Sunday, 12 January 2014

Check your entitlement.

The obscenity of the mob is still alive and well on Twitter. Directly or indirectly tweeters still use their own adventure in time and space to destroy the reputations of others. The targets may change but the angry song remains the same.

Obviously they are using their own voices freely because we are in the main lucky enough to be able to know this as a staple of life, but in decrying others for their point of view, perceived lack of talent, opposing view, decided transgression or pre-determined arrogance, those who choose to make opinion fact are failing to recognise two things:

1) They're displaying their own privilege demonstrated as entitlement and they don’t have the right to silence anyone whether peddling gossip or not.
       2) A determined targeting of an individual from the safety of numbers is de facto bullying.

I’ve been on the receiving end of several mob attacks.

Anti-choice activists, comedy forum members, right wing hysterics, homophobes, racists, equality activists, disability activists, sexist fans of contrarians, celebrity fans, and good old fashioned “trolls”. 

Although wholly different in their avowed aims and beliefs their tactics are exactly the same, verbal abuse, gossip, personal abuse and accusation. 

Trolls tend to attack as individuals and can as individuals be blocked but mobs tend to mass and their tweet storms can last from 8 hours or run to weeks.

When a forum went after me, one single thread of abusive comments ran to 32 pages and their Twitter accounts provided back up. 

This lasted for months.

They were organised and determined and they kept very close tabs on my Twitter account. 

They screen grabbed my tweets and posted them on their forum and on Twitter, ensuring that if I disagreed with anyone they would invariably pitch up to their time line with sympathy and their tale of woe and offered support to them.

Not one person, several.Thus propagating and expanding their mob.

Complaining to the site owner was pointless. It was the owner and the moderator who were the biggest culprits.

They continued this into any pieces I wrote online and thus the cycle perpetuated until I stopped pitching pieces. I do it now only rarely.

Given that the pieces I wrote were to do with my campaigning on disability rights issues, I had either to continue to ask moderators to remove every single abusive comment and there were hundreds, or simply to stop writing.

I'm aware that by even referencing this I will draw their eye again but it happened and in explaining my point of view here I need to explain my own experience.

There is nothing wrong with online disagreement. Healthy debate, whilst passionate and sometimes unyielding is part of the fabric of human interaction.

There is everything wrong with individual anger and resentment manifesting as personal attack, lies, myths and the destruction of well earned reputations.

The volume and content and propagating of these opinions become fact rapidly. No defence is possible because no-one can spend their time detailing to hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, that they are touting a received wisdom from an unreliable source.

The target simply has to accept it.

Defence can come via blogs but these again are usually stripped down and held up to further dissection. This "evidence" of compounded transgression is then rehashed, mocked, ridiculed and opined on, until the narrative is warped and changed beyond recognition of it’s original intent.

If I see any of my opinion blogs used this way to target others, I delete them because I refuse to be part of any mob, willingly or conscripted.

The other thing mobs tend to demand are apologies. 
Beaten down and often blindsided by the onslaught, the target often posts an apology or clarification which are tweeted or posted and then further dismantled as “fake” or “faux“ or simply “not sorry enough”.

The mob is never happy

The target can’t win because they are staring down the barrel of a gun, which fires irrespective of any contrition demonstrated, and doesn't bother to ask questions later.

Apologies offered should be met with forgiveness, but mobs choose their own rules.

Therefore the loop continues.

If we really want to change the way we conduct conversations online we have to look to ourselves. We have to be harsh in judgement of our own choices, not defer to a rightness and an entitlement of online mob member privilege

Both in extremis and in the shadows of our online discourse. We must not censor but instead choose to self-censure. For extremis like threats there is the law which can and should be accessed by anyone feeling under threat, but for gossip and bullying we can only monitor ourselves.

Whether abuse, gossip, myth touted and perpetrated as fact , or dislike posing as fair challenge, it feeds the need for rage and this rage replaces conversation with accusation and respectful disagreement with torch carrying vigilantes.

There is no such thing as deserved bullying.

Anyone can have a bad day on Twitter.  Some use it to promote their careers others to escape them but either way we can turn to social media to ameliorate our distressed minds with escapism. 

We can also have a bad day offline. Stressful lives detailed or not, still inform and import our actions universally.

Tweeting foolishly, without due care even briefly can erupt in a nanosecond and the effects of it can last for years. 
Tweeting carefully but with humour can have the same effect to those whose anger has permanently dislocated their own funny bone. 

But once tweeted even if rapidly deleted, some amongst us lift their tweet rocks and hurl them.

Any attempt to explain is detailed and ignored or serves to further build a case against the target.

Seeing those who you like and admire for values of integrity and honesty, compassion and wit traduced to being 'racists' and 'homophobes', 'self loathing women' or 'misogynist men', for their choice of 140 characters by an accusatory, yet determined gang of hundreds, is pretty dismal viewing.

Popular or unpopular people have the same rights not to be harassed, libelled and defamed.  They have the same right to voice their opinion, on anything from a TV show to a bank note, an X factor winner to our PM without fear of abuse and without fear that their voice is trampled by the mob. 

We all have that right and an equal responsibility to recognise and to ensure that the online behaviour we deplore is within our power to avert.

The notion of 'safety in numbers' of online mobs framing the narrative on any individual must be addressed because if you are the target, whether with 20 followers or two million, it's a frightening place to be.

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