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Dec 01 2013

Rage Blogging and Drama: The Elan Gale Story

It has come to my attention that there are some members of the various internet skeptical and secular communities, not to mention members of the greater internet “blogosphere”, who evidently do not know what “blogging” actually IS. I am obligated, therefore, to explain, because I happen to be a “blogger” on occasion myself. It behooves me that everyone understand exactly what it is I’m doing here.

See, “blogging” is an abbreviated form of “web logging”, or writing a more public diary. In this internet era, there is a great deal of content everywhere — some of it good, some of it bad. Some of this content, you will agree with, and some of it you will disagree with. Generally, people who call themselves “bloggers” will write about things they like, or dislike, or agree with, or disagree with. They will point their readership, if any such readership has accumulated over a blogger’s tenure, to these things, and comment on them. Some bloggers are very terse in commenting on things; some are verbose.

The ones who are too verbose often do not get an appreciable readership unless they are also exceptional authors, but those exceptional authors often put their works in book format so as to actually get paid for it rather than making a “Blogger’s Salary”, which, despite some reports to the contrary, is barely enough to keep the server up and running most times.

Some people seem to think that blogging is about drumming up drama in order to get hits in order to get money, meaning, I assume, disagreeing with things without having a valid reason for that disagreement. Since nobody’s ever offered any evidence to prove this hypothesis, either from the standpoint of the motivation of these bloggers (e.g. are they just inventing faux disagreement?) or from the standpoint that it’s an effective way of getting eyes on your post, the claims can be dismissed out of hand a la Hitchens. Nevertheless, there’s good evidence to the contrary — not that that evidence would prevent people from repeatedly proffering the meme.

People talking about “drama” and “rage blogging” are actually describing the act of blogging, in the generic — offering your opinions on the internet. That is the core of blogging. You have an opinion, you have an electronic medium on which you can quickly share that opinion, and people are thereafter free to disagree with you either in your comments if you allow them, or via their own blogs.

The actual “drama” and “rage” comes from the responses and the sur-responses, more often than from the original response. A very good example is going crazy viral right now over at Ophelia’s. What should have been a simple analysis of Elan Gale’s repeated escalation of an annoying situation on a plane into an outright tableau of bullying at its finest, has brought out the rage and drama in the comments as folks are brigading Ophelia’s blog to protest her horrible mistreatment of Gale — who was a Brave Hero just trying to put an uppity bitch in her place! They storm her blog to protest her evident diminishment of the term “bullying”, because apparently it’s watering the term down by applying it to someone with power who used it to exacerbate someone’s emotionally distraught state.

Someone being annoyingly selfish on a plane is an irritation to people around them. I completely understand that — I’ve seen a lot of annoyingly selfish people on the internet, who feel entitled to your platform and who cry foul when you don’t let them have it, for instance. I further completely understand why this annoying person’s stage-4 (e.g. metastasized, terminal) lung cancer does not excuse her being annoying and rude. What I don’t get is why people have to storm a post explaining the other person’s side of the argument in order to “fight the good fight” and defend repeated escalation and outright harassment, when done by someone famous, someone with all the power in the exchange, most of which was actually hidden from the other participant’s view. Someone who’s allowed his fans to egg him on in repeatedly poking the annoyed woman with a stick. You’re taking someone you know — KNOW — to be emotionally distraught, and you’re repeatedly and intentionally trying to hurt them, ratcheting up the response instead of trying to defuse it. That’s beyond cruel. On the internet, that tactic is known as “trolling”. In meatspace, it’s called “harassment” or “bullying”.

The interesting thing about this event is that it’s shown me exactly why some people are upset about “rage blogging” and claim that we who blog are the real bullies. Blogging about injustices and arguing against them actually serves to bring these injustices to light, and stirs “drama” when people thereafter try to defend these injustices. The actual “rage bloggers” are the commenters — the pushback against the original complaint is disproportionate. The complainants about “rage blogging” are therefore engaged in projection, or some sort of hamfisted attempt at judo. The actions of Elan Gale are disproportionate to the original offense — that of complaining about something that isn’t fair, like being stuck in a broken airplane when you have Thanksgiving plans, even if the complaint itself was rather selfishly framed — and the repeated demands that Elan’s unwanted actions stop were met with further escalation. So the people rushing to his defense are quick to suggest that the people saying “no, that behaviour is actually kinda shitty in and of itself”, are the real bullies and just drumming up drama.

The actual “drama” here is not that Ophelia has some measure of sympathy for the woman whose slightly annoying complaint actually has a backstory that makes her sympathetic, nor that she publicly shared that opinion on the internet. It is that people evidently can’t simply allow Ophelia to have a different opinion on an event that’s largely a matter of opinion; to have their moral compass point differently from the rest of the crowd. The term “drama” is used here as a diminutive to suggest that the opinions offered are not genuine, but in this case it’s about eliciting reactions and having some of them pass and some of them fail in the forum of public opinion. The actual dramatists here are defending the man with all the power who bullied a slightly annoying woman. There’s no valid reason to rush to this guy’s defense, no matter how annoying the woman’s original complaint was. Nobody’s even TRYING to make a valid reason, much less a spirited defense. They’re just piling on the abuse on the woman who complained selfishly, and throwing an extra helping on the person who tried to suggest that the woman involved might have a story that mitigates the annoying behaviour.

The really interesting thing is, the people complaining about “rage bloggers” and “drama” are doing the exact same thing as the bloggers they complain about, by pointing to things they disagree with and disagreeing with them. Publicly. Calling them out on things they disagree with, even while they themselves decry the “call-out culture” of disagreeing with people publicly.

The difference, though, is that WE aren’t storming THEIR spaces to demand access to their audience. WE aren’t crying “free speech!” when we’re blocked on Twitter or banned from blogs for disagreeing, even while they suggest that we’re doing the same when we block them for repeated escalation and outright abuse.

And we probably don’t do those things because WE understand what “blogging” is.

And I hope, with this post, you do too.

26 comments

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  1. 1
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    Your optimism is an adorable quality, you know that? :)

  2. 2
    Jason Thibeault

    Not to undercut my own adorableness, but once in a while, it’s feigned. This is one of those times. :)

  3. 3
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I think the “opposition” is firmly convinced that they were never ever, are never ever and will actually never ever be the Diane of this story.
    That’s why they will go to the most ridiculous lengths to defend one of their own. No matter how disgusting Sara Mayhew’s snipes at Any are, they will ignore it.
    That’s also why behaviour that was deemed beyond pale by them becomes totally OK when done by one of them: They’re handing out just deserts. They are, in short, the ultimate moral relativists.

  4. 4
    hyperdeath

    The phrase “rage blogging” is just the ad hominem fallacy (specifically, “your argument can be dismissed because you’re angry”) dressed up as a call for civility.

  5. 5
    David Jones

    Actually, ‘YOU’ – in the shape of one ally – did in fact insist on being heard when blocked on Twitter. He incessantly tweeted at me, @ing me, towards the end, about 20 times a day, despite the fact I’d asked him not to (a request he point blank refused) and despite the fact I’d blocked. him.

    I say ‘towards the end’. Twitter suspended his account for harassment and abuse and let him back only once he’d demonstrated to their satisfaction that he understood Twitter’s TOS.

    Goes without saying that YOU – in the form of several notable supporters of FtB and at least one high-profile FtB blogger, Ophelia Benson – have welcomed him back, sympathised with him, and have never once suggested that abuse and harassment – as defined by Twitter – perhaps wasn’t a great idea.

  6. 6
    Jason Thibeault

    It sounds like this person, whoever “YOU” is, was punished, and thereafter has changed their behaviour, by your description. Not that I think YOU (meaning YOU PERSONALLY, not meaning bloggers like me) get that distinction, since you’re here angry that someone did something nasty and that that therefore… what? Justifies the behaviour that was rightly punished?

    Or do you think that the people still carrying out this sort of behaviour on “your side” (meaning, people you identify as being against “us”, whoever “us” happens to be, since you’re the one with the tribalistic mindset here!), should also be punished and change their behaviour for doing this sort of thing? Does that mean you agree with my post that that sort of behaviour is unbecoming of anyone staking a claim on “our” “community”?

  7. 7
    Marcus Ranum

    I don’t think the opposition doesn’t understand the situation. They’re just pretending not to because otherwise they’d have to acknowledge some unpleasant things about themselves.

  8. 8
    David Jones

    people you identify as being against “us”, whoever “us” happens to be, since you’re the one with the tribalistic mindset here!)’

    This boggles my mind. In your own blog post above you write:

    The difference, though, is that WE aren’t storming THEIR spaces to demand access to their audience

    I’m just following your lead.

    Or do you think that the people still carrying out this sort of behaviour on “your side”

    There’s bad stuff going on on both sides. I’m not answerable for anyone else but when you start making this them and us distinction – which you did, not me – placing yourself in one camp then it seems to me you are in some sense answerable for their sins, such as they are.

    Some of it’s completely irredeemable. Some not. You can choose to keep on making the distinction that you just made – not me – or you can grasp that neither ‘side’ has a monopoly on good or bad behaviour, on fact, or on empathy, progressive politics, feminism and social justice.

    I’m not on anyone’s side. I’m certainly not on yours, personally – which is why, incidentally, I’ve blocked you from my @cdarwin stream and why I forced an unfollow on Twitter that time you accidentally followed me – I didn’t trust you, didn’t like you, wasn’t interested in sharing Tweets with you, didn’t particularly want you hanging about in my stream. Know what happened? Aratina ‘reported’ me to the blockbot for forcing the unfollow.

  9. 9
    Jason Thibeault

    You didn’t force the unfollow before I successfully blocked you (which unfollows). That was, after all, my original intent. But you keep thinking you struck a brave blow against me if it makes you feel better — by preventing me from being interested in your words and trying to potentially be shaped by them in the future. And as I am not Aratina, I have no control over who or what he does, especially not insofar as you were bragging about striking a brave blow against me. It seems contra to your own point that you aren’t on anyone’s side. You’re definitely *against* “my side”, even if you’re not actually *for* anything or anyone.

    I don’t think all behaviours are irredeemable. I do want people to change certain behaviours. I believe if they show repeated patterns of behaviour — like your repeated uncharitable readings of others, as you’re demonstrating here — that it’s well within the purview of someone trying to curate their online experiences to use the technology available to them to block and report people for misbehaviour. If someone has transgressed, has apologized and has not repeated the offense, then the problem is resolved. If someone stamps their feet and demands the right to continue to transgress, they’re the ones at fault.

    What I’m decrying in this post, and in most of my others on the topic, is the hypocrisy of pretending the original offense merits a thousandfold the return, and that that new series of offenses is somehow justified or justifiable by the original. Let the response always be proportional to the crime. Some person harasses you on Twitter, you block and report them, and Twitter agrees? Sounds like the system worked. That person stops acting that way and is not reported again in the future because they’re no longer committing those offenses? Then good, that behaviour has been appropriately discouraged.

    Why, then, do you rush to attack me for pointing out that these things should be proportionate, by pointing to someone else having done something once that you do not decry in your compatriots who do it daily?

  10. 10
    David Jones

    Right. I didn’t force an unfollow because you got in there just before I did. Or perhaps you didn’t. Who knows?

    The intent’s the point. I intended to force an unfollow. You intended to block. Which one, incidentally, closes down a conversation the more, do you think?

    That person stops acting that way and is not reported again in the future because they’re no longer committing those offenses? Then good, that behaviour has been appropriately discouraged.

    Well, yes, Twitter worked. My point wasn’t about how Twitter worked. it was about how unapologised-for (and defended) abuse and harassment has been met with widespread support and sympathy from your ‘side’.

    Why, then, do you rush to attack me

    Because you’re so partial. I made a distinction between the two sides? No I didn’t, you did. The abuser/harasser realises the error of their ways? No they don’t, they just don’t want a permanent Twitter suspension.

    Benson complains that people @ing her constantly constitutes harassment – and then embraces someone who does just that. The person harassed is the determinant of what is or isn’t harassment – except when it’s the other side. Advising potential victims to take precautionary action is victim-blaming – until it’s on the other side, then I should take action to block unwanted @s by fiddling around with settings in Tweetdeck because, you know, we can’t expect someone on your ‘side’ to behave reasonably.

    It goes on and on and on. It’s absurd.

    As I said: when you claim there are sides and you identify with one of them then I do think, as you’ve thrown in your lot with them, you must expect to be held partly responsible for their behaviour. Me, I’m happy to block people on my ‘side’, which I’ve done recently with 2 well-known Tweeters.

    How do you see this all ending, Jason? The other side withering away to a rump of twisted loners? Everyone in the world embracing the A+ version of feminism (note: it is a version and not the final word)? Endless, year upon year, wasted efforts by you, by me, by anyone caught up in this crap? What’s the endgame, do you think?

  11. 11
    Jason Thibeault

    No, the harassment that drives a person to hit the block button is what closes down discussion. Discussion wasn’t being had at the point I was fed up with you and others in your cadre tweeting at me incessantly. I don’t even remember now what it was about, that’s how much of a psychological relief it was to try to block you. So I might even do it again.

    Either argue my actual point, that you’re condoning behaviour in “one of you” that you’re condemning in “one of us” even when I condemn that same behaviour, or stay in moderation.

  12. 12
    Ophelia Benson

    David Jones @ 5 – that is such a lie. I didn’t “welcome” anyone “back.”

  13. 13
    SallyStrange

    Sorry wait what? David Jones is someone who is carping about hypocrisy because Aratina Cage oh fuck it nevermind. Drama my fucking ass. THIS is drama.

  14. 14
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    David Jones

    Actually, ‘YOU’ – in the shape of one ally – did in fact insist on being heard when blocked on Twitter. He incessantly tweeted at me, @ing me, towards the end, about 20 times a day, despite the fact I’d asked him not to (a request he point blank refused) and despite the fact I’d blocked. him.

    Now, do you think that’s good or bad?
    Really, I can’t say from your posts.
    Personally, I think it’s bad and if Aratina did it then he was wrong. If he has stopped now then yes, exactly the thing we’re fighting for has happened: Bad behaviour has been changed. Because contrayr to popular legend, this is not about hunting people down and shunning them for the rest of their lives but about changing behaviours.
    Apart from that, I haven’t seen Aratina outside of Twitter in ages, so I have no idea who welcomed him back where.

  15. 15
    Jason Thibeault

    Yeah. My original post was about how yes, person A did something annoying, but it didn’t justify harassment from person B. David Jones swans in to say “but you have your own Person A who did something annoying, got punished, and you didn’t harass him!” And this Person A isn’t even ME. And I’m not even the one who knows who this Person A IS. And this is all apparently “drama”, caused by the people not adequately harassing Person A, according to the narrative.

    My point. You’re making it.

  16. 16
    John Horstman

    @SallyStrange #13: Right? I mean, the sentences are legible (mostly – the use of Twitter syntactic symbols is distracting and ambiguous, and the ‘YOU’ thing was entirely unclear until the follow-up post explaining it), but I have no idea what David Jones is actually talking about. I’ve taken a few literary criticism/analysis courses where we learn all kind of techniques for trying to tease meaning out of texts – the only thing that training is telling me is that I’m clearly missing a vast amount of contextual/historical information that Jones is assuming we have (Jason appears to have some of it, though not all).

    Pro-tip for David Jones – comments addressed to a specific individual that are unintelligible by anyone except that individual are best delivered via non-public media, like e-mail. In a semi-public blog comments roll, they’re functionally off-topic/derailing. We’re not inside your head – if you don’t say what you’re thinking, we can’t know. When you ask questions like, “How do you see this all ending, Jason?” without specifying what you mean by “all this” you’re not engaging in conversation, becasue there’s no possibility of a cogent response (from the context, you would appear to be talking about a series of Twitter unfollows/blocks, but the following possibilities you list are drastically out of proportion, so I’m unsure what to make of it – possibly hyperbole; also, Jason’s ‘endgame’ with a Twitter block is pretty clear – not have to interact with the person in question on Twitter).

  17. 17
    Jason Thibeault

    Here’s the backstory. David Jones is @metaburbia on Twitter. He bangs on and on about how horrible Atheism Plus and those Freethought Bullies are, he helps whip his friends into a frenzy by supporting them when they’re harassing people and never calls anyone on it. At one point he started tweeting me unbidden, and to that point, I had never, ever interacted with him. I didn’t want anything to do with him, so I clicked “block”. Only I misclicked and hit “follow”, then immediately fixed that and clicked block seconds later. I believe there’s a problem with the Twitter app on Android, because right after I blocked him, I saw a message from him bragging to someone else that he’d forced the unfollow on me. I replied, and filed a bug report with Twitter. I don’t think anything’s happened since.

    He showed up here posting under David Jones, and I saw “metaburbia” in his email address and connected the dot. Singular. He pretends like he’s a brave hero for having “forced” an unfollow by blocking then unblocking me.

    Then he followed me as his @cdarwin account — which is a great idea for an account, humanizing an important scientist. Kind of a shame it’s being run by this guy. I blocked this account too. Then I got an @-message from him claiming that I was lying about… something, because I have left his last post — which did not comply with my directions to talk about the actual subject at hand — in moderation. (It taunted Ophelia over whoever-the-fuck-he’s-talking-about-welcoming, and demanded that I prove that he incessantly tweeted at me.)

    This also proves there’s a problem with Android Twitter since I saw it there too despite the block. (Maybe blocking on Tweetdeck on a computer doesn’t block account-wise until Twitter for Android refreshes or something? I dunno.)

    I’d like to point out that I tried to sever the communication between us but he’s sought me out in two ways now after the attempted block.

    THIS is all drama. This is drummed up interpersonal conflict because he thinks I’m representative of some bullying tribe that he and HIS tribe wants to shut down. He’s not willing to discuss the topic at hand, only deliver ridiculous tu quoque arguments about how awful WE are and how that somehow justifies their behaviour toward us. Basically, he’s Elan Gale in this story.

    Or he would be, if Elan Gale didn’t make it all up to make himself a brave hero for bravely putting down a frumpy imaginary woman who was being annoying on a plane. All to prove a point that we should be nice to one another. By being an asshole and defending our right to be assholes.

  18. 18
    Jason Thibeault

    (Edited previous comment to include links and expand a point slightly.)

  19. 19
    oolon

    BTW, David is not telling the whole story as he reported me, Aratina and latsot for “harassment”. Despite him not “repeatedly telling” Aratina and I to stop @’ing him, in fact I almost totally ignored him despite his obvious fascination with me and the block bot. This is all part of his plan to emulate Rich Sanderson and beat the “FTBullies” by their “own standards”, so he feigns harassment to prove some sort of hypocrisy. He did feign it, IMO, as until recently he didn’t even say he was harassed, or felt harassed. He only asserted that Twitter defined it as harassment. Weaselling out of directly claiming he was harassed. He also said on latsots blog that the reason he reported was an issue with Tweetdeck not filtering latsots tweets despite him being blocked. This is incredibly easy to mute as Tweetdeck has a much better client side filtering option that is a lot better than the Twitter block. So I call bullshit.
    Quote from David in this comment where David went to whine about you moderating him. I fell for the drama and derailed that thread.

  20. 20
    Jason Thibeault

    Oh. So it’s Oolon he’s referring to. Nice that SOMEONE actually used a real name, instead of casting vague aspersions of vague people supporting vague people who vaguely harass.

  21. 21
    oolon

    No it was @latsot who got suspended, unfortunately he called David’s bluff and carried on @’ing him … Aratina and I expected him to be an arse and carry on submitting his fake reports to Twitter, which he obviously did. Latsot is no longer @’ing David and back from suspension!

  22. 22
    latsot

    Oolon is correct. I am “YOU”. Less confusingly, I’m the one David Jones is complaining about. I’m certainly not going to get into a pissing contest with him here, but his account of events is rather different to mine and his motives are certainly less pure than he suggests.

    For the record, Ophelia didn’t welcome me back. We’ve spoken after my suspension was lifted but we didn’t discuss the suspension. I doubt very much that she even knows I was suspended. If she did know I was suspended, I’ve no reason to assume she knows why. Or even that she’s party to David’s extraordinary account of what happened. To be clear: David lied about that and Ophelia is right.

    Several people did welcome me back, though. These are people who share my views on David’s motives and tactics and I thank them for it. None of them are affiliated with FtB, as it happens: here’s this elastic definition of what constitutes an #ftbully again. I’d like to think that my friends were not gleefully welcoming back a badly-behaving person as if he were innocent, but welcoming back someone they enjoy talking to sometimes, regardless of how much of a scallywag he can occasionally be. These people shouldn’t be blamed for some crime of association that exists only in the mind of David Jones. I daresay they are, though, in the usual places. Super sorry.

    On the subject of my alleged harassment. That wasn’t my intention. I mentioned David now and then in order to point out to others the awful things he keeps saying. I’ve learned my lesson: when I mention him in the future I won’t use the @. Everyone will know who I’m talking about, especially now.

    As tempted as I am to clear my name by telling my side of the story, I really, *really* don’t want to sound like David Jones, so I’ll leave it. But I apologise for my contribution to the derailing of this thread and others by someone who seemed to want to shut me up and now is sad because I don’t mention him any more.

  23. 23
    latsot

    Another point: I’ve commented here once or twice but Canuck probably doesn’t have the slightest idea who I am and surely doesn’t consider me an ally, rendering David’s claim that we’re allies even more wrong than it originally was. David’s perceived injustice is his own business. Bizarre that he’s bringing it to the blogs of people who haven’t even heard of me.

  24. 24
    Jason Thibeault

    Even more bizarre is the comment he left, which is in moderation (and he says is happy for it to stay that way) in which he reveals latsot and ool0n’s real names. Not that ool0n’s name is a big secret having been on BBC for the Block Bot. Perhaps that’s why his jimmies are rustled? I don’t know. It’s just interesting that one of the ones who screams regularly about how evil the FtBullies are for “doxxing” are willing to reveal people’s real names without their consent.

    Anyway. It still looks like behaviour that could be interpreted as harassment if David Jones was legitimately actually considering it such (though even on the Storify he linked in said post said, “that TWITTER considers harassment”, very carefully worded to avoid suggesting that the behaviour actually IS harassment. And since Latsot says they stopped doing the thing that got them banned, it sounds like the system is working, and David Jones is complaining that people aren’t shunning them for one indiscretion.

    Seriously, this fight is one gigantic fucking Tu Quoque 24/7 channel.

  25. 25
    Ophelia Benson

    Whatever it was – I didn’t do it. :P

  26. 26
    oolon

    David has a massive ego it seems, his references to his cdarwin bot and how many followers “he” has are hilarious, a massive but fragile ego. He projects constantly over the “power trip” I supposedly get for running the block bot. Even though there are 20 ppl adding to it, all of which can veto each others additions. I have no power except the pleasant task of administering the server etc. Especially so when some “Anons” are DoS’ing it cos they currently think it caused the “trollocaust”. Unsurprisingly David is there opining to various “Anons” that the bot is ran by terrible people and it could be a useful tool if only ran properly (e.g. by him). So David, I know you are reading this as you are clearly obsessed with every bit of attention you get —>

    I OPEN SOURCED IT! Stop whining about my/our implementation and create your own, you say it could be useful then start your own and prove it. Your projection is paper thin, start your own Slyme-bot or shut up, your choice.

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