Author’s Note: This is the third part of an ongoing series. My intent is not to bring attention to myself nor to any particular party. You’ll notice I speak here in generalities. I refuse to participate in the same witch hunting that is ruining our online communities. My intent is to raise awareness of the inherent problems of public shaming so that we ALL may back away from the practice. To catch up, you can find part 1 here and part 2 here.
Post-election 2016, mainstream media declared that we’re living in a post-fact, post-truth era. Many people took this to mean that “fake news” on social media had helped to influence the election and make Donald Trump the most unlikely president in US history.
But that’s not really true. Fake news had nothing to do with the UK stunning the world when they voted “leave” and created Brexit. Nor did fake news have anything to do with last night’s vote in Italy to prevent further centralization of government power with their constitutional referendum.
What’s happening around the world is that the mainstream media has lost control and confidence of the voting public. And what “post-fact” and “post-truth” really means is that the media no longer has the ability to spin propaganda in any truly effective way. The REAL fake news, no longer dictates the outcome of public will.
And so it goes at the micro level as well. Public shaming, internet bullying, witch hunting. There is a commonality with which the mainstream media and internet communities have chosen to impose their will on us. Increasingly they’ve both relied on social shaming tactics to quiet dissent and impose a collective order.
The cries of RACISM! SEXISM! XENOPHOBIA! HOMOPHOBIA! are falling on deaf ears. When every other person on your social media is accused of these REAL and AWFUL character traits, the accusations begin to lose their edge. Indeed, an entire presidential campaign was fought by calling one of the candidates every one of these things.
And people stopped caring. Cry wolf long enough, and the village will watch it eat you just for the satisfaction of seeing you finally shut the fuck up.
So in that spirit, I present to you the three ways in which social media witch hunters have historically tried to burn out heretics from online communities. Because the first step in ridding your house of cockroaches is to shine the light on them. Understanding their methods brings us one step closer to ending social media public shaming.
1. They will come for your Virtue
The first, most common, and up to now most effective way to root out a witch is to attack their virtue. This happens when a group of social media users begin to accuse their target of racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia. This is where they’ll throw around words like stalking and harassment. And this is what works the best.
Who can defend themselves against these accusations? There are always some out-of-context screen shots of private text conversations or something similar. Just something to try to show that these accusations aren’t dreamed up out of thin air, even though they often are.
This doesn’t mean that real stalking, real harassment, or real racism doesn’t exist. It just means that the frequency with which these accusations occur would lead one to believe that every damn third man at a horror convention is both a member of the clan and a convicted rapist.
2. They question your integrity
Should the target somehow manage to wiggle free from the virtue destroying dog-piling, the astute witch hunter will quickly shift away from talk of racism or homophobia in favor of questioning the target’s integrity. At this level, every other author or game designer or musician or painter or whatever becomes an expert financial manipulator. A schemer and perpetrator of the most heinous frauds imaginable. They’ll send out work as a freelance editor and then NOT TURN IN THE EDITS ON TIME!
They’ll be accused of plagiarism. They’ll be said to have run off with the kickstarter or indiegogo crowd funding money that they’ve raised. Mind you, no charges are ever filed in these cases. No criminal activity is ever shown to have occurred. These are scare tactics designed to discredit and humiliate a person into quitting their position. Be it magazine editor, small press publisher, tabletop or video game designer.
The witch hunters aren’t any more interested in pursuing actual litigation than they are in presenting tangible evidence of what again are REAL and SERIOUS problems that DO actually occur from time to time in our communities. Just not with the damn frequency that these witch hunters want us to believe. Which leads us to:
3. Talent and ability
By far the least sexy, and least effective form of social media public shaming. The attack on the target’s talent. See, witch hunters are busy people. In addition to trying to weed out evil doers and culling the community herd, these people are, strangely enough, also typically financially dependent on the very same community they serve and protect. They’re writers, editors, publishers, game designers and the like. It’s almost like there’s a real, tangible financial benefit to shrinking the competition. Coincidence?
Anyway. At this level, the accusers actually have to have READ the target’s work. Or played their games, or watched their films or whatever it is the target actually does for a living. In order to shame him for it, the witch hunters have to actually make an effort to consume it.
And since art is subjective, calling an author or musician or filmmaker a hack is only going to be effective among those looking for confirmation in the first place. It’s long been understood that criticism has barely any effect on sales, especially in the area of book reviews. So while it is common for a target to have their books or games or music mass-reviewed poorly on sites like Amazon as a bullying tactic, it’s rarely an effective way to humiliate and shame the target.
So there you have it. That’s how the thankless job of the weary social media vigilante works. The reluctant crime fighter who just can’t stand the idea that somewhere out there, a white man, who happens to be direct financial competition to him, might not support gay marriage.