I Don’t Like What You Wrote. You Should Be Poisoned, Garrotted, Stabbed With Stiletto Heels, Thrown Off A Tall Building, and Have Vultures Eat Your Liver

June 12, 2009

by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D

The vast majority of those one meets on the Internet through social networking are sane, well-educated, interesting, and often thoroughly delightful people one would be happy to meet for a hamburger or beer without bodyguards, one’s mother, or the Secret Service present.

But there are notable exceptions.

I’ve had three utterly jolting experiences on-line the past few weeks, and I’d like to tell you about them because a) venting is fun, and b) maybe you’ll tell me about your similar experiences, so I’ll know it isn’t only me. 

One of these experiences involves the Thank You For Clicking! series I wrote for the Community Marketing Blog-Off. I’ll leave it for last.  Another involves an article I wrote for a senior services site, in which the fault lies, in my opinion, with the site moderator.

But let me start with perhaps the strangest of these incidents, because I still don’t know how I might have provoked it, nor what I could have done differently to prevent it.

I don’t know about you, but I have no qualms about inviting someone with an interesting-sounding bio to join my social network. I believe I’m interesting myself, so if they are, too, why not? I feel this way especially about anyone in my sorority or anyone who attended my alma mater.

Well, I’m a Ph.D. from Penn, and I came across the bio of another Ph.D. from Penn, a few years younger than I am, who had recently joined Linked In. What was intriguing to me about this fella was that he had previously worked at one of the preeminent nonprofits studying aging and had a background in gerontological research. I currently run a business in the senior services sector and have also published several articles about this sector.

So as I generally do, I sent him not a final invitation, but a PRE-invitation to join my Connections list: Algernon: “I’d be delighted to have you in my network. Please read my bio and tell me if I might send you an invitation. Thank you.” Ellen

I feel this puts the ball in the other fella’s court, as it were, and is the formula I generally use. Do you see anything disturbing in it? Neither do I.

But Algernon – not his real name – must have, because he wrote me back saying that surely I had not contacted him just because we were both Penn graduates, and what was it about his background that had inspired me to write.

I quickly messaged back just four words, “Obviously, your gerontological background.”

Would you, even on a very bad day, when, say, your house had burnt to the ground, your wife had just run away with your best friend, and your favorite TV show had been canceled, possibly construe the four words “Obviously, your gerontological background” as a provocation and an insult so extreme, they assumed the status of an attack upon your manhood, your citizenship, and the American Way of Life

Algernon did.

He sent me back what can only be described as a screed – an E-mail so long, it would take up four or five closely-typed pages if printed, and so nasty that after I read it, I cried, screeched, threw a shoe at my computer, and went out for a long walk on the beach followed by a lobster dinner.

Algernon described my four little words “Obviously, your gerontological background” as “haughty,” “condescending,” “insulting,” “malicious,” “horrid,” “stupid,” “reckless,”  – and quite possibly fattening. (OK, the last one is mine.)

Not only did they prove that I “felt I was above him,” they clearly showed I had no sensitivity to his innermost feelings and that I was probably a man-hater, a shrew, and maybe a vampire.

Moreover, he said he had showed my four-word note to “various colleagues,” and they all agreed I should be “taken down a notch” and if possible stoned to death, a la Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” 

Since this entire incident transpired via a series of E-mails, without any mediator involved, I felt there was little I could do, other than purge all correspondence with this unusual man from my computer caches, spray my screen with a flowery cologne, and vow never to use the word “obviously” again – Oh, No! I just broke my pledge!

The second disturbing incident I want to tell you about, however, did involve a mediator – and it could and should have easily been prevented

A Genteel, Elderly Gentleman Who Likes to Send Computer Viruses

This incident involved the reprinting of my article “Summer Camp for Seniors.” The story excoriates the incompetence and lack of respect for residents exhibited by some recreation directors in nursing homes and assisted-living sites, who treat elders like kindergarten tots, herding them through endless bingo games, embarrassing sing-alongs, and “fitness” activities like beach-ball volleyball. 

The story is a tad mordant, but hardly shocking, and the vast majority of readers have responded to it warmly, citing their observance of similar practices and their intense dislike of such disrespect towards the elders among us.

The story received a couple of comments that were less than wholly positive, from professional caretakers who cited their experience with frail elderly, who they felt couldn’t cope with a demanding activities roster. These comments were thoughtful and fair, focusing on the ideas in the story and debating the author’s – i.e. my – opinions.

Such debate is always welcome – in fact, necessary – if an article is to warrant lasting attention. Writers love it when their stories arouse enough passion in the “audience” to provoke spirited give-and-take from a group of those who care enough to comment.

Then came  . . . let’s call him “Herbie.”

Herbie claimed to be a 78-year-old affluent gentleman with a 102-year-old mother in a nursing home. He swooped into the Comments section of my article one day, saying “I have so many objections to this horrible article, I can barely organize my thoughts, but I will respond at length in a few days.

Now, I know from years of experience in the world of tabloids, women’s magazines, and “trade” – business and professional – magazines that a “comment” like that just isn’t normal – and I told the publisher of this site as much as soon as I saw it.

Real people with real comments focus on specific things – specific facts or specific ideas – they either agree with or don’t agree with. They tell you why, usually thoughtfully and concisely.

When someone – generally a made-up identity far removed from the commentator’s real identity – makes blanket statements without any specifics about an article – or worse, the article’s author – you almost certainly have a hatchet job on your hands. The faux commentator either has something against the site, something against the author, or – since we’re talking Internet – is a spiteful little hacker out to make trouble.

I have a sixth – or maybe seventh or eighth – sense for these things. I told the publisher of the site that I did not believe this was a person using his/her/its bona fide identity and asked that if any additional comment came into his mailbox, he should at the very least let me vet it before it was printed.

Either the publisher, who is a lovely man, an attorney and construction executive without prior hard media experience, disagreed with my intuition about “Herbie,” or he was – more likely – simply very busy and not sufficiently monitoring what got posted on the site. 

Whatever the reason, a several-paragraph rant from the supposed elderly gentleman came into the Comments section a couple of days later. it was actually well-written, in the sense of being grammatically correct, without any spelling errors. But it made not one concrete reference to the material in the article. Not one! No “I disagree with this point, and here’s why.” No “I think recreation directors do this right and this wrong.” No “if I were running a recreation department, I would do this, that, or the other.

Instead, Herbie’s so-called “comment” trashed the story, then me, in terms without any “anchor” whatsoever – the entire article – no specifics – was “horrible” and “elitist” and “out of touch with what nursing homes are like” and “my 102-year-old mother is in a nursing home, so I am an expert.”

Then he went on to say, “I have read the body of Miss Brandt’s work” – note, not Dr., not even Ms., but Miss – “and it shows that she has no sensitivity for those in nursing homes and should not be writing about nursing homes.”

Now, this is not only silly and malicious, it is ridiculous, because this was the first and only article I have ever written that used the phrase “nursing home” – out of a “body of work” comprising over 3,000 magazine articles in the past 30-odd years. 

Since the vast majority of my “body of work” isn’t easily found in Internet search engines  (like everything from women’s magazines, men’s magazines, general interest magazines, or virtually ANY magazine published over a year or so ago – about which more in a future article), there is no conceivable way “Herbie” could have read the “body of (my) work,” unless he broke into my office after hours and ransacked my files – which I guess is possible, but not likely.

In any case, I was furious that the publisher of the site had allowed this kind of drivel – to my mind, clearly from a faux identity – to appear on his site. I telephoned him, in fact, the minute I saw it. He claimed that the comment had “slipped in by accident” without his knowledge, but that the poster in question was “probably a harmless old crank.”

My gut said differently, and I asked the publisher to remove this “comment,” which I thought slandered my entire reputation, immediately. He agreed to do so. But because of the way the site was set up, with comments made part of the story block, he had to take down the article itself overnight while the comment was removed.

I’m telling you this because of what happened next. That evening, when the story temporarily disappeared, I received an E-mail from “Herbie.” How he got my E-mail address, I don’t know, although I suppose it’s not hard to get. “Ha-ha, Witch,” he charmingly told me. “I got your bleep-bleep story taken down.”

Which in itself would be bad enough. But the minute I opened this delightful missive, my entire computer started doing crazy things, with lights flashing and windows replicating themselves wildly, dancing across my desktop.

I managed to do a System Restore and to send the Evil E-mail to a relative who’s a computer guru, who analyzed it and told me the obvious: that it contained some viral material.

Now, to my knowledge, very, very few Genteel Elderly Gentlemen spend their leisure hours experimenting with computer viruses and sending them to women they don’t know. I have actually never once heard of this pastime being popular among Genteel Elderly Gentlemen. But perhaps I am simply being naive.

The publisher in question had do a security scan of his entire site. I don’t believe he found anything, and “Herbie” disappeared forever.

The third and last disturbing incident I want to tell you about involves the Community Marketing Blog-Off competition, at least indirectly, and once more points out the need for publishers and other site monitors to keep on top of what goes on at their sites.

We Are Blackballing You Because We Don’t Like The Cut of Your Jib, The Color of Your Eyes – Or Possibly Because We Have Tummy-Aches

As part of my successful strategy in the Community Marketing site’s Blog-Off competition, as many of you know, I set up a sort of “pre-Blog Blog” on Word Press to test ten generic headlines of the kinds typically seen in supermarket tabloid publications. I was interested in testing which kinds of sensational headlines received the most page views, the most comments, and the most through-clicks to a series of links, which took people to the Community Marketing contest site, as well as my Linked In profile, a sampler of 50 of my magazine articles, and a recent interview with and about me published at a prominent Baby Boomer site.

I posted the ten generic headlines, which included “Swimming Pool Features Underwater Computer,” “7 Out of 10 Blog in the Nude,” and “Women Want Men Who Smell Like Fresh Peaches,” in both the News sections and Discussion sections of the maximum 50 Linked In Groups I belong to. The headlines were clearly labeled as coming from the Preparing for the Blog-Off blog site, and they had my name and photo attached to them, so anyone who knew me realized they were vetted by me.

My “click through” from Linked In to the “pre-Blog” blog and from there to the Community Marketing site was just superb and played a large part in my winning the competition. And of the nearly 200 comments I received during the contest – 50-plus at the Community Marketing site, 90-plus at the “pre-Blog” blog site, and 40-plus within the various Linked In Groups – almost all were highly positive, relating that people thought the experiment interesting and amusing and that they were impressed with the link-within-link-within-link design I created.

There were a few exceptions, however. In my Senior Services, Sorority, Finance, Marketing, Internet, Venture Capital, Political, and Ivy League Alum Groups, comments were near 100 percent favorable. The only demurrer was a lovely gentleman from Virginia in one of my all-Ivy Groups. He had been impressed by my non-humorous work on the Internet – including the aforementioned “Summer Camp For Seniors” – and said he was dismayed I didn’t choose more “dignified” subject matter for my Blog-Off entries.

I know not everyone is interested in social media analysis – nor for that matter, humor pieces – so I felt his commentary was certainly legitimate and welcome.

The incident that disturbed me occurred within three of the Linked In Media Groups I belong to. I should tell you that I had become very disenchanted with these Groups well in advance of this incident. They tend to be way too large to be managed properly – in some cases, with over 40,000 members. There seem to be no requirements for entry, with rank amateurs who have never published anything nor worked in a media position routinely accepted. And the News feeds, which Group managers can control as they wish, are mostly dominated by Big Media sources, rather than coming from Members themselves, which I as a Member would much more appreciate.  

I am acting on this disenchantment by forming a new Linked In Group called Media Revolution, which will accept only experienced journalists, editors, publishers, and scholars; use only feeds of Members’ own published materials; and focus on serious debate and discussion about the changing Media landscape and how we all can best navigate through a time of sector upheaval. 

But back to my Public Humiliation. It happened in a matter of minutes. I posted “Corpse Found In Internet Guru’s Gym Locker” in the News feed section of a few Media-related Groups, clearly labeled as part of the “Preparing for the Blog-Off” blog site.

It was the fifth of the Faux Tabloid Headlines I had posted, starting with the more outrageous ones, including “Thailand Swallowed By Giant Clam” and “Kinky Sex, Chocolate Truffles, Adorable Puppies.” Readers had begun commenting favorably on the Tabloid Headline exercise, at Linked In and elsewhere, so I thought everyone pretty much knew what was going on.

Apparently not so! Because out of the blue, a young fella from India posted a diatribe saying he had clicked on the “Corpse” headline expecting a real crime story and “How dare I waste his valuable time on a cheap trick that goes against eternal journalistic ethics.”  Since the young fella’s bio lists absolutely no publications nor journalistic experience whatsoever, his concern was a bit surprising, and if clicking on a site you didn’t expect to go to – which has to take all of two-and-a-half seconds – really wasted so much valuable time, how extraordinary to waste more minutes of it typing a several-sentence comment.

The young fella alone didn’t upset me, however. What came next did. Because within a few minutes, three more Group members, who had to have been lurking there waiting for a chance to pounce, came out in rapid-fire succession with escalating rants attacking not the “Preparing For the Blog-Off” site, nor its design, but me personally.

“She is clearly not a serious journalist,” said the first. “Not worthy of a Linked In Writers group,” said the second. “Vulgarly commercial,” said the third. And so on.

This third poster, by the way, is a public relations manager, so aiming the arrow of either vulgarity or commercialism at another writer seems just a tad odd. The other two posters seem to be legitimate science writers, but both eagerly participated in the longest topic discussion I’ve seen at any of the Media Groups, a 60-comment, obviously profoundly “serious” dissertation on “What do you like to eat when you’re writing.

Since to my knowledge, I have not met any of the four people who verbally squashed me, the real reason for their apparent intense dislike could conceivably have been a quip I made on the “What do you eat when you’re writing?” thread. Among the “tofu and bean sprouts” and “clear broth only” posts, I said, “I’m a cannibal.

The saga of the Nasty Four doesn’t end with one Group only, because they quickly migrated to two other Media Groups and began to post the exact same things there. It was clearly a well-coordinated and planned attack on my integrity and character – and when they got to Group Three, I essentially said, “Basta!” and deleted my “Corpse” feed, which in turn deleted THEM.

I’ve never heard from any of the Nasty Four again and sincerely hope I never do. And I’m not sure I blame them as much as I do the Group managers involved, anyway. These comments should have been “mediated” out – i.e. deleted. – before they were printed.

And before you say “Freedom of Internet speech” – sorry, in cases like this I disagree with you. Any site that is mediated is under the discretion of the site manager or publisher. There is absolutely NO assurance that any suggested comment must be posted.

Where an article – or in this extreme case, only an article title! – is the object of commentary, responsible mediators and publishers should allow criticism of the article, its facts, its writing style, its ideas  . . .  all criticism of the actual piece of writing is entirely legitimate, so long as it does not stray into, say, a string of curse words or – I dunno – insanity?

But moving from there to attack the writer’s character or integrity or intelligence or ancestry or right to exist . . .  In a social media Group, yet? Not OK. Very, very not OK.

Beat Me With Palm Fronds, Assault Me With Ripe Tomatoes, Pull Out My Eyelashes One By One

But perhaps I am an abnormally delicate plant, and others enjoy being bent, spindled, and mutilated for no reason whatsoever. (A reference to ancient information processing, which those under 40 will simply not get, in keeping with my Baby Boomer Champion image.)

Tell us what you think.

In fact, please tell us about similar incidents you have experienced – or endured – and how you handled them.

Are the publishers and other mediators of Internet sites falling down on the job and allowing too much hurtful, bullying, not to mention totally insane commentary to be posted?

What further remedies – beyond better mediation – would you propose for social media sites?

And shouldn’t anyone who dares to send a computer virus knowingly to another human being be immediately sent before a firing squad?

We eagerly await your (thoughtful, sweet, sensitive, non-Evil) comments.

I recently repatriated “Summer Camp for Seniors” to EllenInteractive. To read it, please go to: http://wp.me/pycK6-t

And for a humorous story about more! malice on the Web, please read about my determined Twitter Stalker: http://wp.me/pycK6-L

Those who enjoy the “Summer Camp” story might also like to hear about my ideas for a “University for Elders” at: http://wp.me/pycK6-v

55 Responses to “I Don’t Like What You Wrote. You Should Be Poisoned, Garrotted, Stabbed With Stiletto Heels, Thrown Off A Tall Building, and Have Vultures Eat Your Liver”

  1. The First Carol Says:

    Wow. Almost speechless here (but never quite). There is something frightening about folks who seek neither to enlighten nor seek clarification and so many non-existing, non-intended emotions are read into our email! I too have experienced dismay with some comments of the LinkedIN groups which steer towards self-promotion and not what I assumed was the purpose: to share ideas. I agree, opinions are great when you can back them up with facts, other points of view or if I may add humorous musing, but attack displays lack.

  2. Martha Decker Says:

    I enjoyed this post as a former paid and award-winning journalist. Don’t think I’ve mentioned this in any of my bios. The main gist of the post is that people will be people, good or bad, and that’s just the way life happens.

    I have had a few nasty comments posted to MarDeck on Twitter. I just tell them to unfollow if they don’t like what I have to say. No one can make all people happy, so there will always be that person who reads into posts what is not there or intended.

    A friend suggested using sarcasm at times for those who don’t have a funny bone. A good example was my Twitter message from you that listed the name of this post. Instead of getting upset because you told me that you didn’t like what I wrote – I bit and followed the link. I just knew it had to be what it actually was and voila!

    I got my thick skin years ago, when a fellow journalist helped me with an article I had worked on for a year. He sent it in to AP and received a first- place award for specialty reporting. I did not let that sit and marched in to talk with the editor and publisher.

    They contacted AP, and I actually received the award – not the thief. He was gone after his stunt, but he did have the gall to call and ask for an “in” on my continuation of the piece.

    Then there was the time some extremists didn’t like what I was doing and started posting misinformation on their various sites. I had to call and talk to the sheriff!

  3. Adriel Hampton Says:

    You have given me inspiration for headlines. Wow.

  4. Steve Says:


    I feel qualified to speak on the first incident, but will of course talk about them all;-)

    With LinkedIn you’re asking for trouble if you regularly invite people you don’t know to connect… (even if it’s an invitation to invite someone…)
    I know that’s heresy to some.

    So – the request to connect might have been ill-advised, and they gave a sarcastic response. And then when you delivered a cheeky reply, they went overboard.

    I don’t think either of you did well in the exchange, and clearly the other individual went way way overboard in the end…

    On the comment – I agree – you should have control over comments. That was avoidable…

    And the last on the fake headlines is interesting.

    I’d say people in general don’t expect LinkedIn to be a source of humor, so it’s possible that your efforts did not find readers expecting what they found.

    But it is odd to have people respond the way they did. When I scan LinkedIn questions for something of interest, I’m saddened by the lack of ability to write coherent sentences, but not enough to waste my time responding;-)

    You just push on…

    I suppose growing up on the usenet of the 80s and 90s made me a bit immune to trolling;-)


  5. ellenbrandtphd Says:


    Thanks for a well-written and interesting comment.

    But I could not agree with you LESS about Linked In invitations!

    I am absolutely not an “open networker.” But I routinely invite people whose backgrounds I find interesting to connect with me, and it is the way I’ve developed a wonderful, helpful, and loyal network on the site.

    I believe I am very selective! I connect mostly with people over-40 with successful careers in my areas of interest: senior services, finance, venture capital, E-learning, media, Internet innovation, and academia.

    I will ALWAYS connect with someone from my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, one of my all-Ivy Groups, or, of course, any Kappa Kappa Gamma, because Kappas are Perfect in Every Way.

  6. Jack Hampson Says:

    I think we are biologically wired to emotionally respond to our internet community like a physical community — in spite of intellectually knowing that is not the case. Between the fact that the internet community is global, cross-cultural, and numbers in the millions, and the fact that one can rant in anonymity, it is a testament to your diplomacy that you only have 3 examples.

    As for Linked In connections: it is my understanding, based on the message that pops up when you select someone to link to, that the rules (guidelines?) on linked-in are more rigid than other networking sites; and, if you want to contact someone you don’t know, you are supposed to request an introduction from someone you know who knows them. That is what the whole degrees-of-separation thing is for.

    I have no objection to a polite pre-introduction email as you describe in lieu of the official method of introduction. But I would want to know more about the person. I have received invitations from job recruiters, who would then have access to everyone to whom I am linked and could use my name without my knowledge. So I can imagine someone who would respond as Algernon did if contacted on linked in without an introduction. Such a person would expect an unspoken assumption that you knew you were bending his understanding of the linked-in rules, and he would expect a response like:
    “Between your background in gerontology and our shared alma mater I felt it might be OK to contact you. Please feel free to decline if you are not comfortable with this.” With that expectation, I think you can see how your otherwise benign 4-word response could be mis-understood; nevertheless, the rant you received sounds way out of proportion –reflecting a much larger frustration.

    P.S. Your flaming title on Linked In is what got my attention. I only would have been angry if it was real.

  7. ellenbrandtphd Says:


    Thanks for such a thoughtful comment.

    But in the Algernon incident, the point to focus on is Two Ph.D.’s from the Same Alma Mater!

    Call me not selective enough, but I will accept anyone with a Penn degree of any kind into my network, if they wish to join it. I respect Penn’s standards enough – or the standards of the other Ivies – to say, “if Thaddeus – or Agatha or Chang or Margarita – graduated from Penn – or Princeton or Brown or Dartmouth – and wants to join my network, I will accept him, until it is proven that he is a charlatan or a criminal or certifiably insane.”

  8. Alison Says:


    I, too, am receptive to fellow alumni, “Flyers” (University of Dayton), and, similarly, would not think of rejecting unless they were proven to be utterly criminal, insane, or criminally insane (pick one).

    Other strange comments made on some of my posts on various discussions? Yep, been there, bought the T-shirt. LinkedIn is too much fun to let idiots ruin it for the rest of us.

    Interesting and entertaining. I’m with Valerie – all morons are now Algernon.


  9. Sandy Smith Says:

    Back when The Philadelphia Inquirer still had a Commentary page in the Local News section, I wrote an essay – inspired in part by Barack Obama’s presidential bid – on growing up straddling the racial divide, being black but moving in a mostly white world, which made me not black enough in the eyes of some.

    I ended that essay, which chronicled my growing up in Kansas City and my college years at Harvard in passing, with the phrase, “But some white folks will make you as black as they want you to be, no matter what you think.”

    So wouldn’t you know that one white reader came along to prove the statement true.

    Along with some thoughtful arguments about the points I made came an e-mail reply from one reader saying that he wasn’t about to give my self-pitying whining any sympathy (or something like that).

    Well, as the pomo literary theorists say, “Every text has two authors — the writer and the reader.” This person wrote an essay in his head that he thought was mine, but wasn’t, and I wrote him back expressing surprise that he found what he found in the essay. I guess I’m lucky — I got no response at all to my reply.

    I must say, though, that I was absolutely floored by the person who wrote you about violating “eternal journalistic ethics” when you wrote a mock-tabloid headline for a story that didn’t exist. Tabloids specialize in putting bizarre headlines on stories that don’t exist, so you were actually honoring eternal journalistic ethics, tabloid-style. The editors of the Weekly World News would no doubt have approved!

    • ellenbrandtphd Says:


      The Weekly World News was one of my clients!

      Great to hear from someone who has both a journalistic and a marketing perspective. One of the simple realities of Internet publishing is that you now need both to be successful at either.

  10. Kathryn Robertson Says:

    I think there are multiple personality issues that you are dealing with…
    On your “pre” invitation: Can you say “over-reaction”? If I receive an invitation that I choose not to accept, I simply ignore it. I consider myself a semi-open networker….I’m in HR – why would I not want to connect with other HR professionals? And I also send “pre” invitations similar to what you did. If you both are gerontologists, then “obviously” there would be valid reason to network. Unfortunately, tone is often lost in emails….

    On the media group: Ah, the green eyed monster! Jealousy is a powerful factor…..you can’t control their response so control your own! Laugh and shrug it off ie you can’t please everyone so just please yourself and continue your successful ventures!

    On the nursing home expert with Mother dearest: Obviously some guilt issues with his choice to place his mother…

    Take care,

  11. Lugoves Says:

    This is Funny/Cool – I just hope it wasn’t -Meant for me personally!

  12. Andrea Stenberg Says:

    I’ve shared this post with several colleagues who enjoyed it equally.

    I just have to add my comments on LinkedIn.

    Some of the best connections I’ve made on LinkedIn are from people I didn’t know previously. Usually we “meet” via the answers section, but sometimes from groups.

    I can certainly say that Algernon must be from another planet to have found anything you had to say offensive or inappropriate. I frequently send messages like yours and have never received any kind of negative response. Perhaps there was a full moon that day?

    I’m glad you chose to vent via a blog post rather than allow these incidents to deter you from social media.

    All the best.


  13. Kira Says:

    I’ve had some similar issues happen when people have misconstrued e-mail headers and tongue-in-cheek dialogue, but never on as grand a scale as you…

    Think of it as flattering. They, at least, read what you wrote. If all of the Algernons out there (yup, I, too am going to use Algernon for all of my flamers from now on, with all due apologies to anyone legally named Algernon) are taking their time to respond to you, hopefully they aren’t out and about doing things more dastardly to the public at large. Yup, you’re doing ALL of the world a service. Don’t forget it.

    Just keep writing – those who enjoy it will read, those who don’t should just click Delete.

    As for the virus-sender – I can’t help but wonder if there is a way to prosecute for malicious mischief (if nothing more serious).

    My best & my thanks,

  14. Craig Bohanan Says:

    Ellen, of your three incidents the Algernon story strikes closest to home, so I respond to it. I’m wholly in your court on this. If one must meet over tea and produce geneaologic charts in order to extend the suggestion of an invitation, then I’ve been doing this whole LinkedIn thing really wrong.

    But let’s take a minute to consider your seemingly innocuous four word response. Three of those words wouldn’t raise the ire of a trained antagonist, but the 4th word (that very first one)caused Algernon to strike with all the venom of a cut snake. How many different triggers do you suppose you actuated by including that word in communication with this man? Count ’em up. Might require all the fingers of one hand.

  15. Chuck Smith Says:


    That’s a heck of a post!

    I wish I could say that I have not seen such activity first hand, but that would be a lie. Generally people are sane and react calmly, even if a word or two could be read differently than it was intended.

    I do have one forum on LinkedIn which really bothers me. I won’t call it outright, but it is a Veteran based group. Things get overly heated, responses with little fact and questioning lineage. Sort of the stuff you mention above.

    The worst though, floored me. The person took a private response, cut and pasted it into a new thread and began a diatribe upon the author. The responses went on for pages until, I posted a very polite response thanking them for letting me know that any potential business relationship with them would be a total failure and saving me the time and expense of starting business relationships with any of them.

    You have that option on LinkedIn, but not on a normal blog. I read some today that really took by breath away.

    – Don’t feed the trolls!


  16. rosie Says:

    Now I must admit this site has my attention.

  17. JLB Says:

    Hi Ellen, thanks again for popping in at the Pennwriters blog.

    Your article speaks to a lot of the misunderstanding and maleficence that I’ve either experienced or witnessed since I first began to engage online (communities, blogs, forums, social networking, etc.)

    My conclusion in most of these experiences is that misinterpretations are frequent, that emotions are often poorly conveyed by individuals on the internet, and that gangs or groups are easily formed when someone spies an opportunity to cut someone else down. I’m not even sure if it’s personal – it seems like some people thrive on attacking others in whatever way they can muster. Fortunately, this is not true for everyone.

    The best thing I’ve learned to do is to gravitate toward online social groups that exhibit respect and tolerance (and are actually discussing something of interest for me), and to quietly to exit those that do not. The culture of online social groups often seems to be driven by the interactions of the members themselves, because as you pointed out in your post here – moderators/mediators are not always available, and there’s just too much happening online to keep track of everything all the time. As with any group, sometimes everything comes together great, and othertimes… well… on to the next project!


  18. Kevin Chamberlin Says:

    Ellen I agree with you on this one when it comes to Linked In, where you say, “I am absolutely not an ‘open networker.’ But I routinely invite people whose backgrounds I find interesting to connect with me, and it is the way I’ve developed a wonderful, helpful, and loyal network on the site.”

    I would like to think those who wish to Link Up with me or follow me on Twitter have the same interests and can find value in what I present or say.

    Excellent post.

  19. Erik Larson Says:

    You certainly struck a nerve! The title raised my blood pressure instantly, and higher still as I clicked through ready to act. So here is my story.

    The online behavior you describe is common in the tech-geek world, it is sometimes called ‘flaming,’ and always causes a quandary.

    To respond with extreme prejudice, and blast the pseudo-anonymous person out of the water, in a virtual sense, knowing that in-person they would shirk away frightened by someone who is both willing to listen and forceful in support of his ideas? To ignore, with a smirk, knowing that bullies always source their anger from their sense of inadequacy? Or to do the right thing, believing that right makes might?

    So when I clicked through, I assumed you were responding emotionally to something I wrote. You were not responding to my words, you were expressing yourself. I also assumed that you had an audience comprised of people interested in seeing what happens next, and who probably didn’t feel the same as you, since people rarely do.

    And so I did what I do. I took a deep breath and prepared to read your screed with an eye for how someone else besides the two of us would see it, and how I might have a conversation with you in their presence that would not threaten you, and that would help our audience to understand my position.

    Such conversations are usually brief, never refer to what the person said, and always reiterate my main points. It is closer to politics than writing, I suppose.

    While I love writing, I am not a journalist. I am a marketer and product manager. I guide teams that build awesome products, and I work hard to ensure these products make people more productive, more connected, happier (something that can cause surprisingly vitriolic anger, believe it or not). And so my writing is fact-based, rational, and desirous of good things, but explicitly not objective ;-).

    So when people respond negatively to what I write or what we build, they really are “attacking” me, since I believe in what I do enough to make it part of me. But since my goal is to influence the path the world takes, not to defend myself, the attacks serve the purpose of providing a very intense forum for presenting my ideas, one where at least one other person is paying very close attention.

    That keeps me calm, confident and purposeful. A response presented that way usually douses the flame faster than a bucket of ice water. It always cuts through to the audience when in a public forum. And sometimes, once in a dozen or a hundred times, it gives the initial responder the space to unwind and see the world differently.

  20. chrishoke Says:

    I enjoyed this post very much. However, I think that it is an odd dilemma we put ourselves in when we have the power to delete completely the online attacks against ourselves or our work. It is a part of putting a piece of ourselves out there for the world to see. It toughens the skin a bit and makes us stronger people in the long run.

    I can offer only my pity to the bitter so-and-so who would go out of his way to tell me how much I “suck”. Well, pity and a lovingly-crafted and deeply-cutting personal insult about his mother’s nighttime habits, that is. That always makes me feel better than any lobster dinner might.

  21. Richard H. Says:

    When I posted something in the news in another group that was definitely related to business and politics, I got a fairly frothing at the mouth comment on my post stating if the group I was posting to was all about that then obviously they didn’t want his membership.

    I’m being nicer, for everyone’s sake.

    My blog was attacked the other day by someone spamming me so bad with vulgarity that I had to change the settings on my blog to all comments being moderated. This person sat on my blog and every comment I would take off, they would put back up in a minute or two.

    This got to the point of them actually challenging me on the blog openly that they could put them up as fast as I could take them down.

    They went merrily skipping from post to post, putting up raunchy comments.

    Lovely, no?

    I don’t know what has happened to reasonable discourse in this county. Left can’t talk to right or vice versa without someone getting SO passionate that it becomes hate filled or venom laced.

    Why are my right leaning or someone else’s left leaning ideals so horrible that you have to sink to that level?

    I still think it goes back to the whole “don’t hurt the child’s feelings by forcing them to be mannerly and respectful” that started about 30-35 years ago. Ever wonder why graffiti, violence over a jacket or what not, and kids sneering at adults has gotten bad since the mid 80’s?

    I know I wouldn’t have been allowed to act the way they are now.

    Respect – there just isn’t any out there anymore and THAT is one of the things that really frightens me. It means people can absolve themselves of most anything, including what you are seeing online.

  22. Alan C Says:


    Not to worry, in all human endeavors there are naysayers. Remember, Christopher Columbus was going to be lost over the edge of the earth..

    Keep up the good observations. Algernon should consider there that things are not what they seem – I had a manager who was obsessed with being either “on the bus, or off the bus” with regard to any issue. In Brooklyn, where I hail from, there is a third and unpleasant option – UNDER THE BUS.

  23. MV Says:

    When I got your “tweet” I saw red! I couldn’t imagine what I’d done to you! Then, I read your premise and realized what you are trying to say.

    YES – I AGREE. I recently had my lunch eaten by some guys at WarriorFourm.com – a client wanted to get her products listed on this site – I started a membership and, since they require 10 posts before you can actually DO anything, I spent the 10 posts agreeing with other people. WELL, you’d think I shot their kid brothers! I had people that I AGREED with attack me for typos, for using a few song lyrics to illustrate a point, even for objecting to being derisively referred to as “bro” when one of these jerks wouldn’t stop insulting me. Yeah, they are out there – but I won’t be.

  24. Elizabeth Says:

    You totally scared me when you tweeted this my way! I was wondering what I’d done now, since I do have a bit of a sharp tongue (or should that be sharp fingers on the Internet? hmm).

    The worst thing I’ve experienced online happened when I was blogging for a horribly misnamed literary journal (which shall not be named since even bad publicity is publicity) and wrote a negative review of a poem (posted elsewhere online) in which I was careful to make clear that I was talking only about the specific poem, not making comments about the author himself or his entire body of work.

    His response was a nasty comment that attacked me personally, including claiming among other things that I never wrote a memorable line in my life, though I have to say that I’m quite perplexed as to why he took the time to track down every tiny journal I’ve ever been published in if my work is so awful.

    Anyway, the editors told me it was a problem that I had made him angry since they had published other work of his before. To make matters worse, months later, the editor of an online journal for which I had been volunteering as an assistant editor rescinded an offer of a (still unpaid) position as submissions manager after learning of this incident, because apparently telling anyone about it constituted a step outside the “accepted bounds of enlightened debate”.

  25. ellenbrandtphd Says:

    What a dreadful story!

    It almost makes Algernon look cuddly.

    I guess some official “gatekeepers” simply should not be.

  26. Dick Pritchard Says:

    I find your writing witty and delightfully funny. Remember that “Algernon” was the name of the white rat in the movie “Charlie” (if you’re old enough to remember that one).

    The bottom line is, some people just have no sense of humor – about being old, being male/female, or whatever. Be glad you’re not writing a political blog! Have a wonderful day and keep writing!

  27. Rowena Says:


    I’m a mischievous sort, and a bit of a contrarian in more ways than one.

    So, I should like to show a little sympathy for Algernon. Any reply to a note that begins without salutation and the word “Obviously…” could come across as “Well, you dumbass…”

    He probably expected you to stroke his ego, poor gentleman.

    Rowena Cherry

  28. Yvonne Says:

    Oh my! When I read your comment, I was firstly appalled, then insecure, and lastly fuming mad! I was ever-ready to construct a reply filled with different levels of sarcasm – a “thank-you-for-your-wonderful-comment-would-you-like-me-to-offer-you-my-other-cheek-so-you-can-feel-better-about-your-sexless-life” kind of thing. (By the way, I think Algernon might have wrote that reply to you after a visit from his doctor about his ‘little’ problem.)

    Thank God for Curiosity! it’s amazing how this series of emotions has led me to your site. I absolutely love what you wrote in this post! You have talent in writing, and marketing. I’m a fan :)

  29. Mary Anne Says:

    Ellen – I had the same reaction at first as many others, eventually decided to ignore, but curiosity overcame me and here I am.
    I am so glad I came.

    Algernon obvious returned to his “pre-flowered” state before writing. Herbie cannot be 78, because I do not believe many 78 year olds even know what a computer virus is.

    As for the others………the risks of revealing oneself in the virtual world.
    Keep writing, while sorry to hear of these troubles, I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

  30. Tanya R Says:

    Hello Ellen,

    Thank-you for your well-written and poignant article, it was witty and relevant.

    In my experience as member of 45+ LinkedIn Groups I can corroborate your story with my own experience.

    As a health policy professional I started a discussion thread on a health group on LinkedIn. My post was to ascertain what forums exist utilizing social media to translate technical health information into information that can be useful for the general public, specifically what blogs and groups exist that address the social determinants of health, health equity etc.

    For some reason this post, on one of the groups that I posted it to, was removed, and I received what appeared to be an auto-generated email indicating my post had been relocated to the jobs section of the group, and I should keep my comments to the appropriate section of the group.

    This confused me, since my question both overtly and subliminally had no objective of seeking employment or recruiting for a position, so I had no idea why it was removed. I politely wrote to the Group manager, so that I could understand the decision-making process and so that my future posts would be positioned appropriately in the group.

    I received no response. Perhaps they didn’t like the look of me, I say in jest, however I suppose I will never know.

    Ellen, please keep the posts coming. They are empowering, and your prose is intelligent and hilarious.


    • ellenbrandtphd Says:

      To Tanya:

      The Group Manager wasn’t at fault per se, although he or she could have reversed the move to Jobs very easily.

      Often, other Group members will bump a post in Discussions to Jobs, so they can selfishly move up in the visibility queue on the Overview board.

      It really is the equivalent of a “Black Hat” technique, in this case, within a Group.

  31. Richard H. Says:

    One thing I can tell you is don’t anyone dare ever consider posting a thought about politics on a social network that doesn’t coincide with EVERYONE’S ideals.

    Boy, do the flamers come out of the woodwork then! I have been told that they didn’t want to hear me “spew” or that I MUST stop saying things or endure even more virulent attacks.

    It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you’re on. Civility should be the rule in discourse.

    If someone is uncivil to me, prepare to have my vocabulary skills turned on that person in such a way as to make grown men cry!

    I am tired of being told that one side has a right to free speech, while another side is held to a different standard.

    Virulent, aggressive, and hate-filled speech is acceptable if you are of a certain political persuasion, but not if you are of another? Why?

  32. Chuck S. Says:

    It might be easier to show how not to get some folks to like you.

    Dr. Ellen Brandt has a great post on her blog that covers three experiences where people didn’t exactly put their best foot forward. 

    (Posted today on my website.)

  33. Todd Drumm Says:

    Dear Ellen,

    Don’t despair, Algernonsense has merely lived with his mother too long, needs to find his own apartment where he can pull the wings off of flies in private and find a new life back on this planet.

    Yikes, PhD from Penn? Are you sure? Glad I stopped at my MBA from Wharton and did not go on to earn a PhD.

    As for his office mates agreeing with him, that is either total BS, or he is the kind of whining troll that everybody just yes’s in order to shut him up, because they want to get back to work or continue surfing for porn without any static in the background. It may also be with today’s PC office policies you can’t just call Algernon a buffoon and tell him to take a hike, so he is probably artificially insulated from criticism in the work place.

    He is a nut, stay away from him.

    Warm regards, Todd

  34. Todd Drumm Says:

    Forgot the obvious: Algernon is a weeeee bit thin-skinned.

  35. George Hall Says:

    Hmmm…Now I read the article and the comments I get the Tweet.

    Interesting bit of viral marketing there, getting people to react to a weird, strange Tweet…then drawing them to your blog.

    Mind you, this style of marketing is usually something I only like once.

    I tend to leave LinkedIn off my list of social media.

  36. mark Says:

    Nice work. Think I’ll ‘follow.’

  37. Joe Tellup Says:

    Face it, Kiddo, anytime you write anything of value, there are those who are of no value who are going to jump on it.

    I think from what I was able to read that you should have had a good laugh, perhaps even a burger and a beer.

    I’ll bet when Algernon was formulating his attack letter, he had a dictionary on the left knee and a thesaurus on the right.

  38. Grant A. Says:

    I have been speaking and writing, like you, for years and I simply dismiss those who are fixated on being rude.

    Typically I find that those who want to be hostile have little to offer in the form of enlightened conversation, debate or fresh ideas.

  39. Gary W. Anderson Says:

    Enjoyed your writting. Yes some of us are sane!! However, I would just block Algernon!! Don’t let him stress you!

  40. Katherine Says:


    I didn’t have such a disturbing experience with LinkedIn as you did but I did have two experiences that taught me a lesson about accepting invitations. One was fairly early on when I accepted an invite from someone whom I vaguely remember at my first job over 20 years ago.

    Thought it was harmless until I got 160 “XX thinks you might like to connect with XX” messages. I complained to LinkedIn and the messages did stop – for awhile. I ended up deleting the person as a contact and that ended it for good.

    The other experience was with joining my alma mater’s LinkedIn group and having large numbers of members inviting me to connect. Even though I instinctively trust the Notre Dame network, I made sure to look closely at each invitation and evaluate it.

    Honestly, there are crazies everywhere no matter the pedigree and Notre Dame, Harvard, Penn, etc. certainly have their share! I would just reconsider the blanket acceptance of folks based upon their affiliation because in the end it really is the crazies who end up being the most “active” and most likely to cause the most distress. Just a thought. Great post and ensuing conversation!


  41. Bill Says:


    I just spent a good deal of time reading your stories and the group’s responses to them. As I was reading and reflecting, my mind kept racing on points to respond to, that would somehow contribute relevant and meaningful information. After all, I didn’t want to be poisoned, thrown off a tall building, and, quite frankly, have more exciting visions for stiletto heels!

    With that said, here’s a few thoughts: I really do empathize with your feelings after having your character and professionalism attacked. That kind of experience is never emotionally rewarding. I hope you didn’t lose too much sleep over it. I find your writing and thinking refreshing, engaging, and most importantly authentic.

    If someone has an issue, have the intestinal fortitude or class to have a private conversation to resolve it and not hide behind a computer screen.

    If this entire issue is important to “THE REVOLUTION” and your vision for the new Media group, then by all means fight the battle.

    But let’s not waste our energy on people who don’t get it: people who get their jollies by tearing down, being negative, and are quite frankly not talented enough to contribute to making the world a better place.

    Now I really have to be honest. Being the owner of a company called Story Mavericks, my first reaction on how I would handle is simple . . . an E-mail to said “Algernons”

    . . . “Excuse me, Dear Sir. You’ve obviously mistaken me for someone who really gives a bleep about what you think.”

    NO, Ellen, I’d probably handle it just as you have by reaching out to your new Tribe.

    Best, Bill G

  42. Curtis R. Curtis Says:


    I must say that I follow a lot of bloggers however very few of them inspire me to want to read through what are sometimes quite lengthy but always amusing or inciteful posts….not to mention all the wonderful comments and support from your fellow constituents.

    I used to find myself being constantly flamed when I too was a somewhat outspoken writer in the early days of the Internet(something I rarely do anymore but instead choosing to speak publicly so at least I can look my attacker in the eye when he is berating me for whatever position I am taking). I can say that I commend you for being so brave as to incur the craziness that exists out there.

    Keep the intelligence alive and don’t stop. Trust me, those who matter, enjoy what you write. And if they do not well then they can always go back to reading their Penthouse subscription.


  43. Kellie Says:

    My, oh my…

    I’ve never spent so much of my valuable time reading a post (and its comments) as I did this one.

    Since I’m new at publishing, I don’t have the vast experience most of you do with regard to flamers.

    What I do know is this: Ellen’s posts are funny, extremely well-articulated, often edgy, and hold my attention even if I care little about the topic. That is a great writer in my opinion.

    I also know that we will never fully understand human behavior with all its caveats and splendor. Trigger points are at best lucid. No matter what I say, someone could take it wrongly if skewed by a damaged perspective, or rightly if their skewed perspective happens to be the same as mine. We’ll never fully understand it, and flamers will always be around.

    I know you’ve had plenty of encouragement to keep writing, to which I have no doubt you would anyhow, since it’s in your blood. But just like the tabloids you get ideas from: some will love ’em, some will hate ’em, and the ones in between will never admit to buying ’em. But they’re still on the shelves making someone rich.

    TO ALL OF US: Learn from it, grow from it, and move beyond it with the hope of a better tomorrow.


  44. Bill Says:


    Back again. A P.S. to my previous post that I did not mention.

    Like many people who have responded I enjoy your writing and thinking. As Kellie said, it is edgy, humorous – we need that big time – and very engaging.


  45. Kimmarie Says:

    Dear Ellen,

    That’s quite a rant! Luckily, you have a gift for this gab, whereas many on social networking sites are still dragging their knuckles, let alone being able to understand the value of your media research and how lucky your followers were to be able to take the journey with you.

    And hey. . . you won, soooo. . .You really get the last laugh. I naively joined Facebook, thinking it would be a good professional networking site, but very quickly found out that the object of Facebook is to get the most “Friends”.

    Not so with Linked In, and to keep it from turning in to “Facebook,” I try to keep my contact list small and important. Although there are several contacts that I don’t actually have personal contact with, they are (like you), at the top of their field.

    I, admittedly, am a life-long scholar, and as such want to surround myself with those who can inspire me and teach me. I thank you for offering this to so many. But when something becomes detrimental to my primary focus, it is time to re-examine my tactics.

    No, you are not alone in your Linked In concerns, and thanks for verifying my tummy flips! One of the drawbacks to blogging and submitting comments on blogs is that people often feel bolder in expressing how they feel when they do not have to confront you face to face, when they are “anonymous,” while you have maintained full disclosure. They also tend to digress and rant on, when a concise and reasoned debate would be more effective. I try to avoid this by first writing my blog or comment in Word…and on that note, I respectfully close!

  46. Drew Says:

    Hi Ellen,

    I recently had a terrible experience on Linked In. I had posted a comment to a discussion I considered helpful… not everyone agreed. One member of the group considered it spam and when I tried to engage them in a discussion about how they defined spam. . . nothing. No response.

    They must have reported me, though, because I was kicked out of the group. Or at least I couldn’t post to it . . . To give them the benefit of the doubt, it may have been a technical glitch. Maybe.

  47. Colleen Says:

    What a riot! Your reaction is funny, too. . .cry, screech, throw a shoe at the computer, then a walk on the beach and a lobster dinner!

    It is scary to get some off-the-wall response to innocent communication. The guy is a mutant . . .or perhaps a son of a beach!

    Keep us laughing and informed, Ellen!

  48. gmcquade Says:

    HI Ellen,

    I had two similar deals from “journalists” with similar problems. I learned that by trying to correct misinformation, it created more firepower and gas on the fire. The corrections were republished, but not without repeating earlier misinformation and personal attacks.

    Moral: Don’t respond to negative attacks. Some “journalists” have no lives, and there are always some bad apples in every bushel.

    Another time, while promoting a documentary film for a global company, a freelancer on assignement for a top newspaper challenged the historical accuracy of one of the characters in the film.

    I forwarded his info. But then later, a story headed “A Fake . . .Blah Blah” was published in one of the top newspapers. If that didn’t get him enough attention, he signed up on one of my social networks and blasted the film again and left a link to the previous article.

    Moral of Both Cases: When you set up a blog or social network (Ning.com in the second case) be sure to click off that all comments must be approved by the publisher before they’re
    published and/o that all members of the network must be approved first.

    Linked In has the best system, where the Group leader can check you out first, preventing potential hornet’s nests.

    I am still fighting with Ning.com on how to one destroy or delete the social net I set up, because I now I get Ladies of the Nigjht who invite all my members to come see them on their webcams. Whew!

    Two lessons learned the hard way.
    It is a cruel world out there!

  49. pderitis Says:

    All I can say is, the crazies are everywhere. My sincere sympathy goes to you that you had to deal with all that!

  50. William Smith Says:

    Your posting highlights three difficult elements of our zeitgeist. (I am not including the sheer stupidity of many interest posters.)

    The first, obvious, is a lack of good sense, good taste, and civility. Not to mention good grammar and diction. The boundaries of civil speech have vanished to the large degree, and only education and self discipline can reset them.

    The second is the parasitical growth of a perpetual sense of entitlement–enabling anyone, on the flimsiest excuse, to proclaim their expertise and asset a “right” to broadcast their opinions. I am reasonably certain that the Founding Fathers did not include irresponsible ignorance in their concept of free speech.

    The third is by far the most damaging–emotion over reason. An increasing large number of people interpret whatever they do not like as a direct assault on their person. “Passion” and “rage” (both extremely negative words in my vocabulary) are exalted; far too many have the pride of the proverbial Spanish grandee, ready to fight a dual on a moment’s notice.

    The question is, how do we steer ourselves collectively back to reasoned discussion?

  51. Susan L. Edlis, LCSW, CMC Says:


    As the saying goes “No good deed goes unpunished.”

    This is the most unbelievable story. Apparently people have nothing better to do with their time, but respond visiously to a professional article.

    I wonder if there is any way that you can block these idiots’ mail. Spam blocker? I frequently read: To prevent this newsletter from landing in your junk mail, please add this link to your white list. The vagaries of computers and e-mail never fail to confuse me. Junk mail winds up in the inbox, and genuine e-mail winds up in the junk e-mail.

    • ellenbrandtphd Says:


      I guess you haven’t read my recent articles on Spam and on Internet Flamers.

      Here are the links:

      “Accused of Spam? It Might Have Been Politically Motivated” http://bit.ly/E1eTY

      and “Why Internet Flamers Are Like Locusts-And What To Do If They Swarm” http://bit.ly/pEcx3

  52. Kate LaFrance Says:

    Hi Ellen – I mentioned this blog in an article I did on my site Hartford Woman Online – hope you like it.

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