Before You Strike: Attack Tactics and the Convenience of Communication

Most of my blogs stem from personal experience. Yesterday, it was an unprovoked, out-of-context lashing-out from a follower.

It pissed me off. For a moment, at least. Then it inspired this blog.

I’m exhausted with the blind pretension and (wrongly) implied panoptic permission that stems from the perceived anonymity that accompanies social media and other forms of electronic communications these days. We have the glorious conveniences of texts, DMs (direct messages), Facebook messages and emails and somewhere along the line, there’s a herd that’s emerged who’s forgotten there are people on the other end of their words and responses.

Just because I can’t see you doesn’t mean that I don’t understand you’re a person with a story.

Think about that for a moment: everyone you chit-chat with in the electronic medium is a living, breathing soul. Alongside that comes hopes, dreams, thoughts, feelings and experiences unparalleled by others.

And sometimes there are douchebags.

Yesterday I told a poop joke on Twitter. (collective gasp – no, Erika…not YOU!)

Yeah, me. A friend sent me a stupid joke via email and I read it and laughed. I mean, poop jokes never really get old. Everybody poops. I posted the joke on Twitter, generating the anticipated groans,  snorts and follow-up jokes in the same vein.

Here’s the joke: Why don’t blind people sky dive? Because it scares the poop out of their dogs.

And then I got bitch-slapped from behind.

A follower wrote: “yeah hysterical.. now let’s tell jokes about African Americans and watermelons.”

(blink-blink)

You’re kidding me, right? I made a poop joke and now this person’s entitled to align me with a racist stereotype?

After much reiteration that it was a joke (JOKE – check it out) and the same user’s insistence that I take a class on people with disabilities (for realz), I blocked the user. No ifs, ands or buts. I cared not to expend any more of my bandwidth on the meaningless exchange.

Action regretted? No. My prerogative? Hell yes.

Here’s the skinny: it comes down to context.

All too often in written conversations, there’s the ability for things to be taken out of context. We don’t have the benefit of personal knowledge for many/most that comprise our network in the online space, and if a phrase is absent one of a myriad of “emoticons” to denote intended inflection and tone, we’re screwed.

What did they mean?

Sit down, shut up and ASK. Get the context. When you jump into the middle of someone else’s conversation that’s not directed at you (and didn’t even originate with you), you’re not entitled to horn-in on the offensive just because you can SEE certain words. Doing shit like that at a bar would have your ass kicked right and proper. At the office, it would have you labeled a “nosey neighbor” and ostracized from the watercooler gossip games. The anonymity that accompanies online communications doesn’t grant anyone the right to say whatever the hell it is they want.

It grants the privilege to engage in conversations, meet others and share ideas.

Yesterday, I wasn’t even granted the courtesy of an inquiry into my intention behind the joke (intention being – I laughed at a poop joke). I was lambasted with a comment aligning my puerile joke with a racial slur and caught completely off guard by someone who has previously NEVER interacted with me and I never them (and if I ever had, it’s long since been forgotten). Now, I don’t know this person’s story either – perhaps jokes about dogs pooping mid-air when jumping out of airplanes resonate and hit a nerve. Maybe they also give high marks to bank tellers and airline counter agents. However, had they made an inquiry into MY story instead of launching their racially-laden tweet bomb, here’s what they might have discovered:

I, @RedheadWriting, the Foul-Mouthed Lass, F-Bomb Aficionado, and She Sans Filter – am the last person who needs to take a class with regards to persons with disabilities and those differently-abled. While acerbic in wit, I am essentially soft at heart. I give because it hurts more to not give and I feel it’s my obligation while I walk six feet up (OK – 5’4″) to help others in whatever way I can.

  • I live each day with an autistic nephew and my heart fills with admiration when I look at my sister and her family on how they cope, grow and revel in victories as they travel through his development. Having experienced the days where I couldn’t even touch him to those now when he comes up and gives me a willing hug…it’s a testament to the fact that I believe those labeled as “disabled” are merely “differently abled.”
  • Last week, I dedicated a day of my Twitter existence to raising money to support autism research. (special thanks goes to @iamthechad, @m1nd7r1p, @poolboydeluxe, @bradwerntz, @canoelover and others who kindly made donations to the autism-focused charity of their choice)
  • In 2008, I dedicated a year of my life to founding and operating my own 501(c)(3) organization called “Woman on Top: because there’s more to climb than the corporate ladder.” My year was dedicated to assembling a group of climbers to raise money throughout the year to support the Foundation for Positively Kids, a Nevada nonprofit organization dedicated to building the first inpatient skilled pediatric nursing facility in the state. We climbed Kilimanjaro for the cause – 4 women and one very brave, estrogen-suffocated man. We summited on September 26, 2009. It was exhausting – both running/financing the non-profit and making the journey – but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Thank you @unlaced (Meghan), Amy, Cindiman and Brandon for making the journey with me.

So before you attack – ASK. Become familiar before you point the finger. There are always going to be the folk who act like asses regardless of the environment – online or otherwise. They’re also likely the ones who place more value in contention than in collaboration. Screw ’em – but try to not be one of them. The recipients of your literary javelins that you hurl into cyberspace – they’ve got stories of their own. You’re not always going to please everyone and there’s nothing wrong with requesting clarification and then taking a calculated stand – but there’s no reason to be a douchebag.

Some parting thoughts from The Redhead:

  • Retaliatory and rash actions aren’t accepted in business. Ever. Why would you use them online?
  • A keyboard and screen don’t make you anonymous. They merely obscure – and temporarily at that.
  • Words are telling – how you choose to use them, even more so.
16 comments
redheadwriting
redheadwriting

@GoingLikeSixty and @Lisa Apologies - I didn't see I had comments awaiting moderation. I'll be short & sweet: 1) Jokes in a public forum: you subscribe to my feed, you get my content. I'll reiterate: it was a POOP joke. 2) In no way do my public service efforts and charitable commitments grant me "diplomatic immunity." They're offered for consideration that the challenges facing the differently abled are on my radar and near & dear to my heart. 3) I never implied that the blind CANNOT sky dive. I think it's kickass that they do. 4) Dogs are awesome, those who dedicate their lives to training guide dogs are to be admired and...holy shit, did I miss the rest of your point? Sorry - I was talking about a hypothetical pooping dog. 5) My style is my style - if you want a hug, go read Chicken Soup for the Soul. Abrasive? Perhaps. Incendiary? Always. Indifferent? Never...which is why you each posted comments. 6) Welcome new readers! 7) Petty disingenuous bullshit still annoys me and @Lisa - I think you're weighing way too much into this. Thanks for stopping by, you two, as I'm always welcoming of new readers. You both make some great points and if I weren't such a heartless bitch, I'd hug you both. And FWIW - ALL blog posts are reactive. If they weren't, we'd all be writing about the same petty disingenuous bullshit now, wouldn't we?

The Redhead
The Redhead

@GoingLikeSixty and @Lisa Apologies - I didn't see I had comments awaiting moderation. I'll be short & sweet: 1) Jokes in a public forum: you subscribe to my feed, you get my content. I'll reiterate: it was a POOP joke. 2) In no way do my public service efforts and charitable commitments grant me "diplomatic immunity." They're offered for consideration that the challenges facing the differently abled are on my radar and near & dear to my heart. 3) I never implied that the blind CANNOT sky dive. I think it's kickass that they do. 4) Dogs are awesome, those who dedicate their lives to training guide dogs are to be admired and...holy shit, did I miss the rest of your point? Sorry - I was talking about a hypothetical pooping dog. 5) My style is my style - if you want a hug, go read Chicken Soup for the Soul. Abrasive? Perhaps. Incendiary? Always. Indifferent? Never...which is why you each posted comments. 6) Welcome new readers! 7) Petty disingenuous bullshit still annoys me and @Lisa - I think you're weighing way too much into this. Thanks for stopping by, you two, as I'm always welcoming of new readers. You both make some great points and if I weren't such a heartless bitch, I'd hug you both. And FWIW - ALL blog posts are reactive. If they weren't, we'd all be writing about the same petty disingenuous bullshit now, wouldn't we?

GoingLikeSixty
GoingLikeSixty

First time here via Bake My Fish. C'mon, admit you were insensitive and regret telling the joke in a public forum. We all have done it. Don't make excuses. Don't tell us how crass and coarse you can be sometimes/ (usually?) Especially don't brag on how righteous you are with your goodwill activities. I put a gold coin in the Salvation Army bucket once, it was a peso, but still... And since I'm not the one that made the racist-joke crack, why am I reading this? Why are you writing this? Do you know about using the "draft" mode? Unless this was all sarcasm and I took it out of context.

GoingLikeSixty
GoingLikeSixty

First time here via Bake My Fish. C'mon, admit you were insensitive and regret telling the joke in a public forum. We all have done it. Don't make excuses. Don't tell us how crass and coarse you can be sometimes/ (usually?) Especially don't brag on how righteous you are with your goodwill activities. I put a gold coin in the Salvation Army bucket once, it was a peso, but still... And since I'm not the one that made the racist-joke crack, why am I reading this? Why are you writing this? Do you know about using the "draft" mode? Unless this was all sarcasm and I took it out of context.

Lisa
Lisa

You know, I think it was kind of reactive to get angry about being criticized and not to examine the fact that your joke may have been insensitive to the blind community. The person who criticized you did so in a knee-jerk way that naturally would raise your hackles, but the way that someone delivers criticism doesn't necessarily invalidate the criticism in and of itself. The joke might be funny in the company of friends who know you-- just like most people will tell the occasional racist joke (usually about their own race) in the company of friends who understand that everyone in the room feels a little guilty laughing and nobody in the room is actually a racist. But putting a joke out into the world via Twitter IS a little different. You nailed it when you noted that it's all about context, but why put all the blame on the other person for not taking the time to put your joke in context? Can't you perhaps accept a little blame yourself for telling a potentially insensitive joke in a situation where there was no context? Some reasons that joke might be offensive: * Reinforces the stereotype that all blind people need a guide dog at all times * States "blind people don't skydive" when actually, they do: http://www.connectmidmichigan.com/news/news_story.aspx?id=211416 disability doesn't have to be a limitation! * Implies that a blind person would be stupid enough to take a dog with them while skydiving * By extension, implies that guide dogs are overworked and their needs are not addressed by their handlers, when in fact most people who use guide dogs are extraordinary, exceptional, amazing pet owners-- the guide dog schools hand pick the people who get their dogs, after all! Sure, I think it's pretty easy to tell that you don't really mean any of those things, but, most importantly, the real problem with that joke is: * For some reason, it's still OK to tell hurtful jokes about people with disabilities, when it's not OK to tell hurtful jokes about any other minority. People who would never use the n-word often say "retard" daily. People who wouldn't dream of making fun of someone's religion will gladly refer to something bad as "lame," oblivious to the people who use canes for mobility who don't like being the default descriptor for something that doesn't live up to expectations. People who would never tease a stranger about a foreign accent will use a Down Syndrome accent as an affectation when reliving one of their own mistakes for the amusement of friends. And people who, yes, wouldn't tell a joke about black people eating watermelon on twitter, will tell a joke about blind people on twitter. And yes, I'd call you out on all that in person, too-- maybe in a less verbose way, but if I heard that joke in an environment where it's not appropriate, I'd say, "I don't feel it's appropriate to tell jokes about people with disabilities here. You wouldn't tell a racist joke here, would you? Then I don't think it's okay to tell that joke." Lastly, I don't think that doing good things for people with disabilities confers upon one some sort of diplomatic immunity allowing one to use insensitive jokes and language to describe people with disabilities. Even having a disability doesn't give one the right to make fun of others who also have disabilities. Josh Blue is a great example of a person who uses his disability for humor, but you'll notice that he talks about himself in his jokes-- not others, even others with the same conditions. He doesn't joke that "People with CP hope for twins in case our hands shake and we drop one, so we've got a spare." He says, "My fiancee is pregnant and I'm hoping for twins, so if my hands shake and I drop one, I've got a spare." So, to conclude: I don't necessarily see anything wrong with that joke if told, as you say, in context and to the right audience. I do see something wrong with being unwilling to examine your own actions and recognize they might have been wrong, and instead offering other choices you've made as proof that you're somehow incapable of being insensitive or hurtful to the disabled community.

Lisa
Lisa

You know, I think it was kind of reactive to get angry about being criticized and not to examine the fact that your joke may have been insensitive to the blind community. The person who criticized you did so in a knee-jerk way that naturally would raise your hackles, but the way that someone delivers criticism doesn't necessarily invalidate the criticism in and of itself. The joke might be funny in the company of friends who know you-- just like most people will tell the occasional racist joke (usually about their own race) in the company of friends who understand that everyone in the room feels a little guilty laughing and nobody in the room is actually a racist. But putting a joke out into the world via Twitter IS a little different. You nailed it when you noted that it's all about context, but why put all the blame on the other person for not taking the time to put your joke in context? Can't you perhaps accept a little blame yourself for telling a potentially insensitive joke in a situation where there was no context? Some reasons that joke might be offensive: * Reinforces the stereotype that all blind people need a guide dog at all times * States "blind people don't skydive" when actually, they do: http://www.connectmidmichigan.com/news/news_story.aspx?id=211416 disability doesn't have to be a limitation! * Implies that a blind person would be stupid enough to take a dog with them while skydiving * By extension, implies that guide dogs are overworked and their needs are not addressed by their handlers, when in fact most people who use guide dogs are extraordinary, exceptional, amazing pet owners-- the guide dog schools hand pick the people who get their dogs, after all! Sure, I think it's pretty easy to tell that you don't really mean any of those things, but, most importantly, the real problem with that joke is: * For some reason, it's still OK to tell hurtful jokes about people with disabilities, when it's not OK to tell hurtful jokes about any other minority. People who would never use the n-word often say "retard" daily. People who wouldn't dream of making fun of someone's religion will gladly refer to something bad as "lame," oblivious to the people who use canes for mobility who don't like being the default descriptor for something that doesn't live up to expectations. People who would never tease a stranger about a foreign accent will use a Down Syndrome accent as an affectation when reliving one of their own mistakes for the amusement of friends. And people who, yes, wouldn't tell a joke about black people eating watermelon on twitter, will tell a joke about blind people on twitter. And yes, I'd call you out on all that in person, too-- maybe in a less verbose way, but if I heard that joke in an environment where it's not appropriate, I'd say, "I don't feel it's appropriate to tell jokes about people with disabilities here. You wouldn't tell a racist joke here, would you? Then I don't think it's okay to tell that joke." Lastly, I don't think that doing good things for people with disabilities confers upon one some sort of diplomatic immunity allowing one to use insensitive jokes and language to describe people with disabilities. Even having a disability doesn't give one the right to make fun of others who also have disabilities. Josh Blue is a great example of a person who uses his disability for humor, but you'll notice that he talks about himself in his jokes-- not others, even others with the same conditions. He doesn't joke that "People with CP hope for twins in case our hands shake and we drop one, so we've got a spare." He says, "My fiancee is pregnant and I'm hoping for twins, so if my hands shake and I drop one, I've got a spare." So, to conclude: I don't necessarily see anything wrong with that joke if told, as you say, in context and to the right audience. I do see something wrong with being unwilling to examine your own actions and recognize they might have been wrong, and instead offering other choices you've made as proof that you're somehow incapable of being insensitive or hurtful to the disabled community.

Halves
Halves

Follow you also on Twitter @gothography...just wnated to say enjoy your blog and your Twitter posts. There are some days when I find myself laughing out loud.

Halves
Halves

Follow you also on Twitter @gothography...just wnated to say enjoy your blog and your Twitter posts. There are some days when I find myself laughing out loud.

MindyMom
MindyMom

Very well said. I've had someone I know IRL use my blog to comment "anonymously" to attack me and my character. Something they clearly did not have the balls to do to my face. There are a lot of self-righteous blow-hards on the internet just looking to incite an argument, and it's usually in the form of attacking the person instead of disagreeing with the content of the post - or tweet in this case. You were right to block the user; these kinds of people are unbalanced.

MindyMom
MindyMom

Very well said. I've had someone I know IRL use my blog to comment "anonymously" to attack me and my character. Something they clearly did not have the balls to do to my face. There are a lot of self-righteous blow-hards on the internet just looking to incite an argument, and it's usually in the form of attacking the person instead of disagreeing with the content of the post - or tweet in this case. You were right to block the user; these kinds of people are unbalanced.

Marc Lemay
Marc Lemay

Just started following you on Twitter - Mr. Tweep turned me on...to you. Interesting reply to the poop joke. I know my mom (who had MS and passed away a few years back) would have thought it was funny, and so do I. Give 'em hell Red!

Marc Lemay
Marc Lemay

Just started following you on Twitter - Mr. Tweep turned me on...to you. Interesting reply to the poop joke. I know my mom (who had MS and passed away a few years back) would have thought it was funny, and so do I. Give 'em hell Red!

Ed Mahoney
Ed Mahoney

Ben following you on twitter - @dlaw turned me on - and this is the 1st time to read your blog. Nice. Humor is of course dangerous but it's not sensible that someone would follow all your Fbombs on twitter and suddenly take offense to a poop joke. Sorry, forgot to add great post! Can't wait to see your next post!

Ed Mahoney
Ed Mahoney

Ben following you on twitter - @dlaw turned me on - and this is the 1st time to read your blog. Nice. Humor is of course dangerous but it's not sensible that someone would follow all your Fbombs on twitter and suddenly take offense to a poop joke. Sorry, forgot to add great post! Can't wait to see your next post!

Ed Mahoney
Ed Mahoney

Ben following you on twitter - @dlaw turned me on - and this is the 1st time to read your blog. Nice. Humor is of course dangerous but it's not sensible that someone would follow all your Fbombs on twitter and suddenly take offense to a poop joke.

Ed Mahoney
Ed Mahoney

Ben following you on twitter - @dlaw turned me on - and this is the 1st time to read your blog. Nice. Humor is of course dangerous but it's not sensible that someone would follow all your Fbombs on twitter and suddenly take offense to a poop joke.