Cyber-bullying on Ravelry

Monday, June 16th, 2008
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TrollOver the past few months, this blog has become more and more popular. New people are always showing up, and I love that because it means more and more people to talk to and befriend. However, it’s not just new friends showing up but also new trolls. The frequency of personal attacks in my comments section and via email has increased exponentially over the past year, and yesterday my blog camel’s back was broken in this post, which was a quick but unintentionally offensive follow-up to this one. The post stepped on some feet, but instead of an “ouch” it got a three-page blitzkrieg on a web forum in response.

There is an interesting social phenomena that emerges every once in a while on the Internet. It’s best described by that wonderful phrase, herd or mob behaviour, and it involves antagonizing people with greater and greater vigour, buoyed by the notion that one is not the only one doing it, so it must be fine. The anonymity of the Internet makes it even easier to take pot shots at someone because you don’t have to worry about a reprimand. I don’t mean simply whether or not you use your real name; cyber-bullying is on the rise among high school bullies, who use the Internet as a way to mediate the things they say to people they know, with full disclosure as to who is doing the bullying. It’s easier to type mean things than to say them to someone, because they aren’t being verbalized and they aren’t face-to-face.

Take, for example, a group of people who all frequent the same web forum.* Because they share roughly the same set of opinions, they can feel secure in attacking a site they don’t like because everyone else is saying the same thing. While it may seem to each person as if their individual comments are relatively benign, they fail to realize that if 30 people all take part in this antagonism, it can be very frustrating and somewhat distressing for the victim to bear these comments. Think about it like a giant game of keep-away: if one person does it, they’re a jerk. If 30 people do it, they’re also jerks, but they underestimate their jerkiness because they’re just going with the flow. Additionally, the person in the middle whose toy is being tossed around will feel a greater amount of frustration with each additional place they have to run in order to get their toy back. In the end a large group of people end up victimizing a single person or site, perhaps without realizing the weight of these comments in summation. Many a blog has been rampaged by wandering forum trolls, and yesterday, that blog happened to be mine.**

I used to get only friendly communications, but an unfortunate side-effect of reader anonymity is that lately I’ve been getting rude messages more than once a month. Really filthy, hurtful and just plain mean comments. As an example, a few months ago I had someone tell me I should commit suicide because of the name of my blog.*** For this reason, I’ve decided to close the comments on this blog until an arbitrary time in the future. (That’s in bold for the skimmers.) This is a temporary trial, and I may change my mind after a little while. There’s no way to tell at this point. You can still comment on Ravelry if you have an account, but not here. I’m a huge proponent of freedom of expression on the Internet, but I’m also against cyber-bullying. If the only comments I get here are from bullies and trolls, then I don’t want to open myself up to that. It’s just not worth my time.

I fully admit that sometimes my writing style may be a bit too conversational, and too often I assume that people will visit the posts I link to clarify my position. I’m used to running a small blog read by a few friends, but it’s not really a small blog anymore. I should assume that people reading my posts have never met me or read any other post I’ve written. On the other hand, I also don’t want to have to censor myself or second guess every time I want to make a comment that might offend someone. I always welcome constructive criticism on this blog, but if the criticism is malicious, then I don’t have time for it.

This is really hard for me, because I absolutely love blogging and I love hearing from you guys. For half a second I considered shutting down the blog but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep away. This is an unfortunate middle ground that I will be trying out. I may selectively leave some posts open for contests and other things, but comments will be closed on most other posts. I’ll miss your comments terribly, but I won’t miss the abuse. From Wednesday on, you can contact me via Ravelry and perhaps also email. (And I mean it about Ravelry! Friend me! I want to meet you all! :) )

* I think one of the most shocking parts of this experience is that the bullying happened on Ravelry. While most of the insults were on my blog or via email, there were many others that happened on the Ravelry thread. There were people who were willing to bash me behind my back, but couldn’t face me on my turf. Even worse, I was told in confidence by some people that they were a little bothered by the comments on the thread but then continued to watch the carnage or even encourage the abusive behaviour (lol, lmao, etc.) on the thread. Ravelry seems like such a wonderful, magical place, where everyone is supportive of each other. This is the crafting world I like to imagine, but over the past year I’ve started to realize that there are just as many bad apples in the knitlogosphere as anywhere else. It makes me a little sad.
** I went off on this little psych tangent because I figure some of the bullies on the forum in question will read this post and realize what they were doing. Understanding the psychological processes that lead to certain destructive behaviours can be a good way to avoid those behaviours in the future. I think it’s also something I need to focus on, so it’s easier for me to forgive the people who are doing this. We all have weaknesses.
*** This time they told me to stay off the road (how does my driving have to do with my supposed fierce hatred for crochet?), that I shouldn’t be in grad school, that I’m stupid, that I should stay in Canada, and on and on. I don’t care if these people care where my passport goes, but I worked hard to get where I am. Telling me in no uncertain terms that I am unintelligent, based on a stupid insignificant joke that they misunderstood, now that is insulting. And yet, over and over I had people claim they didn’t insult my intelligence. My apologies. I didn’t realize that “Your lack of true science and math is showing”, “Your logical fallacy, statistical ignorance, and shallow thinking would disqualify you from passing grades in my high school classes”, “I think you need to stay in grad school a tad longer”, “Stay in grad school”, “She’s not really swift”, and all the other comments (of which I’m sparing you to keep this PG) were an attack on my fashion sense. My bad. The only thing that makes me feel a little better about this is that when reporting their correspondence with me to others on the thread, my trolls never mentioned the mean things they said, only a rough gist that absolved them of any wrong-doing. Which hints that maybe they had an inkling they’d done something wrong, were feeling a little guilty about what they said to me, and maybe that these trolls are human after all. :)

At the first sign of a troll, this post will also be closed to comments. Don’t ruin this for everyone else by posting something mean or impolite. If your comment is one you’d let your grandparents read, then feel free to post it. If your grandparents are senile or illiterate, just use your best judgment in determining whether your comment is polite. (Before we get to attacking me, the above grandparents comment was also tongue in cheek. I’m sure your grandparents are wonderful, sane people with giant libraries.)

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22 Comments to “Cyber-bullying on Ravelry”

  1. Yikes! I don’t usually read comments and I’ve no idea what fora you’re on in Ravelry, so I’ve been oblivious to what you’ve been facing. {Eve!}

    I’ll miss the ability to comment if the mood strikes, but I hope that this will give you better peace of mind about posting without fear of bad behavior coming back at you. Keep up the writing!

    Comment by
    sprite
    June 16, 2008 @ 4:36 pm
  2. Thanks :)

    Comment by Eve
    June 16, 2008 @ 4:42 pm
  3. I love your blog and I’m sorry you’ve experienced the dark side. My favourite part of Saturday was seeing what wonderful links you came up with for the Pattern Exchange.

    Chin up – some of us have still manners our mamma’s would be proud of.

    Comment by Sherri
    June 16, 2008 @ 5:08 pm
  4. I am sorry. Trolls seem to be ruining it for a lot of people. I love your blog. Thanks for the Ravelry link :-) I haven’t had trolls, but my family lurks around my blog.

    Comment by Ewe-niss
    June 16, 2008 @ 5:35 pm
  5. I’m so sorry you were the victim of this. Really, not all crocheters are militant and cruel.

    Comment by J.
    June 16, 2008 @ 5:37 pm
  6. Aw, thanks you guys! Now I feel like keeping the comments open again :) I think I might have over-reacted with closing down comments, but I’m still going to try it for a little bit to see what happens. lol, I can’t be trusted to put my foot down and keep it down.

    Comment by Eve
    June 16, 2008 @ 8:12 pm
  7. I’m sorry that this happened – I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and always enjoyed it (but lurked and never commented). I hope things get better and that you can go back to just having a blog without all the mean stuff.

    Comment by Jeanne
    June 16, 2008 @ 8:24 pm
  8. Hi – I don’t usually comment (or read the comments!) but I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your blog! I hate that there are people out there that feel the need to be mean for sport.

    I will keep reading – so I hope you keep on writing!
    Hang tough!

    Comment by Jody
    June 16, 2008 @ 9:30 pm
  9. Yike! I rarely read the comments (I’m more of a lurker) so I missed all the drama. But I”m sorry that the trolls were so awful, and I hope that you aren’t too discouraged. I think trollish comments are more about the insecurities of the people who write them, rather than about what they’re commenting on.

    Comment by Susan
    June 16, 2008 @ 9:30 pm
  10. I also don’t comment, and I usually don’t read the comments either, and though I am on Ravelry I don’t spend a lot of time their so I didn’t witness the rude and unconscionable behavior. That said, I am so sorry that this happened to you, I do appreciate your site and hope you keep it up! People can be so mean. :(

    Comment by carrie
    June 16, 2008 @ 9:57 pm
  11. I too don’t often read comments or forums. Comments, because I don’t have time, and forums because, unless they’re focused, they’re usually just noise. I’m sorry you’ve had a rough time. Be true to yourself. The rest doesn’t matter.

    Comment by Dave
    June 16, 2008 @ 11:05 pm
  12. I’m so sorry about all the drama. I have to wonder about people who would write such hurtful things. There are some blogposts elsewhere that sets my teeth on edge, but I tend to just hastily mark these as read and just move on. Life is too short.

    Comment by Lola LB
    June 17, 2008 @ 6:39 am
  13. I’m so sorry to hear about this! Some people can be so mean. I don’t usually read comments either but I read the ones on this post. This is your blog, so if someone doesn’t like what you write, even if it is just because they misunderstand something, why don’t they just stop reading it? There are enough blogs out there to choose from. I hope you keep up your site because I enjoy it.

    Comment by Shirley
    June 17, 2008 @ 6:43 am
  14. I’m so sorry to hear about this. I don’t comment often, but you’re in my blog reader and I’m glad you decided to keep your blog open. I feel like people should be able to write what they want on their blogs (within reason) and if others don’t like it they can move along.

    Comment by Meredith
    June 17, 2008 @ 7:56 am
  15. i’m sorry, too that so many people are so serious about the love or hatred of crochet and whatever remarks you made about it to totally attack you. must be something in the air? i liked one of the comments on your earlier post: we all play with yarn, can’t we get along? anyway, take it in stride and keep on blogging and knitting and crocheting! it certainly wasn’t nice or fair for a group of people to make you the object of the scorn, but then, you obviously hit a nerve. whether good or bad, perhaps it opened the lines of communication? keep your chin up!

    Comment by rebecca
    June 17, 2008 @ 9:13 am
  16. OMG – I have been reading for a long time – although I haven’t commented in forever. I am really sorry that you have had to deal with that kind of trouble. I hope things improve, and that taking a break from comments revives your spirit.

    Good luck!

    Comment by Whichy
    June 17, 2008 @ 9:39 am
  17. I am so sorry that certain groups seem to be ubersensitive to what I considered a kind of “oh, hey, this is interesting, eh?” sort of post. I crochet (and have for 40 years). I hated to knit with the heat of a thousand suns, until about 4 years ago, when I first learned about “Continental” knittting. Now, I’m a combination, continental knitter, and only pick up my hooks for embellishment or repair. Or, you could say I knit the same way that I crochet! We are all sistahs in the fiber, really.

    Comment by Jo
    June 17, 2008 @ 10:38 pm
  18. “We are all sistahs in the fiber, really.”

    Indeed!

    Comment by Eve
    June 18, 2008 @ 7:05 am
  19. Just remember that these people on Ravelry sound like a bunch of raging nutballs to the rest of us. Sorry they were so rude. I thought the post was funny. I knit and crochet. What the heck is wrong with these people?

    Comment by frith
    June 18, 2008 @ 2:16 pm
  20. Wow, don’t you hate it when the world just blows on up? It’s all fibre people, relax. Hope you’re doing okay and that everything is settling down now. :)

    Comment by tammy
    June 19, 2008 @ 8:21 pm
  21. I really enjoy your blog, and read it all the time. I’m glad that peoples’ silly arguments aren’t stopping you from blogging, because that would be really sad.
    Who knew people could get so inflamed about crochet? It’s pretty funny, actually.
    Hang in there, I hope that all the mean comments stop once those trolls realise you have them figured out :)

    Comment by Claire
    June 20, 2008 @ 4:28 pm
  22. Hey, I found your blog by typing ‘ravely plus bullying’ into google because I wanted to see if I was the only one.

    I just closed my account there and just want to forget it exists. I had no idea that people could be so spiteful and that it could hurt so much, even though its just the internet and you can walk away, I had pictures of my baby wearing his little sweaters etc on there so it just felt a bit more creepy than that. I only went on there to look at knitting patterns and very occasionally post on the forums, but then I got a whole load of comments on one of my projects so I went searching and saw that THE MOB had been discussing me and speculating about me and making comments about my child. I reacted in the heat of the moment and the bullying escalated to a degree that I have never witnessed before and didn’t know existed.

    I am strangely comforted by the fact that I am not alone (sorry!).

    I think they need to moderate their forums better. Human nature can’t be controlled with a guideline that says “be excellent to each other”. Sad, but true!

    Comment by Sydney
    August 15, 2008 @ 10:36 pm

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