html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: You. You personally. Step up.

Monday, May 07, 2007

You. You personally. Step up.

I just got another big link and when I clicked over my first thought was "Thank god there's no comment section." I still feel bruised from the last two rounds and from some of the stuff that was left in my comments. Maybe I shouldn't. Maybe they're just pixels, litter left behind by imaginary people. But they meant it when they wrote it and I can't help but feel there is a new animosity in the world, directed at some collective idea of Megan non-McArdle. (I should also say that there was a great surge in kindness too, and I appreciate your many sweet emails and good wishes.)

Most of you, of course, wrote nothing. The comments were from what, eighty or ninety people of the many thousands who read that post. Most of you didn't feel moved to write directly to me. But you know what only a VERY FEW OF YOU did? Maybe half a dozen people spoke out against ad hominem criticisms of me. Now, I do not want people defending me on the merits of the post (which are there for all to evaluate and do not need additional elaboration), or much worse, using equally unpleasant stereotypes to attack men or women. But part of the reason that women feel so attacked on the internet is that people see the attacks and criticisms and let them keep going.

Lots of you read what people wrote. I completely understand that by internet standards, it was mild stuff. By the standards of how I always talk with people, it was unusually mean. Some of you hosted sites where people wrote mean comments about me. Me personally, not the content of my post, not women in general, me. You were tangentially involved, and you did not say "It isn't OK to talk about people that way. That is not acceptable in civil discourse."

You don't have to say why the things they wrote are wrong. You don't have to list specific reasons from my post why the mean assumptions aren't founded. You shouldn't make up reasons based on your experiences with other people. You should not return nastiness with accusations about their character; that just feeds the emotional rush and need to sting. All you have to say is "It isn't OK to talk about people that way.", which will be right in almost all cases, regardless of the virtue of the original poster. And you SHOULD say that. You shouldn't let nastiness go unremarked, even though you don't want to get involved or draw attention to yourself. You are allowing this uncivil environment to keep going. I don't care if it IS a futile struggle. If you do not voice your disapproval (especially if you host a site), you are complicit. You. Face your responsibility to our community. Act better and demand better of the people you share the internet with.


Blogger Megan said...

The solution is NOT for me to toughen up. The solution is for other people to act respectfully.

Do NOT suggest that I'm asking for it by being on the internet. The internet needs to act according to common decency.

2:18 PM  
Blogger billo said...

Sorry Megan, didn't read those posts or the comments but I think you're right-there's a lot of hostility 'out there'. I don't know, I think it is, perhaps, quite a general thing and therefore maybe not specifically directed at you (a number of female Guardian journalists have expressed similar sentiments).

In a similar vein, I get the impression that the anonymity of the internet allows people to say all sorts of things that they wouldn't dare to face to face (from personal experience I would say, for example, in terms of Islam).

Which brings us back to your point. What is common decency on the internet?

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Acting respectfully" is a great idea. The problem with it is that it's not a lot of fun. Matter of fact, making fun of people is mostly done in an unkind manner. But it's so fun to do! There's a 'turn the other cheek' argument in here somewhere.


4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to say I don't agree with you M. In the time I've knocked around the internets, the only thing I have ever found that works on trolls is ignore. I look at such people as trolls BECAUSE they attack personally, but in essence they are attacking becasue they like the attention they get, and they like making you feel bad. But stepping up as you say has only the affect of starting a war, one that you cannot win. They won't play fair, they never forget, and they evetually will try to hack your site or in some other way destroy you across the 'nets. This feeds them.
Not that a dogpile on them isn't fun... or tangent talk to other subjects. In essence those two actions serve only to divert, and ignore.

You on the other claw have the nuke of deleting their comments... and perhaps you can ban their IP or something [not familiar with the back of this software.] Unlike in real life, where if you were accosted in a bar, I could put the perp on the floor, in comments no matter how refined or crude, there simply are no teeth. Standing for you here serves no purpose but to mark you out to some stupid cretin with attitude, to come back time and again and do their worst against you.

That being said, you could close comments [again with not knowing this software]... or NOT allow anon posting, or be selective.

I am not saying that "The solution is for other people to act respectfully." is untrue. In the best of all possible worlds it wouldn't be a question. Sadly it is, and the only way to counter such behavior is to provide it with a negative consequence. Only you have that hammer to hold, not us. An idiot looking for attention views our displeasure not at all, because we weild no power. You do. This is your place.

I know well that the thought of this is a sad thing. That people being mean is a constant WTF? moment. Don't give form to their mean. Ignore it when small, and if large, delete it, mute them or whatever.

In the end you are kind, and that comes through. It gives you a great strength, as well.


5:22 PM  
Anonymous yoyo said...

I've trolled once or twice, and its great fun. I agree with billo. although i'm not sure my trolling motivations were exactly teh same as the people who were being pricks in this case.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Mike Jenkins said...

I looked around to try to figure out what you are talking about and I could not. What posts? Where? You've spent a lot of time talking about them, but I have no idea how to find them. I've used google; is there some other way?

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very strange to me. We're expected to to respond to ad hominem criticism of you? Based on what I have read for a year or so, you are much more able to articulate a response or defense of yourself than I am [note: this is not a compliment. It would be if you had not asked us to defend you]. Are we supposed to defend you from incivility because you are female? That's disturbingly paternalistic, so I doubt that's what you mean. And I'm supposed to do this somewhere that I don't regularly read? Somewhere like Crooked Timber, where it seems like a bunch of really smart people write about how dumb other people are? And I'm supposed to what, break up different thoughts into distinct paragraphs?

Yes, I like civility. That's why I read comments here, and nowhere else [that is a compliment, but you can pretend it is a compliment toward your regular commenters]. But enforcing civility through normal social mechanisms is almost impossible in real life, trying to do that on the interweb without a carrot or a stick is a fool's errand.

A4, who might have just suggested that you toughen up.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

You should chastise an ad hominem attack of me, but not because it is me. You should do that anywhere you see it, because otherwise you are allowing the uncivil dialog on the internet to continue. I don't suggest that you engage the person's thoughts, but I do think you should say that it is wrong to talk to people that way.

You should do it because it costs you almost nothing to write that; because the person getting attacked will know that other people disapprove of what they write; because if very many people do that, it will make an impression; and because if you don't make a futile gesture, you are complicit. That is why you should say something when you see someone getting bashed.

(Ennis says this is all too vague. So that we are entirely clear, I am NOT looking for the defense:

Megan is not EITHER fat and desparate and you're a stupidhead.

I AM looking for YOU to say:

It is not OK for you to speak that way about [the person getting attacked]. Restate your point civilly, please.)

6:07 PM  
Blogger Megan said...


6:23 PM  
Blogger jens said...

You don't seem to understand that the people who leave the nasty messages WANT a response. That is just about the DEFINITION of a troll, and they have been around since the Internet began.

The ONLY correct response, and this is accepted internet etiquette, is to act as though they did not exist at all.

By responding, even in the most reasonable way, you are feeding their trip.

Missed you while you were gone, but you are NOT going to change the rules unilaterally...or even with as much support as can possibly be mustered.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Jens, if that is the current system, then it has demonstrably lead to women being widely bullied. Since status quo is unacceptable to me, the etiquette that permits it is also unacceptable to me.

I don't think that definition for troll is the only relevant one, or that all people making ad hominem attacks are all the same or completely insusceptible to being called out. I also think that a response that doesn't engage their comment may feed their need for attention less.

You're giving in too soon, perhaps because other bloggers (mostly women) are the ones who pay the price when sympathetic men do nothing.

9:53 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

There is no doubt a strain of troll who enjoys any response. But there are also thoughtless people who typed too fast, and would respond well to someone pointing out that what s/he said IS NOT OK. We've seen it happen here lots of times. Shifting the overall tone (and here is not the problem so much) would go a long way toward isolating and marginalizing the genuine trolls. The increment matters, and YOU are responsible for the increment.

I don't give a shit what other people do. Where do YOU want to be on the question of whether it is OK to write vicious things to women on the internet?

9:58 PM  
Blogger jens said...

> But there are also thoughtless
> people who typed too fast, and
> would respond well to someone
> pointing out that what s/he said IS

You know, if I came across something of that nature written by somebody I recognized and respected, I probably WOULD speak up...for THEIR sake, not the person being "attacked" (I generally assume that they can handle it (you could see JMMP for pointers on that...even on YOUR board (and you were quick to defend her by your own principles) she took quite a bit of abuse, but gave as good as she got), since I'd be pretty sure that they slipped up.

I don't really see the relevance of whether it is a WOMAN being bullied. A man getting the same would be just as bad.

Anyway, I have two thoughts on your question "Where do YOU want to be on the question of whether it is OK to write vicious things to women on the internet?" or let me change that to "Where do YOU want to be on the question of whether it is OK to write vicious things to PEOPLE on the internet?"

1) Of course it's OK. I am definitely against speech restrictions. That doesn't mean it has to be OK on YOUR board, of course, you are in charge here.

2) Of course it's not OK. Although it should be allowed, just like spitting on the flag or protesting that the government planned 9/11, you are going to lose respect by doing that.

As giving in too soon goes, the only options I can see (censoring the internet) are completely unacceptable to me.

Part of your post was addressed to people who actually RUN boards, and there you have, at least in some respects, a point. Boards that allow unmoderated comments certainly shouldn't make exceptions just for you, but boards that make a pretense of civility are definitely falling down on the job if they allow that sort of thing.

YOU choose which types of boards you want to read.

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think people do tend to treat abstract people (on the internet) differently than they would treat people in person. That said, I want to say that I enjoy your site and community you've created a great deal. It is rare even to find a place where you can comment on the internet without having other people make stinging remarks to something benign you write.

7:21 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Although it should be allowed, just like spitting on the flag or protesting that the government planned 9/11,

Yes, those things should always be allowed. And then it is up to the citizenry to civilly make their displeasure known. I hope I would go to a Klan parade to turn my back on them or hold up a sign shaming them. AFTER hateful free speech, civil condemnation is required by people who don't want to be party to the nasty speech. Free speech requires vigilance from everyone. It isn't an excuse for you to do nothing.

Look, I can choose which boards I visit, but I have very little control about where I get linked and held up as an example (although I am working on that).

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry if it would've helped to read through all the garbage posted and point out its error.

When that conversation got nasty, and it became clear the links and other posts were just more of the same nasty discussion, I just tuned out. I didn't read your long list of comments for the post anymore, I didn't click the links to follow along.

Maybe it's because I'm a fairly new FTA reader, and not quite sure what to expect or see here. Or maybe it's because in my personal blog and internet reading I don't always allow myself to get caught up in the online argument du jour - valid though they are, particularly with regard to treatment of women.

I'm sorry you were treated as inconsiderately as you were - not because I know you, but because I agree that discourse should be discourse, and not personal attacks, whether we're talking about any personal blog, or a big national or world-wide issue. There's too much bullshit with mixing up the issues and trying to throw unrelated personal jabs into the mix, that the real conversations are failing to happen. Glad you took a breather, glad you're back.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline Passey said...

Which posts/comments did you consider to be mean? I don't remember seeing anything horrible, but I didn't read everything.

I wonder if what you think of as "mean", other people think of as telling you what you need to hear to change your life?

Patting your hand and telling you "there, there, dear, it's not your fault you're in this situation" doesn't help you if it actually *is* your fault. By pointing out what you've done/are doing wrong, your critics are giving you information you can use to change your life and improve your situation by behaving differently in the future. Is that mean?

7:00 PM  
Anonymous DaveL said...

Sympathies for what you went through, but I don't think calling people on their shit really works on the internet unless there's some kind of pre-existing relationship or set of norms. In a place where the same group of regulars hangs out all the time and communicates more or less civilly, sure. But most comment sections aren't like that. Trying to call someone on incivility just leads to a nice round of "you're not the boss of me!" or "thank you so much, Mr. Internet Morals Czar" or something of that sort, followed by more of the same nastiness. Best just to ignore those people and stay away from comment sections where they hang out.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

It was primarily on the blogs where I got linked. I think the comment policy here helped the tone somewhat.

You'll either believe this or not, but I don't have a problem with thoughtful critiques. I may not agree with them, or be opposed to the principles they are based on. But I don't have a problem with stuff just 'cause I don't agree with it. Or with people suggesting things (although it gets tiring to hear the same suggestions again). But I'm opposed to uncivil discussion, about me or anyone else. And I think saying nothing permits uncivil discussion.

See, ending the nastiness is only one goal. Other goals are: expressing disapproval and letting the target know that people have her back. I think it will ratchet back the nastiness, but the other two goals make it worth it whether it ends the nasty comments or not.

10:16 PM  
Blogger jens said...

> By pointing out what you've
> done/are doing wrong, your critics
> are giving you information you can > use to change your life and improve
> your situation by behaving
> differently in the future. Is that
> mean?

Pointing out what you're DOING wrong can be helpful. Pointing out what you've DONE wrong, not so much. Comments like "It's too late. I'm sorry you didn't wake up sooner." really don't help you in any way (unless you're saying the best advice is to just give up, and I've personally known, for example, a woman who didn't get married until she was 40...because my boss got her pregnant. She then had ANOTHER one. So it is WAY too early to give up).

Actually, if Megan is still young enough to think you can really cure meanness on the internet, she is WAY WAY too young!

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The amazing thing to me is your inablility to see your own role in this; you're acting as if people started being nasty to you just for the heck of it. Look, fellas, a girl on the intrawebs! Attack...!

Here's a tip: complaining about your inability to find love/procreate while tossing a half-dozen F-bombs is not a great way to get sympathy.

Complaining that people are being mean to you for doing the above is not exactly a great way to get respect either.

The internet is not suddenly going to become sunshine and rainbows because of your thin skin.

You. You personally. Grow up.

7:43 AM  
Blogger jens said...

I rarely apologize when I'm right, but here goes:

I know that if I had responded, it would have done nothing to make the Internet better. It would have done nothing to make the trolls feel bad. It would have just invited further abuse. But the further abuse wouldn't have been all that big a deal. And ME speaking up might have done for your feelings than the minor damage it would have caused by encouraging your detractors.

So I'm actually really sorry I didn't.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

You're right. I'm sorry I let you feel undefended hon.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Hey guys. I don't want it to be about me anymore, 'cause, like, my head's in a way different place these days and I am so over it until the next time. And my real point is that you shouldn't do it because it is me and we're buddies. You should do it because you want to be part of making the internets a more civil place to be.

Diz, honestly, I feel most like I haven't stood up they way I want to on your blog, so we should just declare amnesty.

7:43 anonymouse, I can start. Those F-bombs distracted from my message and offended people. I didn't write them to offend you and am sorry if they did.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Also, 7:43 Anonymouse:
I hope you stay engaged but if you keep writing, address me with affirmative kindness, as you would a dear friend.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline Passey said...

I liked the F-bombs. I didn't agree with your post or reasoning/feelings behind it, but I thought it was well-written, and I think the liberal sprinkling of angry "fuck"s throughout the last part helped convey the appropriate level of intensity.

Writers write to provoke a reaction in their readers, right? If your post had been all meek and boring then everyone and their brother wouldn't have linked to it and wrote about it and thought about it. You were even the topic of conversation at my office (my boss reads your blog too) for like, an hour the other day!

6:53 PM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

7:43 Anon. There is a more productive way to make your point. Which I disagree with anyway.

1) It is a personal blog. A personal issue that many people can relate to (and for which many women are being blamed) absolutely belongs. Megan raised some great discussions. That is good for everyone, wherever you stand on the issue.

2) The F bomb does offend some people. But I dont' necessarily think that it's use merits some sort of punishment. She's a grown up.

3) You have put her in a perfect double bind. On the one hand, saying, "I don't like how you treat me..." is supposedly whiny and a sign of immaturity. On the other, tolerating it gives the people involved no reason to change. She does NOT have to take what is dished out without complaint. Why would she?

4) I think a more thoughtful post would have indicated a higher level of maturity on your part. The possibly quickly-written post that came out may be a poor rep of your views or thought processes, but it did not support the poster passing judgment on Megan or anyone else for immaturity.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

Megan, I'm trying, but there's not really a kind way to say, "You're wrong and sound kind of mean."

9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you stay engaged but if you keep writing, address me with affirmative kindness, as you would a dear friend.

But you're not a dear friend; I only know you from what you've written, and frankly your writing doesn't impress me. You want, nay, demand people to be nice to you, or else; never mind you were the one who touched off the wildfire in the first place.

Typical crypto-feminist: you want everything both ways...

4:37 AM  
Blogger Spungen said...

She said "as you would," Anon. It's the policy. That can't be hard to understand.

Is the previous comment an example of what you were talking about, Megan?

It's just that there are SO MANY things that are wrong about comments like that, the "ad hominem" criticism is one of the last that usually occurs to me. Plus it often seems they don't actually have a point they can "restate civilly."

What's an example of a negative comment you thought was within the bounds? The "selling half a loaf, now-we're-both-too-old" guy?

8:07 AM  
Blogger jens said...

Sometimes "affirmative kindness" is not so easy. After all, kindness is positive reinforcement, and sometimes there are things you just don't want to reinforce!

I prefer constructive criticism that not only provides advice, but is also stated in a courteous manner. Criticism that is both arguably constructive and unquestionably abusive loses a good part of its potential value.

But Megan makes the rules here, and I'm pretty sure she can handle the comments on her own blog.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

For EVERYONE, but with A743's comment as a pretext:

I demand that people are courteous to everyone on the internet, and here I've set a policy of "more than courteous". I want affirmative kindness to be the standard here because:

1. I enjoy being around that. Other people say they do too.
2. I think it raises the bar, so that people aiming for affirmative kindness default to neutral.
3. Lovingkindness is a really difficult doctrine, so it is good to get chances to practice it. (Careful - profanity again.)
4. I used to exempt myself from the affirmative kindness standard, but I changed that when I decided it isn't OK to bash anyone, even me. I was glad to have that in place before I got so many new people here.
5. I've noticed the really hard part is when people get angry on my behalf. I'm going to have to think more about that.
6. In the moments when affirmative kindness isn't available to you, you can always say nothing and wait for your mind to calm. If you must say something scathing, I would rather you email me, so that I don't have to police the comments.
7. I've got a lot going on the next couple weeks, so I won't get a good chance to think this through for a while. I've been wondering if there is a double-standard for my posts, which aren't universally kind and the standard I hold you guys to in the comments. I'm trying to sort out what supports that double-standard or if I am being a hypocrite. Maybe I'm a hypocrite, or maybe not yet fully enlightened, and I can live with that.

Does that answer why I require that people are nice to me? Here in this small site I can moderate, I require that everyone is nice to everyone.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

No, I was appalled by that one, too, but I just gave up on that thread. A negative comment that is within the bounds? I really liked this post at Unfogged, because it disagreed with part of my premise and then went on to discuss what FL thought I got wrong without discussing me. I suppose I could go back through here and find something I disagreed with, but thought was sincerely written for my benefit (rather than to direct their established anger from other dealings at me).

I am REALLY struggling with that, because I simultaneously believe that living in a community means visibly condemning asshole behavior. So, how does that work? Lovingkindess until the asshole threshold is crossed, then condemnation and shunning? Engaging the person to see about defusing the asshole behavior? That's what Chris would have me do (if it is important enough to get involved and not one of the times when you should just walk away.). But that is such a high standard.

Diz, hon. No sideways little jabs, even at hostile comments. Email that to me if you must.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Actually, JMPP's comments are ones that I virtually always disagree with (because we have different underlying premises), but I'm sure that she is writing them to help me live a good life.

8:50 AM  
Blogger jens said...

> living in a community means visibly
> condemning asshole behavior

Ah, something I can agree with!

But the internet is not a community, it is a universe. Your blog is a community. Other blogs are communities that you may or may not want to be living in.

How does that work (in the milieu of one specific blog)? Pretty much all of the actions are reasonable in context. Most of us who have been social on the Internet since before it existed (the 70s, in my case) default to the "Condemnation and Shunning"...except we usually skip the "Condemnation" part. Since you see no visible EVIDENCE of the "Shunning", you imagine that nothing is being done. I've seen forums before, though, where you could say ANYTHING, no matter how rude...but if you crossed the line consistently, you would notice that you might as well be typing into the ether....NOTHING you typed would get any sort of response.

This is only a default response, though. Once you actually CARE about somebody, you are more likely to go the constructive engagement route. You would email them (and NOT call them out in public) and discuss the situation. Since (in this case) the person was probably a good person in the first place, the usual consequence would be some further public comment clarifying their position in a more acceptable way (or sometimes a straight-out apology).

9:17 AM  
Blogger J. said...

I hope my short comment was not offensive to you. If anything, it was spontaneous and sincere. The rules say you should be hard and firm. Never ask for sympathy. Be well and lucky too.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Megan said...


What? No. Your comment didn't bother me at all. The Rules isn't an approach that interests me, mostly because when we had this conversation in August I came to the conclusion that I'm not interested in a strategy-based approach, which I think lessens your involvement with the person in front of you, unless "Be your best self and be out in the world." is a strategy. But I thought there was good will behind your comment and wasn't offended by it at all.

2:50 PM  
Blogger jens said...

> The rules say you should be hard
> and firm.

That DEFINITELY sounds like the rules for GUYS to me!

4:09 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home