Monday, March 10, 2014

Wro-onng ... Do It Again. Wro-onng ... Do It Again

Recently, J.K. Rowling joined a petition urging the bookseller Amazon to do more to prevent bullying in their comments section.  I appreciate that we are moving past the word troll to the more proper, accurate word bullying.  I believe that starting hence forward, I'm going to stop calling people trolls.  That's an insufficient euphemism for what's going on.

I am hardly a famous person.  I make no great money off the internet, I have one book and a few minor game features that I have distributed, and yet somehow I am worthy of quite a lot of abuse.  I don't believe that this is because of what I write, or who I am.  I don't believe it is because I am a bad person.  I think it's because I am not cowed, and I have not stopped writing.

Most every blogger I followed five years ago is gone; those that are still around retain a presence on-line, like Tom Tomorrow, but have largely ceased to blog (Tomorrow usually only writes a line or two about his comix).  The political bloggers have it the worst; and as they have stepped off, one by one, they have written that the main reason is the unbelievable beat-down that they face every day from people who do everything possible to bully them into silence.  Most of them start with moderating comments.  Eventually they get rid of comments altogether.  Then, a year later, writing in a vacuum, they just stop.

I don't wish to get rid of my comments.  There are some sharp, insightful people who write very human things on the comments section here; they are involved in what I'm writing, they have a great deal to add from their own experience, and I absolutely do not want any of these people to feel for a moment that they can't speak their minds to me.  The comments, moderated as they are, stay.

But I am clearly moving forward into a position where I'm getting enough attention from the bullies to make them sense blood in the water.  I would estimate that personal attacks against me, here and on other sites, have increased about 400% above what I received last year.  That is telling.  As my friend Carl says, I must be really, truly, getting under their skin.  Given what I wrote Friday, they know they can get a rise out of me. That has been true.  I was talking it out with my family over the weekend and three meaningful bits of perspective presented themselves.

The first, that I am still reading these comments.  This is true.  It is a train-wreck, it is compelling, and virtually everyone wants to read things about themselves that others write.  There are a lot of positive comments out there that turn up on Reddit and other blogs, people trying out systems of mine or praising my maps on bulletin boards.  But when I set out to go find out what may have been written about me recently, I get the bad with the good.

The second is that there is a LOT worse than what I'm getting.  This is also true.

And third, perhaps I might consider having someone else moderate my comments for me.  Someone who isn't a target.

I may someday have to employ the third.  If I am able to sell the book, if I set up to promote it at conventions around the country, then the level of commentary might get beyond me.  I might find there's too much to wade through, or that it is getting hard to parse.  If this is what I am getting now, where does it go when I have something that is really popular?

For the present, I feel there is one thing I can do.  I can intensify the moderation.  Up until this point, I have been satisfied with restricting personal abuse and off-topic statements, as well as cutting down on those who write, "You won't print this, but ..."

I'm going to tighten that up, starting now.

Those who have never feared that I would remotely deny a comment have nothing to worry about.  Gentle readers, you know who you are.  But I am going to make some more specific rules about commenting, in the interest of retaining the higher level of discourse that has always been a part of this blog, while eliminating or at least reducing the lower discourse.

If the reader opens my page, and sets to read me, and in turn takes a mind to comment, then I presume the reader has an interest in my opinion.  Otherwise, why have they read anything?

It does not follow, then, that because the reader has opened my blog in order to read my opinion, that I am automatically interested in theirs.  There is great hay made of the fact that I only want to hear people who agree with me, or that I attack and abuse people for "just giving their opinion."  This sort of statement is, naturally, meant to encourage guilt, to cause me to change my perspective and of course allow every reader to have free rein in commenting here.

I feel, given the climate of bullies that infests every comment section everywhere on the net, making the very circumstance of comments sections poisonous for everyone, that the real answer to such a guilt-making argument is to say, "Yes, that's true.  If I don't agree with you, I'm really not interested in what you have to say."

The idea that anyone, anywhere in the world, should feel bad about wanting to recreate, hang, chat or otherwise interact with only those people they like is, in general principles, a bully's argument.  It is an outsider's idea.  It is the philosophy of a lonely outcast who has no homies, who resents that anyone is entitled to encircle themselves with friends and people of like mind, and who uses notions like 'free speech' or 'elitism' as weapons to promote their misguided ideal.

I do only want people of like mind around here.  I want people experienced at speaking frankly, who prefer to be up front about their reasons for anything, who draw their arguments on sources or examples, rather than gut-instincts.  I want the people who write here about their perceptions and thoughts to feel this is a comfortable, welcome house - and it always has been, for them.  It's only an unwelcome house for the clodding fools who think their 'opinion' - and the fact that it is an 'opinion,' as though that alone and nothing else counts for everything - matters.

So here are my new comments rules.

1)  Feel free to agree with me and expand on what I've written.  Most every comment like this highlights the best parts of my post, adds things I never thought of, deliberates over the nuance of a particular ideal and straightens out my thinking.  If you have a comment that does this, go straight to it.

2)  Don't piggy-back on my blog and offer an alternative method for 'how you do it.'  I am writing here about how I do it.  Either address my method, or go write your idea on your blog, where you won't have the benefit of boring my readers, who aren't here to read YOU.  Writing about your method in a vacuum is advertising.  Go advertise in your space.

3)  If you want to disagree with me, fine.  Do so.  I better see a source or a credibly prescient example from your personal experience, and that example better be specific, detailed and ungeneralized.  It better be in the first three sentences, too, unless I know you.  I'm not going to read four paragraphs of your opinion to see if it's more.  I can waffle on, but you can't.  This is my blog.  I don't have to provide sources (though I do and I will, when it pleases me).  I already have credibility, else you wouldn't be here.  Unless I know you, YOU have no credibility at all.  Make some good points and earn some.  If all you have is opinion, save it.  If I were interested in your opinion, I would be reading your blog.

4)  If I get the tiniest, infinitesimal whiff of an insult, either to me or anyone else, then you're gone. If I see more than a lot, I won't just deny your recent comment, I will seek out and hunt down every other comment you have ever left on this blog in my good time and I will kill it.  And I will never allow you to post here, no matter how reasonable you are.  You can make another nick if you want, but I am guessing that if you can't contain yourself once, you won't in the future, no matter what you post as.  I am through being patient.

Let's be clear.  Your opinion, if it is only an opinion, carries no weight with me.  And I am done with bullies. I don't want you here.  No one wants you here.  Up until now, I've been trying to deal with you as human beings.  I've gotten angry with you, I've written paragraphs attempting to educate you, I've wasted my time on you.  That stops.  Now.

For everyone who is staying with this blog ... I am going to take strong steps to contain my anger.  I'm going to decimate the comments section and stop writing rants that address something stupid someone has said. Anger is going to stop being my default.  I may allow myself, occasionally, off the chain ... but this lately has been too much, too often, for the wrong reasons.

The bullying against me is going to step up.  That's a fact of life.  But I am going to stop it from having any effect on anyone reading this blog - including it's effect on me, second-hand.

Now let's raise the discourse and consider this subject managed.  I would appreciate support - particularly from anyone who told me last week that I would be a happier person if I were not angry all the time.

Well, let's see if that's true.


Giordanisti said...

The guidelines about how to respond to your posts are going to be quite helpful, at least for me to know whether my thoughts are relevant to what you're looking for on the blog. Any comment's first priority should be making a positive impact on the post, and in your past two articles you've outlined exactly the ways that a comment can contribute to the discussion. I expect this'll help quality significantly.

Alexis Smolensk said...

You, Giordanisti, I can count on to ruthlessly attack me with facts, examples, evidence and a priori thinking. I've never known you to ever need to be worried about what you might say that's 'relevant' to this blog. If you're holding back, you should let yourself off the chain.

Vlad Malkav said...

Wow, that's clear and precise, definitely good guidelines for worthy comments.

Point 1 : I like this one for keeping a way to give a positive opinion / feedback without necessarily having anything else to say (eh, if you blow our mind, at least we can say so ^^).
I'll try to always have a thing or two to add, though.

Point 2 : something I didn't ever think of, but quite insightful in hindsight. Well, I could see some discussion going on about someone wanting your advice on one's way of doing X or Y, but it'd be something between you two, by mail; if not, better put it in one's blog. Either way, good point, and that keep the comments on the subject.

Point 3 : this, this is great ! Backing up one's claims with specific sources (even personal experience) allow for a clear view of what one base his disagreement on - and one has to take time and thoughts on clarifying the personal experiences - which help both ways. That should refrain some to post useless banter, and help remember that what we see isn't a general rule, merely specific cases.

Point 4 : I find it a little harsh to seek-and-destroy all other comments. What if those are worthy, with the perpetrator of the faulty comment only misbehaving on a very infrequent basis ? There could be a risk of losing interesting stuff.
However, you should get a lot of bullies out with this one, and if one cannot contain oneself, it may very well cause useless bad blood very detrimental to the discussion process.

All in all, those are great rules, made to keep things civil, clear, centered on the subject, and as free of abuse as one can hope.

Can't wait to see this at work...

Scarbrow said...

Because I value you, as a most trusted and sound source of advice, and because I value your sanity, I wholeheartedly agree with your rules. Even if I've been known to offend under number 2 on several occasions, and you've called me on it. That's right with me.

Please keep well, and I hope you manage to regain some balance in your life. You're one of my precious few role models of people able to stand strong and straight in the face of abuse and hate. Don't burn out. Please.

Andrej said...

I'm looking forward to the new era where everything is killer and nothing is filler. :)

Alexis Smolensk said...

Don't worry, Scarbrow,

If Britney Spears can take all this shit, I can.

Matt said...

Glad to see you taking steps for your sanity. I hope you stick around and write for a long time.

Dave Cesarano said...

I dunno if I consider trolling and bullying to be synonymous. I was always under the impression that trolling was done in order to inflame people's emotions and get people angry. A troll starts fights and arguments. They start controversy.

If you're experiencing bullying then I imagine you're not getting people trying to stir up controversy and flame wars for their own entertainment. I see bullying as similar to terrorism. They use fear, intimidation, and similar tactics to silence opponents and squelch dissent. If you're getting trolls, I'd say that's par for the course.

Getting bullies is something totally different. Indeed, it's indicative of several things. First, people see you as a threat. You threaten their little tiny vision of what role-playing is, perhaps, or how it is properly done. Second, building off of your role as a threat, is that you intimidate them and make them feel less powerful. You are demonstrating how they're not good DMs and hammers their fragile little self-esteems. They retaliate in order to remove this thorn in their side that is constantly reminding them that they're psychologically damaged people, fragile, vulnerable. Your education, erudite use of language, ability to use facts and logic to back up your arguments, effectively disempowers them in their own minds. They can't deal with it. They've built these illusory constructs of self that are as fragile as houses of cards and you are a strong wind that blows the whole things down. They can't stand up to examination, either from themselves or from external sources.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Troll and bully are synonymous. 'Troll' is a soft way that semi-justifies their behavior. Even in your statement, Dave, there's a taint that it's all in the way of boyish fun.

My dictionary defines bully as "a quarrelsome, blustering, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates." Sounds like a troll to me: someone that acts selfishly, pushing their way into someone else's space to please themselves.

I feel at this time the best course of action is to cease being concerned with whether or not they are defined correctly. I don't care if they feel misrepresented. They are 'bullying' me. That's the straight of it. I need to feel more empowered to manage their comments when I receive them.

My first instinct last Thursday was to delete the first comment I received, one that pointedly dismissed my point based on nothing but the writer's opinion and the lack of that writer's empathy for anyone beyond themselves. I did not delete it, however, because I felt, "well, it's following my rules, so I'll let it stand."

Yet, as I considered the comment, I found myself angered by it. If I had felt free to rid the blog of the comment up front, instead of feeling need to tangle with the commenter, the very good conversation that followed, between you, Dave, and Matt, James, Yagami and Jeremiah, would have still occurred ... but without the overshadowing stupidity of one unwanted interloper. In future, I want good conversations to occur without that supposedly necessary evil.

My failure was in not stepping up from the beginning, in obedience to a principle that was flawed. The solution, then, is to establish a set of BETTER principles. This I have done.

Dave Cesarano said...

Re: Definitions--Fair enough. You're the one on the receiving end so I'm not in any position to really debate. Just tossing in my two pennies' worth.

I feel at this time the best course of action is to cease being concerned with whether or not they are defined correctly. I don't care if they feel misrepresented. They are 'bullying' me. That's the straight of it. I need to feel more empowered to manage their comments when I receive them.

I have absolutely no quarrel with this. I hope I didn't unintentionally imply sympathy with these people. That wasn't my aim. As we say in the South Jersey-Philly area, "F--- those guys."

If I had felt free to rid the blog of the comment up front, instead of feeling need to tangle with the commenter, the very good conversation that followed, between you, Dave, and Matt, James, Yagami and Jeremiah, would have still occurred ... but without the overshadowing stupidity of one unwanted interloper.

Hmmm... . Well, it isn't my blog and since it's your house, you make the rules, I've gotta respect them, so I'll not complain. I would like to counterpoint for devil's advocate's sake--sometimes that overshadowing stupidity provides an opportunity. I went and read that guy's blog. I got what he was trying to say. I didn't agree with all of it but I understood his perspective. I didn't really feel like anything I'd say would make a difference so I kept my mouth shut over there.

Stupidity, though, often spurs my own thinking. I see something wrong and it helps me isolate ideas that are correct. Seeing bad film reviewers, book reviewers, video game reviewers, helped me to figure out what makes a good reviewer just as much as John Updike's article. Sometimes, you need examples to avoid as much as you need examples to emulate. Take that as you will, though, I'm just playing devil's advocate, as I said. In the end, it's your blog, your rules, and I'll do my best not to break them.

As an aside, if you can put the rules in a permanent sidebar so they're perpetually visible, that may be helpful to newcomers.

Dave Cesarano said...

Just as an aside, and I don't expect you to publish this but I've noticed an interesting phenomenon on my blog and others'. The entries that generate the most commentary are often the ones that the author might not have intended to spur huge discussions. I can think of a few of my favorite entries of yours with ZERO comments (including by myself) and several of my own entries that are (in my opinion) some of my best with ZERO comments.

For example, I liked your post entitled "Rumson" but I felt I had nothing to add so I stayed silent.

Eh, off-topic, I know. It was just something that occurred to me just now and I figured I'd throw it in your general direction.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Six years now of receiving low end comments defines my position.

I didn't agree with any of what he said on his blog. It was opportunistic, mis-representative and flat-out aggressive against me personally. This has been the pattern with every comment he has ever made on this blog - insult, claim innocence, then use the resulting 'injustice' against himself to promote an atmosphere of insult and abuse on HIS blog. I'm sure it is helping his self-promotion.

Dave, I don't need things to "spur" my thinking.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Dave ...!

Please don't say I won't publish a comment. It means I have to break a rule to publish your comment. As I have just done. Help me out here, buddy. Just make the comment and stop being Holbrook asking, "Ain't that true?"

Posts that don't get comments are my best posts. That's a hard, hard thing to recognize; everyone likes feedback, and not getting feedback, one is sure the content must have tanked. I learned years ago, however, then when I get nothing back, the response has been, "Wow, that is totally out of my experience" or "Yeah, that's genius. I haven't anything to add to that."

It's a bit aggravating to get zero comments, but I've created a target audience here made of the sort of people who don't like to agree without something meaningful to add. They keep reading. That's all that counts.

F. Douglas Wall said...

If there is a "white water" to gaming, a standard where one is objectively good at it, I think you are closer to it than most of us. Certainly closer than me.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Thank you Douglas.

Eric said...

There's a contradiction between points 1 and 2- I don't like talking about methodology in the abstract, I prefer to refer to real-life examples. Are you distinguishing between "Well, I do it THIS way" and "I do it this way because it produces result X that I value for reason Y?"

Alexis Smolensk said...

There's no contradiction. Both the examples you gave me are violations of point 2.

A response that says "I don't agree with the production of value X" is your opinion. It presumes that I either don't want value X, or I'm not aware that it produces value X; I assure you I always know exactly what values a thing produces. Presume I want those values. Presume that I've thought and worked a long time to obtain those values. I'm not interested in other values, because you may also assume that I've considered other values and discarded them.

Dismissing my values by disagreeing with their creation in favor of values you appreciate is just opinion, Eric. I suggest you keep your value-pursuits to yourself, and open your mind up to the question, "Why would Alexis think the values he's wanting are important?"

If you have something to offer, it should be a scheme to BETTER PRODUCE value X.

Part of the failing I am finding on the internet, Eric, is the presumption that a bunch of people pulling ideas at random out of their own heads is somehow as meaningful to me as the ideas I am pulling out of REAL SOURCES, such as history, game theory, performance art or psychology/sociology. If you want to pitch your interest in value Y, you better start with a source bigger than, "I do it this way ..."

Carl said...

Elimination of Internet Anonymity would solve all of these problems. I think the biggest factor contributing to trolling and bullying on the Internet is the fact that very few people are held accountable for what they say there. If people had to put their actual name to what they say, I don't think you'd need a comments policy.

For my own part, I find trolls hilarious, but I view Internet trolling as performance art. Also, I see a distinction between a troll and a bully. A troll is trying to get attention, while a bully is trying to extort you into particular behaviors.

If you do manage to achieve more than a little fame from your book, I think you'll be able to handle it just fine.

Let me know when you're ready to go to press. I'd like a dozen copies for my store.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Damn, Carl, I'll take that deal.

James said...

I ended up reading your blog in a very roundabout way (you called me out for a discussion I had on another forum that didn't involve you in any way), but it has certainly been worth my time. There are many times I think about leaving comments and refrain, because I dislike speaking on internet forums unless I have questions or meaningful (what I consider, at any rate) insight.

I can see why you say some of your best posts have 0 comments; we, as an audience, have nothing to add or question.

Also, I know I have a habit of asking a lot of questions in an accusatory manner (blame the Socratic method, it ruined me as a human being). It never occurred to me that this behavior, which has been characterized as trolling by others, could also be considered bullying, as it was simply the discussion method I was taught and trained in.

It is something I will have to keep in mind when I comment.

Alexis Smolensk said...


Preface your questions with, "I'm going to get all Socratic on your ass now, Alexis ..." and you and I will get along great.

Hm, some people might take that the wrong way.

Dave Cesarano said...

I feel compelled to point out here that what James is talking about, i.e. being Socratic, and Alexis' abrasiveness toward people who waste his time (and theirs) on his blog, can easily be MISconstrued as bullying. My emphatic emphasis on the "mis" cannot be emphasized more emphatically (heh, heh, heh, I'm so clever).

The thing is, ad hominem attacks, labeling to discredit, and other straw men arguments, character assassination, poisoning the well tactics, and other brutal logical fallacies often constitute bullying. If I see Alexis call someone an idiot, it is generally because that person has just provided ample evidence of their stupidity and is more an observation than an attack. Interestingly enough, I can't, off the top of my head, recall a time when Alexis has done such a thing, although he has disparaged others' arguments (usually after demonstrating how those arguments are idiotic). Those whom Nietzsche would call "men without chests" would find his assertion that "you're wrong" to be bullying.

My, my, my, what times we live in. Frankly, people are wrong all of the time. Our fragile little self-esteems should be strong enough to take it. We should be capable of altering our self-perceptions and our approaches to reality and life when we are confronted with our own cognitive dissonance, for example. The Socratic method is great for digging up hypocrisies and cognitive dissonance.

In the end, though, that isn't bullying--it's forcing someone to make a choice that they don't want to make, the poor dears. That choice is whether they swallow the bitter pill that they're wrong about something and adjust and acclimate their behavior and understanding of reality, or blindly persist with behaviors and schema that have been demonstrated as false, wrong, foolish, etc. now that they've been robbed of the carefully crafted fantasies they'd built for the maintenance of said behaviors or schema. Boo hoo, their weak little egos can't take the strain.

Cry me a river. People with such weak self-esteems but build fragile illusions of empowerment are either bullies already or are only a few stimuli away from becoming full-blown bullies.

James, if you're employing a Socratic dialectic and people take offense, it is more likely that they have all the trappings of a bully and not you. Same goes for Alexis when he destroys someone's poor logic or ridiculous arguments and they take it personally.

Taren said...

There's never any need for a reader to get personal or abusive. Nor for a moderator as I've seen on other blogs. The fact that you have to control and legislate decent behavior as in the above post is truly a shame. I am sorry that happens - I think you're handling it well.

I truly believe that people need to understand at least one thing here: You are making an act of great faith and courage in putting your thoughts out here in an open forum. Before commenting we should ALL START FROM A PLACE OF RESPECT AND GRATITUDE for that fact alone! Disagreements, if there need to be any, can come AFTER respect for offering the discussion.

This is your blog, absolutely. I love reading it, and when moved to do so enjoy commenting. I do try to thank you for your work and for sharing in a public way. I hope you hear those words from me in every comment I make.

You have chosen to make your blog in a public place, presumably because you value, at least in part, the contributions that a wider audience can provide. More so than a narrower audience.
In a sense, what you're doing here is building a community. Encouraging good communication and free interchange of ideas, specifically as they relate to your posts and your thoughts... that part is very well understood, and has great value to the readers who come here.

I would like to add another idea to your set of rules... Be of lean expression. .
In other words,
1. Strunk & White your comments! Wordiness can be the enemy of effectiveness.
2. Avoid showing off, fixing, interruptions, insults (as you've already stated)
3. Always consider "will this benefit the group?" The group being your readers and you.

This last point is the most important, but also the most difficult for some to grasp.

I have found this to be a great question to encourage participants in any group setting - helps eliminate the chatter, and the people who just speak because they want to hear themselves.

(sources: Berklee professor institutes it in online classes w/live chat sessions; The Way of Council book & concept; personal experience. We've ALL sat through meetings where one person just needs to speak but doesn't have anything to add - this particular rule can eliminate that.)

I do have a question for you... are the comments meant for you, Alexis, or do you see them more as addressing the group? I am asking because I want to ensure I'm targeting my comments appropriately.

\\Thank you. Taren

Alexis Smolensk said...

I can't say I entirely agree with the three proposed rules, Taren, but you did source them. Thank you for that.

Everyone benefits from knowledge, not just me.

Not everyone is good at editing themselves; I don't insist they produce a sharp written comment, if they haven't the skill.

Nor do I need all that respect. I make errors. I expect to be called on them. I do want people to remember that I've built this blog; that having entered five days ago doesn't entitle them to instant equality. I think that's inherent in your points, Taren.

Zrog (ESR) said...

It always amazes me how many people want to tear others down rather than contribute (probably because contributing is work and trolling is easy).

Alexis, the censorship of sadists, ignoramuses and anarchists seems like a bonus. Please continue to post your thoughts and expand the minds of your readership. "Bullies" is too weak of a word for me, although I agree that it's better than "troll".

As a reader, I also read the comments, and I also like to see substance there, but occasionally I might think I'm really saying something smart... when I'm really just having a brain fart. It would be nice not to have my stupidity immortalized on those occasions, so don't feel like you're being heavy-handed when you might have to cull the commentary from time to time. It IS nice, however, to share relevant personal experience, even when it's on someone else's blog.

I've never been offended by your words, because I know that your intent is to encourage growth, share the fruits of your labour, or merely express frustration - not force others into your methods. My hope is that more people will see that, and you will get less flaming and more kudos for your work and insights.