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Posted by on Oct 20, 2012 in Atheism, Drama, Feminism, Freethought Blogs, LGBT Rights, Mental Illness, Nonsense, Politics, Progressive Politics, Uncategorized | 13 comments

Advanced Level Netiquette

Unless you’re talking online to someone you already know, you cannot make accurate assumptions about them from their online persona or behavior.  They could be male, female, black, white, Native American, straight, gay, bi, lesbian, trans, disabled, mentally ill, genius, or a million other things. Or they could just be trolls. They could be anything or anyone. They could be using their own IP address or a proxy. In fact, even if you find out their real names, you still don’t know much, if anything, about them. You don’t even know if a person using his or her “real name” is doing so honestly. This is why online bullying is not a good idea, especially in blogs or blog comments. In particular, I highly oppose the use of the following tactics (this is not a complete list), which most frequently appear in feminist or social justice-based call-outs:

— You’re a worthless [insert foul invective here].

— You disagree with me; therefore, you’re a troll.

— You don’t matter.

— You should die in a fire.

— No one cares about you.

— You should commit suicide by jumping off the nearest bridge (a particular bridge in London was suggested when I saw this one & it was suggested to someone who was having suicidal ideations).

— You’re an idiot (seems harmless, but a person can’t help their IQ).

— You don’t deserve to live.

— You don’t deserve to breathe the same air that I and [insert names] do.

— If I ever meet you in person, I’m going to beat your ass.

— You’re a misogynist.

— You’re a gender-traitor, chill girl, sister-shamer.

— You belong to the clown school of feminism (used to indicate liberal or libertarian equity feminism, I’m assuming).

—  You’re an MRA.

—  You’re mentally ill (used by PZ Myers to dismiss women who disagree with him).

—  You’re white trash.

—  You should commit self-rape with a porcupine. (This, I hear, is an inside joke.)

—  You’re a rape apologist, rape-enabler; you’re parroting misogynistic thought.

—  You’re a cupcake (a veiled accusation of misogyny & rape-enabling).

—  It’s not all about you (particularly atrocious when comparing someone’s actual rape to being asked out to coffee).

—  Any type of sexist, homophobic, trans-phobic, or racist slurs (Note: There’s some room for debate here, especially when the target and their allies use the same kinds of slurs themselves, ad nauseum. Or when the offensive slurs are not considered offensive by a large number of individuals or in different cultures. Or when the slurs are used as means of appropriation by the members of a targeted group.)

— Foul invective directed at an individual, especially by multiple persons in a row.

— Making light of someone’s rape, assault, or abuse (whatever their gender).

— Accusing people of lies as opposed to mistakes (especially with no basis for either accusation).

— Telling someone that they’re no good at whatever the target’s profession may be.

— Replacing what someone said with your own words, or deleting their comments and those of others to change the narrative.

— Inciting a smear campaign/character assassination over an error in judgment, over misinformation, or over nothing at all.

— Lying about the person.

— Revealing private info or communications (ever — unless a threat of violence or illegal conduct is involved), or even public info in places where it demonstrates poor judgment to disclose it.

I’ve seen all of these tactics used, and many more, within the last year or so. All of them have been used as substitutes for reasoned argument. If this is how atheists set an example, then I surrender my “atheist card” right now. I’m embarrassed to be associated with people who behave this way. And if I’ve unwittingly succumbed to any of the above, then I’m embarrassed for myself, and I apologize. While I understand that some of this is merely reaction to abuse that’s been level against various individuals, you do not get to react on behalf of others in the manner described above. They may not want you to. Moreover, there’s something to be said about rising above the level of your enemies. But that doesn’t mean that you have to surrender the fight.

  • Jim Sabiston

    Good post, especially given the new heights of invective experienced in certain forums recently.

    Over the years (I’ve been on the web in one form or another since the 80’s) I’ve seen similar behavior across the entire spectrum of people and topics, it is not limited to atheists, not even the recent crop of aggressive, militant FTB/A+ feminists, although that group seems to have refined the behavior to a rather high (low?) level. It seems anytime that faceless strangers with differing opinions gather in an online group and an emotional topic comes up, it almost always eventually degenerates into this form of behavior. Religion and politics are the two most well known topics that will almost instantly devolve into flamewars.

    I sometimes wonder if the nature of the dialog would change much if we were required to use our real identities online. I think many – certainly not all – posters would be a bit more inclined to civility if they had to use their real name and photo, with their personal addresses being easily accessible. It is too easy to hide behind an avatar online and assume an entirely different persona and this proves to be too great a temptation for many.

    You can see the beginnings of the ‘depersonalization’ effect when people drive cars aggressively. The elimination of any of the usual interactive feedback systems – such as body language, facial expression, tone of voice, etc. – breaks down the normal behavioral feedback that we have evolved to guide our behavior in various circumstances. Online interaction is even worse, in that all we have is the written word and our own personal biases to work with. Interactive feedback is all but eliminated. Interestingly, some can carry on a discussion, even an emotional one, in this environment quite well. Many others, however, as can be seen in almost any online forum, do quite poorly, resorting to many of the examples you provide above rather than maintain any sense of logic and/or decorum.

    • bluharmony

      Excellent comment. I think it’s particularly ironic that this occurs in forums dedicated to social justice, and the lynchpin of real social justice is not dehumanizing others. BTW, all the examples above are taken (though occasionally slightly modified to fit my format) from FTB and one related forum. I would expect this behavior on Usenet, but not in a community that hosts meetings and conferences, especially since most of the hostility is centered around feminism, no real discrimination has been established, an unspoken affirmative action program is in place, and the main topics are skepticism and atheism; not feminism.

      • Jim Sabiston

        Indeed. The primary take away for the recent FTB/etc experience for me was the hard lesson that membership in the atheist/skeptical community is no assurance that one’s reasoning skills or ethics are superior to the non-skeptical community. In fact, the utter absence of reason seems the norm in certain (supposedly) skeptical forums.

        In addition, the behaviors you list have been incorporated as weapons within a body politic that does not have an altruistic intent, it’s own self-stated goals not-with-standing. The behavior is used to simply beat dissension into the ground until only the brutal voice remains. Sadly, it works, too. One can hope that the poison inherent in intentionally maintaining such vindictive will eventually isolate and kill off the host.

        • bluharmony

          Right, when there’s no one left to turn on, they’ll turn on themselves, or so one hopes. And then, without a hate support group, they’ll hopefully become normal, compassionate human beings once more. But I’m not holding my breath. Power & money in the wrong hands is a dangerous thing.

          I can’t put into words the shock and fear I felt when I found out what they were really about. But skepticism, rationalism, naturalism, and atheism have nothing to do with it.

    • Stephan Brun

      I wish anonymity had something to do with it, but that is almost certainly not the case. Look at the primary actors; they are, almost to a man, using their personal names and still engage in inexcusable behaviour.

  • DavidGaliel

    I think we are overcomplicating a simple principle: Don’t Hate.

    • bluharmony

      Exactly.

  • What amuses and annoys me about A+ is their persistent use of insults and taunts to anybody who doesn’t agree with them; and the fact that, if you try to call them out on such juvenile behavior, they apply a special term to you: “Tone troll”.

    “You’re not addressing my argument,” they say, “you’re just mad about the language I used.” They can only get away with this because they’re on the Internet. If you were to arbitrarily call your opponent a rape apologist in a moderated debate, you’d be kicked off the stage.

    The way that these people behave is consistent with teenagers finding the Internet for the first time. The level of discourse over there is, at best, questionable. They also abuse language–just look at what they’ve done to the words “privilege” and “misogynist”.

    These people are wicked.

    • bluharmony

      I feel largely the same, though I think some of them have real problems & have merely found the wrong outlet for them. I guess, for now, I’ll stick with “misguided” over “wicked,” although I’m pretty sure there are a few in that crowd who know exactly what they’re doing. But they’re not part of the herd; they’re in leadership roles.

  • Vic

    “You’re an MRA.” That is no insult for me. I’d just oppose its use as a reason to dismiss someone’s argument.

    I have to admit I fell into this mindset where it gets difficult to think about something objectively when it goes against my “feelings”, or rather, worldview. If an outspoken far right-wing conservative said something, it was almost a reflex for me to look for something to disagree with them on principle. It got much better over time.
    *that awkward moment when you agree with a libertarian*

    To a certain extend, this behaviour can be observed IRL. “Liberal” or “socialist” are turned from words into slander in the US with the intent to render someone’s argument invalif without closer examination, and I am sure there are as many instances of this on the left-wing side.

    Dehumanization and generalisation are the key terms. Somebody might be economically conservative but socially progressive. Somebody might be religious, but also secular. That was something I had to learn, despite how obvious of a lesson this might seem to others. Humans simply can’t be reduced to mere labels, at least not 100% (as was already discussed on this very blog).

    • bluharmony

      I agree that MRA shouldn’t be offensive, but the way it’s used, is. In any case, I prefer advocating for human rights, with disadvantaged groups given a platform to speak, and problems that affect certain groups given significant attention. And that certainly doesn’t exclude men.

      I think you’re right that this behavior can be observed IRL, but typically at a much lower volume, and without the lasting libelous repercussions.

    • They use “MRA” just like they use “privilege”–in an incorrect and warped sense. What’s wrong with advocating men’s rights? Nothing, so far as I can tell. It’s like advocating women’s rights. There’s nothing wrong with that either. But oh, no, when you suggest men’s rights might be getting abused somehow, then you’re just complaining about losing privilege…

      …which is nonsense. This is yet another problem I have with them. The myth of “male privilege” is that it says all men are equally recipients of unearned advantages based solely on their gender. This denies the reality that lots of men are shit on in life, and much worse off than the members of Atheism+, who seem to love tossing “privilege” out like it actually matters. It’s a tactic for avoiding discourse.

      I rather like the idea of “evangelical atheism”, which is how Atheism+ was introduced to me. But I wash my hands of the whole idea, because the reality of it is that it’s much, much preachier than I am willing to accept. Atheism, combined with skepticism, would do the world enormous good.

      But what passes for skepticism over at A+ and FTB….

    • Stephan Brun

      Mens’ Rights Activist (the expansion) is actually a good rhetorical move. If you are against mens’ rights, you cannot be good. So you actually have to demonise the group while denouncing them. I noticed this while checking a subreddit aptly named againstmensrights. Presumably it’s filled with the usual misrepresentations. Didn’t particularily care to check. Do read the explanation on the right, though. Hehehe.