Anger and the Internet; Internet Rule #5

This is a rule I’ve been meaning to post for awhile, but I did not have a good, current illustration until today. Very simply, Internet Rule #5 is: “Never post angry.”

This rule is almost a corollary of Internet Rule 2 (“Everything on the internet is on the Internet forever”). However, when the blood is hot and you feel you’ve been wronged, it is so easy to blast away at someone who has wronged you.  The entire world needs to know how you have been wronged, and how you shall have your vengeance!

Then, later, you cool down, and realize you misunderstood the other person’s point, or you understood but went too far in your response, or else you just did something very, very dumb.

Exhibit A: The PR firm responsible for promoting the newest Duke Nukem game, Duke Nukem Forever, lashed out at media sites that panned the game. The game received pretty uniformly negative reviews, in part due to game-play and in part due to the unrelenting offensiveness of it. The PR firm, The Redner Group, responded with:

Hotlinked from the original article on this.

A “blacklist” is not necessarily a bad idea, if you think someone is genuinely unfair to you. I certainly would never hand out materials to someone who I thought would defame me with them.  Moreover, fair or unfair, it is effective when done subtly, because it forces people to cooperate without leaving evidence. As the author of the article says:

“That’s why it’s so insidious: it’s nearly impossible to prove that interview opportunities are being held back or review copies aren’t being sent due to a prior, negative review.”

Stating that you will do it, on the other hand, makes it blatantly obvious to everyone what you are doing. A public threat of a blacklist is then extremely counter-productive. The one making the threat is then seen as trying to “muzzle” people. It makes other reviewers think twice before they review any of your products again, it makes customers think they cannot trust any review of your products, and it engages the Internet Attack Machine.

Mr. Redner, who runs the Redner Group, quickly saw the damage this tweet was doing to his company.  He pulled down the offending tweet (not thinking about Rule #2), and apologized. He apologized both to the world and to individual reviewers.  However, it was too late, at least in the eyes of the maker of the Duke Nukem games.  2K Games announced that they are no longer working with the Redner Group.

One ill-timed burst of pique on the part of someone at this company, and the company lost a important contract with a major video game company. Perhaps, once upon a time, a thoughtless letter or memo could be explained away, as no one but the recipient would see it.  Today, that same letter or memo will go viral, and once it does there is nothing to do about it.

Exhibit B: An even worse, more profanity laden version of the same mistake was made by e-book writer Jacqueline Howett. A blog review of her e-book, The Greek Seaman, criticized her work for egregious spelling and grammar mistakes. (While not having read the book, looking over both her biography and her blog makes this seem highly likely.) Ms. Howett responded to the review in several comments, and ended up battling not just the blogger but the entire blog community.  She demanded “BigAl” (the reviewer) remove the review, called him a liar, and called both him and the commenters various other names. Other commenters asked her to stop, before she made a bigger fool of herself.

Then she posted, very simply, “F*** Off!”. A short while later, she posted it again.

It became a minor internet hit after that point. The 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc., hits for her name in Google all come up with articles about the review. (The 1st and 2nd go to her website and her work on Amazon.) This episode will be what most people learn first when searching for her on the Internet. Many will remember this going forward.

I will not go as far as some others and say she killed her career by it. She claims her book sales are now up and that she is doing fine. However, based on her rambling “public service announcement” on the whole mess, I do believe she felt some real pain over the whole ordeal. (She apologized for the profanity, though nothing else.) Had she simply taken a moment to collect herself fully before responding, or just walked away, she would not have become an internet punchline.

Passion is an essential part of life. Moreover, when someone hurts you, it is only natural to respond. Indeed, a forceful but professional expression of your disagreement may win converts to your side of a disagreement. I am merely suggesting that taking the time to compose yourself and to decide whether it is worth the time and energy to respond can save you from the backlash that accompanies any hastily written, angry online venting. In many ways, both the Redner Group and Ms. Howett will be hurting from their respective fits of rage for a long time.

Self-promotional plug: Another way to avoid this issue is to work with an editor and a social media consultant. I am available for such work, or I can put you in touch with others who do it as well. Alternatively, you can just ask a friend to look over something before you publish it. Whatever you do, please take this to heart, and do not let rage turn you into an internet meme.

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