Considerations For The Online Border Personality
Part I: Dooce, You Are A Bully
This past Sunday evening, everybody’s favorite mommyblogger, Dooce, confronted one of her many (alleged) online detractors by alerting her 1.3 million Twitter followers to the (alleged) detractor’s Flickr page, which contains the (alleged) detractor’s real name and photos of the (alleged) detractor. Though I was on Twitter at the time that this happened, I was never able to figure out exactly what prompted this, but I would assume it involved another onslaught of hate mail that Dooce had received and posted on the new section of her site, Monetizing the Hate.
Dooce has been flexing her Twitter muscles quite a bit lately. First, she leveraged her Twitter power to get better customer service, and shortly after that, she used Twitter to intervene in the search for a missing person, which sounds altruistic but in reality (allegedly) caused some problems when the Phoenix Police Department was overrun with mostly useless phone calls from Dooce’s 1.3 million followers. Up until this point, Dooce’s twitter habits have interested me chiefly from a business standpoint, because I have wondered to what degree this would impact her online brand, if at all, and I figured that it is hard to have power and not use it, not to want to play with it a little bit, especially if it is new. New celebrities often go through a stage where they are not particularly savvy with how they deal with the media, and public opinion of them often grows as they learn how to set boundaries with the media and rules for how they will use their fame.
Which is to say that I gave Dooce the benefit of the doubt when, in the wake of Maytag-gate, she argued that she is not a bully (as some people have claimed) and that the Maytag incident was a result of exhaustion, and the Bloggess incident was just a misunderstanding. I am willing to accept that having a newborn might make you go apeshit on a broken washer, and even if I was dubious about the apology to the Bloggess, I thought that it was better late than never. Even when she started Monetizing the Hate, it did not bother me, because I figured that Dooce being able to expose and profit from all of her hate mail was kind of poetic justice, even if the site gave me the willies with all the Google Ads and the incorrect usages of “It’s” in the entries. But I must admit that I’ve been thinking we’re watching a public nervous breakdown lately, and the SHINGLES video did not help to silence my fears that Dooce might be in need of some professional help. But after looking at the hate section of her site, and feeling bad, and feeling like I needed a shower, I felt like, yeah, I can see how having that stuff directed at you might drive you a little bit crazy.
That said, after her actions on Sunday, Dooce, if she plans to “own who [she is] and what [she says] and what [she does],” then I expect to see a post from her acknowledging that: 1) she IS, as it turns out, a bully; 2) that she knowingly sicked her readership on three different women on Sunday night (first the woman with the Flickr page, then at least two other people who told her they thought she should stop dwelling on the hate mail); and 3) she did these things because of her own hurt feelings, not to “speak up for other bloggers,” or to demonstrate that she’s intolerant of “woman-on-woman” hate, as she suggested. Because “bullying” is the only way to describe the behavior of somebody in power who tweets this:
when she knows not only that she has a large and devoted following, but that she has a large and devoted following consisting of people like this:
There are so many insane responses, in fact, to that one tweet by Dooce, that I had to create a whole page just to accommodate some of them.
Dooce’s brand has always been about doing her own thing, fuck the consequences. I get that. But if my family were dependent upon the income I made from my online brand, I would stop reading my hate mail as soon as it started making me do things like this. Because the way that bullies are created is by being bullied themselves, and all that bad juju that Dooce gets from reading those sites that hate her and hate her kids and think her husband is gay, et cetera, they are making her into a mean person. And maybe there’s a market for mean people blogs, I don’t know, but it just seems like there is a reason that we don’t read stuff like this from Oprah Winfrey or Jennifer Aniston — it’s not that they don’t get hate mail, or that they are exceptionally good at dealing with it, it’s that they know that they need to hire somebody to go through their mail for them so that they’re not exposed to this stuff. And when I say “hire somebody,” I mean a professional person who deals with this stuff all the time, not your husband (because he is worse), and not the assistant, because she is also too close to you to do this well. There have to be services that exist for this purpose, because all celebrities do it with fan mail and so do high ranking corporate officials. Find those professionals and get their help. Google is your friend, if you let it be.
Part II: The Bitch of It Is, I’m Kind Of a Bully Myself. But I’m Trying Hard Not To Be
Back when I was teaching, I would get angry emails from my students several times a quarter, like clockwork, after turning back a graded paper to them. Inevitably, somebody in the class would feel that I had failed to recognize their compare-and-contrast submission for the masterpiece of rhetoric that it was and, having been inspired by Clueless, wanted to use their stellar skills of negotiation to convince me to give them a higher grade. I despised these kinds of emails, because they were often hostile and almost always necessitated some kind of in-person consultation in which I went through the motions of hearing their points and then, ultimately, decided to keep the original grade anyway. It was part of my job to deal with this stuff, and as an underpaid PhD candidate it made me resentful.
At the time, my sponsor would always tell me that when you get bad news, particularly in the form of an email, you should “take three deep breaths and not do anything.” She would say to get away from the computer and do your best to forget about the email for a while, and then deal with it when you had a cooler head. This is not to say that you should completely ignore the criticism, but rather that you just put off your response until you have recovered from the sting of hearing it. This is good advice, because when dealing with an angry person, the best thing you can do for them is to get angry back: it serves to justify their disdain for you and bolster their efforts to piss you off. And ignoring them will probably make them more angry, and even if it doesn’t, it’s bound to drive you crazy if you’re tasked with ignoring large volumes of criticism, even when it’s not constructive. Whenever you can react to criticism or negativity with understanding — even if it is feigned — you can shorten the disagreement exponentially and possibly even win the person over to your side. And also, you never know when that criticism might lead to your own growth.
Unfortunately, it is very hard to remember that you need to take three deep breaths and not do anything in the heat of the moment. Which is why on Friday night, I was disappointed with myself for reacting to a negative comment on my a post of mine. I think every blogger has their own set of pet peeves when dealing with criticism, and for some reason I am most bothered when the criticism I receive stems from some aspect of my writing that seems unimportant or superfluous to the meaning of the post or my overall gestalt. We can debate the origins of this — not enough tummy time as a baby? who knows — but I bring it up only to point out that by looking at the various times I have been criticized and had an exaggerated reaction, I’ve been able to discern a pattern for things that will set me off.
Why does this matter? Well, for one thing, I consider myself to be an online brand, and so therefore, every interaction I have with a reader is a potential “sale,” in the form of gaining a new reader or losing a subscriber. This doesn’t mean that I need to kiss people’s asses or take crap from someone unnecessarily, but I don’t want to have a business model where I’m being a dickhead to all of my customers and expect that they will just keep coming back because of the cool factor. Because I offer a product, yes, but the quality of my product is only one part of the consumer experience. And social media, like it or not, is about being social and developing connections with people. I cannot do that if I am always angry about some new criticism floating around about me.
So what happened on Friday night was that I read an email from a reader that criticized something totally unimportant to the overall meaning of my post, in my estimation as the post’s author. The thing is — and it took Mr. Right-Click and I discussing this as we waited in line to see Surrogates, which is a craptastic movie, by the way, for me to see the fact that this criticism offered me an opportunity for my own growth. What I finally saw was that what I consider to be relevant to the post is only one factor in the equation, because writing sets off a new set of meanings for each new person who reads a post. I might consider what this reader said to be unimportant, but this is social media, and what she said was important to her, and possibly to many others out there. And most importantly, if I want to be an online personality, to monetize my life and my writing for public consumption, I need those people to have an opinion, good or bad, on what I say and do. That is my business.
I don’t have to deal with the kind of criticism that Dooce deals with, and I can only guess how well I’d handle it. It is easy for me to say that I would be more graceful under that kind of fire, but the truth is that I don’t have any good reason to believe that I would be. But since I’m viewing this behavior from the outside, I can say that I don’t see Dooce’s recent Twitter behavior as being good for her brand. I think that it is turning off some of the more reasonable people in her audience and sticking her with the crazies and the trolls. And even if it’s a lucrative venture to do this, are these the kind of people you want floating around in your universe? Being a brand online presents unique challenges, and those of use who are still building our brand get to benefit from watching Dooce’s experience as she figures out how to negotiate this brave new world. For that, I’m grateful — but I still think you need to get your shit together.