Trolls, Internet Police & Hall Monitors

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I vividly remember wanting to be picked as a Hall Monitor in fifth grade. This “privilege” always went to the better students … the ones whose nose seemed perpetually stuck up the teacher’s rear.

But I sucked it up and sucked up because I really wanted to wear that orange vest and have some taste of authority. And finally, I DID IT!

I got picked.

And as my classmates filed by on my day, my friend Leah wildly waved at me and said loudly, “HI BROOKE!”

I was torn. There’s no talking in the hall; I was meant to give her a yellow card.

I decided that I was going to pretend I hadn’t heard her, when I heard Mrs. Gaines from behind me. “Brooke, you’ll need to give Leah a yellow card for talking in the hallway.”

I turned around, horrified, and sheepishly walked over to my best friend and handed her a card.

“Sorry”, I said.

I know she hadn’t meant to say anything. It wasn’t that she was gossiping or being “bad” on purpose; she was excited for me since she knew I REALLY wanted to be a hall monitor.

And boy, did I get what I wished for.

trolls, internet police and hall monitors

Internet Police

Fast forward 24 years and the need for authority hasn’t changed. Only now we have internet vigilantes.

Maybe it’s partly because of my experience in 5th grade, or maybe it was several things over the course of growing up, but I’m more of an open-minded person now.

I like to let people come to their own conclusions. I don’t have some deep-seeded need to be “right” – and I especially don’t need to prove others are “wrong.”

While I respect authority, I’ve also come to realize that sometimes authoritative roles can become abusive in nature, and can easily coerce others into mob mentality situations.

I got pulled over by the Internet Police last week.

And it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

It seems a stat I quoted in my post on Visual Literacy was not a stat at all … according to the “police.”

I had heard the stat during a speech about visuals at SMWNYC in February, written it down, and then proceeded to look up the source on Google when I decided to use it in my post.

I’ll be the 1st to admit, I did not do any further research. I can’t speak for every blogger, but I highly doubt we spend hours researching one source for citing.

If it comes from a legitimate source (which I consider LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram – the parties backing this stat at SMWNYC), I trust it.

This is the stat in question:

“We process pictures 60,000 times faster than text.”

Eight words in a 519 word post sent a group of gentlemen (if you can call them that) after me like a duck on a June Bug.

Dean, the leader, left a comment on my post saying that the stat “may not actually be a fact”, and linked to a post.

I thanked him for his opinion, and underscored the importance of literacy and how marketers should start to try to understand visuals better.

Apparently “may not actually be a fact” really means it IS a fact, I’m right and you’re wrong, and if you don’t remove the “fact” in question I’m going to make an online spectacle of you.

Because I got a 2nd comment from Dean (which I didn’t approve) that said:

“It’s not really an opinion. It’s a fact. The research would appear to be bogus. I’m not arguing the concept and I agree and advocate for the same thing you are but I have heard many people use this same research and I used to cite it too, it’s just that no one can actually find the original research. I don’t think it’s ethical to cite things that aren’t actually fact.”

From which I gleaned these things:

  • His choice of words “may not actually be fact” on his 1st comment (which led me to label it opinion) were a poor choice
  • He’s says it’s a fact and then goes on to say the research would APPEAR to be bogus – thus adding to confusion on whether or not this stat is true or false
  • He calls me unethical – to which I take great offense
  • Since I don’t know enough about what’s true and what’s not, I need to politely decline the argument on my blog post

While I’ve admitted that I took the stat at face value from hearing it at SMWNYC and then finding it on Google, I did not cite it with any intent of being unethical.

But then, nearly simultaneously, I get another comment on my blog (which I don’t approve) from Alan Levine that says, in part:

“Yes, of course visual information is important. Do we need a factoid to support this? The phrase is meaningless. What kind of information? What do we mean by processing? Yes, we can recognize faces among a crowd fast. Yes,. we can identify waldo in a complex image. Does that mean understanding? But please, do not assert a quasifactoid’s value based upon how many people/luminaries have said it (like 60,000 times).”

I’m wondering where this guy comes from when my phone starts blowing up with tags on Twitter …

[From Dean @shareskie] “@dkuropatwa @cogdog I fear @madSMscientist just deleted my comment where I suggested, “it wasn’t just an opinion” I did it nicely too.”

Yes. Nicely.

I’ve always thought calling someone unethical was nice … such a lovely compliment.


When Faced With Internet Trolls …

While police are out there to protect and serve, internet trolls are out there to rip you apart and bring you down to their level.

At this point, I feel the “police” turned into trolls.

I’m sure everyone has their own definition of trolls, but here are a few of my checkboxes:

  • They can’t have opposing opinions (or things that “may not actually be fact”) without being nasty or mean
  • They don’t operate alone and always sound the horns, calling in other trolls to help them “win” the “fight”
  • They’re contrarians – often their own words seem to contradict what they’ve previously said (i.e.: may be fact vs. fact)
  • They say things like “so much for civil discourse” when actually they have brought in an army to attack you over 8 words on a 519 word post
  • When you “feed” them — which I regrettably did by adding a notation to my blog and continuing to defend myself on Twitter as they kept pinging me — they only grow more hungry

After the 2nd comment by Dean and the comment from Alan and the first “sounding of the sirens” by Dean on Twitter, I had added a notation to my blog stating:

“It should be noted that some people have discrepancies with the above stat. If you’d like more information on this, please see the comment below by Dean and follow his link for more research.”

I thought that should have been the end of it. I wanted to let people make up their own minds on whether or not this “fact” was a fact, stat or otherwise – besides, who am I to decide that the source I cited is wrong and these “gentlemen” (again, I use the term loosely) are right?!

Apparently this lot has made it their online mission to prove themselves right and all others wrong and unethical – and they won’t back down until we concede and bow to their almighty power.

After over an hour of back and forth on Twitter, Dean did finally apologize when I pointed out that:

  • My intent was not to be unethical, and it was rude to imply it was
  • My blog platform is not the place for their group to promote their platform and/or missions – they have their own blogs for that
  • Their approach, rather than coming from a helpful place, was an attack on me personally and therefore did not allow for open conversation or understanding

I thought it was over, but woke up Monday morning to a blog post by Alan stating that I’m no scientist (duh), along with other character assassinations.

He also decided to choose one tweet (out of a string of back and forth that took place for over an hour straight) to make me look as though I wasn’t willing to discuss the subject, even though my very first tweet to the frothy-mouthed trolls said,

@dkuropatwa@shareski@cogdog Thank you all. I appreciate your concern and will be adding a notation to the blog.”

(Alan would have a GREAT career in reality TV – I personally recommend he reach out to Bravo for one of the housewives shows … the editing is unbelievable!)

Be Nice Or Be Gone

What Would Have Worked …

Maybe it’s the Southern in me, but I really feel you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Had I been approached nicely, had the words not been contradictory, had I felt I was being taught or helped, this all could have gone down the way I prefer – with understanding and openness.

Instead, the opposite happened and now here we are three days later still harping on this stupid stat.

And then there’s me … worrying about my community and whether or not I should “feed the trolls” with this post and open myself to more attacks.

I’ve decided it’s worth it.

We’re so hell bent on proving we’re RIGHT and you’re WRONG that we forget there are humans on the other side of the screen. What we say can be hurtful – even damaging.

While I applaud and agree with their efforts to stop the spreading of information that isn’t scientifically proven, I don’t think we should have to prove it to the detriment of others.

I Leave It To You … What Would You Do?

I still don’t know if this “fact” is fact or not. I felt my notation was enough to quell the squawking chickens pecking at my ankles.

I leave my comments section open — while others, like Copyblogger, do not — so we can have open conversations.

But at what point do you say, “ENOUGH”? When is it okay to protect yourself from trolls, internet police & hall monitors?

Let me know in the comments section below.

See you in the social sphere!


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Brooke B. Sellas is an award-winning Customer Marketing Strategist and the CEO & Founder of B Squared Media. Her book, Conversations That Connect has been recognized nationally and is required reading for a Customer Experience class at NSU. Brooke's influence in digital marketing is not just about her accomplishments but also about her unwavering commitment to elevating the industry standard of digital customer experience and customer marketing.
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Category: Community Managers, Online Bullying
Tags: authority, bullying, citing sources, hall monitors, internet police, internet trolls
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12 Comments. Leave new

  • Hooray for you sticking up for yourself, Brooke! I had an incident sort of like this last week. If people are trying to be helpful and have a discussion, that’s one thing. If they’re being insulting and calling you out to the world, that’s another. My troll was insulting, demeaning and obnoxious, so I blocked him on Twitter. Fortunately, he seems to have retreated (or more likely, chosen someone else to bother).

    Troll are life-suckers and should be locked in a room with all the other trolls until they figure out what a pain they are and quit it. We have no obligation to give them a voice on our blogs, our Twitter feeds, or anywhere else.
    Alisa Meredith recently posted…Why Content Marketers Love PinterestMy Profile

    • Thanks, Alisa. I’ll admit that I’m over here waiting for the band of merry men to leave nasty comments here or on Twitter. However I felt the need to tell my story. At first they really made me feel as if I had done something WRONG … but the more I thought about it the more upset I got that A) I had done nothing wrong B) they were “ganging” up on me C) I was nice enough to add the notation and they STILL continued to badger me on Twitter and their own blogs. I think people need to know this stuff happens to the best of us and how to handle it. Not saying I handled it at ALL how I should have … silence is usually the best answer to nasty behavior, but I fed the trolls and paid the consequences.

  • Avatar
    Randy Bowden
    April 9, 2014 12:37 PM

    Good post Brooke and sorry you felt the sting that caused this writing. What I see is school yard bullies, they know they are but because of their circle of followers they are vindicated. With the animinity of the net the bully gains his/her validation. Pointing out a fault, mia-step etc can be done with kindness and class. Also, excepting contradictory opinions and having civil debate is healthy. However, we are always expose and exposing ourselves to the slim the swims the net. Keep on keeping and keep those Southern manners!

    • Thanks, Randy! You don’t have to apologize (though it’s sweet!). I should have known better than to engage … but I definitely wanted people to hear me out. What gives YOU credibility and not the source (or other “big names” who’ve cited the source)? If I would have said, “Oh GEE! Thanks for letting me know!” and taken down the stat in question (though that’s clearly what they wanted), what kind of person does that make me? Not a very smart one (in my opinion).

      It just wasn’t handled the way I think online professionals should handle it. On ALL sides (including myself). It’s a valuable lesson and I hope by sharing my story someone somewhere can learn something.

  • That really sucks! There is really no way to win in situations like that! I don’t know you in the least except for the couple blog posts that I have read of yours, but I still hate to see that happen. I want to go take those bullies down! Just remember that most of your community does not care about a little fact and are understanding your meaning.

    • It did suck, Blake! But now I can look on it and realize some things I could have done better, learn the lesson, move on, and try not to repeat it in the future. Will I cite a source that may not be as credible as some would like? Probably. Like I said, I don’t think we spend hours vetting our sources. Maybe we should. I know this is an issue, and I truly am for the spreading of the education where we teach bloggers and marketers that not all sources can be taken at face value.

      However, I also think we need to teach other bloggers and “teachers” how to teach without being hurtful. It’s rare that a student will learn a lesson from a “bully” teacher – but let them learn from a giving and kind teacher, and they’ll become a teacher themselves.

  • Bravo Brooke and congratulations on not being intimidated by these trolls. I mean really, where do they get off by being rude and obnoxious when trying to “prove” themselves right in a situation.

    Regardless of whether the statistic was fact or not is irrelevant as it showed a relevant point (the human brain can process information in an image faster than in text). Should we therefore argue that the saying “A picture is worth more than a thousand words” should be stricken from any existing or future record as it is not a fact? Hmmm, I think not.

    I, like yourself, continue to keep my blog comments open, though with moderation. I believe that people should have a chance to view their opinions and help others in a positive way, so therefore these trolls will never beat honest, informative and helpful people such as yourself.

    Keep fighting the good fight Brooke. :-)
    Ian Campbell recently posted…The Problem With Not Having An Online Strategy And How To Create OneMy Profile

    • Thank you SO much for your support, Ian. You bring up some REALLY good points! I love how you compare “a picture is worth a thousand words” … EPIC statement.

      Without keeping this section open (comments) I would not know if what I did or said was right or wrong. I was feeling utterly lost and confused (and a little hurt – I can admit that). But because I allowed anyone to weigh in (yes, even the trolls … who for some reason are eerily quiet) I’ve gotten feedback that tells me that perhaps I was right in saying that these gentlemen could have handled the situation much differently for a better, more positive, outcome. That’s the lesson here.

      Thank you again for taking the time to read this and weigh in – it’s MUCH appreciated. :-)

  • […] you had better believe they won’t hold back from trolling when given an […]


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