Sunday, September 8, 2013

How to survive a mobbing (that mostly happens online)

I learned about mobs as a boy, when the Ku Klux Klan targeted my family. Since then, I've despised mob justice, no matter what the offense or whether the mobbing happens online or off. And yet, to my shame, I participated in online mobbing when I thought it was for a good cause. I failed to understand the negative form of the Golden Rule: Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you. Or, if you enjoy conflict but have a protective streak, consider this version: Do not do to strangers what you would not have done to your family and friends.

I learned that the hardest way. I don't know if I made every mistake the target of a mob can make, but I made the most common ones. This is the post I wish I had read the day before I was mobbed:

The internet does not read charitably. Making that problem far worse, many web sites follow the first law of tabloid journalism: If it bleeds, it leads. Whether their audience is liberal or conservative, feminist or men's rights, white or black, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, gay or straight, scifi fans or fantasy fans or romance fans, they know one truth: Outrage is google juice, because outrage junkies need their daily spike.

If you are targeted, the outraged will denounce you at your sites and theirs. What you said will be exaggerated for maximum effect. If you were pseudonymous, people who usually defend pseudonymity will proudly hunt down your real name and share it. If you're female, you will probably get rape threats. Regardless of your sex, you may get death threats—online if you're lucky, in your workplace or delivered to your home if you're not. Attempts to destroy your career may include calls to your bosses. When you have been declared a transgressor, you become an "other" and the mob will excuse almost anything a mob member does to you.

You'll get two kinds of mobbers, haters who want to abuse and threaten you, and concern trolls who want to enlighten you. If the only mobbers were concern trolls, you could treat them like evangelists at your door. But the haters will be far more noticeable. When a lynch mob screams that you've rustled a horse, the ones who would like a nice talk over tea about whether you found the horse or even know that a horse went missing will be far less noticeable than the ones waving nooses.

The most important thing to understand is that you will go a little insane. At the very beginning of the mobbing, when the right response is crucial, adrenalin will kick in and you'll shift into fight or flight or freeze response. You'll be torn between anger over being attacked and despair for the consequences to your reputation. You will desperately want to do anything that will make things better, but you won't have a clue what that may be.

Your instinct to make the mobbing end immediately will be more correct than you will know at the time. The longterm psychological efforts of mobbing can be so horrible that most members of a mob would be ashamed if they knew what they were doing, no matter what they thought you had done. Most mobbing targets have to deal with some degree of adjustment disorder.  Some kill themselves. During and after a mobbing, you may have trouble sleeping. You may eat or drink more. You may be unable to focus on your work. The depression and obsession that can be caused by a mobbing may drive away the friends who had stood by you during the mobbing, starting another and deeper cycle of depression and obsession.

Which is why I'm sorry to say there's no perfect solution.

But I can tell you how to keep from making a mobbing worse.

1. If you think you were wrong, or you are willing to lie for peace, apologize. Don't try to justify or explain what you did. Apologize without reservation, accepting full blame for what you did. Show that you understand your mistake, you are ashamed of it, and you know you do not deserve forgiveness, but you hope you'll be given a second chance.

Your apology will be scrutinized. The most extreme outrage junkies may not forgive you, but most members of the mob will be pleased that you've seen your sin and want to be part of them.

2. If your sense of pride or integrity will not let you apologize, follow this general guideline: Do not hide, and do not engage.

Your goal is to survive with the least damage. Flames spread too quickly on the web for anyone to put out every one. Trying to fight the flames is far more likely to fan them than end them. You must let the fire burn itself out.

But you can't do that by hiding. The mobbers will make and share screencaps of what you said. Any attempt to hide will not only be futile; it will further enrage the mob as it thinks you are trying to escape from justice.

Follow these steps:

1. Do not shut down comments on your post. The outraged people want their chance to speak at the site of the outrage. By letting them vent at your site, they will vent less elsewhere.

2. Add a note to the beginning of the post and in the comments saying that you're leaving the comments open so people may respond, but you won't reply to anyone now because you need time to consider what they say. If you're aware of specific errors in what you said, mention them, but don't try to say more.

3. Do not try to defend yourself. To the outraged, you are now the face of all they think is evil. You are not a human being. You are the effigy they may pummel because they can't hit Satan or whatever they have decided you represent. Nothing you might say will change their minds—they're attacking you because they are committed to a worldview. Anything you offer in defense will become fuel for their fire.

4. Tell anyone you care about to stay out of the mobbing. Anyone who defends you will only become the mob's next targets.

5. While the flames burn, spend time with people offline. Go for walks or bicycle rides or something that's physically and mentally engaging. Clean your home. Volunteer to help someone have a better life. Make art. Remind yourself that the people who treat you as inhuman can be treated in a similar but better way, by being ignored.

6. If you suspect the mobbing is hurting the quality of your life, talk to someone you respect, a psychological counselor or a religious person or anyone whose advice you'll seriously consider.

Good luck.

Related: Social Mob Justice: The Outing of Zathlazip