books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cybermen, The Colorado Tragedy, and the Sociopath in the Comment Thread: Don't Add to the Crazy

We still know nothing of the motives of the demented gunman who perpetrated the horrors at the screening of The Dark Knight Rises on Thursday night—and my heart goes out to the victims of that tragedy.

But I think it’s important to note that earlier that day, the Rotten Tomatoes movie review site had to disable comments on the film The Dark Knight Rises because of death threats against movie reviewers who hadn’t loved the film.

Yeah. Death threats. Over reviews. People got so heated in the comment thread they were threatening to kill reviewers of a film they’d never even seen.

Mob behavior is always dangerous, but mobs form more easily out here in Cyberia. When they spill over into real life, real tragedy happens.

I’m not saying there was a cause and effect situation with the Rotten Tomato Dark Knight Rises death threats and the horrific event in Colorado, but in a larger sense they are linked. The guy didn’t choose to attack the audience at a screening of Magic Mike or Ted.

Violent acts are usually preceded by violent talk. And there’s an awful lot of it these days.

Since I’ve been urging new authors to become active in social media, I think it’s important to mention something about its perils. When I started interacting online a few years ago, I seriously didn’t have a clue about the evils that lurk in the dark corners of the Interwebz.  

They are many. With the anonymity afforded by the Webz, people say things they’d never say in person.  Especially if they’re using a “screen name” or posting as anonymice.  (Radio host Dave Congalton had a great discussion about the dangers of anonymous comments on his show on July 17th. You can listen to a podcast here.)

For some the Web is the opposite of “Cheers”—it’s a place where nobody knows your name. Anonymous posters may feel as if they’re wearing cloaks of invisibility, and can do whatever comes into their heads and never suffer consequences because its’ “not real.” (Another reason I urge writers to use their own names in all their online activity.)

Anonymous posters may perceive the others they interact with as “invisible” too—after all, a series of digits is not a person. They forget those digits represent actual human beings with real feelings.  

They can also represent real sociopaths.

In her bestselling self-help book, The Sociopath Next Door, Dr. Martha Stout says that one in every twenty-five people fits the DSM criteria for “anti-social disorder” –people defined as “sociopaths.”  These are people who have no conscience and no capacity for empathy.

That means in every comment thread or forum with more than twenty-five entries, a sociopath could be lurking. Your hyperbolic comment or snarky post may be taken literally by a demented person—which can lead to tragedy.  

So we need to weigh our words and check our facts just as carefully online as we do when we’re speaking in person.

Also, the anonymity of the Webz can make perfectly nice, sane people suspend their own empathy when they get riled into thinking they’re supporting a just cause, dissing a “public figure” and/or defending one of their own.

People will stop by a forum or a blog, let an incendiary remark spark their rage--and suddenly they’re part of an army of socipathic Cybermen bent on destroying everything in their path.

I’ve been swept up in some Cybermen armies myself, which I regret deeply. (For the non-Whovians out there, Cybermen are a fictional army of villainous cyborgs from the TV show Dr. Who.  They have human brains, but no emotions aside from the occasional bout of rage.) 

Some of my own Cyberperson behavior happened when I let myself go along with the crowd in a blog thread and didn’t check facts. Other times I got involved when I jumped in to defend someone.

Unfortunately, whatever our intentions, if we’re swimming in the cesspool, we’re part of the stink.

Sometime last year I saw a blogpost about an author who is one of my idols. He was accused of “unethical” behavior by a self-appointed group of amateur “literary police” who seem to be remarkably unschooled in the business of publishing. Dozens joined in the comment thread, each in higher dudgeon than the one before.

The result was a dogpile of stupid and nasty. A mass temper-tantrum. It made me furious. So I pounded off a comment to defend my hero.

Trouble was, I was so angry, I hit enter too soon and my comment sounded as if I was agreeing with the meanies.  

I got an email a moment later from my idol. It said “Et tu, Anne?”

I don’t know when I have felt like such a worm. I went back to the post and tried to clear up what I had said, but the damage was done. The classy writer forgave me, but I didn’t really forgive myself.

A few months later I personally became the target of the same literary Cybermen army. Their rage had been sparked by posts and tweets by a few people who misinterpreted one of my pieces on this blog.

I endured a similar dogpiling of hate and self-righteous rage—almost all anonymous.

Including actual death threats sent to my home by people who said they were "watching me" and "had a gun."

This week I was introduced to one of the bloggers who had dissed me. She had no inkling of the tsunami of crazy she had unleashed. She’d simply meant to be snarky and funny and had believed the voices of “righteousness” who accused me of some sort of deviousness I hardly understood.


UPDATE: here's an absolutely awesome graphic by author Dalya Moon in response to this post. Dalya, you're my hero!


It’s important to remember we judge others by what we know. A kind and truthful person expects kindness and truth from others; a manipulator sees deviousness behind every smile; and a sociopath will project the contents of his own damaged soul onto the entire population. That means when you habitually accuse others, you’re saying more about yourself than you are about the people you accuse.

Luckily the snarky blogger turned out to be a kind and truthful person who had expected her sources to be the same. She apologized sweetly and publicly and I’m sure we’re going to be friends.

But unfortunately, words can’t be unsaid. I have to stay away from the places where the anonymous Cybermen army lurks.  A lot of writers’ forums are off limits for me, because any mention of my name lets loose the verbal violence.

True sociopaths don’t mind being seen as evil—they’re usually pretty proud of it. But their Cybermen minions are convinced of their own righteousness, which justifies everything they do, no matter how cruel. They are not rational, so trying to reason with them is futile. They explode in rage when you show kindness to one of their victims or ask them to “have a heart”—because they don’t. They have disabled their own capacity for empathy.

I once saw a thread on a news story about a man who’d murdered his two year old baby in its crib. An anonymous commenter said it served the child right for not carrying a gun. Yeah. I wish I’d known how to do a screenshot then, because it was hard to believe my own eyes. I almost fired off a comment like “have you ever MET a two-year-old?” Until I realized either the guy was being ironic, or he was acting like a two-year old himself. And as any parent (or even an aunt) knows, you do not argue with a two year old. You give him a time-out.

That was when I stopped reading comments on news stories. It’s where the Cybermen live.

But if you’re dealing with social media, eventually you’re going to run into Cybermen, anonymous sociopaths, and even some armed two-year olds.

Here are two things to remember when you’re dealing with an Internet meme of “righteous rage”.

1) Never join in a brawl.

Joining in a barroom brawl just makes it bigger. Either you’ll appear to be joining in the attack on the victim, or you’ll be offering yourself as an even juicier target. (And the sheriff is going to haul the whole tootin' lot of you off to the hoosegow. Go watch some old Western movies.)

2) The old adage is right: “Never argue with a drunk or a fool.”  

Of course I have no idea if the people making death threats on Rotten Tomatoes—or the armed two-year-old—were consuming alcohol, but they were drunk: on rage. So are the Cybermen armies. Psychologists who specialize in anger management say that anger can flood the brain with endorphins very like the high of alcohol or cocaine. 


One in every 25 people may be a sociopath, but I’d say that here in Cyberia, even more than that will engage in sociopathic behavior. Certainly the people who attacked me (and my idol) didn’t show a shred of empathy.

I would urge everybody who interacts online to weigh your words as heavily as you would if speaking in person—because you’re closer to the “real world” than you think. 

And if you see a dogpile of crazy heaping on some designated victim—whether it’s a reviewer, fellow writer, or even someone who's "fair game" like a celebrity or a politician—take a deep breath, step away from the keyboard and repeat the Golden Rule. 

If you have turned into an empathy-free Cyberperson, and you don't believe that “others” deserve the same respect you want for yourself, get off the Internet. Go hang out with some real people in the real world. Or pet a real dog.

You aren’t actually a sociopath—remember? Your actions have consequences, even if you feel invisible.  

What happened on Thursday night shows that we live in a world full of unspeakable violence.

Don’t let yourself add to it, online or off.

I’d love to have you weigh in here, scriveners. Let’s try to keep political and incendiary statements out, lest we activate an army of sociopathic Cybermen

***

On a much happier note: I have a spectacular announcement.  On August 5th, we will have a very, very special guest on this blog.  Academy Award-nominated actor Terence Stamp, who is also a novelist and memoirist, will be here talking about his writing process and his new publishing company.

Yes, that Terence Stamp  
You know how I’m always talking about the importance of Social Media? Well here’s an example. An iconic movie star has asked to visit the blog of little old moi because here in the e-age, blogs can be as important as The New York Times in reaching the public.

I'm talking about General Zod
See why you need to have a blog searchable by your own name, with your contact information displayed prominently?  


Also: I've been making a few little tweaks to the template here, since some readers have pointed out the font and links have been a little hard to read. So I changed fonts and darkened the link color. Let me know what you think!




46 comments:

  1. Terence Stamp? Wow!
    That mob mentality comes when people just want to agree rather than stand up for their own beliefs or simply walk away.
    Some people are just mean spirited. (Sometimes they don't even bother being anonymous.) No reasoning with that kind of mentality.

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  2. Anne—Not to go all DSM on you but "They have human brains, but no emotions aside from the occasional bout of rage" is a good, if simplistic, description of Borderline Personality Disorder.

    If you've ever had a boss/colleague/acquaintance/relative who goes ballistic on you even tho you don't know what you did, there's a possibility you're dealing with a BPD. This is the same boss/colleague/acquaintance/relative who can charm the birds out of the tress to get what s/he wants. This is also the person who neighbors call "a nice guy."

    This stuff is invisible, treacherous & dangerous—until it isn't. They walk among us, work with us, go to the movies with us.

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  3. Interesting, in that I just finished writing an author's note for the e-reissue of my novel Electric God, the story of a basically good man who is prone to acts of violent temper. One thing I just wrote is that, "Those with inner conflict don’t tend to stay home and fight with themselves. They find a way to externalize their anger. They wait for some fool to cross their paths and look at them just wrong, and it’s on."

    My personal opinion is that we have become an angry society, cut off from our ability to express our emotions safely. When you're sitting on a big ball of anger, and someone sanctions you to spill it in a particular direction, it feels great.

    Not sure of the solution, except I agree that we need to keep reminding each other that we are all humans. If only we could direct appropriate anger at someone we feel did wrong based on first-hand knowledge. I try to remember never to jump on anyone because someone else says I should. It becomes like that game of telephone we played as kids, whispering a story from one ear to the other, amazed when it reaches the end of the line utterly transformed.

    As you well know, Anne, about a year and a half ago I had a similar experience. Someone told a group of followers that I was the enemy, and they should be outraged by me. And they were. Only trouble is, 95% of what i was accused of doing I had not done, and the other 5% was twisted out of shape in the telling.

    So I'm glad you published this post. Internet rage and bullying (and bullying in response to perceived bullying) is reaching a boiling point, The answer, I'm afraid, will not be easy or black-and-white. It will involve actually looking at ourselves and how we function online. And never forgetting that the brunt of our rage is a human being, who may or may not be guilty as charged.

    Also, posting only under our real, full, true names would help.

    Sorry to go on so long.

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  4. Hi Anne,

    Excellent post as usual. I always look forward to Sundays so I can read your latest updates.

    Unfortunately this is how some people are. This is the main reason I prefer dogs. Having worked at a psychiatric unit for the best part of 3 years, I often saw the darker side of life. I always find myself unwilling to spend a great deal of time networking because of the same reason. Coming from the UK, the majority of people keep themselves to themselves anyway. We always get paranoid if someone takes a sudden interest in us.

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  5. Alex--Thanks for pointing that out. People often do the worst things because they want to be agreeable--at least they feel the need to agree with the perceived majority.

    Ruth--It sounds as if I need to do some reading about BPD. I think I know some people who fit that description. There are a number of disorders that can make a person sociopathic.

    Catherine--I'm so grateful that you weighed in here. I didn't have space to deal with your awful experience, but it's very similar to mine. People who got bogus information from a mentally unbalanced source ended up doing horrible things in the name of righteousness.

    LK--Great to get a perspective from somebody outside the US culture of violence. I think you hit on why I'm such an Anglophile and why I loved living in England--privacy is a lot more respected.

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  6. Bam. You got to the core of the problem. Anger. That's the force that turn entire YouTube videos into hives, and social media into the host of uncivilized chatter.

    I almost fell into this morning. Someone I was following retweeted a political author who was making stereotypical comments and generalizations. I wanted to bait her into replying back ("X is not the issue!") but instead, I blocked her, stepped away, and didn't look back. It was fortunate I didn't 't try to seek out my hot button issue among her tweets.

    But enough about that. Point is, the Internet provides a disconnect that can impear judgement. That's why we must be careful and don't act on impulse.

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  7. So true, Anne. I'm guilty of sending emails and posting on forums while being angry (defending a good cause, but still - angry.) Happened only a couple of times, but that was enough. NOT a good thing. Stepping away from the computer definitely helps. So does petting a real dog :-)
    Sasha

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  8. I don't know what's happened to the Internet lately. I've been on the web since the beginning, and there's always been flame wars, but they were never like what happens today. Arguments were more like heated debates between knowledgeable people. Some cursing and name-calling might happen, but I don't remember any of this rage. And I certainly don't remember death threats being bandied about.

    I don't get it. I blogged about it a while back -- theorizing that now that the internet is mainstream, it's attracted a whole bunch more people who won't follow the rules. But maybe people in general are just angrier and less reasonable than they once were...

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  9. A lot of anger and animosity that's expressed, in real life as well as on the web, comes from misunderstanding the intention behind what someone has said. Sometimes that's a result of poor reading skills, but very often, it's because we misread according to our own limited understanding. In an otherwise excellent post, you illustrated this very well with your comment about the two-year old who should have had a gun. My first thought when I read the quote was that the guy was being ironic as a way of pointing up the madness. But you became angry and accused the commenter of being the emotional equivalent of a two-year-old. Maybe there was more to the quote that you didn't include, that would have justified your reaction, but what I'm trying to point out here, is that you and I had completely different reactions to the same statement. Hence, the basis for the rise of cyber-rage.

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  10. *sigh* Cybermen. Just can't get rid of them can you.

    However, this post here: http://towerofplot.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/calling-all-heroes.html
    (shameless self plug, yaaaay!) contains a little gem that I found on teh webs to prove that not every response to a tragedy is that deranged. I don't suppose you and your awesomeness could help me out on the little endeavour I post about here? Please? For an adoring minion?

    Also, Terence Stamp. Anne, how does your awesomeness work such magic? TEACH ME YOUR WAYS! O_O

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  11. Chihuahua--I think "disconnect" is a good word to use here. We feel disconnected from our online selves and think what happens there isn't "real."

    Sasha--I think we've all done that on occasion. I know I have. And pets do help :-) (Not to rile up the cat people here.)

    TL--Interesting observations. When so many fewer people were on the Interwebz, it probably didn't feel so anonymous. We all feel lost in this vast crowd.

    Catana--Wow. You're right. I didn't include the other stuff that guy said, which made it clear he was seriously into arming children, because he talked about teaching children to use small firearms, which showed me he wasn't thinking rationally. But you're right that sounds as if he could have been making an ironic statement.

    That's when we run into a lot of trouble. Without vocal inflection and body language, you can't always tell when somebody's being sarcastic or ironic and they can be accused of saying the opposite of what he was really saying. Very good point.

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  12. Great post and great comments. I don't know why the internet has become so angry. Maybe many of the angry people are people who find themselves with too much free time (joblessness) and are coming from that dark, scary, aimless place. Who knows? Leonard Pitts in his commentary today tells us that the Texas Republican Party put into their platform that they "oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills..." in other words, critical thinking. Could the recent distain for intellect have something to do with the lack of civility in this country?

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  13. Anne, glad to have the fuller picture. I certainly agree with you, knowing more of what the man was actually talking about. I'd also say that the lack of body language, vocal inflection, etc., makes it even more important that when we quote, we don't do it in such a way that it gives readers one more reason to come to the wrong conclusions. That's something we all need to be aware of.

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  14. Good post, Anne. And I like your new font. Gretchen

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  15. Charley--Great post, and a nice way of trying to deal with the tragedy in a positive way. I fear if anybody from the movie showed up in CO, though, they might be accused of exploiting the situation for financial gain. They have to tread carefully.

    Christine--The anger quotient definitely goes up in times of recession and since a lot of job-seekers and the under-employed are generally pretty angry AND on the Interwebz, that's a very good point.

    Catana--I've clarified that paragraph and allowed for the possibility of irony. That actually makes my point better than I did the first time--so thanks a bunch.

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  16. Anne, an outstandingly excellent post. And that ain't no hyperbole.

    Madeline

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  17. Gretchen--Didn't mean to ignore you there! You must have written it just as I was composing my last response. Congrats for venturing into the blogosphere. Did your blogging son have something to do with that? :-) And thanks for letting me know about the font. It's older eyes like ours that need those serifs. I wish I could get them into the comments, too.

    Madeline--What a superbly superior comment!

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  18. I'm wary of accepting the 1 in 25 statistic at face value, unless it overlaps with people on the autism spectrum. I know a handful of people I would classify as sociopathic, and it's not that they're incapable of empathy, but their selfish wants and pride are simply more important than anybody else's pain. I would say their emotional growth was stunted permanently around age five, but they're not necessarily dangerous.

    I agree that there's a lot of bad behavior enabled by anonymity, but as I remind my SO when he gets depressed about the direction of humanity, it has never been any better. It just feels like it's worse because we had a comfortable couple of decades that felt safe and secure (though we were still bombing other countries at a steady clip). Before we had the Internet to vent our frustrations, we had literal mobs. Lynching. Tarring and feathering. Witch hunts culminating in drowning, crucifixion, burning at the stake, drawing and quartering, etc. etc. It was only a half century ago that it was perfectly acceptable in some parts of this country to beat a black or gay man to death and throw his corpse in the river, and your neighbors would pat you on the back for it.

    Those of us who write historical novels are treated to frequent reminders of disease, infant mortality, prostitution, starvation, child labor, slave trading and what all else that was simply the norm only two hundred years ago. For example, there's this lovely tidbit from Daily Life in Victorian England: "Many reforms in criminal law took place between 1808 and 1838. People convicted of offenses such as shoplifting, theft, housebreaking, forgery, and burglary were no longer sentenced to death." Yay?

    When you think about it, if the biggest threat to our safety is a couple of impotent Cybermen sulking behind their keyboards, life is relatively cushy. So take heart--our culture isn't going down the tubes. We've always been horrible monsters :D

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  19. Anne, this is my last comment before taking a break and I feel so saddened by the topic.

    Perpective, or what we call 20/20 hindsight might remind us that this is not a cyber issue. We might have more immediate access to the crazies, but they have always been with us, lurking in some dark shadow.

    Those who threatened famous newscasters for their nightly news reports, death threats to Edward R. Murrow accusing him of being a closet communisit ... it has always been there.

    Those who were murdered for no other reason other than they were famous like John Lennon ... those who were hopeful to bring our country to peace and harmony like Martin and Bobby. Collinbine, and the rash of school shootings, the indicent that coined the expression "don't go postal on me," another example.

    The examples are real and out there. In cyber space bullies can be nameless, but in our every day life those bullies have always existed.

    It is sad to have someone as happy and positive as you and Catherine blasted and threatened for being the wonderful women you are. Sad that one man could do so much damage to so many.

    I do not agree, however, that this is particularly a more violent time. It is just another decade, another story of how the sickness of violence can kill ... in our cyber world and our real world.

    Sorry I will miss your uber sexy guest. He is one man who can be so good at being bad :) See you later in August. I sign off with a sigh and a silent prayer that one day this type of post will not be needed ... but alas ... I do not live in Eutopia !!

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  20. TK and Florence--You make an excellent point. (Nothing like writing historical novels to put things in perspective) Last night after I wrote this post, I watched a couple of episodes of the Borgias and realized OMG: our whole country is in mourning for 71 people when in the 15th century, they'd slaughter the whole population of a city just to get their stuff. So I guess the 21st century isn't such a bad place to be :-)

    Florence--enjoy your vacation. The fabulous Mr. Stamp will be here in the archives when you get back.

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  21. Phyllis HumphreyJuly 22, 2012 at 8:39 PM

    Thanks for your timely post. And also for darkening the link fonts. Now I can read them.

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  22. Sometimes you come across a post where to comment at all seems inadequate. The post says it all.

    This is one of them.

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  23. Great post. Terrance Stamp. Ooooooooo. His new memoir should be a great read.

    Re the Blog Annonymice: One interesting benefit of reading what the Mice write is you can get a pretty clear picture of what I call "Dog Whistle Music," that near-unconscious melody that thrums in America's dark heart: Fear of rebelling slaves with cane knives coming to rape white women; fear of Mexican hoards coming to take "our" jobs and force "our" kids to speak Spanglish in "our" town squares; fear of loss of male privilege and power; fear of loss of male control over women and their bodies; the eternal male fear of lost power/potency that comes with economic decline and ruin.

    In short, fear of the dreaded Other and a complete failure to connect the dots and deal rationally with the changes this country has always had to adapt to.

    Too many people in power like that music and feed it regularly, keeps the serfs divided and at each others' throats. Too many citizens are locked into that lizard-brain cycle of fear and rage and can't see the dots or a way to get out of that cycle.

    But you can sure hear the music when you read the blogs comments sections.

    Scary stuff.

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  24. Phyllis--I'm glad you appreciate the darker links. I had no idea how to do that until last week, when one of our commenters, Arlee Bird, explained it to me. It was a little tricky for my non-techie brain, but I felt quite triumphant when they came through!

    Mark--Thanks much.

    Churadogs--Love the "dog whistle music" metaphor. You're so right that this all comes from fear. Mostly fear of change. The people who attack me and send me death threats all call me a "self-published author" even thought I'm not. I think that's because they fear self-publishing will upset the status quo and "self-pubbed authors" have become "the enemy" to them--the alien hordes who are going to destroy the WORLD AS WE KNOW IT. When somebody is "the bad guy" whatever is done to them is "fair" and "they asked for it." So it's OK to suspend empathy.

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  25. As long as "entertainers" like Rush Limbaugh exist, I almost feel like its a losing battle. But, of course, we each are responsible for our own actions, and each of us can make the decision to defuse rather than fan the flames of chaos on a message board, comment forum, blog, twitter etc. I can't change someone else, but I can change me.

    It's been sad to watch part of the book reviewing community fall apart over shameful behaviour by a few authors and agents. The worst part is the continued bullying by people jumping on the bandwagon, sometimes it's in an effort to defend a friend, but it turns ugly with namecalling and further escalation. It's really hard to walk away when it gets like that, but it's often the best recourse.

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  26. @T.L -- I've been on online forums for a long time (going back to newsrooms and IRC channels - the horror!) and I agree that it's probably because everybody and their dog is online now; back then, I think more niche groups were online and talking. Not to say flame wars didn't exist on earlier forums and blogs, but now every news article on the web seems to have a comments section, which are usually awful, especially on largely mainstream sites. Stuff like Reddit I can handle because the trolls will be trolled right back, and even if it gets ugly, enough intelligent discussion exists (among the obnoxious-on-purpose) that total bigots usually get their bums handed back to them. But not all of the internet is self-policing. A lot of it is one giant clustergaggle. Yup, clustergaggle.

    Let's just play nice and make our corner of the internet one that should be envied by how well we get along :)

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  27. Stephsco--You make some great points. I think there are some very powerful people who benefit a good deal from keeping the general populace at each other's throats.

    You're also right about the namecalling in the book community. Originally in this post, I called the people who sent me death threats "Bozos". Somebody objected, saying my "name calling" was "incendiary," so I deleted the Bozo line. But things sure have got out of whack when somebody feels no remorse for sending death threats, but gets their little feelings hurt when somebody calls them a clown. :-)

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  28. I have occasionally read some comments on a news story -- but I don't go into those sections anymore because overall it's scary!!

    Your font, Anne, is so much better. VERY readable.

    Yes, it's a scary world. My son, who just had his second little baby son, commented on this fact the other day when my daughter and I drove up to see him and his sweet little family. Children today are growing up in such a horribly violent world. Parents need to stay close to their children, to know what they're doing and who they're doing it with. I think we need to haunt "good" places, and keep very much in touch with the "real" world, with "real" people so we don't lose our grip on reality; so we feel for others and their pains and trials and thus maintain the empathy we need to help others and not hurt them. This is an incredibly excellent post, Anne; one I will not forget.

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  29. p.s. I just read the other comments about how the world has always been violent. This of course is true. I guess the world seems so violent at times because the news is so in our face through the TV and the Internet. But we CAN choose to turn these off, which I do; I actually no longer have TV, only movies through Netflix. My choice, which has turned out to be a peaceful one! And the older I get, the more cautious I become with words, both spoken and "on the page." What wicked weapons they can be! I'm FOR civility!!

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  30. Ann--I'm getting close to letting my TV go, too. I've done it a couple of times, but I ended up missing it when I needed veg time. But now I hardly even have that any more.

    Constant news is a problem, with every flood in China or Peru suddenly happening in our own living room. We get burned out on too much disaster. It was always there, but we didn't experience each one, in every detail, the way we do now.

    But what is also true is that people are ruder and more hostile--maybe because they are too oversaturated with disaster to feel empathy anymore.

    I'm not sure what causes it, all I can do is try not to add to it.

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  31. Like you, my heart goes out to the victims, the injured, their families and all who have been affected by this tragedy.

    I've never personally experienced the level of cyber-bullying, hostility, etc. that you've mentioned, but I've seen it on news posts, in particular. I think some persons do it just to get a rise out of folks. Death threats are another kettle of fish, though. What could possibly be going on in someone's head and heart to have that kind of reaction over something so simple and unwarranted? It's crazy!

    I appreciate this post and the advice, Anne. To be forewarned is to be forearmed!

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  32. I forgot to mention how excited I am about Terence Stamp on your blog, lol. I _loved_ him in Superman. He's a consummate actor, and so handsome. I didn't know that he writes _and_ has a publishing company! Awesome things happening in this space. Kudos! :D

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  33. The font is so much better in the post and comments.

    What a great post. I have not had any experiences like this on my blog, but I can feel the pain of authors when I read reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. And the news sites--forget it. Like you I won't even go near those comment threads. Scary stuff.

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  34. Well said! I used to read the threads after news stories on Yahoo, and I found it disturbing how vicious and racist people were. I have not had a bad experience yet blogging, but I try to be careful. I know it's easy to be misinterpreted.
    I'm almost finished reading your book on being a writer in the e-age. It is amazing! So informative! I just wished I had it a year and a half ago. You will get a 5 star review from me on goodreads for sure!

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  35. I need a like button for Mark's comment. *grins*


    Having been involved with MMOS (Massivly Multiplay On Line games) I've known about this sort of thing, so I've been very timid in stepping out into the cyber world. It's also taught me that in amoung the raging crowd there is the devil's advocate, who keeps the pot stirred and watches others be idiots for fun.

    It's a very crazy world in here, and out there. Somedays I can't help but wonder, if taking a step back, to simpler times, wouldn't be good for all of us. *sigh*

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  36. Hi Anne (and Ruth too)! Just wanted to say first off (as an aspiring published writer) how very glad I am to have discovered your blog – it's a real gem, full of incredibly useful information and insights, laced with good humour.

    Your words took me back (over a decade ago now) to an internet messageboard community based around the works of a popular author. Probably because I'm capable of being quite outspoken, I was being targeted there by an uber-troll determined to get the community closed down (he succeeded). But then one day, after following us to yet another community, he literally just dropped dead ...

    You'll doubtless have heard of that recent saucy runaway-bestseller trilogy by a female British author, said to have originated as fanfiction on a well-known journalling site. As long as seven years ago, members of that self-same site were detailing how some writers there had been verbally attacked and threatened in a real-life sense simply for posting fiction which just might have outshone that of the established Big Names! Can you believe it? The writers-and-snark issue again.

    This kind of nonsense has been going on for a long time, though I agree with those who pointed out that, now virtually the whole world has internet access, it's become even worse. In my view, most of the perpetrators simply crave attention and are what I would describe as "fame-parasites" – they latch on to someone or something receiving a lot of publicity (superhero movies; blogs with high visitor stats; news stories) because that's the only way to get themselves noticed.

    Here in the UK, I'm sure the cyber-crime police can and will track down and prosecute anyone making death threats, for instance (by the way, I'm so glad you enjoyed living in England!)

    So your blog will soon have the Stamp of approval – wow! (I'd love to know whether he was the "Terry" mentioned in Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks!)

    Don't worry about the looneytunes, and keep up the good work!

    GalaxyWoman

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  37. Nadine--You make a good point about the nasties doing it just "getting a rise" out of people. I think sometimes people feel so impotent in their real lives, that causing a reaction in others--good or bad--is their only way to feel alive. And I agree that Mr. Stamp is one of our greatest actors. His range and the depth of his characterizations are breathtaking.

    Nina--I feel so dumb that I've been using that sans serif font for two years without knowing I had the power to change it. Unfortunately, the more audience you get, the greater the chance a baddie will show up. Even if it's not one in 25, a percentage of the population is damaged enough to enjoy random cruelty.

    Rose--Thanks so much for letting me know you like the book and plan to write a review. That really makes my morning!

    Cathryn--Very interesting that you see a similarity in this to online gaming. I've suspected that the "literary police" have their origins in online gaming. Their idea of the "rules" of publishing seem to come more from online games than business experience.

    Galaxy--Welcome! I hope you'll stick around. I suppose there's a little sociopath in all of us, and when you said that troll dropped dead, I felt a bit of satisfaction. But of course, maybe it was a brain tumor or something life-threatening that made him into a troll in the first place. Usually perpetrators have some tragedy that causes them to behave like that. OMG Mr. Stamp is the "Terry" in Waterloo Sunset? I'll have to think about that one!

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  38. Powerful post, Anne. I've been cyber-bullied, and I know that awful dilemma of wanting to fight back, but knowing if you do it will only make it worse.

    Have you seen the HuffPo Books post about attack gangs on Goodreads? Zheesh.

    Hopefully there are enough sane, well-meaning folks on the Net to outshine the others. You certainly do.

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  39. Alicia--Thanks Alicia--that's very kind. But I'm sorry to hear you've been a victim of the Cybermen, too. Some of the Cybermen who terrorized me belong to the same gang mentioned in the HuffPo piece, although it didn't happen on Goodreads, thank goodness.

    Unfortunately, people fighting the bullying have turned into bullies themselves, so there's nastiness happening on both sides and I don't feel safe on GR right now. I think they need a better policing system--more like Amazon.

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  40. I thought it was interesting when I heard on the news last night that gun sales have sky rocketed in Colorado. It seems that our whole history as a nation is about guns, guns, guns. There was a time when they were necessary for food and self protection but that was clear back in the very early days of the nation. Just not so, anymore.

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  41. Anne--That was a head-scratcher, but I was happy to read that actually, violence--especially gun violence--is down in this country overall. Here's a link to the article in the Washington Post http://wapo.st/NXDfF9

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  42. First off, thanks for paying a visit to my blog. (Not quite as cool as Terrance Stamp, but hey! Not too shabby!) I'm so sorry you and others have had to endure nastiness at the hands (keyboard) of others who had nothing better to do with their time than stir up a ruckus and cause problems. I don't understand that kind of mentality, but applaud you for hanging in there when the insanity was directed at you. That takes a lot of guts.

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  43. Susan--Loved your blog interview with Anne Gallagher/Robynne Rand! I like your use of the word "keyboard". Keyboard violence is mostly just annoying, although sometimes it can be pretty scary. I do know of other authors who have taken down their blogs and even quit writing because of these people, so they're not entirely harmless.

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  44. Firstly, the blog looks outstanding--what a pleasure to read and an ease on the eyes.

    Things can get so weird these days. I've been pretty fortunate to have avoided most vitriol on my blogs, even though I sometimes delve into controversial realms. I have rarely gotten involved in blog brawls and when I have it's been more as a peacemaker. Gotta watch what one says these days.

    Lee
    Wrote By Rote

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  45. Lee--Thanks again for letting me know I could change the font and alter the colors, even when using a Blogger template. (Blogger users who are cybermorons like me--go to the "advanced" menu in Template. It's not as scary as it looks.)

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  46. Oh this is an important one. It's hard to fathom how very big this cyber world of our's is, and within it, how big our words can still seem.

    I love that way you took us through your own "process" here with a good, solid lesson to be kind and true. That's just the only way, isn't it?

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