The Lightning Wrath of the Internet
From Cooks Source to RaceFail, the Internet “hivemind” gets angry very, very quickly. The speed of discussion in fandom is much faster than it ever has been before. How is this changing the conversations we have? Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or simply the way it is?
Moderator: Lori Selke http://loriselke.com/
Mary Anne Mohanraj http://www.mamohanraj.com/
Nick Mamatas http://www.nick-mamatas.com/
firecat's note: I organized, edited, and paraphrased heavily. I welcome corrections. Attendees/panelists, please add anything else you thought was relevant.
- Open Source Boob Project
- RaceFail '09
- Cooks Source copyright infringement
- Congressman Chris Lee's resignation
- Whitewashing of the cover of Justine Larbalestier's book Liar
- Sexist Method Cleaning Products ad
- Making Light's post about a small press that said it was OK to make up publications in a cover letter. (Can't find actual post.)
- Bitch Magazine's recommended YA list
- Resignation of Vivian Schiller, director of NPR
- Resignation of Jeff Cox, Indiana deputy attorney general, because of a tweet
- Moore/Assange controversy (which was tweeted using the hash tag #mooreandme)
Book and media recommendations
- Jay Smooth video "How to Tell People They Sound Racist."
- Arguing in Communities by Gary Hatch
- Suzette Haden Elgin's Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense series.
- John Scalzi's blog, Whatever
- Letters From Titan
Internet wrath used for good
LS: Internet wrath is not limited to fandom (e.g., Chris Lee), although fandom is sometimes used as a tool (e.g., Cooks Source).
NM: The Cooks Source incident was planned. NM published it on his blog in the morning, then it was found and republished by Scalzi, then it was found and republished by Gaiman. Part of the reason it worked was that the publisher reacted like a "villain from Central Casting."
NM: The Internet allows people who don't have traditional kinds of power to promote their own agendas.
MAM: Scalzi's blog is very popular and has a cross-political following.
Justine Larbalestier's book Liar had its U.S. cover changed as a result of Internet controversy. The cover initially pictured a white girl, but the protagonist of the book is black. Larbalestier didn't criticize the cover in her blog until other people criticized it and someone asked her to speak.
RS: Political organizing around the world is being amplified by the Internet.
LS: A company that makes green cleaning products, Method, posted an ad on YouTube in which a woman is sexually harrassed in the shower by cleaning products (this blog post includes the video and a transcript). Many feminist bloggers objected to the ad and the company initially replied to the posts with a "sorry if you're offended" template apology. LS's activism is to write a "nice white lady" letter.
Theory: You get one mistake. The wrath of the Internet descends if you respond to a fuck-up with another fuck-up.
Internet wrath gone wrong, and what to do about it, and what not to do
MAM: Making Light posted about a small press that said it was OK to make up publications in a cover letter. People began harrassing the publisher in real life.
Things happen so fast that sometimes people feel they can't take time to process what's happening and that is part of what drives the tendency for following a fuck-up with another fuck-up.
RS: If someone calls you out, apologize and move on. A musician guest of honor at Arisia performed a song, and someone posted to the Arisia online community that the song was racist. The moderator of the community tried to shut down the discussion but that was a mistake because the discussion moved elsewhere and people got angry at the moderator.
LS: Don't get your friends to make mistakes for you.
MAM: Don't freeze comments / erase posts / cover tracks.
MAM: WRT the Open Source Boob Project, there was nothing wrong with the party where it started, but it was a mistake to post about it and try to make it happen all the time.
MAM: Made a RaceFail post on Scalzi's blog. Scalzi said upfront that he would moderate the post. MAM spent over 24 hours refreshing the blog every few minutes and she saw some ugly posts that he later deleted.
LS: Contrasts this with what Elizabeth Moon did.
Audience: On LJ, writing a post that does not allow comments goes against expectations but helps prevent things from getting out of hand.
RS: There have been beneficial responses off the net to Internet wrath: e.g., cons updated their anti-harrassment policies as a result of the Open Source Boob Project controversy.
LS: Internet has changed my mind when I shut up and listen. If you're posting publicly you might not change the mind of the person you're responding to but you might change the minds of other people reading.
Audience: Discusses example of an organization that is accused of $FAIL and has to get 30 people together to make a consensus decision. How to handle that when Internet is screaming for a response?
LS: In this example, the organization should not have made a second mistake by posting something before the consensus decision took place. They should have said "We are thinking about it."
MAM: RaceFail started on LiveJournal and she (and many other pros) didn't find out about it until a month after it started because they didn't read LiveJournal. Some young fans were upset that pro writers hadn't addressed it, and assumed that silence meant consent.
LS: It's OK for an organization to make space to discuss an issue. The Internet is not your master.
Audience: If a controversy develops around a blot post, don't shut things down, but do moderate.
If a person says something ugly in a locked LJ post, what if someone outs them? What if they have a public reputation?
MAM: The director of NPR resigned to take responsibility for things members of the staff said. Don't say anything in a friends-locked post that you aren't willing to say in public.
Audience: Tweets can lose you your job. (E.g., Jeff Cox)
LS: People are clueless about Twitter. They don't realize that everyone reads it.
General discussion about how people use blogs, Twitter, and FaceBook and people's privacy management schemes for them. Summary: People in their 20s don't read blogs. People don't say private things on FaceBook but they do on Twitter. You can create separate identities as part of a privacy management scheme. You can configure FaceBook privacy, but it's difficult.
Audience: Tweets are easy to quote. Therefore, the Moore/Assange controversy (#mooreandme) exploded within hours.
NM: Journalists read the Twitter feeds of celebrities and wait for them to fuck up.
MAM: In RaceFail, people got upset, and I got to be the calm, rational voice. We privilege rationalism.
RS: We need to privilege nuance. But it's hard to be furious and nuanced.
MAM: Fury can get people's attention.
Audience: How do you navigate the blogosphere/LiveJournal? How do you prevent things from getting out of control in your blog/LJ?
MAM: I took 3 days to learn about RaceFail. I had a responsibility as a pro POC in SF. My partner took on childcare while I did this. I tried to respond directly to fans who felt angry about being ignored.
LS: I take on the voice of a nice white lady and I also link back to the people who should be listened to first.
LS: You have to curate your own news and your own Internet drama. You have to be your own media.
Audience: What if friends are overreacting? When blogging, how can you have a "hot argument in comments? It's different from Usenet because on Usenet no one is seen to be "sponsoring" discussion threads.
NM: I don't moderate; my blog comment community is self-policing.
RS: Any blog can be destroyed by a set of assholes. I try to break out of my in-group to listen to others, but time is limited.
Audience): I'm conflict averse; on my LJ I say "This is my living room, no violence." My favorite two words are "I misspoke."
MAM: If a friend is screwing up, gently tell them. (References Jay Smooth video.)
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