If you were hanging around Twitter or any number of internet message boards yesterday you may have seen a link to this – a book review site that published a review of a self-published novel.
The review was a little critical, although the reviewer tried hard to find positive things to say. The author, clearly very emotionally invested in her work, took the criticism hard. To say the least. In fact, she had a little bit of a meltdown, accusing the reviewer of being a liar, and ending up swearing at some of the blog’s commenters.
Person takes criticism badly – it’s a story as old as the Internet.
Except I started seeing the link to this post popping up on Twitter and Facebook and various online forums yesterday afternoon. And by the time I visited there were over 300 comments. And most of the comments online seemed to agree this episode was pretty funny. So I started reading.
Somewhere around comment 50, I saw the first “you’re delusional” comment. Then there was a “congratulations on ruining your reputation” and a few “you’ve ruined any chance of ever being published” and “your career is over” comments.
Then there were those commenters who had gone off to look at the author’s website, her Blogger profile, her Amazon page. They downloaded sample chapters of her book and tore them apart. She was declared to be illiterate, embarrassing and unlikely to ever succeed as a writer. Her Amazon profile quickly filled up with negative comments from people who had never read her book, but just wanted to make sure the world knew that the author was a joke.
So how about now? Still funny?
I can’t imagine many people who would consider it fair or reasonable to stand in front of an aspiring author and tell her in no uncertain terms that she is embarrassing, talentless and doomed to failure. No matter what the author had done out of pride, anger or humiliation, I don’t think many of us would stand in line to be the 300th person to laugh in her face.
So what is it about the Internet that makes this okay?
I remember reading a piece by Chris Brogan arguing that on the Internet there are two basic personality types – those who can make the leap required to understand that these pixels represent a real person, and those who can’t.
I suspect those people lining up to pour scorn on the author aren’t bad people in real life – many of the people I observe engaged in this kind of online bullying (and given that bullying can be defined as a sustained personal attack that isn’t proportionate, then that’s what this clearly is) would describe themselves as unfailingly kind and reasonable, I’m sure. But they behave in ways online that they would find abhorrent in the real world.
I remember reading another post once from a woman who worked in an IT company that’s reasonably unpopular. She explained that she always used an avatar that was a picture of her with her daughter because “It’s easy to say f— you to an icon, less so to the nice Mommy holding a baby”.
This makes me wonder whether social media needs to become more humanised, that we need to be more obvious about being people and not pixels. Or is this kind of mob activity just inevitable
*Oh, alright. Sometimes they suck. Mostly they’re okay.