Is Bullying an Acceptable Response—Ever?

by Karoli on November 28, 2012 · 422 comments

This guest post is by twitter user @expatina.

As a journalist who doesn’t have a blog and is in no way other than opinions involved in politics, I rarely comment on any of the Twitter Wars. My remarks on the one by a cast of way too any against Matt Edelstein have been few and far between. But I thought it was time someone addressed what to me is the core issue here—not leftwing bloggers making deals with rightwing scarymen, not whether or not someone is an abused woman or just someone who blew her internet boyfriend’s yelling abuse at her way out of proportion six months after the fact, but if an organized campaign of non-stop bullying against one person can ever be justified.

Perhaps you’re new to Twitter and have no idea how organized things can be. Perhaps when you see common streams, similar comments, you think people just happen to be thinking the same way. Uh uh. There exists on Twitter a whole other world, a sub-universe of DM’d conversations and shared strategies, an entire “If Dropbox could speak” scenario which, if not lethal, is certainly unsavory and repellent.

It has led me, for one, to have unfollowed scores of people. I don’t unfollow people for who they follow, but I do unfollow them for their remarks to some of those people and the patterns I see. Some I’ve unfollowed because, in DMs, they tried to turn me against @Shoq without admitting their (self-serving) motives other than the “poor abused woman” one. You’ve probably seen their chirpstories already, those who kept saying “I’m not involved in this, but…”

Like perhaps some of you, I was naïve. When I first saw both @AngryBlackLady and @vdaze tweet about not liking *cats” and then about blocking *black cats* some months ago, I DM’d @vdaze to ask if she meant Shoq, as I knew them to be good friends. She DM’d back saying yes, she’d decided he wasn’t the person she’d thought he was. I said I understood he could be controlling and sometimes rude but I liked him so planned to keep following but would keep an eye on what he tweeted. She DM’d back to say he’d turned into Glenn Beck. Not knowing their story, I told her to forget about him, he was just some guy on Twitter. Yes, she said, just some on Twitter. She didn’t seem at all angry or upset, just peeved.

Within a week, she’d posted his screaming voice message on her blog and presented herself as an abuse victim who’d been grossly mistreated by the man she’d loved, Shoq. This was all news to me. I heard a voicemail that was angry and abusive, obviously the product of someone extremely angry and out of control. I found it creepy, not the voicemail—that was nasty but not especially creepy—but the fact that someone would put that voice message on her blog if it were true she’d been in love with him. It was clear, in my mind, that it had been for revenge. I hoped it wouldn’t become a big, ugly thing. When I learned—via public tweets—that the call had taken place six months or more before and that Jessica and Matt had never even met IRL, I was, frankly, embarrassed for them both and figured it would all blow over.

I had no idea an army of drones was waiting in the wings.

When @AngryBlackLady tweeted to call Shoq a major abuser of women and to refer to that as his “white guy bullshit,” I was amazed. I tweeted her to say I thought bringing race into a personal problem between two people not at all connected with race wasn’t going to help anyone. She tweeted one of her (not yet so very, very common) “Oh, please. Just stop.” Responses, Then she immediately sub-tweeted something about not a week going by without some fool accusing her of racism. Though I hadn’t done that, it was plain she meant me.

I was now ending Twitter *friendships* even faster than I’d originally made them. I kept screening for the really nasty mocking, cruel, incessant tweets and unfollowing those in my timeline who seemed to stoking the fire.

One person was someone I’d actually met face-to-face, a young man who’d obviously had some personal troubles and who’d responded very strongly to the idea that he could stand up for a damsel in distress. When I said I couldn’t chalk a single phone message up to being proof of abusive, he bluntly said that in that case, I obviously thought abuse was all right. Oh, yeah, I totally love some poor sap young enough to be my son, telling me, who joined NOW in the 1970s, that I think abuse is cool.

So what do you think? Is it acceptable to organized a campaign of hundreds of nasty public tweets per day aimed at just one person? (And all these sub-professional lefties have their own blogs an d needn’t rely on Twitter except it’s a better harassment vehicle.) Would you start or join a bullying campaign? Let’s rule out its being against someone because your dreams of a big-deal backer for your blog are falling apart or because someone was arrogant or rude towards you. Let’s narrow it down to someone who’s done something bad—where do you draw the line? Abuser, pedophile, embezzler, someone who stole a valium out of your bag when you were in the in the bar’s bathroom, someone you thought cheated on you, a rapist, a perjurer, a murderer, a shoplifter, someone who took your parking space?

Me, I wouldn’t organize a bullying campaign against OJ Simpson but maybe I’m a big ole softy at heart.

It this were all the work of rightwing trolls, I’d understand it. But this is the work of vindictive, hate-fuelled liberals who tweet each other in baby talk and feign righteous indignation, who, it would seem, won’t be happy unless they can sabotage someone’s career and ruin his life, who think verbal abuse is a sin but making jokes about cancer is a hoot. And all in the name of righteousness. Yeah, you betcha.

Bored with the flame wars? Fine, so am I. I’ve seen the truly ugly gargoyle face of Twitter and I haven’t liked it. I really do wish I could say “Please. Just. Stop.” And it could work. But as long as the instigators continue to tweet non-stop from their multitudinous anonymous sock puppet accounts, you will have to live with it. Unless that is, you hit that “unfollow” button. Again and again and again and again.

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