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Piling On on the Web

I have watched a few friends going through some hardships lately with online attacks from folks in the information profession. I hate it when these conversations become a hateful piling on instead of a fullsome discussion to understand eachother’s point of view. It happens too often and I feel the need to speak up about bullying in librarianship – anonymous or not.

I’ve been involved in a number of web incidents over the years. Either I wrote something that someone disagreed with so, irony intended, the measured public response was for all Hell to break out and pile on the closest person to the issue (me), or I was a leader of an association and some event took everyone by surprise (except anonymous commenters who always could have predicted this event) and required a collaborative political or measured reponse within a difficult legal framework. Another way to be set up for being attacked is to propose any type of change in an organization, market, association, or profession and, then, since it sometimes appears that change averse outnumber the risk takers, unwarranted nastiness ensues. And don’t get me talking about name changes! Anyway, the brilliant Pegasus Librarian has written a very wise post that should be must reading for all to gain perspective when you find yourself immersed in any form of piling on, professional bullying, or any event where some minority of folks loses perspective and professionalism for a while and starts to engage in playground behaviours most of us (thankfully) let go of by grade six. Here it is in full and linked:

Anatomy of a Mass Internet Argument (aka “Blog Drama”)
via Pegasus Librarian by Iris on 13/04/11

“Every so often, people in online communities turn their attention toward one thing and argue heatedly. Here’s how it generally goes.

1. Initial controversial statement (This is usually something that can be interpreted as “You and everything you value? It all sucks.”)
2. Initial “Hey, who do you think you are anyway? And by the way, you suck” response.
3. Mass internet pile on

Later, in no particular order

4. Sporadic “That controversial statement wasn’t controversial. It’s been said/done/thought since the beginning of time” interjections
5. Sporadic “That initial statement was spot on” interjections (mostly ignored or decried)
6. Summary blog posts for newcomers to the argument
7. Meta blog posts talking about the experience of the argument (ahem, You Are Here)
8. Argument is named something catchy (usually a catchy acronym or some reference to Watergate)
9. People wax nostalgic about the argument, getting all heated up about it in short bursts
10. Argument becomes point of comparison in the next mass internet argument”

This is an awesome summary of an all too common event.

I think sometimes people forget that these events online create a semi-permanent digital trail. For many years I worked as a librarian who provided research support for professional recruiters for professional, management and executive positions. I am still friends with some of these folks and, recently, we were sharing the tools that professional recruiters use now to filter applicants for positions (since there are so many). I watched as they used their tools. Their custom apps search mulitple sites and social networks at once and creates a simple report about ‘someone’ in minutes. So I had them search some names, issues and identities I knew to see what their online presence and profile would show. In the judgement of these professional recruiters some folks would never make it through the gate to be considered for the position – given their unfiltered behaviour as discovered in the vetting process. In fact, one friend commented that she was appalled by some comments (“by librarians!”) and felt surprised that libel charges weren’t laid, let alone the complete lack of civility in such a public space as FriendFeed, LSW, Blogs, Facebook, MySpace, etc.

I also had her search my name. Luckily there was no real stupendously awful behaviour on my part. She did see the incivility and various attacks and threats against me but said that it was OK since I didn’t react in a way that was unprofessional. She might have been being nice but noted most mid career executives have these sort of events in their profile and they review how they handle them in advance of the interview to form their questioning strategies.

Anyway, the lesson to be learned is, be careful out there.

Stephen

Posted on: April 20, 2011, 8:26 pm Category: Uncategorized