Today I stumbled on this excellent article in The Guardian "I Am Being Catfished" where an author reads a bad review on Good Reads and proceeds to track the reviewer down in real life to confront her. The article is significant because apparently on Goodreads there's a social norm that authors are never to reply to any review or face the wrath of the community. An author that responds receives a stream of vitriol, is slandered in the "blogs", and labeled something called a Bad Behaving Author (BBA). Should you attempt to do something as ambitious as hunt one of your trolls down you are even more evil and destroyed even harder.
Problem is, in the article Kathleen Hale hunts down her troll "Blythe" and finds out that actually her name is Judy (or possibly an alias for the article's legal reasons). Judy also harassed Kathleen, spent weeks trying to bait her into replying, and ended up being a weird sociopath who seems to just post bad reviews to destroy authors. All of this behavior is incredibly abusive troll behavior, and I am a firm supporter of outing trolls and exposing their real identities. Yet there's this odd ethos where trolls have a right to privacy, but victims of trolls do not. The defenders of trolls will pronounce the "Free Speech Spell Level 1" and "Right To Privacy Spell Level 3", but completely ignore the trolls own violations of all those same rights on their victims. In fact, I think there will be a new surge of abuse directed at me simply because I'm talking about abusive trolls right now.
What this troll ethos amounts to is the classic abuser dynamic found in many abusive relationships. An abuser's entire goal in life is to find a reason to exert their abusive sociopathic desires onto victims while appearing to be in the right. The abuser says, "I just had to smack you because you made me so angry. Why do you do that to me?!" The internet abuser will send out a small pin prick, hoping for a response so they can justify their abuse because the social norms of the internet (Don't Feed The Trolls) gives them license to then attack if you respond. If you don't respond then you can almost hear the troll say, "That's right bitch, take it." If you do respond then you deserve their abuse because you made them react. The internet said so, so they can do it. Why did you make them abuse you by responding? It's not the trolls fault.
Throw into this the weird internet norm that hunting down a troll is wrong and now we have a situation where trolls can walk around abusing people with zero retaliation. It's as if there's a whole street of dudes saying, "Faggot" while I walk by but they all get to wear masks and if I respond then everyone will yell at me while he tries to beat me into the street. If I fight back, I'm the bad guy. If I rip off his mask, I'm the bad guy. If he comes to my house, well that's just what I get. If I go to his, then I'm violating his rights to privacy. The insanity of the internet is not that there are trolls, it's that trolls are given full rights to abuse others and people defend the troll's right to be abusive fucking assholes.
These bizarre social norms on Goodreads mostly amount to nothing more than enabling abusive trolls like Blythe/Judy and do not improve the reviews. In fact, the entire point of the internet is that people can respond to their criticism placing critic and subject on equal footing. In Blythe's review she claims there's rape in Kathleen's book, but Kathleen and many other people claim there's none at all. Since the author can't respond then the reviewer's words become the truth. When Kathleen responds to the outright slander she is vilified and ridiculed, but the point of free speech is that everyone gets to talk, not just the first asshole who opens her mouth.
This article had me thinking about why a group of professional authors are not allowed to do the one thing they're best at (writing) while seemingly illiterate morons are given full control of a book's status. In the case of Blythe/Judy the woman is obviously illiterate because she claims the book is full of rape when it's not according to the female author of the fucking book. Think about that. In the social hierarchy this puts trolls above authors and makes them more trusted than anyone else online.
What I've noticed is there's sort of a Creative's Hierarchy that I've experienced in various ways because I actually do all of these things. I'm a kind of a troll of trolls, an amateur artist, a professional author, an amateur musician, a professional coder, and a huge nerd. If I could put them into order of social standing it would be this:
As I said, not only can trolls be completely abusive social manipulators transmitting the most heinous propaganda, threats, and slander, but perfectly rational people will defend them when they do it. Weev is the best example of this, being as he is a literal fucking Nazi and yet the likes of Molly Crabapple (an artist) defends him.
I've been reading a bunch of artist's biographies, and I have to say, many of them are gigantic huge pieces of shit. There's even a common social norm of "separate the artist from the art", so an artist can be the lowest of human scum and still worshipped for his paintings. Even then, people do comment on artists' behavior and don't defend it, unlike with trolls. This puts them just under trolls. Another good test of the social power of being an artist is the amount of shit you can get away with when you're standing there painting or drawing. I've had people who grimace at me when I bust out my laptop at a cafe have no problem with me busting out an entire table of painting gear to bust out a shitty watercolor of some flowers.
What brings author into the #3 slot in the hierarchy is the odd dynamic of being able to influence millions of people with words while having almost nobody give a shit about your skills as a writer. I've had people who have read my books rattle off all the things I can do and leave out writing. I tell people I write "technical books" and they say, "Oh so not real books." Other authors of real books tell me that until you're filthy rich you really don't get much respect, and even then other writers will shit on you even when you win the Nobel Prize. In addition to that, when I read a biography about an author usually they're not pulling the "separate the artist from the art" move to justify bad behavior.
What's the difference between a large cheese pizza and a bass player? A pizza can feed a family of four. That sums up society's opinion of most musicians, however there's also the odd thing of even the worst laziest giant loser of a man can get laid like crazy if they just play bass in a 3rd rate punk band. No idea if the same thing is true for women, but the odd social status of not having any future prospects but still having everyone want to mate with you is a very common musician trope. What's even weirder though is all creative types have the same typically poor future prospects, but musicians have a kind of reality distortion field that protects others from seeing the track marks on their arms and empty bank accounts.
I see the coder as being almost at the bottom of the social hierarchy but rising, and that upward mobility ends up pissing off everyone else above them. You'll see nearly every other sector of the creative social class use Twitter, Wordpress, and their iPhones to rant about how coders are destroying the world with their technology. When I go to art classes I tell people I'm a writer because if I tell them I'm a programmer they'll go into a tirade about how "techies" (aka nerds) are raising their rent. I stare at someone on the bus to draw them and they smile and hold still while I do it. I glance at someone at the bus stop while wearing a startup t-shirt and they grimace and hide on the other side of the bus stop because I'm "creepy". Coders are just at this really weird position in social status that's upending most of the others, which is why there's so much love hate. When a programmer does something fucked up that artists, musicians, authors, or trolls do it's blasted out as the worst in abuse and written about in the press as the end of the world. An artist puts a fucking green butt plug in the middle of Paris and it's fucking art (which you get to see on Twitter because of some coders).
In the end though, everyone gets to hate nerds, and being as I'm a super nerd deep down and a huge dork, none of the social status I should get from the above matters. I'll demonstrate this by way of a story. I was at Union Square (SF) with my friend Corey, and before we met up I had spent a few hours playing guitar. I had headphones on, so nobody could hear how good or bad I sounded, but I was dressed like a nerd hobo with startup t-shirts, jeans, and the usual uniform. Me and Corey hang out, then I go home and the next day I browse craigslist Missed Connections for that day's writing ideas when I stumble on a posting by a woman who says, "You were so beautiful. You were hanging out with that weird guy who's always playing guitar." There you go, even when I'm playing guitar, I'm the "weird guy who plays guitar" and my friend is "beautiful". If I paint I'm not a real artist because I'm "too logical". If I write a book it's not a "real book" because it's about programming. Being a nerd is at the bottom of the hierarchy because no matter what I do, my nerdiness coats my creative output with the hot sticky air of the uncool.