Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mean comments? My take on the topic

If you have read last week's challenge from Strawberry Singh and you know me, you know I'm going to participate. It's about mean comments over the Internet, and it's a long post. So if you tl;dr easily, you may want to skip it. (I'm almost two weeks writing this, reviewing, rewriting...)

I'm aware that I may have a different, and likely, unpopular opinion, about mean comments over the Internet, and how to react to them (at least in some aspects). Mostly because I'm going to tell you, you may be part of the problem, and you will refuse to listen to my arguments, to look into yourself and think if perhaps you're being used by others. (Yes, I know. You're too smart, you would know if others use you. Heard that before, got the t-shirt.) I'm aware that may make you go on assuming things about my life, feelings, perceived privileges...

I'm aware that you may conclude what a heartless monster and let's boycott this bitch's store. So before things escalate, I'm going to tell you just one word, as politely as I can: Whatever. You don't know my life, you don't know my circumstances. You only know what I choose to show.

This may be one of my favorite topics, because it shows clearly that in what comes to the human nature, nothing is black or white, you can never tell for sure what someone else is thinking, unless you're that someone else. There are many nuances, many things to take into account. There are villains portraying themselves as victims, while victims are portrayed as villains. To make things more difficult, there are true victims, and true villains, so knowing for real who is who, is more complicated than it seems.

There are many cliches repeated like mantras, showing only the surface of complex problems, the way some people want us to see those problems. Some people seem to believe that just saying they're against bullies that automatically makes them sympathetic and gives them moral authority to judge and condemn others (turning them into... yes, bullies). Some people are fooled into believing they get the problem, and do more in helping bullies than in helping real victims.

This said, let's go for the Meme instructions: Answer the following questions either on your own blog, in the comments of this post or on any social platform.

  1. Have you ever been subjected to mean comments online by strangers? If not, then skip to question #5.

    I wonder who hasn't. When you make something public, it's out for public criticism. Some people will agree with you and let you know. If you're famous enough, you will always have some people kissing your ass. Others may disagree with all you say, or just part of what you say, and let you know. Some people have little to none social skills, and in trying to give honest commentary, they're mistaken by cruel people, or stupid people. And then, there may answer those that are commonly known as trolls: People who add nothing to the conversation, but try to provoke emotional reactions on others.

    Since the word troll has lost its meaning, to the point that nowadays some people will call you troll, and even, bully, by merely disagreeing with them, I want to clarify what is a mean comment in my book and what is not. And that alone poses a problem. What are we talking about with mean comments, when different people understand different things? Which is the universally accepted definition of a mean comment? There isn't one, and I'm afraid I'll prove it, by defining the concepts as I've learned to understand them. I'm not sure that many people will agree with me in all of them, yet nobody can take from me, what I understand as a mean comment. Nobody can tell me that's not a mean comment because it is, to me.

    A mean comment is not:
    • Disagreement.
    • Disagreement with sarcasm/snark/cynicism.
    • "I fucked your mother" comments. I mean. Seriously? That's the best you can offer as a comment? Do you expect from me any other than laughing at your immaturity?
    • Calling you out on something stupid you said.
    • Destructive criticism.

      I don't agree with if you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all. The reason is because of the perception of what is nice. It varies from person to person. For some people, constructive criticism is seen as destructive, and they tell you if you have nothing nice to say... So what? You ask for an opinion, I give you valid constructive criticism, and you dismiss it because you didn't want to hear anything else than oh this is so cool and perfect, I need it in my life? If you can't take constructive criticism, then don't ask for opinions.

      Still, destructive criticism exists. Why do I say that I do not consider it to be a mean comment? Because you can try to see what could be useful from that criticism, ignoring the manners, ignoring the intention. (And careful. Intention is one of the hardest things to prove.) If there's absolutely nothing you can take from that criticism, shrug it off. If there's something useful, by all means, take it! In case the person had as intention to put you down with their destructive criticism, you will be the one pissing off that person. (Intention is hard to prove; most of the times you can't but suppose, but often you cannot prove.)
    • Humor. Jokes. Come on, people, brighten up. This is the Internet. It means that you're interacting with people from all the world. There are places where humor is not so bad seen, and jokes are not taken as an offense. Think that what you feel mean as fuck could be a bad translation, a joke that is normal in another place, something that sounded funnier in the mind of who wrote it... Before taking offense, ask! (I'm not going to be the one drawing the line acceptable jokes versus non acceptable ones. If I have time in the future, I will develop on why.)

    A mean comment is:
    • Sexist/Racist/Homophobic/Hate-Religion (or hate the lack of)/You-name-it comments, trying to invalidate you as a person and your opinion because of gender/skin tone/sexual preferences/religion (or lack thereof)/etc., as if that had anything to do with the truth value of the opinion itself. Even if you're a smoker, you can say that smoking isn't healthy, advice others not to, and your opinion should be heard and discussed, regardless of your own life.
    • The kind of comments I've listed before aren't but particular examples of a more general kind of logical fallacy, which is pretty common: Ad hominem. As someone who tries to be rational, I consider this to be dishonest behaviour, whether in comments or in an argument, and dishonesty is pretty rude in my book, hence I consider logical fallacies to be pretty mean. Whoops.
    • Abuse threats: This goes from emotional blackmail to physical and death treats. Yes, this implies that I consider to be pretty mean all those comments coming from that people who play the role of a victim, because they're not arguing, or just commenting. Answers from people that cannot take a comment if it's not to praise them, and try that you feel guilty about what you said and take back the words that hurt their feelings, even if reasonable and accurate. Since I don't insult nor say things with the intention of hurting, I do not accept this blackmail, and I consider it to be pretty mean.

      This is actually a problem. While mean comments can reach to quite vile and vicious levels (and I do no support that), also, some people will not tolerate absolutely anything other than praise, and will try to make any non-praising comment look like bullying, making the bully concept to lose all its sense, to the point that a bully is simply someone they don't like, each time that said "bully" opens their mouth.

      I do not support this either. It's two sides of the same coin: Mean people saying mean things, regardless of the tone of the comments. Also, it does no favor to real victims of actual bullies. It's hard to believe a real victim when there are so many other voices pretending to be one. It's a shame.

      Fake victims can feel so proud of themselves! </sarcasm>

      That is one reason why I insist in giving clear definitions. With a clear, universal definition of what is a mean comment, it is easier to realize when someone is being mean, or not, than when the definition is subjective. When the definition is so subjective, that every person has one, the field is open for fake victims to bend the meaning of words and scream loud, and so leave the real victims unattended.

      I strongly feel that we should stand against that: against fake victims, for the ones losing here are the real victims.
    • The use of words that refer to mental sicknesses as a weapon to throw against others. Saying things like you're a psycho, you're borderline, you need to calm down for you sound neurotic? Not cool. Are you a psychiatrist by chance? I bet you aren't.
    • Someone using a fact from your life, to wallow in your pain and rub it on your face.
    • Someone that doesn't know you, hasn't lived your life, yet they start telling you how to live yours. Yep, that's pretty mean.
    • Someone that acts all saintly, holier-than-thou, giving morality lessons to everybody else, deciding who's rude and who's not, carrying forks and torches if needed. Yes, that is quite mean.

    I'm probably leaving things out of both lists, but after reading all those points, it may be clear what I consider to be a mean comment (and what I do not).

    In the gray area:

    • "Go kill yourself" comments. While I will laugh if someone tells me that, I understand there's a risk if that kind of message reaches to someone with suicidal thoughts. We may not like everybody, but wishing them harm, and worse, saying it publicly, is crossing a line.

    See, things are not that easy. Is an insult, mean? It depends. Is it used as a weapon to invalidate your opinion and your right to express it? Then yes, it's pretty mean. Is it an "I fucked your mother" kind of empty insult? Then no, I don't consider it mean, because it is a childish response with no purpose.

    Are mean the people who don't like what they read, even if true, when they tell you to apologize? Yes. Those are mean comments too. Why should you apologize for telling the truth? Why should you apologize for expressing your views without the intention of hurting anyone? That is emotional blackmail, and I do not accept it. It makes no favor to any of us, when we fall under the tyranny of those that pretend to be victims. Particularly, it makes no favor at all to the real victims of real bullying.

    A mean comment may hurt, but there's a lot in how you take it. Remember that offense is always taken! If you ignore the mean comment, the attacker will eventually give up. Not in five minutes: I've known attackers that went on and on for years, each time less. But they eventually gave up. Normally, they don't last that much. But if they see that you're easily worked up after a mean comment, you've made yourself an easy target.

    Am I justifying them? Not at all. I don't support what they do, period. I'm telling you that you can fight them, that you have means to show them you're no target. You can show your disdain in the form of deafening silence.

    Having clarified this, now let's move on to the next question.

  2. How did you respond to them?

    The way I've responded has evolved with the years. The first online mean comments I ever received were back in 2004. They were perfect examples of Ad hominem attacks. Before I started publishing online what made me receive those attacks, I had read a lot about logical argumentation, and the attacks were no surprise at all, given the topic I used to write about.

    I responded trying to argue how my appearance, marital status and other things were unrelated at all with the discussion. I realized that it really didn't matter what I said, that I shouldn't try to defend myself against people that aren't listening. So, time after, I managed to completely ignore all insults and attacks, and focus in the conversation. That brought me a lot of fun, because that people would insist and insist in insulting me, and I would reply saying things like "yes, I get it, you're concerned about my well being, but back to topic...", and I did dissect all the issues and blatant lies in their answers that were relevant to the topic being discussed.

    It was fun, because they were trying to piss me off, and they were the ones that ended up being completely mad at me.

    Later, I would not even mention that bit about their concern about my well being. Their attacks were simply not mentioned in my answers, which focused strictly in the logic flaws and the lies they tried to cover.

    I don't think I can remember of any mean comment I've received since I'm in SL, exception made of logical fallacies. If I feel like arguing on the Internet, which lately is rare, then I do as I did in the past: focus in what they say, point out the logical fallacies. Most of the times, I just roll my eyes, thinking "if you think you're being original and witty, you're not; I've seen that childish way of arguing hundreds of times before you".

    (Note after the n-th review, for n being I lost count: I remembered mean comments since I am in SL. I talk about them in question #4.)

  3. How did they make you feel?

    That has also changed with the years. At first, some of those comments annoyed me. It was indeed annoying, having people insult you on a daily basis, burying your reasoning under a pile of insults. But I guess I got used to that empty noise, and they started to amuse me. At times, I would answer predicting what they would say next, and they did respond exactly that! I think that many of them never realized of how I was laughing behind my screen.

    They key, to me, was saying loud voice my favorite phrase from my favorite movie, Labyrinth: You have no power over me. Once you realize that, words from strangers can't hurt you.

  4. Can you share some of the mean comments you've received and your thoughts on them?

    I've received threats of many colors. There's always a real risk that someone would act on their threats, but most of the time they were cowards, and I didn't give them importance. I would like to add, though, that online threats should be filed in a serious manner. Many of those threats come from cowards that wouldn't stand your eyes looking at them straight, but if those threats were filed together with an identification, perhaps they would think twice before opening their mouths. I may not take many threats seriously, but that doesn't mean everybody reacts the same. I'm sure that many people feel in distress after threats, and their lives shouldn't be affected because one idiot (yes, idiot) goes brave online and tells you horrible things they would do to you, if they were in front of you.

    Of course, I've received many mean and nasty comments because of being a woman, because of my life choices, because of my appearance, because the people I talk to, because of what I studied, because of what I didn't study, because of what I believe into, because of what I don't believe into, because what they believe I think about this, this and this other topic... You tell me one nasty comment, I've probably read one like that, directed to me.

    Probably, the nastiest comment I received was after I talked about the death of my cat, many years ago. One guy implied that I had played my victim role very well, but that the truth is that I had killed my cat, and so people around me should fear me and stay away from me. And some people responded supporting that! Welp. When I found out who did that anonymous comment, and confronted him face to face (yes, in the physical world), he couldn't look at me in the eyes and went on an "I'm sorry, I'm sorry" coward apology that I didn't believe nor accepted.

    Oh, here's another one... Again, as a result of the activities I used to perform after work, before joining SL, there was someone who created a blog to, he said, parody what we were doing. One would believe the parody excuse if it wasn't because they guy went far into ridiculing us by creating a straw man that was easy to beat, but nothing at all to do with us (yep, a fallacy), and using some of the most cruel insults I've ever read, particularly those directed to me and another friend who was close at the time.

    The comments went around our physical appearance (of course, because the way you dress is always relevant to your arguments), a long list mental issues that we were, supposedly, suffering, and as a result that invalidated our arguments (seriously?), implying that there could be more than a close friendship (both of us were in a relationship, so obviously those comments were to hurt our partners, but our partners also knew better), implying so many false things... That website was about everything, but the truth.

    We decided not to mention the existence of that site, not to mention that we read it, never comment on it, and the website eventually died.

    Interestingly, since I am in SL, I have received no more of those comments in things I post online. I kind of miss them.

    Actually... I have received mean comments in SL, and only in the 20th review of this post or so, I remembered. I suppose that because the situations were so childish, when seen from my side, that I didn't think of them (Believe me or not, I'm writing and re-writing this post now for more than a week.)

    In one of those situations, I've been called a troll and a bully, because I publicly said that I don't support adults who have underage RL people in their adult sims, no matter the reasons, and that the minor should be living life, not having sex with adults in SL (which the minor had been doing until caught in the lie about their age). I find hilarious to have been accused of being a troll and a bully to the teen, particularly when I never talked to her, and it proves that we have to be careful whenever we hear those accusations, because some people will say anything just to have things their way, even if those things are lies and could damage others' reputation.

    I've also been called pro-rape because of being friendly to the wrong people, not even bothering in asking me about my stance, and because of that, I've even seen attempts to passive-aggressively boycott my store. Again... Welp.

    I've also received mean comments from a few selected customers, in IM, after they demanded in quite bad manners my immediate help, no matter the time of the day to me and not wanting to check out all the online help I provide that could help them before contacting me. Liar, scammer, retarded, thief, moron, "I am not going to read your shit"... Welp.

    I suppose that the meanest comments in SL happen behind me, but since I don't know about them, they do not exist in my world. If I knew about them... Well, re-read all I said above to get an idea.

  5. Have you ever ridiculed or negatively commented on someone else's work, actions or personality with the intention to hurt them?

    I have not, and this, "with the intention to hurt them", is the core.

    I rarely, if ever, want to hurt others. No, don't think you are one of the exceptions, because if I ever want to hurt you, hear me, you have done a lot of harm to me before, and you have to be really close to me, to do that kind of harm to me. If you only know me through Internet, unless you're my partner, you cannot hurt me like that. So, no, you're not that special snowflake. I do not want to hurt you.

    The problem is, others assume my intentions. The way I talk is quite direct, as I think this post has already established. I admit it may sound harsh to some people. It sounds strong to other people. If you make me a question, I'm going to answer that question. If you don't want to hear the answer, then don't do the question. If you make me a question, and you don't like the answer, the reasons are anything, except my wanting to hurt you. This applies to anything you make public, be it a question or your feelings. Make sure you really want to hear all the replies. Because some people will tell you what they really think without any intention of hurting you, and you may take their reply the wrong way, particularly if you're used to be (falsely or not) praised and have others kissing your ass, escalating into a drama fest.

    I never reply with the intention to hurt others. Period. Whoever thinks the contrary, just has me wrong. But getting to know me takes too much effort. It's easier to assume that I want to hurt them. Like I said at the beginning of this post... Whatever.

There's one more thing I would like to comment about Strawberry's post, which I feel is important. In her post, she also talks about a speech given by Monica Lewinsky. Berry says:

I know what some of you may be thinking. It's Monica Lewinsky, she's someone who fooled around with a married man. Why should we be listening to her?

Then she says:

She was in her early twenties at that time and it was in 1998 where she was publicly shamed all over the world for what she did. I recall hearing and reading about the whole ordeal back then. I was only 18 at that time and doing many foolish things myself and at the age of 34 today, I still continue to do foolish things. So regardless of how I feel about her and what she did, I try not to place too much judgement.

What was Monica's terrible crime? Did she kill someone, maybe enjoyed it? Did she torture people, animals? I think, nothing of that. Yet a lot people, probably you and you that are reading me right now, tagged her as a whore, as someone who didn't mind to (try to) break a marriage, as many other awful things. Maybe you never said it, but in thinking that, there's the root of some mean comments, and being anonymous might open the door to be cruel to others. Only Monica knows what she was thinking of at the moment, and none of us has the right to judge her, even if she was with a married man. Every marriage is a world, and none of us should judge any other than our own relationship. Monica Lewinsky has all the right to be listened, as any other human being. So if you complain about mean comments over Internet, I want you to step forward and tell me, looking at me in the eye, that you never thought, Monica Lewinsky was a whore, the mistress and so on. (If you were born after that happened, you don't count, I'll think of another example :-P )

I am also going to point out to the hypocrisy of the situation:

Was Monica alone in what she did?
I've caught you. (Generic you.)

Let's finish with a puppy from the Sparkys art exhibit, because puppies always make me smile, and I hope they make you smile, too.

A puppy a day, keeps the mean comments, from your mind, away. (I'm practicing my Yoda skills.)

Have a great day :-)


  1. I whole heartedly agree with everything you said. Monica did nothing wrong..she had consentual sexual relations with a man who just happened to be the President of the United States and Married. She was not the one that blew the whisle....Hilary knew of her husbands many indescretions, for he was a notable filanderer...sorry about my spelling....hope you can understand the misspelled words....

    I did not participate in this meme.....ahhhhh

  2. Great post! I really liked how you broke down what you do and do not believe to be bullying. I also remember the incident with underage people in sl in adult areas. That was the same group who bullied me in sl and yes... by your definition of a bully lol. I see a lot of myself in how you handle things. The many times I use to argue and try to defend is just sad now that I look back. Great post!

    1. I'm glad I realized that it really doesn't matter what you say to defend yourself, when the other person is not listening. It saved me a lot of effort.

      Also, I'm not sure if saying that I'm sorry you also got caught in the middle of the teenager incident, or "welcome to the club" ;-)

  3. All very good points.

    I think the crux of the issue is anonymity (and the companion to that, lack of real consequence). It's easy to tear down someone else, especially when you're pretty sure they won't ever knock on your door or leave a note under your windshield wiper.

    The challenge is to treat one's online friends and associates as if you were meeting them in person, respecting them as real people and not just a digital persona. Just as we can disagree and discourse in person, so to can we online. But we have to respect the other party as a person first.

  4. I absolutely agree... just because someone disagrees with you doesn't mean they're trolling or being mean. When you put something on the internet for all the world to see, you can't expect everyone to see it the same way you do.

    And debates and arguments are good! But there is an art to them, and so many people just don't know how to do it without devolving into the "I fucked your mom" kind of fighting and that's just silly and isn't any fun at all! But a good, strong, intelligent discussion with all sorts of views and points made and people actually listening to each other? OMG... nearly orgasmic! :-)