books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Gangs of New Media: Twitchforks, the Hive Mind, and “Social Lasers of Cruelty”


I spend a lot of time here telling writers how and why to use social media, but I don’t often address the dangers. Yeah, they exist. I don’t know why, but otherwise sensible people can morph into irrational brutes when they’ve got their fingers on a keyboard and a connection to the Interwebz.

Bad behavior abounds in all social media. In an article in the NYT last week, Henry Alford said Twitter can be like "a crowded barroom that bristles with a certain kind of white male rage...marked by a hostility toward anything poetic or naïve."

The easy anonymity of the Interwebz is usually blamed for the nastiness—and I admit things have felt safer here since I disabled anonymous comments—but I think the most egregious abuses spring from something far more dangerous: mob mentality. A gang of self-righteously indignant “groupthinkers” can do more damage than one lone anonymouse, even a sociopathic one.

"Groupthink" is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values.” It's also known as “the hive mind.”

Writers new to social media need to be aware that anybody can become a target of one of these groups—often people who have done nothing wrong—and we all need to be careful not to jump into online dogpiles of crazy, no matter how righteous the cause appears to be.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to be sucked into mob behavior. Somebody says something that doesn’t conform to the majority opinion in a forum or comment thread and suddenly you’re part of a frenzied mob going after Mr. or Ms. Nonconformist with the digital version of torches and pitchforks.

I’ve seen Twitter version called “Twitchforks” —great word.

If you’ve ever become part of one of those mobs, you probably felt awful later. And if you’ve been the victim, you know their power to hurt, especially if the crazy invades your real home and affects your health and livelihood.

It happened to me in 2011. I endured a month-long barrage of threats and insults after somebody misunderstood one of my blogposts. I got hit with real world consequences: panic attacks, disordered sleep and stress-related illness. I thought I was taking it in stride, but the trauma of a death threat stays with you.

Thing is: most of the people who attacked me thought they were doing good. I've even made friends with some of them since.

Wanting to belong to a group is an instinct older than humanity. We were tribal animals before we walked upright. A recent study shows monkeys will go along with the crowd even if it means eating yucky food.

So it’s natural to carry our instinct to form tribes into the world of social media. Joining an online group can give us a warm, supportive feeling of community. It can make us feel welcome in the alien environment of cyberspace. Other members can teach and help each other on the road to success.

But the same instinct that urges us to help each other can be misdirected to do terrible harm. Especially if we’re led to believe our actions are sanctioned—or required—by the tribe. An us/them mentality can make people do unspeakable things in the name of protecting their own.

A minor, but significant attack by a cybermob with Twitchforks happened recently at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. A bunch of agents, objecting to a keynote speech by author Barry Eisler, set off a swarm of nasty Twitter barbs against Mr. Eisler during his presentation.

The incident reverberated through the book community and serves as an embarrassing example of how even respected professionals can morph into a mob through the magic of the Internet.

Another more disturbing mob attack happened when superstar author Anne Rice had an over-the-top reaction to a bad review on Facebook and sent her fans to attack the reviewer—a young UK blogger with fewer than 100 readers. Rice's hordes called the reviewer obscene names and pelted her blog with classy comments like "I hope you get herpes." Kayleigh, the blogger, took the barrage of anger with grace. (I'll bet she got a lot more followers out of this.)

But I'm sure most of those commenters thought they were doing good in defending their idol.

When a group of people band together, they can be an unstoppable force. As Margaret Mead said,

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world.”

Unfortunately, that needs a corollary:

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of misguided people to devolve into a mindless, bloodthirsty mob.”

That hive/gang mind that can do so much good can also be one of the most dangerous forces in the universe. It can make people do things they’d never dream of doing as individuals.

The hive mind is what powers pogroms, gang rapes, witch hunts, lynchings, war and genocide.

There’s a reason some of the most horrifying SciFi villains are semi-human creatures that share an unreasoning, destructive mind: like The Borg on Star Trek and Dr. Who’s Daleks.

I’ve seen dozens of good people attacked by gangs on social media in the past year or so. Usually for unverified infractions of murky rules. I’m not sure the people who sent me death threats even knew what I was supposed to have done. (I’m still not clear on that myself.) They only knew somebody told them the hive was under attack, and I was the designated villain.

Plus they were getting a rush from their own smug, self-righteous rage.

It’s that rage-induced high and feeling of superiority that is probably at the root of the problem. Anger management specialists tell us that self-righteous rage can trigger brain chemicals that mimic the high of cocaine. And it’s just as addictive. The angrier people are, the better they feel, so they feed their rage, often with unsubstantiated rumors their rational mind would recognize as lies. It’s why radio-ranters and conspiracy theorists are so popular.

Unfortunately a lot of those rage addicts feed their habit on the Interwebz.

Jaron Lanier, one of the early pioneers in Internet technology, has preached against this phenomenon for years. He has long warned people of what he calls “digital barbarism.” He sees terrible danger in “instant twitchy social networks which are designed to create mass action. “

And they get twitchier all the time. Look how one tweet in April nearly crashed the Stock Market.

In an interview with Ron Rosenbaum in the Smithsonian magazine in January, Jaron Lanier said,

“This is the thing that continues to scare me. You see in history the capacity of people to congeal—like social lasers of cruelty. That capacity is constant.

For more on this, Lanier has a new book coming out this week, Who Owns the Future?

I saw one of those lasers aimed at an Internet friend this week. She was a much less high-profile target than Barry Eisler, so the “social laser” could get away with a lot more cruelty. She was erroneously accused of piracy (a buzz-word guaranteed to set the hive-mind swarming.) The accuser didn’t deal with her directly. Instead he tweeted a call for the hive to attack. The victim was humiliated and castigated by dozens of authors (some of whom I know to be otherwise sensible individuals.) One rage-fueled smugster even posted the home address where the accused author lives with her disabled child.

The victim had the sense to call the FBI. Which is what I should have done when the crazies started sending me photos of my house and telling me they were armed and they’d “get me.”

She and I join the hundreds—probably thousands—who have had our homes and families targeted by mindless attacks by various branches of the online book community. Yes, these people are our fellow writers, readers, and reviewers. And I'm sure they all think they're doing good.

  • I saw it happen last year to a bestselling author who nearly lost a major national award because of a similar army of cyber-jihadists, feeding on rage fuelled by misinformation.
  • There was a Goodreads group of bullies/antibullies (all the same at this point) who attacked each other last summer by posting addresses and photos of their children.
  • A similar vigilante attack was waged against a disabled veteran who set up a book sharing site that was accused of piracy.
  • And later the people who were swept up in the anti-piracy mob were targeted with attack-swarms of one-star “reviews” on Amazon and Goodreads.

Terrorizing victims and their families in their homes seems to be a pattern with the booky hive-mind. As is the fake review attack.

Posting addresses and photos of family seems to come from a twisted misunderstanding of what used to be done to silence anonymous trolls—stemming from the outing of hatemongers like “Violentacrez”, who terrorized Reddit a few years ago. Some clever person discovered his real name and residence and posted them online to keep the troll from continuing to pollute the site with anonymous hate speech.

But somehow these literary vigilantes don’t see how that’s different from posting the personal addresses and family details of a fellow author or reviewer who is NOT anonymous in the first place.

Talk about unclear on the concept…

But hey, nobody ever accused the Hive Mind of being smart. Ever tried to reason with a swarm of bees?

The other weapon of choice of the book hive is equally stupid and clueless. Wielding one-star reviews as weapons to assault the author’s character undermines the whole literary community by rendering customer reviews worthless.

Mind you, these cyber-militias claim to be standing up for the “integrity” of the writing community. They think writing fake, libelous “reviews” of books they haven’t read is a great way to show how honorable they are.

Come to think of it, those bees look pretty smart and reasonable in comparison.

So what can we do about cyber-gangs?

Nobody can stop groupthink-bullying on the Interwebz, but you can do your part by refusing to participate.

1) Check facts. Before you join in a cyber-attack sparked by a tweet or a FB post or other online call to jihad, read real news sources, not garbled hysteria from other members of the frenzied tribe.

2) Take a breath: Five seconds in; five seconds out. This will bring down your heart rate and give you time to remember that you have not, in actuality, been assimilated by the Borg.

3) Remember why you’re on social media in the first place. Are you here to alienate all potential readers who favor a different publishing path from yours, hate prologues, or prefer LeStat to Edward Cullen? Or are you here to make friends you hope will buy your books some day?

4) Consider what Joe Konrath said in his post about the attacks on Eisler:

The Internet is forever. Things you say will always be there to come back and bite you.”

And they WILL bite you. Especially if you—
  • Participate in snark attacks or throw “Twitchforks”
  • Denigrate the review process with fake 1&2 star "reviews" 
  • Spread unsubstantiated, harmful rumors
  • Sabotage a fellow author’s livelihood
  • Threaten a person’s life and/or family
  • Make personal attacks on reviewers
That initial rush of smug rage will subside. You’ll be left with nothing but a damaged reputation and digital egg on your face like those agents at Pike’s Peak.

5) Listen to the wise words of Porter Anderson, from his April 26th Writing on the Ether post:

“I recommend we create a little code for our community. ‘Pikes Peak.’ As in ‘Remember Pikes Peak’. If we see a conversation, a presentation, a thread online starting to spiral out of control, maybe if we remember Pikes Peak it will help us recall a sequence of negative emotions and reactions that we really don’t need to revisit.”


How can we avoid becoming gang victims?

You can’t. Not entirely. Barry Eisler’s speech was anything but incendiary. The accused “pirate” was actually promoting her favorite authors' work. I was attacked for writing a piece on my own blog to help fellow Boomers who aren't Web savvy. I admit I was naïve. But we’re all naïve about something.

However there are some things I could have done.

1) Contact law enforcement if your safety is threatened. The FBI has a hotline to report cybercrimes.

2) Delete out-of-control threads in your own blog before rage escalates. If a thread on your own blog gets out of hand, or a bunch of commenters gang up on another, just hit the little trash can icon. I used to think it was better to hang in there—and it probably was in the case of the Anne Rice fan attack—but when things get nasty on your blog, it can reflect on you. A lot of the stuff that made people most angry at me were things other people said in the blog thread, which were later attributed to me in the subsequent game of blog telephone.

3) But don’t delete messages and comments that are actually criminal. At least save a screen shot. You may need them for evidence. (I made this mistake. I thought deleting them from my computer would delete them from my mind. Doesn't work that way.)

4) Stay away from gang-infested forums and websites. Any forum that projects a them/us mentality can be dangerous. For some reason, the oldest forums seem to be plagued with the most groupthink and snark. A whole lot of writers no longer feel safe at Absolute Write, so I’ve stopped recommending them. Ditto the Amazon Forums (the Kindleboards tend to be a bit more civilized, but don’t expect many warm fuzzies.) Reddit could be toxic in the days of Violenticrez. I don't know if it has improved. I’ve also heard some Goodreads groups can get pretty nasty, but I belong to some great ones.

5) Look for community at moderated, helpful forums like Kristen Lamb's WANAtribe,  Nathan Bransford’s forums, CritiqueCircle.com and SheWrites. (If you know of more good ones, do let us know in the comments.) I’ve left all the LinkedIn writing groups I belonged to because of idiots taking over the threads to stage one-on-one combat (and the misguided guys who think it's a dating site) but I haven’t seen overt gang activity. Maybe some of you know some good groups there.

6) Be careful where you post comments. Some blogs are heavily weighted pro- or anti- self-publishing or pro- or anti- author and may be controlled by a hive mind. If you see name-calling or blanket dismissal of a whole segment of the population by a blogger, you have wandered into a private clubhouse of snark and your time will be better spent elsewhere.

The internet book community is ours to create. We can become a jungle of irrational, violent thugs, or we can behave like literate, civilized adults. If you have a personal problem with an individual, consider talking to him or her about it in a reasonable, non-accusatory way. If the person is misusing a forum, or you see criminal activity, leave the group temporarily and contact the appropriate authorities.

As Konrath said—

 “Have the integrity to defend your public statements and the courage to respond to people with different views.”

Probably braying “Exterminate. Exterminate. Exterminate….” like a Dalek is not what he means by "courage."

Here's my own message to anybody who is tempted to "go along with the crowd" and persecute a fellow writer rather than engage in intelligent discourse.

Remember you have your very own personal brain. Even when you’re on the Interwebz. Use it.

How about you, scriveners? Have you been the victim of a cyber-gang? What did you do about it? Have you ever found yourself being swept up in a gang-frenzy, saying things you later regretted? What groups and forums do you consider safe for writers who are new to social media?
***

This week, in honor of the debut of the new film of The Great Gatsby, and of course the Stephen Colbert Book Club, which has made Fitzgerald's classic the #1 Bestseller on Amazon, Anne will be making the rounds talking about her own novel about a real-life Gatsby-obsessed con man, the Gatsby Game. ONLY 99c until the end of May!


On Monday, May 6th, THE GATSBY GAME will be featured at reviewer Donna Hole's blog. with an in-depth look at the real events that inspired the novel.
And I'll also be at Janet Boyer's Blog, giving my #1 piece of advice for new authors.

On Tuesday, May 7th, THE GATSBY GAME will be featured on The Cheap Ebook. Anne is going to be talking about the new film, and how she feels about a giving a contemporary soundtrack to the greatest story of the Jazz Age. She'll also be talking about the real Gatsby-obsessed man who inspired her novel.

On Thursday, May 9, I'll be talking about the real-life Hollywood mystery behind THE GATSBY GAME with Elaine Raco Chase at the Author's Corner at Triangle Variety Radio.


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS:


1) Win a free book cover makeover! Westin Lee's Cover Cleaning Contest. Are your sales sluggish? It could be your cover. In this fun contest—open to self published writers and writers with small presses who have permission from their publishers. There's an easy online form. But you've only got a week. Winner and runner up will be announced May 15th, so get going!!

2) The Saturday Evening Post’s Second Annual Great American Fiction Contest—yes, THAT Saturday Evening Post—is holding a short fiction contest. Could you join the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald; William Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Ray Bradbury; Louis L’Amour; Sinclair Lewis; Jack London; and Edgar Allan Poe? $10 entry fee Deadline July 1, 2013

3) FREE book advertising to British readers from EbookBargainsUK Lots of authors and publishers have had huge successes with their free or sale books by advertising on BookBub, ENT, KND, POI, etc. But none of those target the UK, and their links go to US sites Brits can't use. But now there’s a newsletter for UK readers only. It links to all the big UK retailers like Apple UK, Waterstones and Foyles as well as Amazon UK. They don’t sell books direct or get paid for clickthroughs, so they don't have any restrictions on how many free books they can spotlight like BookBub and the others. So it's THE place to tell Brits about your book when it goes free or on sale in the UK. Since Brits have the highest number of readers per capita of any country in the world, this looks like a great idea to me: Plus: the site will be offering FREE book ads until May 31st, on a first come, first served basis.

And if you're in the UK, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the UK bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

4) The Lyttoniad contest for the WORST first sentence of a novel. The classic Bulwer-Lytton Contest makes news every year. Each entry must consist of a single sentence but you may submit as many entries as you wish. E-mail entries should be sent to Scott Rice at srice@pacbell.net in the body of the message, Ariel 12 font. One e-mail may contain multiple entries. Entries will be judged by categories, from “general” to detective, western, science fiction, romance, and so on. There will be overall winners as well as category winners. Deadline is June 30th. No prizes that I know of, but lots of admiration from your fellow writers.

66 comments:

  1. Thanks for this, Anne. Brave and on target. Yes, I have been the victim of such a "dogpile." And I'd like to add one thing.

    It seems to me we often get in trouble when we put others on a pedestal. A person (such as the big-name author mentioned in this post) with many devoted followers can do much harm. If you are auch a person, be careful of your calls to action. If you revere such a person, check their facts anyway. Even those we idolize can get things wrong.

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  2. The harms of the internet don't get discussed enough I think.

    This post is exactly why I avoid social media as much as I can. I update my FB once a month at most and my blog is anonymous.

    I'm also sad to say that I've often been one of those keyboard warriors. And I'm ashamed of it.

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  3. Mobs, whether IRL or on-line, are terrifying. Anne, thank you for a well-reasoned post on an incendiary topic.

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  4. Alienating a large chunk of potential readers for any reason is a bad idea. Slamming comments on any topic can do that.
    I've always been aware that the Internet was forever. Can't say something nice, then just walk away. (What is the saying? Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.)
    And that's terrifying people took pictures of your house and made death threats. Now I know why I keep my private life as private as possible.

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  5. Sobering thoughts. I remember something that happened two years ago to a blogger, and it spread around the internet so fast, it was crazy. I watched the whole thing explode and within 12 hours, it was all anyone could talk about. Shock, outrage, fear, the whole ball of wax. I didn't participate, but it was scary to watch.

    In this day and age, we just have to remember that anyone can find you. I'm sorry that happened to you.

    Great, great post! Look forward to The Gatsby Game.

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  6. I just joined She Writes and have not found any snarkiness, just fellow writers trying to help each other. I enjoyed this post. And Konrath's as well.

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  7. Catherine--Important point! Yes, if you're lucky enough to have an engaged fan base, don't take your power lightly. Fans are great for tweeting your new releases and contests, but if you ask them to deliver some snark, they'll do that too. So don't ask them to. The responsibility is the author's.

    Kamile--I don't recommend anonymity as a solution, because most authors are on social media to build a name for themselves. (You may have other reasons, for being here and that's fine.) But we need to be able to stand up to the bullying. Being in control of our own behavior is a big start.

    Ruth--You're right that mbs are dangerous whether wielding pitchforks or Twitchforks. Just because we're online doesn't mean there isn't real hurt.

    Alex--One of the unfortunate results of things like Google Earth is that anybody anywhere can find out where you live and get an image of your house. The threat may have come from somebody 3000 miles away, but I had no way of knowing that.

    Anne--Snark seems to "go viral" faster than anything, doesn't it? I remember a couple of those that were just outrageous. I hate to say I've joined in on one or two, without realizing what was happening. One or two comments can be fine, but when there are hundreds, it can be soul-crushing to the victim.

    ms--Thanks for another endorsement of SheWrites. I hear lovely things about them. Sounds like a great community.

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  8. There's a review I wrote for a popular how-to book that I gave one star to, for I think were perfectly valid reasons -- but I'm afraid to look at the comments on it. The writer has minions, who jumped all over past 1-star reviews as if they were laying a vile curse.

    I think some of is a sign that people are not reacting well to all the changes. It's fear, coming out in anger. Get a mob going, and suddenly there's a focus to vent the anger.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm likely going to participate in an online chat on social media tomorrow. I'll remember to bring this up.

    As I said before, social media is a tool that can be used both for good and bad. In this case, the twitchfork can be effective in the wrong way. Hopefully, more people will learn caution before jumping onto a dangerous bandwagon.

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  10. I have a policy of not commenting on any of these sorts of 'issues' until I've read down through a few levels of information. This has multiple functions - I actually get to the bottom of what's really going on (most of the time) and have time to chose how I respond, or I run out of time to dig further and let it go, or I discover its just a few smelly farts with a tailwind.

    And my final arbiter is, 'will this effect the fate of the universe?'

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  11. Great read. Thanks.

    And, to answer, 'widdershins,' this will not affect the fate of the universe' - in the words of John Lennon "let it be, let it be, let it be."

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  12. Linda--Great insight. People are terrified by change and this anger we're seeing no doubt partly stems from that pervasive sense of uncertainty.

    It's unfortunate that reviewers have been subjected to these attacks-- more than most people. Anne Rice isn't the only author who's misused fans for revenge-jihad. I think you're wise not to look at the comments. But it's a shame you have to do that.

    Chihauhua--I'm glad you're going to spread the word. Everybody needs to check facts. It's so easy to jump into the crazy without weighing the consequences.

    Widdershins--Definitely taking the time for a reality check is the best way to combat this stuff. My question was always "will this matter in 10 years?" In social media it usually only has to be "will this matter in 10 minutes?"

    bh--As I said to widdershins, these things are usually very short-lived dramas. And we sure could use John Lennon for some calm wisdom these days. I wonder how he would have dealt with social media? I think he would have loved it.

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  13. Twitchforks, never heard that one before.

    I've been the victim of jerky, rude comments on my (pretty benign) blog about home decorating. Yeesh.

    I decided a while ago to delete those comments. I am "goddess" of my own blog, so what I say goes. Delete!

    I've been on message boards where I've seen a mob mentality form. It's just awful.

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  14. Great post as always, Anne, and one of the most important. Scary stuff here.

    On another matter: If you haven't read Anne's, The Gatsby Game, grab a copy right now during the May sale. With all the interest in the new Baz Luhrmann film and Fitzgerald's writing, The Gatsby Game is not to be missed.

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  15. Yep, I remember very well the misguided mob who went after sites facilitating legitimate Kindle book lending between users (via the Kindle site, NOT as in pirated copies) and I had to quickly back away from a couple of groups I was on because the mob wasn't even interested in hearing how misguided they were at the time. Unfortunately, anyone trying to educate a mob can easily become their next victim.

    Look more recently at the Boston bombings, where an innocent student (later found dead) was named as a potential suspect by the social media, when he wasn't even named by authorities.

    Very dangerous stuff, indeed. Able to be used for amazing good, or amazing evil.

    I love Kristen Lamb's WANA too. She's great!

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  16. I'm not a very tribal person. I don't follow sports teams and I'm not particularly over the top patriotic and not at all religious. And yet, at least twice I have caught myself making comments on a thread that I came to realise meant I was participating in a witch hunt (not a twitch hunt because I didn't have twitter then)
    The internet can be insidious. It is so easy to fall into the trap. Now I make sure my comments are reasonable and I hope calm with the precise purpose of avoiding the pitfalls Anne describes. A very thoughtful, useful post. One we all should read and remember.

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  17. Handy/Crafty--You're right that you have to be "goddess" of your own blog. If things get weird, the buck stops with the blog owner. Why is it that forums so often devolve into pack attacks on original thought? Scary.

    Paul--You are such a sweetheart! Thanks a bunch. As the former editor of a prestigious literary journal, your opinion carries a lot of weight.

    Tymber--I didn't want to go into the bombings stuff in the post, but you're so right. That poor young man's family was already in agony, and all that false stuff on social media must have been toxic for them.

    Alysha--Thanks for sharing your own experience. None of us is immune. I've jumped on those snarkwagons a few times. Twice I later got wounded emails from the victims. I still feel awful about it. None of the mob members thinks he/she is being cruel. They think they're "exposing truth" or "defending a friend." What appears to be evil is so often driven by ignorance and misinformation.

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  18. Anne, I agree with Catherine. However, even those who I might revere would not be able to call me to action in such a shallow manner. I would and do think less of them for having such a harsh response.

    The problem is not the social media, the issue is not new. What has changed in cyber space is tht everything travels in sound bites. The concept that we can address an issue in 140 characters or we should be reduced to xoxo as a sign off is something we all need to think carefully about.

    IN the end any mode of communication is not the problem, there was hate mail to newspaper columnists, there has always been "poison pen" letters ... the problem is the person writing or using the medium.

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  19. It just seems to me, no matter the situation, opinions, or circumstance you think you are perceiving, kindness is always the correct response. Grace, kindness, gentleness, compassion--just a little goes a long way, no matter our emotional response.

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  20. Florence Fois left another great comment that Blogger saw fit to block, so here it is:

    "fOIS In The City has left a new comment on your post "Gangs of New Media: Twitchforks, the Hive Mind, an...":

    Anne, I agree with Catherine. However, even those who I might revere would not be able to call me to action in such a shallow manner. I would and do think less of them for having such a harsh response.

    The problem is not the social media, the issue is not new. What has changed in cyber space is tht everything travels in sound bites. The concept that we can address an issue in 140 characters or we should be reduced to xoxo as a sign off is something we all need to think carefully about.

    In the end any mode of communication is not the problem, there was hate mail to newspaper columnists, there has always been "poison pen" letters ... the problem is the person writing or using the medium. "

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  21. This should be required reading before joining any social media site. Thanks Anne!

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  22. Wow, Anne,


    I had NO idea about this. And YOU of all people to be targeted. I have always been a FIRM believer in our community and I treasure it. BUT, when I hear stories like this, I am totally disturbed by it.

    Scary stuff here. Where have I been? I ONLY focus on positive and supportive posts and most all of the ones I read are of this nature.

    Thank you for letting us know that these horrific actions do take place in cyberspace.

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  23. Shocking to see the avalanche of abuse that fell on top of the UK blogger you mention, Kayleigh, following her literal dissection of Anne Rice's book. Needless to say, I won't be buying any AR books any time soon. Good to see that Kayleigh stood up to her bullies, though.

    There was a case in the UK recently in which a Twitter troll kept writing tweets abusing Curtis Woodhouse, a boxer. Curtis eventually decided he'd had enough, tracked the troll down and went to his house. If you google 'Boxer gets apology from Twitter troll on live TV', you'll find an article about it.

    I'd like to see more people confronted off-line about their actions online. I suspect, as in the Woodhouse case, those confronted would feel very stupid indeed if they were forced to come face to face with their victims and asked to explain their online actions.

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  24. Wow, what an eye opener. I try not to get caught up in bashing-type hype, but I admit to being human. I almost posted a review of 50 Shades that completely follows the negative reviews; then I stopped a moment and decided that no matter how much I disliked the novel personally, she did make millions, and that means plenty of readers disagree with my opinion. Sometimes, you just gotta take that 5-10 seconds to reassess.

    This culture of anonymity works both ways. I feel so connected to the community of writers that has been built within my blog experience, but I have to remember I have my own conscience to live with also.

    We should be up and running for the post at 1a. I meant to get bck with you before tonight, but I've been distracted with some personal issues the last week. I apologize. Thank you so much for guesting with me :)

    .......dhole

    ReplyDelete
  25. Fabulous post, Anne, as usual. And so sad. Shame on Anne Rice, who should be so thankful for all her luck and success. I've been cyber-bullied. Not as badly as you were, but it definitely had me stressed. Regardless of your generous assessment that these people are so blinded that they actually think they are doing good, I believe that somewhere deep inside they know they are hurting someone. Maybe I'm deceiving myself about my own character, but I just cannot imagine ever stooping to that.

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  26. Chat rooms are notorious for group think bashing/trolling. In fact, it has gotten so bad over the years that a lot of newspapers refuse to be affiliated with the granddaddy of them all, Topix.

    Instead, they created their own tidy litte moderate forums for their newspapers.

    And speaking from persona experience, one you develop a reputation of being a non-conformist and/or an outer of people, it's almost impossible to recover from.

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  27. Useful post, Anne, as always and so sensible! I wish there were more sensible people on the Net like you...

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  28. Hi Anne,

    something very similar to what you are talking about happened to me years ago...before the age of Internet social networking. I became the target of death threats through an email group concerned with raising parrots, of all things. I finally had to inform the FBI, and eventually several people were discovered, and one of them actually jailed.

    I've never understood why anyone on any of the social networks, or, for that matter, anywhere on the Internet, would post pictures of their families, their addresses, or any of their personal information. That one experience has stayed with me, and I post nothing personal about myself, at least in terms of pictures or addresses, etc.

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  29. I agree with you for the most part. However, with respect to Anne Rice, I totally disagree and believe you have been led astray by those bloggers who have attacked her.

    She frequently posts links to reviews, both good and bad, on her Facebook page. The link below makes the argument more eloquently than I can here.

    http://www.vampirebibliographica.com/vampire-philosophies/a-little-respect-might-be-appreciated/

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  30. Thank you for such a helpful post. It certainly opened my eyes. I have never been targeted for this kind of abuse and I hope never to be so targeted. Now that I am more aware of what causes it, I can stay away from it.

    And thanks, Catherine Ryan Hyde, for outlining a characteristic I have that might lead me into dishing out such abuse.

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  31. You've hit on this subject so well. I love how you covered not just how it happens, but what to do and how to avoid being caught up in it.

    This is the reason I avoid most book sites and forums, and I never review books anymore. Some authors who say they want honest reviews really don't. =)

    I do engage in social media frequently, mostly because I enjoy it, but I'm always aware that something can come out of nowhere and a big mess can ensue. It's scary when you feel like you have something to lose (good name, followers, and online reputation)

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  32. Mob mentality is one of the scariest things my worrying mind imagines. The closest thing I have come to being blasted online was when I wrote a letter to the editor and made the mistake of looking at the online comments. They were posted anonymously and were joyfully mean. The paper won’t print anonymous comments on their pages; it would be uncivilized. But I guess the online world is so much its own entity that even newspapers have compromised their intellectual standards. Thank you for all of this important information.

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  33. Julie—You’re so right. Kindness is always the best response. Unfortunately most people’s first response is anger and the need for action. We need to take a breath and access our empathy.

    Florence—I’m so sorry Blogger’s spamblocker has chosen to block your ID for some bizarre reason.

    You’re absolutely right that “hate mail” and bullying has always existed. The ancient Greeks used shards of pottery called ostracons to write the names of people they wanted banished (the origin of the word ostracized.) But it’s all abuse if you don’t get the facts.

    Deb—Wouldn’t it be nice if social media sites came with a set of rules?

    Michael—Yeah, it was bad for a while. I kept trying to ignore it, but it wasn’t pleasant.

    Marcus—I told Kaleigh I’d love to have her make decoupage out of one of my books. :-) You’re right that if people had to face real world consequences for online abuse, things would get a lot better, fast

    Donna—Thanks for the fabulous review!! And I much appreciate the invitation to guest on your blog. Good for you to avoid the 50 Shades backlash. It’s hard to resist when everybody’s doing something. And I admit to doing some of it myself.

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  34. Alicia—I didn’t know you’d been cyberbullied too. But obviously I relate. It’s scarier than people realize. But I think people think up ways to justify their behavior as “taking action” and “exposing the truth” and “standing up for what’s right.” Even Aggie below thinks AR was the victim not the perpetrator. (I never read any blogs attacking Rice. Just the comments from her own fans on the reviewer’s blog. That was enough.)

    Claude—All we can do is try to put as much good out there as we can, and hope it counteracts the ignorance and fear.

    Mikki—Raising parrots! Oh, that’s so perfect. These things can arise in such seemingly benign groups. All it takes is for one member of a group to sic the mob on somebody and hell literally breaks loose. It’s as if people turn into demons. Sorry you went through that.

    Aggie—Actually, I didn’t read any blogs criticizing Anne Rice. I just read her fans’ comments on the reviewer’s blog. They did a great job of incriminating themselves. But of course Rice isn’t the only author guilty of this stuff. There are way too many authors behaving badly. Especially toward reviewers. We need to learn to treat reviewers with respect.

    Fantasy—Catherine’s comment is important. Authors must take responsibility for our effect on fans. We need to take our licks and accept negative reviews with grace. Everybody gets them.

    India—I think it’s terrible that you’ve had to stop reviewing because of bad author behavior. Authors desperately need reviewers, and they deserve our respect and encouragement. And you are so right that these “Twitchfork” attacks come out of nowhere. You make an innocuous comment on a forum and go back the next day and discover 20 snarky comments condemning you for something they think was implied that you never said. Scary is right.

    Christine—Writing a letter to the editor takes bravery these days. You’re right that the comments on newspaper sites are some of he most toxic. Love your expression “joyfully mean.” People get high off their rage, and it does bring them something like joy.

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  35. Yep, been there, back in my fanfic days. The fanfic community can be especially volatile, and they managed to drive me out of fandom for good. That was almost a decade ago and I'm still twitchy and reluctant to get involved in online communities or say or do anything that might be the tiniest bit controversial for fear of bringing another mob down on me.

    Great article. Hopefully it will get more people to stop and think before they pile on.

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  36. Something I want to add: cyber trolls. They pick on emotionally vulnerable victims (for example, someone who tweets about how devastated/unhappy/depressed they are). Then they attack this person, typically by accusing them of something nasty (child abuse, racism). The victim's protests stimulate further activity.

    Dozens of attackers all gang up on the chosen victim, referring to 'evidence' and 'facts'. This creates the impression that there nasty allegations are true, and the victim's word against that of dozens of others is discounted.
    The victim feels hounded, sometimes to the point of getting suicidal.

    The truth is, there is no gang of cyber-bullies. It's all one person, using dozens of accounts. It's easy to set up multiple accounts in the social media.

    So if anyone feels they're getting attacked and hounded by hordes of cyber-bullies, please be aware that it's probably just one person. Please be also aware that this attacker isn't targeting you personally, but has simply picked you at random, and continues because you respond.

    The best thing to do with cyber-bullies is to ignore them. If they don't get the angry/hurt/desperate response they crave, they'll go away.

    If you witness any case of cyber bullying (common in the social media, Yahoo Groups, even Amazon reviews), reassure the victim that there's just one attacker, and encourage them to stop responding.



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  37. My blog is my safe space. I've been on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, and I left all for the safety and calm of my blog. I've even unsubscribed from several writing and publishing blogs that tend to encourage frothy reactions to anything they consider "the other side", whether by design or not. It's nasty, and I end up remembering those writers who participate in those torch-and-pitchfork-groupthink moments, and I do so as a consumer, i.e., I'm less inclined to support them by buying their books. Maybe I'm too harsh, but you know, life's too short for unnecessary drama - especially drama that ends up hurting people.

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  38. Egads. I'm out of the loop so I hadn't heard about the Barry Eisler or Anne Rice incidents, but the behavior of those agents and fans was atrocious. Maybe part of it is that the attackers, safe and dry in their homes, each think they're just a drop in the bucket and one little nasty comment to vent their anger won't do much harm. But when 600 people shout together, all each with their little nasty comments, it's pure ugliness.

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  39. Well, that was a rather scary read! But necessary, so I thank you for writing it. It's good to remember that just because technology is advancing, it doesn't mean human nature is :(

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  40. jm--I know nothing of the fanfic world, so thanks for giving us this insight. I wonder if the very nature of "fans" makes them more susceptible to mob behavior? Fanfic seems like a good place for a fledgling writer to start, but not if it means getting attacked by rabid trolls.

    Rayne--This is a fascinating wrinkle I didn't know about. I did know there were people who use sock puppets to promote their own products and review their own books, but I didn't know people use them in this even more diabolical way. How awful. The more I hear about this stuff, the more I think writers need to stay away from forums that aren't carefully monitored for bullying. Ick.

    And you're right, the only way to deal with it is DO NOT FEED THE TROLL. They thrive on your attention--positive or negative. With no attention, they'll got on to the next victim.

    Hayden--This is one of the reasons I'm such a strong supporter of author blogging. We can control the environment and present our own brand the way we want. 140 characters do not lend themselves to subtlety or gracious behavior. Good insight about groupthink. I love the expression "frothy behavior". It does come from an us/them mentality.

    Tamara--True about how one small comment may not be that bad, but cumulatively they can be toxic. That's certainly what happened at Pike's Peak. Only a couple of agents were super-snarky, but anybody who joined in became part of the dogpile.

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  41. Thanks for covering this, Anne. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to such things.

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  42. Thanks for this great write-up. To quote Spiderman, "With great power comes great responsibility." Not that writing a blog or a book gives us great power, but it does give us a platform with anywhere from several to thousands of listeners. I think it's really important to let them know that twitchforks and cyberbullying are NOT okay, and that you won't tolerate them - which is exactly what you've done with this post, and I really appreciate your efforts.

    Another safe writing site is Scribophile. Well-reasoned arguments are tolerated - and with several thousand users there are a lot of differing opinions on just about everything - but intolerance and bullying are quickly shut down, both by moderators and other users. It's refreshing to find such a friendly group online.

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  43. JC--You're so right. I often think of that when I see one of these gang attacks: they're more like chimpanzees throwing feces than evolved humans dealing with electrons.

    Matthew--I figure somebody has to be a grown-up and call time-out on this stuff :-)

    ED--Great point. Actually we EACH have power on the Internet and that's the problem. Instead of using their power wisely, people often give their power away in favor of groupthink.

    Thanks much for the recommendation for Scribophile! I'll put that on my list of safe communities.

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  44. Great post, Anne! Personally, my favourite way of reducing troll activity is just to leave them alone. If someone leaves an inflammatory topic, or something threatening or offensive, let the website mods deal with it. I ran into a situation like this on Tumblr - someone created a blog with the explicit purpose of downtalking and offending another blogger, so I and many other users went straight to the Report button, and they were gone within the day.

    Don't feed the troll, and set the professionals on it. Their site, their rules, and much less room for death and drama.

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  45. Hi Anne,

    Great post with some useful warnings. I just wanted to clarify some stuff about Reddit.

    Reddit is a large site, but it is made up of smaller communities focused on specific topics. They're called subreddits or subs, and you refer to them by putting an r/ in front of the name.

    Writing-related subs include r/writing, r/shutupandwrite, r/proofreading, and r/selfpublish (among hundreds of others).

    Each sub has its own rules, so if you're having a problem in one, it doesn't mean you'll have a problem in another. You can make unlimited accounts, so if you're REALLY having problems, you can just change your name. For what it's worth, I'm one of the moderators of reddit.com/r/writing so I dare say that's a friendly place. :)

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  46. Charley--You're so right. When somebody is obviously being provocative, the best thing to do is step away from the keyboard. Easier said than done, however.

    Popular--Thanks much for the info about Reddit! I didn't know that different subReddits have different tones. I'm glad to hear that reddit/r/writing is safe. I'll put it on the list!

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  47. Wonderful! Re-blogged at Now is Gone. Thanks!

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  48. I had to start using comment moderation in 2009 after a death threat. And since then I do allow anon comments, but I don't allow the ones that aren't civil.

    I learned a long time ago the full impact of everything you posted, on a smaller scale, but it's a reality we all have to face nowadays. Great post!

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  49. Eek! I don't know if my first comment just didn't make it, but I want to jump in, so...

    Truthfully I'm shocked at how many mentions of death threats there are in the community! I grew up in the places of the internet full of young angry men, like you mention in the article. I guess I had it in my mind that it wasn't like that outside of the Something Awful boards and on Xbox Live.

    It's good to know there's still places out there that are more relaxed.

    Also Popular - didn't know you were a mod on /r/writing! Very cool.

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  50. Katy--Thanks much for the shout-out on your blog. Sorry you had to go through the nasty stuff too. It's not fun.

    Ryan--You, too? It's amazing how many of us there are. And how many people who are so eager to jump on the bully-bandwagon.

    Westin--Thanks for fighting the Blogger elves. I don't know why they eat comments. I wonder if the bad behavior that's so ubiquitous now came from those early testosterone-laden sites and spread around. I think it's the case with the older forums. I have a feeling they are dominated by people from the gaming community who have been there for decades. They grew older, but not more mature. Maybe because they're still working at McDonalds and living in Mom's garage.

    I'm going to check out the Reddit forum "Popular" Lila is moderating. I wouldn't like to be a troll dissing her peeps :-)

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  51. Thank you so much for having the courage to post this. There's been more and more awareness brought to this issue, thanks to people like you.

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  52. Hi Anne
    Thanks for a fascinating post and good advice. Derren Brown's show Gameshow in the UK demonstrated how people acting as a group, and in particular anonymously, were much more likely to be thoughtless and even cruel in their decision making. The studio audience were given temporary control over events in the life of a subject, who without realising it was surrounded by actors creating scenarios. The group decisions over what should happen to him became more and more cruel and extreme as time went on, until finally it looked as though he had actually been hit be a car, at which point Brown confronted the audience with what they had sanctioned. Salutary stuff!

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  53. Lee--I hope people continue to keep this issue in the spotlight. We all suffer if it's not exposed and discussed.

    Sophie--I've never heard of Gameshow. Sounds is if it shows exactly the nature of the hive mind and why it's so dangerous. More work has to be done to address gang-bullying. It comes from some primitive need to protect the tribe/herd and needs to be controlled.

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  54. Just discovered your blog, Anne. This is a fantastic post! You've summarized everything I've watched, sometimes participated in (to my shame), and even been the recipient of (which chased me off the Interwebz for a while).

    It thrills me to see people acknowledging the problem and applying logic to it, instead of brushing it aside or blaming the victims--"you're too sensitive" and "if you don't like it here, why don't you leave?" and "no one's forcing you to read my comments" being a few of the most common dismissals I've heard.

    I especially appreciate the recommendations of "safe" communities. I'd also recommend Chuck Wendig's blog. He has a great moderate approach to publishing and he doesn't play favorites.

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  55. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  56. Angela--Welcome! It makes my blood boil when I see those comments. "If you don't like being bullied on Amazon, you don't have to be there." Um, yes you do, if you want to have a writing career. Those people are like the monster in Cleveland who blamed his victims, saying they shouldn't have got in his car. We can't just sit back and say "Monsters exist. Whatcha gonna do?" We have to stop them, and the first step in that process is to acknowledge the abuse.

    I used to have great admiration for Chuck Wendig, but unfortunately, I've seen him join in some of the abuse I mention in this piece.

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  57. FANTASTIC post, Anne. And one not addressed NEARLY enough - especially in light of your point that many people who participate in the "hive mind" frenzy aren't even aware they're doing so. I love the online world because of the expanded opportunity for connection and relationships. And yet hate the irony that it allows enough distance in those connections to prevent us from seeing a person's face as we hurl rocks at them.


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  58. M. Christine--That really is the problem. People who are doing this don't realize the harm they're doing. They think they're "protecting the hive". And you're right that if they could see the faces of their victims, they'd probably behave better.

    And congrats on your book deal! So happy for you!!

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  59. I've been a victim of a social media attack. It was really hard to pull back. REALLY hard not to retaliate, but I didn't, thank goodness. Basically there are a bunch of people giving one stars to my books on Goodreads without reading them, and sticking them in lists entitled things like "avoid at all costs". I don't even know these people. And it stings, a lot. But what can I do but ignore it? There really isn't any other choice. Great post!

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  60. Jessica--I'm so sorry you're going through that. The Goodreads bullies are real and they're crazed by the power and cruelty of their anonymity, so definitely giving them a wide berth is the best policy. But I think Amazon will start to address the problem soon, now that they own GR. On the Amazon site, they're testing a new menu for reporting abuse that includes "reviewer has not read the book" and other options. I sure hope they apply it to Goodreads as well. I've had a number of one-stars on GR with no review and no indication of why--often before the book has come out, so its obvious these are just people dishing out random acts of cruelty. I hope they are stopped soon.

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  61. Hi, I have a few things. First what you described as an FBI hotline goes to an out-dated form that uses phrases like bulletin boards and chat-room and requires info not applicable this century.

    These gangs of which you speak are organized cyber-terrorists guilty of serial cyber-stalking, cyber-bullying and harassment. They may also be guilty of gang related activity and racketeering. I haven't researched that angle yet.

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  62. Rick--That link does go to the official FBI site. I don't have any control over the terms the FBI uses. Some older people do still call forums "chat rooms". Nobody ever accused the FBI of being hip.

    I'm not addressing true cyber-terrorism here--the kind where the Chinese hackers get into US banks and journalists' emails or Iranian hackers try to mess with US govt sites. This is concerned with the everyday ganging-up that an ordinary person might get sucked into because they think they're punishing imagined transgressions of a fellow author.

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  63. HI Anne, you referenced my blog and I read this post when it was first up. I finally got around to posting my own taken on my sudden rush of comments. I know it's a bit out of date now but I'd love it if you gave it a read? http://articulateandintricate.com/2013/07/11/righteous-indignation-pants/

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  64. Kayleigh--Your post again shows your maturity and kindness. I urge people to follow that link to your follow up blogpost. Lots of wisdom there.

    You're a good role model for us all.

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  65. Anne, thank you for this post! I recently joined your blog thanks to a post Alex J. Cavanaugh did concerning his interview you hosted concerning safe, online communities.

    Having been absent from the blog-verse for a while thanks to school, I'm a bit shocked by all this! I can't say that I'm surprised by it, but it is still shocking to hear some of the horrible attacks that have been happening to writers.

    The hive mentality is a perfect description of this terrible and terrifying phenomenon. A friend of mine regularly reads Yahoo! article comments and she's always telling me the terrible things people say there. I suspect hive mentality there, but giving it a name doesn't take away the fact that these people can do real damage to real people.

    Thanks for giving this topic an intelligent discussion and for informing us on what is going on as well as what we can do to fight back.

    Cheers,
    Jen

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  66. Jen--Welcome! It's hard to discuss this stuff because even mentioning it puts you on their radar. There's one well-organized gang of potty-mouths that have had me on their hate list for a while now. They got mad when I suggested grandmothers learn to write book reviews. They don't want any grandmas on their turf. It's all their own personal videogame. Why the owners of the sites don't do more to curb their activity, I don't know. The new Kindle is linked to the pottymouth site. I sure wouldn't want any kids to get hold of one of those Kindles.

    I saw today that some news outlets are now screening their comments through Facebook. You'll now have to have a Facebook account to comment on any McClatchy news sites. It seems like a big grab from FB, but it's because FB has a good system of reporting abuse. I think these companies will find that cleaning up their acts will pay off in the long run.

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