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How To Start An Internet Scandal Like An Adult

How To Start An Internet Scandal Like An Adult

Lately, scandals in the mommyblogosphere have been discussed through the use one of two equally inadequate rhetorical devices: 1) the passive aggressive “anonymous” accusation post; or 2) the fairy tale allegorical reveal. I’m fucking sick of both of these practices, and I think it’s time to let them die their natural deaths.

The passive-aggressive “anonymous” accusation post makes you look like a not-nice weakling who is so afraid of being thought of as “not nice” that you will allow others to do your dirty work for you.

The reasoning behind the passive-aggressive “anonymous” accusation post is pretty obvious: somebody wants to accuse someone of wrongdoing but is too chickenshit to do it by using actual names. This was the method used by Karen Sugarpants with Penisgate, and it lead to the obvious conclusion — a commenter came to the post and named who she was talking about (though because of the Jezebel post everyone will always think it was me who first revealed the name of the alleged junk texter, when actually it was not me, it was Casey from Moosh in Indy (a nice girl), in the comments of Sugarpants’ post. I know this because I had no idea who the alleged junk texter was until I saw that comment by Casey, as I would guess was the case with many people that day.

The reason I hate the passive-aggressive “anonymous” accusation method is obvious: if you want to start a fight, start a fight. Or you know, don’t start a fight, whatever. I don’t care. But don’t post something publicly and then let somebody else do your dirty work. Doing this just makes you look like a chickenshit. No more explanation is really needed.

Fairy tales are not-true stories designed to make the unpleasantries of life more palatable to an immature audience who is not yet mature enough to accept them.

The fairy tale allegory method of starting an internet fight is a little more complicated. It is also exponentially more childish because it involves all of the passive aggressive chickenshittiness of the “anonymous” accusation post, but ups the ante by infantilizing both its author and its audience. Let’s talk about fairy tales for a moment: even if you don’t know anything about the history and derivation of fairy tales, you must surely be acquainted with the fact that they are fantastical, improbable tales we tell to children. This means that, if you want people to believe you were screwed over in a business deal, and you have couched this accusation in a fairy tale, you are sending two subliminal messages to your audience: 1) “THIS TALE IS SO IMPROBABLE, THAT IT CANNOT POSSIBLY BE TRUE,” and 2) “I THINK THAT YOU ARE CHILDREN.”

Why on earth would you choose rhetoric like this for something you want people to believe? Do you want people to immediately dismiss what you are saying? Why would you infantilize your audience? Have you stopped to consider any of this?

But let’s look a little more deeply into this problem of using the fairy tale to get your point accross. Because it’s not just that fairy tales are not-true stories, and it’s not just that they are intended for children (though that should have certainly been enough to keep “Sarah” from telling her tale of PR woe in the form of a fairy tale, or Karla from venting her Blissdom partnership woes in the form of a fairy tale).

No, using the fairy tale is the worst because the history of fairy tales is one of reinforcing and perpetuating the patriarchal tradition in which women are weak, helpless creatures in need of rescue by the strong, heteronormative (and nearly exclusively white Anglo Saxon) male “prince” character. Fairy tales depict women incapacitated by their own femininity (Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty), and show innocents being capriciously cast out and/or marginalized by other women (Cinderella, Snow White). They encourage women to overlook glaring problems in men in order to fulfil the roles that patriarchy wants them to inhabit (Beauty and the Beast, The Frog Prince), and provide the literary precursor to what become the Mad Woman in the Attic in 19th century literature (Hansel & Gretel, in addition to pretty much every other fairy tale I’ve ever read).

What a tradition with which to align oneself!

Have I made my point? Can we give it a rest?

Comments (47)

  1. Feb 3, 2011

    In addition to what you’ve said here, if you were to make a list of all possible ways to tell a story, the fairy tale would be, by far, the most boring option in every possible situation. I couldn’t even get through those. I like how the first one ends with, “Now that I’ve bored you to death, come back tomorrow for Part II.” No thanks! I’d rather get a penis text from the Frog Prince!

  2. kate
    Feb 3, 2011

    Can we also point out that the fairytale version of events is tedious to read? Seriously. I never bother finishing the fairytale posts. I just tried to read the Sarah one you linked to and couldn’t make it past the second paragraph.

  3. Kate
    Feb 3, 2011

    If someone wrote their public flogging in the form of a Saundra Boynton book (complete with hippos), then I would be all in. I would even comment.

  4. I’m the genius who never even KNOWS about the latest mommy blog scandal until I read about it here. I think I will continue learning about them through your lens. I feel much less frustrated that way.

  5. I love that you have the inside track on all this.

  6. Feb 3, 2011

    THANK YOU. THANK YOU. I could totally give you the biggest, wettest, sloppiest kiss for this.

  7. Feb 3, 2011


    If you want to trash somebody, go ahead. Maybe they deserve it…who knows.

    But don’t set it up so that one of your commenters has to pull the trigger for you. If you can’t do it yourself, that’s probably a sign you probably shouldn’t be putting it on the internet to begin with.

  8. Feb 3, 2011

    Yes! If you want to air your dirty laundry, name names and provide details. Otherwise, you’re just bringing a pillow to a knife fight.

  9. Feb 3, 2011

    I second both Tracy and Kate. It takes a strong writer to pull off a fairytale style post, and even then it shouldn’t be more than three sentences to a paragraph, tops. There are more powerful ways to communicate a message, even if you want to maintain a degree of anonymity.

    I dip into fairytale posts on my blog, mainly as commentary on a photography, but I can’t think of a single post that was longer than 3 sentences. This post was a good reminder for me to keep it that way.

  10. Feb 3, 2011

    I am like Laura. I come here to find out the latest blog scandals and general hoopla going on around these internets.

    My favorite word from this article: chickenshittiness

  11. Cy
    Feb 3, 2011

    So Blissdom was the subject of that enthralling tale? It was going in so many circles, I couldn’t tell. That’s why we need you, Anna. To sort all this nonsense out. Sorry–I love it. It’s like real life Real Housewives…and I mean that in a good way.

  12. Feb 3, 2011

    i’ve read one or two well written fairy-tale posts, but it takes an unbelievably talented writer to pull it off without looking and sounding like a douche. so, yeh, pretty much most people on the internet should completely avoid this tactic.

  13. I don’t understand all the people who are screaming “What about the accuser’s legal liability?” Okay. If you have the proof, then call them out. If you don’t, don’t. Don’t couch a serious accusation in the form of some silly passive aggressive fairytale.

    And then for God’s sake don’t wonder why “Mommy Bloggers” are laughed at and not taken seriously.

    We are all grown adults and should deal with each other in a mature fashion.

  14. Feb 3, 2011

    I clearly live in a very sheltered blog life. I had no idea any of this was going on until I followed a string of posts from one of your tweets the other day.

    It’s fascinating to watch from a distance but I don’t want anything to do with that drama. I’m tired of all the passive aggressive garbage that happens online—whether it’s the coy references to what’s going down or the gang mentality that happens afterward.

    (Don’t mind me—I’m cranky today.)

  15. Socks
    Feb 3, 2011

    I agree. These two tactics drive me crazy.

    I also would like to note that Karen Sugarpants allowed accusations in her comments about other guys who did not send penis pics, which I thought was even worse than naming the actual perp.

    And while I’m agreeing with everything, I just hate the expression peed my pants laughing. Also very unadult-like.

    Now for some controversy. I detest the passive aggressive nudge nudge wink wink Twitter comments that don’t say who they’re talking about. Again, say it or drop it. Don’t send people off to Google for hours.

  16. Lisa
    Feb 3, 2011

    THANK YOU. OK, I believe that a blog is a place to vent whatever you want to vent and sometimes it’s best to be a bit discreet. You know, if you’re hoping your boss doesn’t find it or your in-laws or something. Maybe not using full names is good. That fairytale shit though? Annoying. I read the Blissdom post and was just pissed until someone finally cleared things up in the comments.

    I guess it’s the intention. If you want to get something off your chest, fine. Leave it as a draft or write in a journal or email some friends. If you’re writing to publicly call someone out, do it! We want stylish rants not damn cryptic fairytales!

  17. Feb 3, 2011

    Did I miss something? How DOES one start an internet scandal like an adult?

  18. drhoctor2
    Feb 3, 2011

    Once upon a time is the lamest opening sentence of all. i prefer glove smacking call outs to any sort of coy references to bad blood. Would have been a much healthier dialog after the big reveals at any rate.
    As I said at the time, and to restate a point, the passive aggressive posting would have made me pitch a righteous fit were I one of the guessed at daddy bloggers, allowing other innocent parties to be named is the most irresponsible behavior of all of that mess. She did get more comments (page views) that way. I don’t understand the under reaction of the guys getting named.I never saw a commwent calling her out on that..I consider myself rational but , man, I would have been furious if it were me or mine getting associated in a public, searchable !! area with that kind of skeevy assaultive behavior. Furious. I think Dawn of Balefulregards handled the same business rip off/betrayal story in a much better manner. I read her story and felt moved to outrage on her behalf but not manipulated in any way. I have big sympathy for her and actively avoid the other site because of it.. if my reaction is the one being sought, as a reader, you should tell it to me straight.
    If bloggers want the unruly mob of screeching doom reaction then they’re doing it right. I guess?

  19. Feb 4, 2011

    Yeah, I think it takes a little bit of art to do the fairy tale up right. I can see using it — maybe — as a storytelliing device under certain circumstances. But as a means of arguing something, or trying to persuade, it just raises more questions about the author, I’m afraid.

  20. Feb 4, 2011

    Impossible to understand, yes. Or at the very least very difficult. I believe that was my comment on Sarah’s first contribution — i.e. “What does this even mean?” But everybody over there acted like it was crystal clear.

  21. Feb 4, 2011

    I provide a valuable service. I know this. 😉

  22. Feb 4, 2011

    Well, not so much “inside” as I just read everything and take lots of screenshots.

  23. Feb 4, 2011

    Yeah, I don’t know that it will do any good. But I thought I’d go on record at least.

  24. Feb 4, 2011

    You know, I think they like the commenter version, too, because it tends to be much easier to hide that way. Only people who are really poring through the details remembers who actually named the name that way — and some people don’t even bother reading the comments. So even the commenter who spills the beans can often get away without any blame, because people will remember the name came out in the comments, but they won’t remember who said it.

  25. Feb 4, 2011

    . . . or a sparkly tiara or scepter, perhaps.

  26. Feb 4, 2011

    I’ve seen what you do with photographs but I don’t think that’s the same thing — that’s more of a clever storytelling device and, as you say, it’s short — it adds color and context to the photo. These people are using it for trying to persuade an audience of something with it, which is part of why I think it’s crazy they use it.

  27. Feb 4, 2011

    Yes, and BTW I was not the one who revealed that tidbit, either. That was also revealed in the comments of Karla’s fairytale post, by Marcy Massura. Not that I disagree with revealing it, but just to keep the record straight.

  28. Feb 4, 2011

    Sometimes you have to invent terms to accurately describe the goings on around here.

  29. Feb 4, 2011

    Agreed. If you are going to do it, you have to be a much better writer than many bloggers are.

  30. Feb 4, 2011

    I don’t really think this would get you around the legal liability issues anyway. I’m not sure that anyone would bother with suing, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you’re the one who names the person, or if you allow somebody on your blog to name them, I would think. Either way, you are the owner of the forum in which the supposed libel was committed.

  31. Feb 4, 2011

    You miss the point Anna. Keeping it anonymous or fairytale (which are the same thing mind you) absolves the writer of any kind of legal issues should someone want to take that road. Okay not absolves- but minimizes.

  32. Feb 4, 2011

    Do you have a source that you can cite on that?

    Because I fear that people who believe that are horribly, horribly misguided.

    Also, I would think that people who are THAT worried about getting sued for talking smack are probably not being truthful to begin with. Truth is an absolute defense. Having someone else name the person you’re telling tales about on a blog where you moderate the comments is not an absolute defense. In fact, I think it would be pretty much no defense at all. Additionally, if the position is that the blog owner is absolved of guilt by not actually naming the alleged bad guy, that can only mean that the people who DO name the person in the comments IS liable, right? What if they’re guessing? What if they’re naming the wrong person? What’s the liability of the person who named other men in the Penisgate thing? If this is the understanding out there of how this works, would it not be the height of stupid to comment on any post where someone is writing this kind of thing?

    So I would REALLY like to see the case(s) that make people think that this will keep them out of court.

    And let me just say again: If the blogger is telling the truth, why would she be worried about lawsuits (but, apparently, NOT worried about her loyal readers/commenters being sued)?

  33. Feb 4, 2011

    I’m with Kim. Can you tell us how to do it right, because this post is all about those who’ve done it wrong. Or is the answer implied–just do the opposite of what all these other people did? Like, tell is straight, name names, etc.

  34. Feb 4, 2011

    I’m no libel lawyer–just a journalist with a few instances of real-world experience in media law. My understanding aligns with Kerry’s: No one who moderates comments is going to be protected from a lawsuit by allowing people to be named in comments as opposed to the body of the post.

    And I dare say that even if you could WIN a lawsuit with that dubious strategy, most bloggers would in any event lose by virtue of having to defend themselves by hiring a lawyer, which can get expensive. Heck, just calling a lawyer on the phone can be pricey!

    In my amateur analysis, any of the many male bloggers implicated in Karen’s post might be able to win a lawsuit against her, because by not naming a particular person, she suggested any number of possible targets and maligned them all, falsely damaging all of their reputations when only one was actually the guilty party.

  35. Feb 4, 2011

    I’m no lawyer either—just an ex-HR executive with lots of experience on the receiving end of lawsuits. In my experience, people don’t sue if you make some sort honest mistake or otherwise behave in a way that suggests you did the best you could not to hurt anyone.

    But if you do something that is egregious, that any reasonable person would see and say, “Wow, that sucked…” you get sued. People sue when you screw them over.

    So if this namby-pamby passive-aggressive crap is designed to prevent lawsuits, I would suggest that it has the polar opposite effect.

    (I don’t believe for one second that legal protection has the slightest thing to do with any of this, though.)

  36. Feb 4, 2011

    This makes sense to me, that the blogger is responsible anyway so there’s no point in relying on others to do your dirty work or to use fairytale rhetoric. But it does make me wonder what the legal guidelines really are. If you want to publicly write about something you believe to be true, how far do you have to go in terms of researching facts to prove your belief?

  37. Feb 4, 2011

    Yes, but fascinating to watch. Fascinating to watch!

  38. Feb 4, 2011

    The twitter thing is annoying, and I am guilty of it all the time. Sometimes, though, I do it without realizing that not everyone will know who I’m talking about. I’m working on that, though. I’m working on Twitter in general, actually.

  39. Feb 4, 2011

    I feel like if you’re afraid of using a full name then you probably shouldn’t write it at all. Because the passive aggressive stuff is crazy, and it’s not going to protect you from libel accusations — but I don’t think that’s why people do it anyway. I think that’s just a (not so) clever way of explaining their actions after the fact.

  40. Feb 4, 2011

    I’m kind of surprised that none of the falsely accused daddybloggers ever did anything about that, actually.

    But you’re right — I think the fairytale and the anonymous post is more scandalous precisely *because* nobody is sure who they are talking about. It leads to a flurry of emails and DMs — I sometimes get these after one of these posts is put up before I even know the post exists!

  41. Feb 4, 2011

    I’m with Kerry, I don’t think this would do you any good from a legal standpoint, as I said above. And if the accusation is true, then I don’t know why they’d be so worried about it to begin with — this is my point about wanting people to believe you. Don’t put it in a fantastical tale format if you want people to believe you, and why are you even thinking in those terms, anyway, if it’s true?

    But I also don’t really believe that’s why people do it anyway. Certainly not in the case of “Sarah.” She did not have to hide anything in a fairy tale because she wasn’t talking about any wrongdoing in particular. It was just a description of how PR and blogging works.

  42. Feb 4, 2011

    Yeah, I’ve never understood that “fear of legal repercussions” thing with this stuff. Why are you so afraid of this if it’s true? Because, sure, there *are* people who go around suing people for libel when the accusations are true or based on facts, but these are generally people with a lot of extra money and a lot of reason to hide stuff (i.e. the Scientologists, allegedly). If an alleged junk texter really did the texting of junk, my guess is that he won’t be suing over any of it.

  43. drhoctor2
    Feb 4, 2011

    As you have been posting on blogging events and audience perception of “brand” I think this style of post plays in/along with that page view ‘hit event” as in the blogger wants/is impressed by a doubling or tripling of comments on a post. Bloggers want to post those regularly and yet are held back by the fear of ?..answering the accusation of “meaness” or unfairness or LIES, it’s all lies !! positions here. …because..seriously, libel/slander are beyond difficult to prove or prosecute. Malice must be proven, actionable proof offered, filings filed…fees paid..who does that ? Not Dad Gone Mad. (woooohoo,am snarky, too !!)
    Would there have been as many comments or attention paid to these posts if they had just set out the facts ? When the only comment topics would have been a yes / no situation ? When she would have sent all the comments over to DGM …or Blissdoms home page ? I think not.
    I also think it’s a bad thing to do to your own brand.

  44. drhoctor2
    Feb 4, 2011

    Agreed, again, honest… i didn’t read farther down before I posted. Apparently, I have found my people of like mindedness…:)

  45. Feb 4, 2011

    That I don’t know.

  46. Feb 5, 2011

    yes. A personal experience actually. Of course it never went to a judge and jury- but was stopped way before since the tale was told cryptically and it was explained to me there was very little grounds to make a case. would have to establish history of blah blah blah……just made it way way harder.

    So yeah… it doesn’t completely protect you- but it can make it way harder to take legal action against should someone want to try. again. Based on my PERSONAL experience only. And no- I am not a lawyer. Although I hire them. 🙂

  47. http://www.howtodothings.com/computers-internet/how-to-avoid-libel-when-blogging

    Quote from article: Choose wisely. Be careful in allowing anything to be written on your blog because you’re as liable as the person who wrote the false statement since you are the one who has the intention to publish or post it.

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