Open Thread: activist debate strategies

For those of you who like to get into online discussions about activist issues that are important to you, I’m curious which strategies you favor, and which ones have worked well or badly for you. For example:

  • Do you get into it with the staunchest anti-women (or whatever) person in the thread, or ignore that person and engage mainly with the less passionately anti-woman folks?
  • Is there a point at which you’ll walk away from a particular topic, or a particular discussion?
  • Have you ever converted anyone to your point of view (whether you meant to or not)?
  • If someone’s being a real jerk, do you use a no-holds-barred approach in decimating them, or do you take the high road and keep it classy? Which approach do you find more effective?
  • Do you get into debates where your opinion is the minority one, or stick to more “safe places” for people who hold views that are largely like yours?
  • Are there some issues you just can’t debate?
  • If someone’s attacking others in the thread, do you defend them or stand up to the attacker in some way?
  • Have you ever noticed your activist work (and it is work, even if you’re “just discussing” things) impairing your ability to sleep, giving you adrenaline rushes from anger/frustration, or otherwise affecting your physical comfort or health?

These are not the only questions you can answer in the thread – they’re just to give you an idea what I’m wondering about. It’s also okay if the topic wanders a little as we get into the finer points of analyzing our own behavior.

Comments

  1. says

    I guess it depends on the day. I think you don’t always have the spirit to engage in a conversation with trolls XD But what I found useful it’s not using certain words that trigger their standard excuses or that they use as a cue to make an straw-man argument. The point it’s not use sexism or similar words but to describe the situation. Usually then it-s more difficult for them to attack you. Also, if you feel tricky, you could use the same insult the usually against you. You know, hysteric and other thing they associate with women. That gets on their nerves and puss them to make mistakes. But, again, I guess i could be a bit of a troll too. Funny to see that they don’t have the thick skin they claim we need to grown XDDDDD Guess logic it-s their arch nemesis

  2. Maria says

    The latter has definitely been an issue for me — I care SO MUCH about feminism, literacy, educational funding, and class/race issues that sometimes I spend a lot of time carefully crafting an overly awesome reply — with links, research, etc — and then get really mad because the kind of person who’s spouting racist/classist/sexist things is normally NOT the kind of person who’s gonna change their mind.

  3. Maria says

    That’s actually one of the reasons I tend to avoid that kind of debate unless it’s happening here at Hathor… I don’t have the emotional fortitude to debate with people on the internet that often. I have too many feelings!

  4. says

    These days, I tend to stick to the places where I think the more blatant sexists, homophobes, etc will not show up that often: I tend to be of the opinion that varieties of That Guy don’t change, and certainly don’t change by debate, and *really* certainly don’t change by debate on the Internet.

    I can still get pretty profane, but I’m more apt to go for the throat in other ways lately–“Nobody likes you and nobody ever will” or similar–though I use “fucking” as punctuation a lot of the time.

    I will not really *debate* abortion, gay rights, women’s rights, sexual freedom, or the need for a social safety net. I will yell at people on the other side of those issues, if the environment is right, but I don’t expect to change their minds; I will just walk away if the environment doesn’t support yelling or flaming.

  5. says

    All of those questions hinge on whether it’s a safe space or not. I’m just not into being the Lone Feminist anywhere. Because people in misogynistic spaces are just not interested in anything I have to say. They twist rational feminist arguments around to conform to the myths they’ve been fed about feminists. I tried that once, and it helped nothing. All the “nice” people stayed quiet and the misogynists became even bigger bullies. Honestly, because I am female they never see me as a human being worth considering anyway.

    Sometimes, if I am in a place I know is not *hostile*, but friendly and perhaps clueless, I might “argue” with what I call “feminist-lite”. Just throw little nuggets out there, nothing too radical.

    I’m not a political blogger; I’m a comic artist, so I feel ill-equipped to really debate. Finer women than I do it so much better.

  6. Sabrina says

    JT,

    This is my experience as well. (Including being an artist, not a political blogger.)

    Regarding the last question, I do struggle a lot with frustration, anger and other negative impacts at times. But I noticed I don’t really care much about trolls or anti-feminists any more. What really gets me these days is when I’m debating in a supposedly save space and you are attacked and all the “nice” people do nothing. I once was a member of a forum and debated about a movie and the guys were starting to mansplain why this or that isn’t sexist/racist/etc. They were also quick to start calling me names and and saying I’d make a big deal out of nothing, yadda yadda, you know the drill. What got me was that the owner/admin of the forum jumped in – not to warn those bullies to cut out their shitty behaviour but to censor me cause I dared to use the evil word “bullshit” (yes, they actually replaced it with ** cause apparently it’s such an evil word that a forum with adults is horrified by it). That was the final straw for me cause if that’s the kind of atmosphere they want (bullying is totally ok as long as you don’t use certain evil words!) I say good riddance! But yeah, it really upset me and still does to some extend. :c

  7. sbg says

    From my limited experience, getting into it with the hardcore haters (glorified trolls, them) only ends up fueling them. No matter how reasoned you are or what you say, they can mental gymnastic their way into thinking you are proving their point. End result: you will tear your hair out and they will think they’re awesome, or you will ban them and they will be poor, widdle and persecuted.

    Do not engage. Good rarely comes from it.

  8. Raeka says

    I just want to second what everyone here is saying about not engaging with trolls/extremists.

    I think my strategy, which I’ve kind of fallen into, has simply been to be quietly present –I’m not out to ‘convert’ anyone, or out to preach, but I speak up (although perhaps quietly) when I see someone wrong. For example, my bf and I were watching an episode of So You Think You Can Dance a week or so ago, and he was getting really irritated listening to one of the two guest judges talk. I asked him why, and he said it was because she had no background in dance. I pointed out in a casual sort of way that many guest judges have no background in dance, whereupon he informed me that this particular guest was a model known for ‘taking her clothes off’. I let a puzzled silence unfold for a moment, then inquired how whether or not the girl posed for naked pictures affected her ability to judge dance. The bf kind of blustered a bit, but I let it drop, because I think he’d gotten the point.

    I’m not quite sure how this would play out in an online context, but I suppose the best I can say is –don’t refrain from posting because you’re afraid no one agrees with you. One of the nicest things about the internet is the way it facilitates walking away*. And even if the person you’re disagreeing with still disagrees with you, the point was not necessarily to reach them, but all the silent lurkers who might not have come across your point of view otherwise, or who might not have realized how to explain what bothered them, or who might not have realized they weren’t the only person bothered.

    *I may be a bit naive here, having never experienced any real internet stalking or harassment, so… yeah. Please let me know if my suggestion is unrealistic.

  9. says

    Raeka: And even if the person you’re disagreeing with still disagrees with you, the point was not necessarily to reach them, but all the silent lurkers

    This is my primary strategy. Rarely are the trolls worth engaging with, and I’m not going to pour my heart out futilely for 99 of them until I reach the one that’s worth it. But it’s worth pointing out the ridiculousness for the lurkers, and if I have an investment in the community, to help set the stage of what is acceptable behavior around here. I’ve noticed trolls are usually far more offended by other commenters calling them out than moderators and admins; for some reason, getting scolded by Mommy doesn’t have the same sting as getting scolded by your peers. (Generally speaking, anyway. A large segment of trolls target a specific person, usually the site owner.)

    I’m also not into being the lone activist. I don’t necessarily need a safe space, at least not one by the definitions of internet lingo, if I have some backup. It does a lot to boost morale; without that support, I usually wonder what’s the point of being the lone voice in the wilderness.

    And yes, it affects me physically quite often. I feel sick to my stomach, hot in a feverish way, and frantic. If I let it go on, if I don’t use the strategies I’ve learned for dealing with stress, I won’t be to sleep or do anything else until I calm back down. I’ve learned to recognize the symptoms in myself and force myself to disengage before it gets to that point. It happened to me just this morning; a well-known site that’s good with atheism and feminism ran a thread specifically targeting the idea that they’re not allowed to call criminals “crazy”. I was planning to comment, but while reading through the other comments I could feel my blood pressure rising and I had to leave silently. But I don’t always realize in time, or I think I can make it better, or something.

  10. Brian M says

    When I get into debates on activist issues (usually sexism), I admit that I can’t resist butting heads directly with the staunchest opposing view. But I really don’t have much hope for actually changing that person. It would be nice, but mostly I hope to reach those who are on the fence.

    I think that debating activist topics helps bring visibility to those topics and support for the people affected by them even if you can’t persuade anyone to think differently. A lot of the time, people are hesitant to speak up about sexism/racism/sexual-orientationism/etc even if they are against the discrimination. Understandably so – there’s a lot of societal pressure not to be upset about these issues, and speaking up on them can generate a lot of hostility. When you do choose to speak out, you remind other people who feel like you do that they are not alone.

    I always try to be polite in discussions, no matter how heated it gets. I’m not sure I always succeed, but I try. Especially on the internet, when it so easy to misunderstand tone and attitude.

    I’m not sure what works well as a debate method. I like to use logical statements, which people often don’t understand. I like statistics and anecdotal evidence, though statistics often fail to tell the whole story and anecdotal evidence is obviously personal. If possible, I like to ask questions of those I disagree with; I feel like a lot of times they think they have logical reasons for thinking as they do, but when you keep drilling deep enough you can find out what’s really behind it; this rarely seems to have any effect on the person you’re arguing with, but often helps carry your point to the others around.

    I have very much noticed these sort of discussions “getting to me” – leaving me tense and angry, or not able to sleep. Sometimes its the small things that are most upsetting, because it feels like you should be able to do more about them. A while ago, a man posted a very nice and well written discussion about his life and growing up gay on a site I frequent; it was hidden from public view for being “off-topic”, despite numerous articles of the same topic from straight individuals. In the whole, this in itself was hardly the worst thing in the world – they didn’t even delete it, just hide it from casual view, but it was such a silly, stupid and obviously homophobic thing to do, from a site that I largely consider good people and friends, that it had me fuming and furious.
    And there definitely times when I just have to quit with a topic, especially once its started going in circles.

  11. Patito Gigante says

    Maria: sometimes I spend a lot of time carefully crafting an overly awesome reply — with links, research, etc — and then get really mad because the kind of person who’s spouting racist/classist/sexist things is normally NOT the kind of person who’s gonna change their mind.

    For every asshole who dismisses a well-written response, there are a dozen demoralized lurkers whooping and pumping their fists in the air.

  12. says

    Patito Gigante,

    In which case, then it would help if the lurkers would unlurk *to begin with*, and take some of the weight of carrying on conversations onto themselves. There’s a dedicated number of people who consistently post here and contribute. If you only lurk, and don’t contribute, don’t expect the beleagured writers and posters here to bouy you up. COMMENT.

  13. says

    Gategrrl,

    This.

    I think lurkers (a) think they have to say something really substantial, or else it’s not worth commenting or (b) don’t realize how much support activist bloggers and commenters need.

    But that’s not true here, and I don’t think it’s true on most blogs I read. A simple, “This” or “Word” or “ITA” can mean a lot to an activist writer. Just de-lurking to say, “This” is totally worthwhile, especially if a blogger has taken on a controversial topic or shared a personal story to provide much-needed anecdotal evidence.

    You don’t have to say anything brilliant or witty or even substantial. You don’t have to risk putting your foot in your mouth or getting into a conflict that will stir up your anxiety disorder or make you feel stupid. You can simply de-lurk to say you agree, you support, you care.

    Silence is extremely hard to interpret.

  14. Patito Gigante says

    Gategrrl: Patito Gigante, In which case, then it would help if the lurkers would unlurk *to begin with*, and take some of the weight of carrying on conversations onto themselves. There’s a dedicated number of people who consistently post here and contribute. If you only lurk, and don’t contribute, don’t expect the beleagured writers and posters here to bouy you up. COMMENT.

    Unfortunately I’m the type who loses sleep, stops eating, and becomes very painfully anxious about the “simple” act of participating in online discussions. I also have severe difficulty expressing myself in writing, to the point that I often spend 30+ minutes composing a single sentence. The more important the idea, the more difficult it is. Often I’ll type one or two sentences in the comment box, deleting and recomposing for an hour or more, all the while questioning the value of my contribution and never feeling that I’ve found the right combination of words until, many commas later, I delete the whole thing and click away, only to be preoccupied with what I didn’t say for the next few days (often coming back to the particular thread and repeating the entire process). Or I do finally hit ‘submit’ and stay up half the night mentally picking apart what I wrote and feeling ashamed of any errors, and worrying that I will be misunderstood and won’t be able to explain myself, and often feeling so ashamed after commenting that I never visit the site again. That’s why I lurk.

  15. Brian M says

    Gategrrl:
    Patito Gigante,
    In which case, then it would help if the lurkers would unlurk *to begin with*, and take some of the weight of carrying on conversations onto themselves. There’s a dedicated number of people who consistently post here and contribute. If you only lurk, and don’t contribute, don’t expect the beleagured writers and posters here to bouy you up. COMMENT.

    Some people don’t enjoy communicating via online forum, some aren’t comfortable discussing controversial topics, and some people just aren’t thick-skinned enough to want to put up with the kind of anger and unpleasantness online forums can generate (I’m speaking of forums in general, not here specifically). Nothing wrong with any of that. Its just not for everyone, and I couldn’t imagine blaming anyone for not wanting to subject themselves to that.

  16. Maria says

    Brian M,

    I’mn not sure how saying

    Gategrrl: If you only lurk, and don’t contribute, don’t expect the beleagured writers and posters here to bouy you up. COMMENT.

    is a kind of blame.

  17. sbg says

    Maria,

    Nor was it, I think, a blanket call for everyone to comment always. I mean, I’m a “staffer” here, but there are articles I do not comment on not because I don’t agree but because I feel underqualified to speak to, etc. I get that feeling, and it’s okay.

    Also, Patito Gigante, your comments are lovely, for whatever it’s worth. :)

  18. Brian M says

    Maria,

    I’m a little confused about what you mean. I was quoting Gategrrl’s comment to show what I was responding to, not to indicate my opinion.

    I’m new to this forum, so I apologize if there are conventions that I’m failing to follow :)

  19. Maria says

    Brian M,

    I’m saying I don’t see where she’s blaming anyone. The convention you’d be breaking here in terms of community guidelines would be the straw man one described in the commenting guide, linked to above the comment box.

  20. says

    Patito Gigante,

    Okay. I have anxiety with comments/debates myself, and was assuming my discomfort level was, you know, it. It sounds like your discomfort is more challenging, which forces me to reassess, so I’ll add this caveat to what I said before: I’m talking about those lurkers who CAN comment without discomfort or ill effects, but don’t. I’ve appreciated all your comments here so far, and hope I didn’t cause offense. I just didn’t realize.

    Brian M,

    I think the confusion is stemming from the out of context quote from Maria that Patito Gigante was responding to. Based on discussions we’ve had, I’m pretty sure Maria was saying that she gets mad *at herself* for wasting so much time on awesome comments in response to total assholes who aren’t even really listening. Then PG reassured her that lurkers were cheering her on, and then Gategrrl expressed frustration that the lurkers don’t let anyone know their thinking/feeling. Perhaps you thought Maria was mad at the assholes, and Gategrrl was blaming lurkers for not making the assholes either behave or go away (or something). Hope this clears up the confusion.

  21. says

    Raeka,

    I do the equivalent of that on aforementioned “clueless but friendly” sites. I think it is important to speak up as long as the sites has proven itself mostly good people. That would be an example of the “feminist-lite” I was talking about too: you make a subtle comment to get people thinking about their entrenched prejudice, but don’t go into advanced rants about the ubiquity of slut-shaming and rape culture.

    But if I am on any site just infested with trolls or misogynists, I won’t bother. One time, I was a member of this forum where this bully of an evo-psych extreme misogynist would post *a multitude* of screeds on the inferiority of women, how we are all emotional, irrational gold-diggers because SCIENCE! His contempt for women dripped out of every post and the only females he was nice to were the naive teenage girl posters (because that’s what women should be: clueless, nice to a fault and deferring to his wisdom!).
    We didn’t get along. >:)
    But, the forum had lots of “nice” people who never argued with him and some even were like, “oh he’s not that bad.” They saw him as nothing more than a harmless eccentric? But he WASN’T. I’m convinced that his posts were scaring away new women posters. They never banned him or removed the most offensive posts. So after a while, I wondered why I even stuck around. There are lots of other forums I frequent that are quite awesome and don’t tolerate misogynist missives. And the forums aren’t even “feminist” ones! It’s very simple: don’t be (or allow) assholes!
    I mean seriously, how long would this guy have been tolerated if he posted neo-nazi screeds?

  22. says

    Delurking to say I think this site is awesome and I should comment more, but I always have trouble deciding what to say. I have decades of experience in “If you don’t have anything useful to add, don’t say anything” and I’m better at second-guessing myself than hitting the “Submit” button.

    On sites that aren’t so friendly I usually run away without saying anything. I should work on that.

  23. Ebb says

    Susan,

    As a fellow lurker, I agree!

    The thing about me though is that a)I’m actually quite shy, both in real life and online and b)I tend to bottle things up until my anger boils over. I don’t know, I just like to collect my thoughts then let them out in one burst, instead of feeling that I’m overstaying my welcome by repeating the same thing over and over(this goes for all sites I frequent, btw) Also, in a lot of communities, “Agreed!” and “Word!” AREN’T welcome. Now that I know it’s okay here, I shall let my presence be more known!

  24. Maria says

    Another thing I was thinking of/reacting to: I feel like in conversations like this people are often really quick to talk about how introverts or shy people may not feel comfortable getting into conversations about activist work, and shouldn’t be blamed for it. Something that bothers me about this is that I often feel like that puts people who may identify as more extroverted at a disadvantage, particularly because there’s a lot of fandom appreciation and support for introverts. If, for example, I’m saying that I feel drained and unsupported when I blog or post about activist projects and get little support from readers, how is it a useful or supportive statement to imply that it’s blaming to say that or accusatory towards readers who don’t feel comfortable posting? Particularly when that kind of conversational affirmation is something extroverts thrive on?

    Ultimately, it’s draining to put yourself out there and get little support.

  25. Ebb says

    Maria:
    Another thing I was thinking of/reacting to: I feel like in conversations like this people are often really quick to talk about how introverts or shy people may not feel comfortable getting into conversations about activist work, and shouldn’t be blamed for it.

    See, I don’t think introverts/shy shouldn’t be blamed. In fact, if my statement made prior to yours is what you are referring to, I’m not saying I shouldn’t be blamed for not supporting activist work. My statement was more of an explanation than an excuse; I only wanted to give my reasons as to why I don’t speak up more, but I know I can do better and will do so from now on. Lurkers do no harm but nor do they help.

  26. Cinnabar says

    Being able to stand my ground in front of raging assholes and argue back is a talent I dearly wish I had! For now I generally only speak up in safe spaces, that too only when I feel like I *really* have something useful to contribute, so sadly I don’t say much. There’s also a bit of “Better to be silent and thought a fool than open one’s mouth and have it proved” self doubt that creeps in. But I’m working towards speaking up more often because activist/social justice bloggers and others DO need to know they’re supported, even if it’s just a few people doing it vocally.

    For the record, I think every post here is amazing, even if I don’t comment on each one separately. :D

  27. Maria says

    @Ebb No, no, I was more clarifying where I was coming from — I actually hadn’t read your response before posting mine — you’ll see yours was posted a few minutes before mine, when I was probably typing/editing so I wasn’t like, WTF why are there articles like How to Care For your Introvert but none for How to Encourage Your Extrovert? I spent a lot of my late teens being ignored/dismissed by other nerds who took my extroversion for shallowness, and am still prickly about that.

  28. Ebb says

    Cinnabar,
    *nods* In fact, one of the reasons I’m getting a tumblr is so that certain folks know that I’m behind them. As a lurker, you can’t really do that and as a ‘guest’ you don’t really let yourself out there.

    Maria,

    Ah, I see! …You know, there should be more How to Care for Your Extrovert posts out there. One good idea for young extroverts to learn is not just to know when to speak up(like some of us introverts need to) but to learn what to speak up about. But that’s something that, like I said, deserves it’s own post.
    Hold the phone, how the hell did people take extroversion for shallowness?

  29. says

    I can see mistaking extroversion for shallowness – we’re (wrongly) encouraged to mistake introversion for depth. Appearances can deceive.

    I have two things to add to all this. First, I’m an introvert, and I think a lot of people here are, too. A lot of introverts like to sound off online because, relative to the offline world, it’s a more comfortable space in general. I think the actual cause of lurking when you agree with what you’re reading has to do with the culture of silence we have in this society. As we talk about a lot here, society enforces a code by which we’re not supposed to talk about certain impolite topics, and this works out great for rapists and their ilk, because ignorant people are easier targets for the sorts of crimes we mustn’t discuss. But there’s another part of the code: certain people aren’t supposed to speak up. Society will let us know who we should listen to, and how dare we get uppity and start making our voices heard. I’m not excusing any individual, but it’s true that people are merely mindlessly reinforcing this code when they:

    –Silence a minority (often with the tone argument), or tell the minority what it’s allowed to express and feel
    –Silence someone who dares to share a personal experience with rape or child molestation or other taboo topics (lord, even breast-feeding, see LJ scandals of years past)
    –Silence a minority who enters a majority-dominated space (career, forum, fandom, whatever)
    –Support a different behavior standard for those supporting the status quo and those speaking against it
    –Fail to moderate/ban people who speak for the status quo, even when they are incredibly rude, hostile or even threatening
    –Assume people in certain positions must be worth listening while people in other positions must not be.

    And so on. And then we tell people NOT to express simple agreement – Rush Limbaugh called his own fans “dittoheads.” (And yet, doesn’t that create a picture of Limbaugh and a big army of followers? Scary, isn’t it?)

    All this bullshit combined ensures that the biggest bullies will always get to direct society, and your voice will never be heard.

    To be clear, the point of this comment is NOT to shame anyone into commenting outside their comfort zone. Nor is it to blame any lurker ever for anything. I’m just saying: if you’ve ever wondered why you don’t feel you can speak up, this is my theory about the answer. I think there are huge, scary social forces working to keep us all silent. I don’t think it’s really any easier for extroverts. I think it’s only easy for people who are somehow insensitive to those social forces, one way or another – and unfortunately, that state is usually reached through having a whole lotta privilege.

  30. Maria says

    Ebb,

    There really should! Even today, I sometimes have to remind my husband and dear friends that I recuperate best with vocal love and support with a variety of friends and family and while out doing something… so for me the life trajectory where you get married and start spending weekends in feels not only really unnatural but also really soul deadening. How To Be An Adult In Relationships has some really useful tips, but generally they’re romantic.

  31. says

    Patito Gigante,

    Hey there. I wasn’t specifically picking you out from a crowd of invisibles; I hope you don’t think that!

    My own story is that, a few years ago, I was afraid to post any creative writing of my own in front of other people. I finally decided to do it, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when no one came down hard on my writing (note: not hard on *me*, but my writing). Soon after, Jennifer started up this blog. It started out small, and grew an audience, some of whom her more recent articles go into; it’s not always the easiest audience. It’s hard when you’re an introvert, and have been trained by your family that even if you have opinions, that your opinions count for little, even when you’re learning how to have informed opinions. And I’m that introvert.

    I know all about not commenting on an article because I have no background on it–but on that same note, on other articles, letting someone know that you’re paying attention (at least here) is a good thing. Even for a short sentence. And that can be hard, to let yourself be heard. And it is okay to note that you’re a new commenter, if you have more than one or two words to say.

    And welcome to the land of outspoken commenters, btw. Thank you!

  32. says

    I’ve been rattling about the internet for about oooh… thirteen years now (oh gods, I feel old) having got my start on Usenet and moved over to blogs and web-based discussion. Below are a collection of things I’ve learned:

    1) There are some people in any community who have Views With A Capital Vee, and who aren’t going to change said Views short of a concentrated application of high explosive.
    2) Sometimes, the best thing anyone can do is point out that Person A has a bee in their bonnet about topic X or Y, particularly for newbies and lurkers. It can be as simple as a “don’t mention the War” statement, or it can be a full-on, provocative “don’t feed the troll” bait-fest.
    3) For drive-by trolls, engaging them in actual debate doesn’t achieve anything. They’re just going to state their piece, and bugger off to the next target on their list. So the easiest thing to do is to point out the logical flaws in their argument, along with things like spelling errors, and provide marks as per high school composition. If there’s one thing the troll personality really, really loathes, it’s not being taken seriously.
    4) If two people are involved in an argument and nobody else is participating, they’re more than likely boring the pants off everyone else. At which point it’s safe for even a long-term lurker to speak up and point this out – even something as simple as “guys, take it to email” can do it.
    5) On-line argumentativeness is seasonal. It really gets to an annual peak around November through January, when the Holiday Season coincides with the year end, and when everyone is starting to really get stressed. It also goes through cycles of peaks and troughs, getting more intense around election times (which is why things are starting to pick up now, with the US Election That Never Ends getting going again). Fortunately the September that Never Ended has died down to a low-grade mutter.
    6) Dog-piles are a normal feature of any active community – particularly one where a lot of people share a common interest. If you’re tempted to take part in the dog-pile, feel free to write your post, but don’t post it until you’ve read all the comments.
    7) If you’re the one being dog-piled on, don’t try and answer everything. Just shut up and listen for a bit. See whether there’s a common thread to the comments in response, and wait for the immediate dog-pile to slow down before posting your response. If you’ve been misinterpreted, write a follow-up post explaining what you meant, preferably without sarcasm, snide comments, snark, or humour – all of which can come across very poorly online.
    8) The blogowner is the one who owns the space. If the only reason you’re at the space is to disagree with the blogowner, I’d suggest starting your own blog. It’s very easy, and often free.
    9) Arguing with anyone who can cut off your commenting privileges is a daft move. Even if they are patently wrong, completely incorrect, and clearly off with the fairies. They still have the ban-hammer, and they can ban your arse. So don’t argue with them, mm-kay?
    10) Nobody has the right to be 100% correct. Not even you. Not even me.

    I’d also point out that one of the greatest aids to coherency, clarity, and a reputation for level-headedness in any community is the use of Notepad as a composition window, and the willingness to let things sit while you finish reading all the comments and find out whether someone else has already covered the ground you’re going over. (I also find being an Aussie – and therefore perpetually at least 8 hours and 6 months out of synch with everyone else – helps a fair bit, too).

  33. says

    Megpie71, that is a truly awesome comment. Excellent advice there, particularly “The blogowner is the one who owns the space. If the only reason you’re at the space is to disagree with the blogowner, I’d suggest starting your own blog. It’s very easy, and often free.” That’s how I ended up starting this site, actually. And somehow people often manage to feel their rights have been infringed by its existence, yet they advice to just not worry about TV shows that offend.

    It’s interesting that you mention pointing out troll spelling errors. The last time I did that, when taking down a comment, I got a couple of (now banned) commenters insisting I was being ableist and classist because surely the troll was poor and/or had a learning disability. There was absolutely no evidence of either, and *I* found extremely classist the assumption that someone from a poor background would have bad grammar skills (and that someone with bad grammar skills has a poor background), and I found ableist the idea that someone with a learning disability would be the sort of self-pitying misogynist this troll was (or vice versa).

    All of the trolls I have seen unmasked turned out to be white guys over 30, of reasonable intelligence, educated enough, middle class or higher, and American (when they’re really evil, it’s great fun getting them fired, since they often do their trolling from the company computer while bored at their nice-paying middle class job for which they needed a degree).

    Some people were also eager to make excuses for the Starcraft trolls, too. I don’t get this attitude, personally. It’s extremely important not to replicate the oppression that’s been put on us, but how can that possibly result from us making fun of trolls in our own safe space? I mean, all they have to do is not drop by and comment, and they’re golden. As they pointed out repeatedly in fish-story style, their site was 10, no 20, no eleventy billion times bigger than ours. ;)

  34. says

    Jumping off the “bleeding into your real life” discussion, has anyone else noticed this straining their real life relationships? Not necessarily the anti-*ism stuff, but the activism side of it?

    I bring this up because late last night, my sister’s boyfriend dropped in unannounced so we/she could meet his father. His father is an absolute waste of oxygen. He managed to insult five different races in the ten minutes he was here (his half-Black daughter-in-law asked him to stop using the n-word. Woe is him. He is terribly oppressed). I didn’t feel I could say anything because my mom hates confrontation and I didn’t want to upset her just before she went to bed. But she and I ended up getting in a fight after they left anyway. Her stance is that racists won’t change so why bother getting all riled up at them. I feel it is worthwhile, if only to make myself feel better about hearing a racist use the n-word to denigrate Blacks in my own fucking home zomg.

    It’s an ongoing conversation between me and the rest of the family. Many of them agree with me but just can’t handle the level of intensity I put into it, so out of respect I try to steer the conversation away or tone it down. Others of them are actually *ist and love to tell me how wrong I am for caring. There are people to whom I’ll say, “I won’t see The Help because it is a racist and sexist movie,” and others to whom I’ll say, “I’ll won’t see The Help because the author is being sued for plagiarizing it.” I feel bad about doing this sometimes but I need a break from the arguments sometimes.

    I have a few coping strategies with them, though. My uncle is a racist of the, “We live in a post-racial society now! You’re the one who sees race so that makes you the true racist!” camp. I gently wind him up by talking about how hawt Will Smith is or showing him the interracial family I created in The Sims, and then watching him struggle to correct me without mentioning race. I do the same for gender, heteronormativity, etc. His expressions cheer my black little heart right up.

  35. says

    Sylvia Sybil,

    OH YES I KNOW THIS PAIN. Yeah, my mom always felt a duty to correct people if they said racist things, but was often too shocked upon hearing them to gather a response in time. I am very very fortunate to have a knack for coming up with witty, dry, or politely forceful things to say in these situations, which don’t typically stir up a lot of conflict. I say them not in hopes of converting the racist, but in hopes of reaffirming to the rest of his audience that we are not all in agreement with him.

    BUT there are plenty of situations where it’s impossible to do this without potentially starting a little war or breaking up a relationship. I guess I’m just… I’m not an absolutist. I believe in moderation, even in something as important as crusading for rights. Besides, if you go into lecture mode every time someone expresses something you disagree with, it’s like crying wolf. So I do think we have to pick our battles and cut ourselves slack for letting it slide occasionally.

    I’ve also found that if you spend enough time around someone who has some bigoted views, you can eventually get into a deep conversation where you have plenty of time to explain what’s factually inaccurate or oppressive about their views. Again, I don’t think I’ve changed anybody’s minds, but I do think I’ve gotten a few people to think enough that they became less enthusiastic about said views. That’s how I’ve gotten my views corrected over the years, and you know what? Some of my views are nearly 180 to what they were when I was a kid (I had some misogynistic ideas back then, over-emphasizing women’s contributions to a sexist world compared to men’s), and they got that way not because a single person converted me, but because people planted seeds of doubt that eventually took fruit.

    So that’s another thing I figure we’re doing, sometimes.

  36. Quib says

    I tend to err on the side of saying less, especially when a conversation is further along and most view points have gotten representation of some kind. I try and speak up when I feel like I have something to add, and making fun of trolls is pretty fun, especially when they’re the “you just can’t take a joke” kind.
    There’s some places where I worry that I’m just giving them the attention they so desperately crave, or drawing out discussions that don’t need to be drawn out. It’s especially confusing with the way the internet ages; there are some places where an articles a few days old hardly ever get new comments, and other places where the same discussion can last several years.

  37. Laura says

    A simple, “This” or “Word” or “ITA” can mean a lot to an activist writer.
    Oh! It’s like theater!
    Er, that is… when I first started going to live theater, my instincts were built by years of going to movies. At a movie, you laugh at the funny bits, but quickly, and then you hush, so that you don’t drown out the dialogue, and you don’t ruin everyone else’s experience. Or at least, that’s what I was raised to do: movies are for being quiet at. It took me a while (and friends who were acting, not just in the audience) to clue me in – in live theater, the actors want you to respond. If everyone is laughing hysterically, they can *pause the dialogue* until you’re done. And they’re energized by the audience responding. So then I let myself laugh a lot more, and react a lot more in general.
    I’m mostly a lurker, like I’m in class – and all the commenters, who are saying things more cleverly or knowledgeably than I, are the professors. I say something only when I think nobody’s said it yet and it’s worth saying. But that’s the wrong reaction, at least the wrong reaction to be *trying* for, the way being still silent is the wrong reaction to real actors.

  38. Cinnabar says

    Sylvia Sybil,

    I FEEL YOUR PAIN TOO! That’s my exact problem and I don’t have a knack for coming up with quick responses like Jen. I’m still trying to figure out how to handle it because confrontation is a big scary thing for me too. For now, every time someone makes a crappy remark in my presence, I reinforce to myself why it’s wrong and imagine calmly explaining my point to them. I may not have the guts to actually do it yet, but atleast I’m strengthening my own resolve to stand firm. And if I ever get the chance to explain it in a non-hostile environment (like to a friend who’s a generally good person but has some problematic beliefs), I have an idea of what to say.

    It took a long time for me to come to this state from “boiling rage-filled desire to scream and shout and punch things”. It’s not ideal but I figure it’s atleast a few steps closer to being confident enough to say my piece and not run and hide in the corner when things get messy. :P

  39. Jumbo_fish says

    1.)Do you get into it with the staunchest anti-women (or whatever) person in the thread, or ignore that person and engage mainly with the less passionately anti-woman folks?

    Both though I tend to go after the less passionate ones.

    2.)Is there a point at which you’ll walk away from a particular topic, or a particular discussion?

    If I get to frustrated and others are debating them I will walk out. I don’t walk out if its just me, I like to stay till the end.

    3.)Have you ever converted anyone to your point of view (whether you meant to or not)?

    Yes! But only a few times, most people I have met are awfully set in their ways.

    4.)If someone’s being a real jerk, do you use a no-holds-barred approach in decimating them, or do you take the high road and keep it classy? Which approach do you find more effective?

    I usually start off classy but I can get rude after awhile. Honestly I have no idea which is more effective.

    5.)Do you get into debates where your opinion is the minority one, or stick to more “safe places” for people who hold views that are largely like yours?

    I’m a bit cowardly and tend to stick to safe places.

    6.)Are there some issues you just can’t debate?

    Yes. I don’t do debates where xyz existence is questioned or ones done to death like abortion.

    7.)If someone’s attacking others in the thread, do you defend them or stand up to the attacker in some way?

    Yes even if they aren’t on my side.

    8.)Have you ever noticed your activist work (and it is work, even if you’re “just discussing” things) impairing your ability to sleep, giving you adrenaline rushes from anger/frustration, or otherwise affecting your physical comfort or health?

    Too often…though I don’t regret it the slightest

  40. Jumbo_fish says

    oh dear, sorry for the jumbled together comment. I typed it in word and the format didn’t carry over.

    I’m just delurking to say I think this place is great.

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