcorns.
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:20 pm (UTC)
Ah, popcorn, perfect for every occasion :)
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:15 pm (UTC)
It is a custom I dislike, and I see it far more in the left than in the right, and in no area more so than identity politics. Furthermore there is no subtlety because dogpilers believe that those who disagree with them are guilty of a moral failing - that disagreement with their point of view comes hand with deprecation of whatever group of people they are batting for.

I can't help wondering with some of the instigators what might be missing in their lives that they get off on the rage involved. They claim "it's draining to explain this again and again" but still seem to seek out opportunities to do it, and bully others by those means.
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Dogpiling
Oh Lord, don't get me started on 'political' blog rants :)
Re: Dogpiling - ideealisme - Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Dogpiling - msstacy13 - Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Dogpiling - paulwoodlin - Apr. 3rd, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Dogpiling - bondo_ba - Apr. 4th, 2011 01:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:25 pm (UTC)
I read the writer thread. I was in sympathy for an obvious newbie writer until the point where she used colorful metaphors twice on that blog. I still think it is sad that she will now have to go on with her writing using a by line and I hope she does get help with her mechanics, since everyone vilifying her seems to forget the original review said the story was good.

Yes, people do enjoy behaving like vultures and it is just as sickening as the real life bird behavior. They both emerge, heads covered in blood and entrails, with some sort of creamy satisfaction plastered on their expressions. It is the herd gathering together, not me, I'm safe, lets point and laugh at the victim syndrome. In my eyes, just as immature as the overly defensive writer.
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:37 pm (UTC)
I thought the blog owner handled himself well in that instance, though I think if it were me, I'd have probably screened most (if not all) of the comments once things started to get silly.
(no subject) - darkspires - Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:28 pm (UTC)
While I can't say being rude or nasty is justified, many of the 'well... I suppose I won't read this book by this author' comments are just fine. I do believe people should have truly bad behavior pointed out, and, yes, some people obviously need to be told it by hundreds of people before they get the point.

As far as boycotting a company (and calling for a boycott) when the people to own/run it do something you don't like? THAT is perfectly fine and within your rights - maybe the elephant thing doesn't bother you, but what if is was something that did? Would you want to support a company where the CEO, say, was a member of and donated money to the KKK? It's just a matter of what you find offensive enough, I think.

And as for a call to arms, well, that's what blogging and the internet is all about. Getting your point/opinion/whatever out there. Sure, it can be more subtle ("I'm no longer going to buy products from ____ and here's why, if you're curious") to less subtle ("If you buy anything from _____ you're an idiot!") but I think I'm immune to it.

I've been told who to vote for, what sporting teams to support, what I should be eating... all by my f-list. In various levels of strength, from the very-not subtle to the gentle recommendation (that, after all, is what book reviews typically are!). And for many reasons.

This - done right - does not make me think anything of the people other than that they have strong convictions (in the case of the elephant, animal rights - and I'm surprised I haven't seen it, since I have a few very ardent vegan/animal rights activists on my list, I have been absent from the internet lately!). And, depending on the situation, I may join in their decision (like now, I would never buy and read that book, honestly).

Done wrong (like the nine millionth [insert political party] bashing) it just makes me feel a little weary of the person, and I might scroll a bit faster.

Edited at 2011-04-02 03:30 pm (UTC)
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
Re: ...as for a call to arms, well, that's what blogging and the internet is all about.

For some people, perhaps, but I don't think it should be used like that. I doubt there's any big company that doesn't employ someone whose beliefs or behaviour I strongly disapprove of. Why should we only single out the ones we've heard about?
(no subject) - smeddley - Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 2nd, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - smeddley - Apr. 2nd, 2011 04:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rymrytr - Apr. 2nd, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 2nd, 2011 06:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jaguarx13 - Apr. 2nd, 2011 04:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:31 pm (UTC)
What a good post! It reminds me of what little I know about scapegoating and mimetic violence, and also of Shirley Jackson. I find it very interesting that a mob mentality is just that -- a mentality, and therefore can exist in a virtual world as well as the physical. The behavior that governs humiliation in a playground also seems to govern midnight lynchings, and it's frightening wherever we find it. In ourselves or just next door. Anyway, I think your observations are valuable.
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:32 pm (UTC)
I think you made excellent points. Just a few minutes ago, I was on Amazon reading the flood of new comments on THE GREEK SEAMAN, by the author whose poor response to a review caused such a fuss. It bothers me that the book is now 1-star on Amazon based on the author, not on people reading the full book.

It's equally as annoying when I see people give 5-star reviews to movies or video games that haven't come out yet, simply because "they look good." It just doesn't make sense. Why attach your opinion to something when you make it clear you're ignorant?

Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:44 pm (UTC)
For that matter,
I hate books getting five stars because they shipped on time.
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:34 pm (UTC)
I agree that there's a point in which pointing out someone's oops goes from "hey you shouldnt do that" (in the case of the writer from last week) to "woohooo you screwed up - let's keep piling it on." Personally, I went from a gentle shake of the head at the author to really feeling sorry for her when she began to use more colorful language because things just blew up from there. I was rather shocked actually but I think by that time, enough had been said.

Unfortunately, the internet is the perfect place to hide your own shortcomings and laugh at those who fail to do so or make a mistake. Unlike several years ago, when most people interacted via a net name and one could just move on from something by changing their handle, nowadays it's even harder to live down an oops when your real name (many times) is plastered all over the place.

(btw, i thought hunting elephants was illegal? I have to go look that up now.)

Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:50 pm (UTC)
...nowadays it's even harder to live down an oops

Especially since you can't easilly change your book's title.
(no subject) - rowyn - Apr. 3rd, 2011 05:56 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
You've probably noticed that FB is replete (isn't that a lovely word?)
with that sort of thing, including links-a-poppin' to "newsblogs"
that enhance the news with triggering buzzwords...

As for boycotts and "Tell the New York Times..." memes--

There ~are~ people who deserve to be run out of town on a rail,
but mob rule is still mob rule,
even if I'm leading that mob...
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:51 pm (UTC)
...mob rule is still mob rule, even if I'm leading that mob

Lol, indeed it is :)
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:56 pm (UTC)
Well said, and I heartily agree!

I think it's one thing to react to something personally on your own blog - for ex, many of my writer friends posted gentle "This is why you don't want to respond to reviews" warnings after last week's fiasco, and many of the rest of us posted variations of "Please don't let me do something this embarrassing in public." But I would never dream of adding to the drama by heading over to someone else's blog for the sole purpose of participating in a pile.

People who enjoy attacking others in that sort of mob situation often end up behaving worse than the poor person they're targeting.
Apr. 2nd, 2011 03:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jen. I feel very strongly about this kind of mob behaviour.
Apr. 2nd, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)
Totally agree. Some of those comments made me feel really icky, like I was back in high school, watching someone get the crap beat out of him because he wore the wrong clothes to school.
Apr. 2nd, 2011 05:08 pm (UTC)
I had that exact same feeling (especially since most of my clothes were either second hand or long past there 'Replace due to being outgrown or outworn' date when I was at school).
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 2nd, 2011 05:21 pm (UTC)
I think this is mostly a problem of proportion.

Partly that, but for me it's more about whether or not we should even be judging someone we don't know, much less inviting others to do the same.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 2nd, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC)
Good point, Irene. I daresay most of us won't remember that author's name in a week's time, but we'll certainly remember what she did.
Apr. 2nd, 2011 04:21 pm (UTC)
Should we boycott the company that CEO runs because of it, in an effort to get him sacked?

Absolutely, if animal welfare and the environment are something that you care about. If you are a customer of that company (GoDaddy), then some of your money has gone to paying the expenses that Parsons incurred in order to do that. Which makes you complicit, even if you don't know about it, but not ethically culpable. If, after you find out, you continue to support Parson's paycheck, well, you can decide what it means to you, and I can decide what it means to me.

Everybody screws up now and then, and sometimes it gets onto the internet, and sometimes it creates a firestorm. It's up to each of us to decide for ourselves what we think of it, and what we think of the individuals who screw up, and what we think of the individuals who react, and how they react.

We have to decide on a case by case basis what reaction is warranted. I know many people who won't watch the Eagles since they brought Michael Vick on after he tortured dogs to death. If I was a sports person, I would be one of them. I'm not, so not supporting the Eagles is a pointless gesture.

I avoid Dominos Pizza because the CEO has been supportive of Operation Rescue, which is an organization that has been implicated in terrorizing doctors who perform abortions, and who have influenced people who have killed people working in clinics. To me, it's important that I don't volunteer to give my money to people who will use it for those purposes. Others may choose differently.

You decide for yourself what issues matter enough, and what reaction is appropriate.
Apr. 2nd, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 2nd, 2011 05:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - smeddley - Apr. 2nd, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 2nd, 2011 06:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - smeddley - Apr. 2nd, 2011 06:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 2nd, 2011 06:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - smeddley - Apr. 2nd, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 2nd, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - smeddley - Apr. 2nd, 2011 07:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - brni - Apr. 2nd, 2011 09:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Apr. 3rd, 2011 10:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - brni - Apr. 3rd, 2011 04:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 2nd, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
You have an excellent point and make a valid point. If memory serves, I linked that last bit from my page as an example of what not to do. It was, to me, an outstanding example of what never do. I don't think I left any comments on anyone else's blog. If I'm wrong, consider me chastised.
Apr. 2nd, 2011 05:33 pm (UTC)
Lol, I'm sure you weren't linking to it so folks could join in the mockery, Deanna :)
Apr. 2nd, 2011 04:36 pm (UTC)
Technology makes it possible to make a fool of yourself so much faster than you could on your own. Some of the later comments in this instance were just as illustrative of this point as the writer's rant. But I did like Big Al's answers. And I think his initial review was a good example of someone who is trying really hard to be fair to readers as well as writers.
Apr. 2nd, 2011 05:34 pm (UTC)
I think Big Al's actual review bent over backwards to be fair.
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