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Stop cyberbullying

Andy Carvin has had two good ideas. First, he’s set up a site to talk about the cyberbullying issue.

Second, he suggests that Friday be “Stop CyberBullying Day.” (Let me save you writing the first comment: Of course every day should be Stop CyberBullying Day.)

This is an important issue that stretches messily from free speech to etiquette to gender issues to assault. There are cases where bullying is too gentle a word and cases where it is the wrong word. But, unless we want to spend our time arguing about the word, it’ll do.

FWIW, I’d be willing to post a “No bullying” sign on my sites, announcing that I will remove comments that I deem (yes, my judgment) to be out of line. It’d be good to have some semi-standardized language to use to express what the line is; not everyone will agree, so a pick list would be helpful. (Ack. I have to run to an event.) [Tags: ]

32 Responses to “Stop cyberbullying”

  1. I agree with you about the banner idea — if only we can agree on the language that would accompany it. Pick list makes sense, too. I like having some basic, civil standards of discourse, voluntary, of course.

  2. Well, how about (hold your breath) “No Bullying!” Or is that itself a form of bullying? Luckily I haven’t encountered bullying directed at me (except maybe once in a car forum), perhaps because of my (very) low profile on the web.

  3. Andy, that’s easy when the bullying is paradigmatic. But what about when it is an intellectual challenge worded too strongly? Or it’s expressing moral outrage at what someone else thinks is perfectly ok? Or it’s an ad hominem argument? It’s an area with lots and lots of edge cases, in addition to the cases that are perfectly obvious.

  4. [Sigh … breaking my New Years Resolution … well, it lasted until almost March, so I suppose that’s good …]

    “announcing that I will remove comments that I deem …”

    Great. Now what do you propose to do about the posts?

    And how do you pretend to enforce this, in a system which runs on attention-mongering, demagoguery, and too many infamously abusive tin-pot egotists accountable to nobody but a handful of other BigHeads?

    Oh, feel the love of the bogosphere …

  5. On my blog, instead of the regular “send” button for submitting a comment, I have changed the text on the button to “hatguva sheli mechabedet et hablog ve’et kor’av”. (O, sorry, you probably want that in English and not in Hebrew.) “My comment respects the blog and its readers”

  6. I love Lisa Williams’s “Blogging Principles”
    inc. this on comments:

    Comments and the “Living Room Doctrine.” I consider my blog to be a virtual extension of my living space. As such, any comments that I would find threatening or offensive if said to me in person in my living room will be deleted. It’s fine to disagree with me (I allow that in my living room). Not fine is unbridled hostility, name calling, etc., either towards me or towards other commenters. No sock puppets — commenters who change their ID solely for the purpose of making a new comment seem like it is coming from a second commenter will have their comments deleted and their IP address banned. Spam and off-topic comments will be removed.

  7. ..but I guess that’s too long for a banner, eh?

  8. “Stop Cyberbullying Day,” cut me a f-ing break. You’re the folks that enthusiastically promoted playing on the highway. And now you want to bitch at the drivers? You’re the ones who promoted the pretty hike through the forest. And now that you’ve seen a snake you want to pave the woods?

    Here, so you know… WE ALREADY HAVE A PLETHORA OF LAWS AND PROTECTIONS in this area. If you’ve been threatened, call the authorities. If you don’t want criticism and your pretty little feeling hurt… DON’T – SAY – STUPID – STUFF!

    Excuse me David but a “No bullying sign” is the fat kid in the schoolyard whose mother made him wear that goofy red bowtie.

    – Amanda

  9. The laws cover some small but important areas. But there’s a lot that’s legal that is still undesirable. So, yeah, no bullying in this conversation.

    I’m happy to wear the red tie.

  10. See that’s what really bothers me about the “movement.” You want to change law and society to accommodate what thus far is an experiment. It’s like Jarvis dismantling media and simultaneously asking them to figure out a way to monetize his venture for him. Ludicrous.

    As to “undesirable,” hey I don’t like beets. I am sure I could fine some of Jarvis’ 6 million mobsters that similarly don’t like beets. Let’s rally to outlaw them. There’s a more meaningful banner.

    – Amanda

  11. David: I rest my case. And, as you know, “Amanda Chapel” isn’t even a real person.

  12. Seth,

    Off topic but for the record… Seth, I am real person. And until the word identity is officially changed to read our-dentity, the details of my life are TOTALLY mine to divulge. Bottom line: I owe you ONLY what is minimally required to participate in this transaction. That’s all. A silly concept has been presented and I’ve presented counter arguments.

    – Amanda

  13. Amanda, no one has suggested changing the law, at least not in this thread. You are arguing against a strawperson.

    Your argument, Amanda, that “undesirable” is too vague a notion is likewise off the mark. My post suggested a loose codification precisely so we can be more precise about what constitutes bullying, and thus not be subject to the criticism you raise. In any case, the analogy you draw is flawed. Yes, some judgments are a matter of mere taste (I like beets, you do not), but not all of them are like that. Otherwise we couldn’t tell not liking beets from beating up a kid for her lunch money. I’m pretty confident there’s a difference. It may not be perfectly expressable, but it’s real.

    Seth, pointing to examples of rudeness doesn’t make your case. Of course there is bad behavior. That doesn’t mean that that’s there’s nothing we can do to lessen the amount of (of effect of) that behavior. Nothing will make the blogosphere (or the world) perfect, but some actions – maybe the one this post talks about, maybe not – can help. Or am I missing your point?

  14. David: Unfortunately, and somewhat recursively, yes, I don’t think my point is coming across. The idea is that the social structure of the bogosphere FAVORS bullying-type behavior, both in that it rewards it with attention, and there is no institutional check on it besides *other* high-attention A-listers and similar. At this point, a common misunderstanding would be to say “It’s just like real life”, but that would be missing what I’m saying – it’s WORSE, since there’s less inhibition of the bad impulses due to the demagoguery and egotism.

    So you can proclaim peace-and-love all you want, the people who gain by advocating war-and-hate, or are personally nasty as a character trait, won’t care, except to the extent that they can posture over it.

    “Amanda Chapel” is a demonstration here. Again, as you *know*, it’s a construct. Its purpose is baiting and pushing people’s buttons, to get attention. And, true that purpose, it shows up in this discussion, trying to get a rise out of the participants. Now, you in particular can refuse to take the bait. But that won’t change the reward system which supports it.

  15. But, Seth, where is your evidence (not anecdotal but actual scientifical evidence of some sort) that the blogosphere favors bullying types? Certainly it enables bullying, and there are no shortage of bullies on line. But to support your view, wouldn’t we have to look at what percentage of, say, posts and comments are bullying, and maybe see if we could compare that to the percentage of bullies or bullying incidents offline? Otherwise, you’re picking out some examples of bullying and generalizing to say that that’s what the blogosphere favors. Examples of bullying (or of loving supportiveness) are not evidence for the generalization.

    Or maybe we could look at the Short Head and see how many of those sites count as bullying. Or randomly select Long Tail blogs. It’d be really interesting to know…

  16. David, go look at the Technorati Top 100. How many of those sites are dedicated to polarization, partisanness, celebrity, etc? (anti-dismissal – “It’s just like real life” – No, it’s an intensification of the worst elements). For heaven’s sake, you run with a crowd that sells the exploitation of that very purpose for political campaigns (you personally may not be on the very dark side, but you certainly see it in action).

    How many times has this all been examined in the academic literature? It’s a cliche. Every few months, someone points out the bogosphere is made up of clubby little backscratching BigHeaded cliques, as proven by every measurement from exponential distribution of linkage, to the permanent floating conference-ariat. That’s a classic scenario for bullying, because there’s no accountability outside of the clique.

    How is anything you propose going to change the *rewards* for such bullying?

  17. Actually David, I am agreeing with a lot of what Seth has said here. Even down to the “demonstration” reference. That I am.

    Here: we’re confusing some terms. Before your go and write the new rules of the road, let’s define or at least better understand them. Well, let’s discuss two potentialities:

    1. Is it possible that someone behind a mask can be a 1,000 times more truthful than a supposed transparent guy with a construct behind them (i.e. a PR team, etc.);

    2. Who’s a bully, one that viciously attacks someone carrying hypocrisy or the big dog in the blog schoolyard who’s hypocritical system is tantamount to a control weapon. (For the record, the first bully’s exclusive target is the second bully.)

    Now bear with me. As you are aware, some (most) of these concepts ironically exceed the medium.

    – Amanda

  18. Seth, ah, now I understand (I think). I thought we were talking about one particular swath of bad behavior (bullying), while you’ve expanded the topic to a much broader swath (partisanship, celebrity worship, etc.). You and I don’t agree about how negative (inherently and in practice) some of those things are – I’ve got nothing against partisanship, for example – although there are also undoubtedly points of agreement between us. So, thanks for clarifying…although, of course, I may still be mistaking your views. (It’s what I do best.)

    Amanda, I have no general problem with masks and think it’s essential that anonymity remain a possibility on the Net. And, sure, sometimes a masked person can be more truthful than a PR team. But that’s not the issue we’re discussing, I don’t think. A masked person can be a bully. A masked person doesn’t have to be a bully. Masked people who are bullies shouldn’t be bullies.

    Let me be specific, since simply telling bullies they shouldn’t be bullies doesn’t work. So, why shouldn’t bullies be bullies? Because it hurts people. Because it uses force and humiliation to make a point, and thus distracts from the actual issue at hand. Because it intimidates people from talking about important issues in public. Because it reinforces undeserved positions of power. Because it’s a pattern of behavior that has an awful gender history. Because it brings out the worst in the bully, who thinks somehow that his self-perceived superior position gives him the right to humiliate lesser beings.

    As for your second point, if it’s ok to viciously attack hypocrites, then it’s ok to viciously attack everyone, because who of us lives up to our pretensions? Savaging people – even hypocrites – isn’t ok, except (imo) in the rarest of cases. Forgiveness and understanding seem to me not only to work better but also build a better world.

    At least that is the pretension I fail to live up to.

    (As for “writing the rules of the road”: My intention was not to issue proclamations. I was instead suggesting that we could together somewhat clarify the existing rules so that individuals could more easily express the behavior they consider out of bounds. I’m not saying that’s a great idea. It’s just not the idea you think I proposed. Sorry for the confusion.)

  19. I’m reading this as an argument for censoring comments (or commenters).
    I’m conflicted.
    On the one hand, I feel that the more points of view, even reprehesible ones, the more likely good ones will rise to the top, as the cliche has it, though it’s unclear how that will happen on the web. One the other, Brad DeLong’s site, even with his sometimes idiosyncratic comment censorship (his euphemism is “shaping the discussion”), seems to have a lot more illuminating discussion of grays, and a lot less war cries and denunciations of black vs. white, than do others of its ilk with unpruned comments.
    Tangent to this, Discover Magazine this month has Jaron Lanier’s discussion of online bad behavior, in which he lays it to the web’s anonymity.

  20. David,

    You missed my point as to the “mask.” It’s about power. Masks are irreverent. Without a mask, we all wear masks! The real questions is, “Who’s the bully?” Here, is it the British occupiers or the Freedom Fighters behind the trees? As savage as the revolutionaries might have been, they were NOT bullies. However, using your model and seeing things through your lens, today on the Net, they would be.

    With regard to force and humiliation… what planet are you on? What percent of transactions in the competitive marketplace are without consternation? Please. I like John Lennon’s “Imagine” too but…

    As to the perception of superiority, anyone with an opinion has that or it would be a unique opinion.

    As to making the leap, “if it’s ok to viciously attack hypocrites, then it’s ok to viciously attack everyone, because who of us lives up to our pretensions?”, nonsense. I live up to my word. Can’t speak for you but… I bet you do, too David.

    As to “Forgiveness and understanding seem to me not only to work better but also build a better world,” yes… and we’ve been talkin’ about it for 2,000 years.

    Lastly, with regard to clarifying the rules of the road, with all due respect, I believe you (plural) are muddying the waters. The democracy and the marketplace of ideas is set up to be wild and bloody just so we don’t express that part of our nature’s in real life.


    – Amanda

  21. David, this is the most indirect way of addressing the current storm over the threats on Kathy Sierra that I’ve seen. What a dispappointment. Just because these aging woman-haters are your friend$$, doesn’t mean you get to remain silent. It has been clear for years that Locke and co. are immature and mean-spirited. And Occam’s Razor says that this is some complete bs —

  22. Double sigh. I only expanded the topic because you wanted to get into proof that the bogosphere encourages bullying.

    Where is the lack of clarity in what I’m saying?

    Let’s say an A-lister starts to bully a Z-lister, or even a B-lister. What then? Who calls that prominent person to account? Look at the incentives for all the pilot-fish and hangers-on around the A-lister to join in the attack. And the disincentives for anyone else to risk retaliation by standing up for the target (unless the target has a comparable power, where it’s a case of choosing up sides).

    And then there’s the attention-mongering incentives. And so on.

    Why is this unclear? :-(

  23. Seth, we’re maybe at the point where a telephone would work better than a comments board. But, here’s one more try to unsnarl our communication. I thought it went something like this (and pardon the over simplification in this summary): You say bullying is characteristic of the Web, despite my Pollyana-ish proclamations. I say, but Seth, where’s the evidence for your generalization? (A question that of course pertains to my generalization also.) You respond (I thought) that polarized and politicized sites are evidence of bullying. I reply that that’s not bullying. And then you reply unclear about what’s unclear.

    I do agree that A-Listers can do more damage by bullying than can a Z-Lister because, by definition, the A-Lister has more readers. That’s a potential for abuse. But I still don’t see the evidence that most or even many A-Listers are in fact bullies. (The same for Z-Listers.)

    Does that help clarify it? Or am I too deeply askew?

  24. I manage several e-lists for a Green Party. And am on some others. This is a perennial issue for the Party: bullying, and discourtesy in general. Which remains unresolved due to the exact debate seen here:

    What is bullying? When is discourtesy out of bounds? Even, what obscenities should be barred? (I was amazed that so many Greens us the “F” word!)

    My response has become similar to the Libertarians: when it becomes criminal. (The noose thing should be vigorously pursued.) Otherwise there is the personal filter, delete button, and ignoring. I often send off-list e-mails to newbies advising them to not feed the trolls. And occasionally get them when, in a moment of weakness (usually alcohol induced), I respond.

    And, as a BoE member in a school which vigorously enforces antibullying policies, I support formal antibullying policies. They work. We don’t find a need for specific policies supporting gays, minorities, and other oppressed groups.

    But the Iway isn’t a school. Nor is it really a community; it’s a mob. Mobs don’t have rules. Communities do. So any community can feel free to establish rules which are specific and clear when anyone joins seems valid.

    That only works when an elite runs the community. The King of the website or the Ruling Junta of the domain makes and enforces the rules. IMO, based on years of experience, a democratic community in cyberspace will never be able to enforce any standards of conduct.

  25. Hmm … No escape from having one’s ox gored by the horns of the dilemma.

    To jump up one level – I’m pre-emptively trying to defend against the following deflection algorithm:

    Goal: Make the issue into a sermon about how we should love one another, as a diversion from any deep discussion.

    Horn 1: Start sermon: “Bullying happens in real life. The web is no different. We should love one another. …”

    Reply to horn 1: There are issues where the web intensifies opportunities for bullying, such as anonymity and power imbalances in audience.

    [Digression – an acknowledged problem here is that feeds into the “Web Of Evil” narrative, as if there was *no* real life evil]

    Horn 2: Continue sermon: “Prove it! I say no. We should have a study, a panel, a blue-ribbon commission, A CONFERENCE, where is the academic research at your fingertips, maybe the web is no different. We should love one another. …”

    The underlying issue is the silliness of the sermon within a structure where A-listers bully others all the time. But I suppose self-referentially, my talking about it will do no good.

  26. Fasinating stuff about the process of being on CNN, very interesting, thanks.

    I’ve already said my piece on the rest of the topic.

  27. Seth, we’re about to complete the circle, unfortunately. You say “A-listers bully others all the time.” I don’t see it, unless you mean by “bullying” that their opinions have more influence than that of B-Z Listers (because, by definition, A-Listers have more readers, although the Long Tail (Long Horn??) argument might point to the cumulative weight of the B-Z, but that’s not your point, so never mind). But “having more influence” is far from what I – and I’m guessing most of us – mean by “bullying.” Having people pile onto Kathy’s site, making fun of her, calling her names, and ultimately leaving disturbed and scary postings…that’s bullying. Not having Doc link to a post one thinks is important isn’t bullying, although it is a result of the power imbalance that you point to.

    I agree that there are ways in which the Web “intensifies the opportunities for bullying,” and I agree that anonymity and power imbalances are two biggies. But “intensifying the opportunities” doesn’t tell us how often the opportunities are seized. If we extend “bullying” to include the exercise of unbalanced A-Lister power, then it happens all the time, to one degree or another. If we confine bullying to cases like Kathy’s, I think it’s relatively rare, but we’d need actual research (not a conference and not a commission but a statistician with a plan) to decide it, because no one fish in the sea can tell whether it’s getting warmer just over here or all across the ocean.

    So, I think there’s some actual agreement between us, as well as some healthy disagreement.

    And by the way, yes, we should love one another. I’m sticking with that one.

  28. “Not having Doc link …”

    That’s trivializing my point, and you know it.

    Abuse like MeanKids is done by A-listers all the time, and nobody cares unless the targets have A-list friends to make a fuss.

    I’m not “extending” anything – and frankly, I think you know that too.

    [Bah. Now you’ll say “How anyone truly know what is in the mind of another …” I shouldn’t do this stuff. Can’t win.]

  29. Seth, I didn’t mean to trivialize your point. I was trying to understand it, but I got the context wrong. I was led to (in effect) trivialize your point because when I think about A Listers, I think about Doc. He’s my prototype of an A Lister. But he’s not a bully in any usual sense. So, trying to make sense of why you would call A Listers like Doc bullies (which I now understand you weren’t doing), I thought you were referring to the power imbalance built into the fact of the Power Law (or Long Tail phenomenon). I apologize for mis-taking you and can see why it felt dismissive or belittling.

    FWIW, I don’t know how to resolve this difference of perception about whether “Abuse like MeanKids is done by A-listers all the time” except by wishing for some statistically relevant data.

  30. David, this family romance was a train wreck waiting to happen (excuse the mixed metaphors). There are “fathers,” “brothers,” even! A couple of “sisters,” too. No mothers, curiously. And of course “uncles” (named Bob). The usual pack of kids (mean) running around.

    Blogging is made for this, the The Family Romance: “…it’s easy to understand why adventurous young characters in American dramas almost never take their parents along. Unlike figures such as Aeneas, who leaves Troy carrying his father on his back and leading his son by the hand (the perfect image of the all-male family going forth to establish a new dynasty), the American pioneer of the family romance sets out with a band of non-related comrades his own age, who in turn become his new family, a much better, much more loving, much more worthy groups of folks than the family he (and sometimes she) has left behind. Thus, as new frontiers are tamed, resulting in a new and more ideal physical and governmental environment, the pioneer is rewarded with a new and more ideal familial environment to match.”

    You might remember an email in the EGR round robin a couple of years ago when I addressed this. No one but Euan Semple I think it was took me seriously, but I was serious.

  31. As someone who has dealt with nasty comments being posted about me online, I think the best thing you can do is manage comments one by one, and address people in a rational manner, or talk to the web master about getting the commentary with no value other than to spread hate off of their site.

    This is an article about a company that helps you track what is being said about you online. A great way to know if you are being trashed, personally or professionally and to be able to manage the comments in an adult manner.

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