by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

Join in their volley of insults, they’ll continue to play as long as they can . Ignore them completely, readers could take them to heart. In the Flame Game, a quick victory – fueled by wit – works best.

Most people don’t visit websites, blogs, or group discussion boards intent on making trouble.

Most people respect the opinions of others and debate them, if they must, in the spirit of fairness and camaraderie.

Most people don’t embark on lifelong vendettas based on a few words posted on the Internet.

But then, most people aren’t Flamers.

I sometimes think of Internet Flamers as Locusts. They descend upon a target website quickly. Under suitable conditions, they breed rapidly and form a swarm. Their noise is so overwhelming, they can drown out everything else in the vicinity. And if left unchecked, they can do great harm, sometimes devastating damage.

Like Locusts, too, Internet Flamers seem to pop up spontaneously more or less anywhere. If you write or publish anything whatsoever on the Internet, even the most harmless-sounding, out-and-out innocent site or blog – on kitchen countertops, say, or miniature poodles – chances are that somehow, someday, when you least expect it, Flamers will swarm.

In Internet terms, Flaming is defined as a hostile or insulting interaction between or among users of a discussion board, chatroom, or increasingly, the Comments section of a website or blog.

But the expression of hostility or anger per se isn’t necessarily Flaming. It’s when such expressions are aimed at others – including authors or website owners – and are neither constructive nor clarifying to the progress of a discussion that true Flaming occurs. Often, these attacks go off on a tangent so extreme, they have only the most tenuous connection to the original material that supposedly inspired them.

I wrote about a classic Flamer – I called him “Herbie” – in my story about extreme malice on the Internet. (“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” http://wp.me/pycK6-5 )

Herbie, supposedly a genteel gentleman in his 70s, somehow found the Comments section of a reprinted version of my quite-popular story, “Summer Camp for Seniors,” which talks about unqualified activities directors at assisted-living sites and their disrespect for elderly residents. (See http://wp.me/pycK6-t )

On his first appearance there, Herbie made a statement along the lines of “There is so much that is horrible about this article, I don’t know where to start.” Already suspecting something – having worked for both the tabloids and women’s mags, I know a potential crazy person by instinct – I asked the site’s publisher to take down the comment and ban this fellow from his site. He didn’t.

So Herbie came back. And as I suspected he would, he quickly proceeded to make comments that were totally unrelated to the story itself, but nevertheless – without any citations from the text – called it untrue and unsupported and elitist and . . . I dunno, possibly seditious and definitely fattening. After which he went on to lambaste me – someone he knew nothing whatsoever about – as an unfit writer, scholar, dancer, chef, electrician, Olympic athlete, and Mayoral candidate. (All except the first two are, of course, accurate.)

Even Without an Audience, Determined Flamers Flame Away

With the unfortunate lack of civility in our public discourse these days, silly – but often hurtful – attacks of this kind are an everyday occurrence. Until recently, though, Flamers’ targets tended to be celebrities of some kind – actors, politicians, sports figures, or Jay Leno.

Now, if you breathe – particularly if you both breathe and write – you’re potential prey. My friend Elizabeth contacted me just the other day, horrified that her simple act of posting a news story from a UK publication on a message board attracted a vicious Flaming attack. She didn’t even write the story – for Goddess’s sake! – but her Flamer ripped into her with a “People like you don’t know what you’re talking about” diatribe that had scant threads linking it to the story in question and no threads whatsoever linking it to Elizabeth.

“People Like You” is a common kind of Flamer opener, by the way, mostly because it’s so versatile. “People Like You – (Baby Boomers, Lawyers, Moroccans, Bowlers, Meat-Eaters, Satanists) – should be condemned because you – (Own Two Cars, Don’t Recycle, Have Freckles, Talk Too Fast, Remind Me of My Cousin Jimmy, Have Bodies Buried in Your Backyard) – and therefore need to be (Censored, Quarantined, Tithed, Sent to an Optometrist, Drawn-and-Quartered, Forced to Read Marketing Copy).

In nearly every instance, Flamers like to jump quickly from attacks on things – articles, movies, music, games – to attacks on people responsible for those things – authors, directors, composers, athletes. That’s because things don’t have feelings and can’t get hurt. People tend to get hurt pretty easily.

To be sure, if you’ve been the target of Flamethrowers often enough, you develop a sort of immunity. Personally, I’m not prepared to run for president yet. How candidates – or even Britney and Lindsay – take it is beyond me. But in the case of my Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation series, which has been the constant target of a group of Crazed Millennials who think I’m out to incite a rebellion of We-Won’t-Be-Bullied-Into-Retirement middle-class businesspeople – (Yes, of course, they’re right) – I now fully expect the attacks and have begun to find them rather funny.

The funniest was clearly an attack I endured when I posted one of my Angriest Generation articles – I believe it was “No Gold Watch When You Work For Pariah Corporation” (http://wp.me/pxD3J-N ) on one of the News feeds at a film-related group at Linked In.

Minutes after the story was posted, a tag team of Flamers – let’s call them Manny and Moe – bit into the Comments stream with relish. Not that they even mentioned the article itself. They first began with the standard “Boomers Are To Blame For the Ills of the World” harangue, which has been permeating the Internet the past few months and which I talked about in my story on Anti-Boomer propaganda. (See “You Have Cooties – Go Play Golf” at: http://wp.me/pxD3J-8 )

According to this so-predictable-it-has-to-be-scripted spiel, Boomers are to blame for not only our current economic malaise, but also for the Biblical Flood, the Black Plague, the Wars of the Roses, and Cholesterol. Moreover, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are Boomers, which proves . . . absolutely nothing, but they think it does.

I responded to the first barrage of Flamelets – (for my Fight-Flamers Game Plan, see below) – with a link to my Anti-Boomer propaganda story and several of my own canned answers for dealing with criticism aimed at Boomers.

Predictably, Moe and Manny went on to attack me – my integrity, my scholarship, my ancestry, my hairdo, and my taste in breakfast cereal. Actually, their main attack centered on the fact that one of these two gentlemen – I believe it was Moe – had attempted to post a couple of Flaming Anti-Boomer comments on my blogsite, and I zapped him, which is my right as a website owner.

I made one additional post specifically aimed at this Fireball, stating that not only do I moderate my own blogs, I strongly suggest that others do the same. And I pointed out that M&M’s hero, President Obama – also a Baby Boomer, by the way – now moderates all of his websites at the White House. So call me Obama-like in my decision.

Manny and Moe disregarded the analogy and went on Flaming – but I decided not to participate further, nor did any other poster. So for the next two weeks, Moe and Manny continued their Flame-throwing dialogue, talking to each other, possibly without a single outside observer, and turned their Flamefest into a hundred-comment extravaganza. Alas, it’s been removed from the site now, or I would gladly link you to it, as a sort of relic.

Bring in the Clones

An even funnier Flamefest is in motion right now, at the date of publication of this story. I don’t think I’ll tell you where – think of it as a Treasure Hunt – but the venue is a political discussion board at a social media site. The topic which started this particular Comments thread is by now lost in prehistory, but the thread has now reached the 80-plus posts point. What makes it so hilarious is that there are – as in the Manny and Moe scenario – now only two posters left in the stream, trading virulent insults with positive glee. The twist is that these two “opposing” Flamers are almost certainly the exact same real person. A Man and his Clone, together at last.

The “Man” in question – I’ve confirmed he does exist – is quite intelligent, a Harvard grad in his early 30’s. The “Clone” is his Avatar, in the three-dimensional, rather than graphic, sense: a distinct Internet personality created by its user to represent him/her/it in Web interactions. Avatars like this are the essence of Virtual World-type communities, like Second Life, and various multiplayer games, like World of Warcraft.

I’m sure that the Man and the Clone are one in the same, because He/They have made multiple verbal slips in their Flame-Party-A-Deux. Sometimes, the Man (let’s call him Ralph) claims credit for remarks the Clone (let’s call him Rafe) has made and vice versa. Or Rafe insults Ralph insults Rafe for characteristics of “background” or “opinion” formerly attributed to the other.

Possibly, this is all preparation for a Hollywood blockbuster – or a political coup. One can’t be sure.

The moderator of this discussion board may have declined to intercede in this split-personality Flame thread because (s)he found it entertaining and/or mind-boggling. The moderator of the Manny-Moe Flamerama inspired by my article probably should have intervened and doused – i.e. deleted – the conflagration as soon as it included malicious insults.

As I have said elsewhere, most discussion board and other group moderators don’t take this facet of their responsibilities seriously enough. They don’t consider the emotional distress Internet bullying, sometimes escalating to character assassination, can cause, even among we sane and stable adults who make up the majority of Internet participants.

And by not choosing to Just Say No to Nastiness, they may be encouraging Flamers to continue in their dubious careers of Cyber-Sadism.

But We Who Have Felt the Burn can certainly do our part to douse the flames.

The Little Man Behind the Screen

Remember the denouement of the Wizard of Oz? Toto kicks over a screen to reveal the Wizard as a shriveled up, rather pathetic-looking little man, whose manifestations of power are nothing more than magic tricks.

Flamers are just junior Wizards, whose power is illusory, based as it is on a certain facility to string hurtful words together, reinforced by what are clearly sociopathic tendencies.

Your concern as a writer or website owner isn’t with the Flamer or Flamers, anyway. It’s with your audience of readers, potential readers, or website visitors. You don’t want to have them shun you because of lies and character assassination coming from your attackers. But you don’t want to participate in a “volley” of exchanges with your Flamers, either – because if you do, it may go on for years!

On your website or blogsite itself, there’s the simplest of solutions: Insist on moderating your own Comments streams. Allow in comments which disagree with your text or ideas, if they are made honestly in the spirit of discussion and debate. But simply zap comments which are irrelevant to your text, insult entire groups of people, or insult you.

“I find a logical flaw in your argument about aardvarks with leprosy,” is OK. “Dentists are aardvarks with leprosy,” “Romanians are aardvarks with leprosy” or “You are an aardvark with leprosy” are not.

In a social media discussion thread or the Comments section of a News feed, the situation is more difficult, because you don’t moderate the site. You can try appealing to whomever does moderate it to delete posts from Flamers. Good Luck! I have found that most site moderators either don’t care, are too busy, or – quite often – believe that a Flame Exchange brings new readers to their group and is therefore positive.

Your real concern is that Flamers might be taken seriously enough by the rest of the group that they’re persuaded not to read your article or visit your website.

So I suggest you post once – sometimes twice – politely but firmly stating why you believe whatever the heck they’re saying is all wet. If you can deflate them with wit or humor, that is a definite plus:

“No, our site was not designed by a ten-year-old. Stanislaus is 43, lives in Cleveland, and won the Website of the Century award last year.”

“There are 80 million Baby Boomers in the US. Surely, you’re not suggesting all of us are cannibals?”

“My parents are not a gangster and a chorus girl. Dad is a veterinarian, and Mom owns a dress shop.”

Then, painful as it is, just walk away.

Possibly, they’ll say more cruel, nasty things about you. Possibly they’ll continue saying them for weeks, like Manny and Moe, or Ralph and His Clone.

But you won’t be there to hear them.

What Do You Think?

Have you been the victim of Internet Flamers? OK – Of course, you have! But tell us about the most interesting, horrible, or funny incidents.

Should moderators of social media groups and message boards be compelled by top site management to delete posts that insult or damage the reputations of group members?

Should web security organizations or law enforcement agencies step in and stop the activities of perpetual Flamers?

What do you think motivates the typical Flamer? Does their existence indicate greater problems on the Internet or within our society?

Should Ralph and his Clone be given a Hollywood contract?

For the Introduction to the Media Revolution series: http://wp.me/pycK6-1Y

For our story about False Spam Accusations as Political Weapons: http://wp.me/pycK6-21

For Ellen’s popular article, “Will Boomers and the GOP Save Twitter? http://wp.me/pxD3J-K

by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

Join in their volley of insults, they’ll continue to play as long as they can . Ignore them completely, readers could take them to heart. In the Flame Game, a quick victory – fueled by wit – works best.

Most people don’t visit websites, blogs, or group discussion boards intent on making trouble.

Most people respect the opinions of others and debate them, if they must, in the spirit of fairness and camaraderie.

Most people don’t embark on lifelong vendettas based on a few words posted on the Internet.

But then, most people aren’t Flamers.

I sometimes think of Internet Flamers as Locusts. They descend upon a target website quickly. Under suitable conditions, they breed rapidly and form a swarm. Their noise is so overwhelming, they can drown out everything else in the vicinity. And if left unchecked, they can do great harm, sometimes devastating damage.

Like Locusts, too, Internet Flamers seem to pop up spontaneously more or less anywhere. If you write or publish anything whatsoever on the Internet, even the most harmless-sounding, out-and-out innocent site or blog – on kitchen countertops, say, or miniature poodles – chances are that somehow, someday, when you least expect it, Flamers will swarm.

In Internet terms, Flaming is defined as a hostile or insulting interaction between or among users of a discussion board, chatroom, or increasingly, the Comments section of a website or blog.

But the expression of hostility or anger per se isn’t necessarily Flaming. It’s when such expressions are aimed at others – including authors or website owners – and are neither constructive nor clarifying to the progress of a discussion that true Flaming occurs. Often, these attacks go off on a tangent so extreme, they have only the most tenuous connection to the original material that supposedly inspired them.

I wrote about a classic Flamer – I called him “Herbie” – in my story about extreme malice on the Internet. (“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” http://wp.me/pycK6-5 )

Herbie, supposedly a genteel gentleman in his 70s, somehow found the Comments section of a reprinted version of my quite-popular story, “Summer Camp for Seniors,” which talks about unqualified activities directors at assisted-living sites and their disrespect for elderly residents. (See http://wp.me/pycK6-t )

On his first appearance there, Herbie made a statement along the lines of “There is so much that is horrible about this article, I don’t know where to start.” Already suspecting something – having worked for both the tabloids and women’s mags, I know a potential crazy person by instinct – I asked the site’s publisher to take down the comment and ban this fellow from his site. He didn’t.

So Herbie came back. And as I suspected he would, he quickly proceeded to make comments that were totally unrelated to the story itself, but nevertheless – without any citations from the text – called it untrue and unsupported and elitist and . . . I dunno, possibly seditious and definitely fattening. After which he went on to lambaste me – someone he knew nothing whatsoever about – as an unfit writer, scholar, dancer, chef, electrician, Olympic athlete, and Mayoral candidate. (All except the first two are, of course, accurate.)

Even Without an Audience, Determined Flamers Flame Away

With the unfortunate lack of civility in our public discourse these days, silly – but often hurtful – attacks of this kind are an everyday occurrence. Until recently, though, Flamers’ targets tended to be celebrities of some kind – actors, politicians, sports figures, or Jay Leno.

Now, if you breathe – particularly if you both breathe and write – you’re potential prey. My friend Elizabeth contacted me just the other day, horrified that her simple act of posting a news story from a UK publication on a message board attracted a vicious Flaming attack. She didn’t even write the story – for Goddess’s sake! – but her Flamer ripped into her with a “People like you don’t know what you’re talking about” diatribe that had scant threads linking it to the story in question and no threads whatsoever linking it to Elizabeth.

“People Like You” is a common kind of Flamer opener, by the way, mostly because it’s so versatile. “People Like You – (Baby Boomers, Lawyers, Moroccans, Bowlers, Meat-Eaters, Satanists) – should be condemned because you – (Own Two Cars, Don’t Recycle, Have Freckles, Talk Too Fast, Remind Me of My Cousin Jimmy, Have Bodies Buried in Your Backyard) – and therefore need to be (Censored, Quarantined, Tithed, Sent to an Optometrist, Drawn-and-Quartered, Forced to Read Marketing Copy).

In nearly every instance, Flamers like to jump quickly from attacks on things – articles, movies, music, games – to attacks on people responsible for those things – authors, directors, composers, athletes. That’s because things don’t have feelings and can’t get hurt. People tend to get hurt pretty easily.

To be sure, if you’ve been the target of Flamethrowers often enough, you develop a sort of immunity. Personally, I’m not prepared to run for president yet. How candidates – or even Britney and Lindsay – take it is beyond me. But in the case of my Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation series, which has been the constant target of a group of Crazed Millennials who think I’m out to incite a rebellion of We-Won’t-Be-Bullied-Into-Retirement middle-class businesspeople – (Yes, of course, they’re right) – I now fully expect the attacks and have begun to find them rather funny.

The funniest was clearly an attack I endured when I posted one of my Angriest Generation articles – I believe it was “No Gold Watch When You Work For Pariah Corporation” (http://wp.me/pxD3J-N ) on one of the News feeds at a film-related group at Linked In.

Minutes after the story was posted, a tag team of Flamers – let’s call them Manny and Moe – bit into the Comments stream with relish. Not that they even mentioned the article itself. They first began with the standard “Boomers Are To Blame For the Ills of the World” harangue, which has been permeating the Internet the past few months and which I talked about in my story on Anti-Boomer propaganda. (See “You Have Cooties – Go Play Golf” at: http://wp.me/pxD3J-8 )

According to this so-predictable-it-has-to-be-scripted spiel, Boomers are to blame for not only our current economic malaise, but also for the Biblical Flood, the Black Plague, the Wars of the Roses, and Cholesterol. Moreover, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are Boomers, which proves . . . absolutely nothing, but they think it does.

I responded to the first barrage of Flamelets – (for my Fight-Flamers Game Plan, see below) – with a link to my Anti-Boomer propaganda story and several of my own canned answers for dealing with criticism aimed at Boomers.

Predictably, Moe and Manny went on to attack me – my integrity, my scholarship, my ancestry, my hairdo, and my taste in breakfast cereal. Actually, their main attack centered on the fact that one of these two gentlemen – I believe it was Moe – had attempted to post a couple of Flaming Anti-Boomer comments on my blogsite, and I zapped him, which is my right as a website owner.

I made one additional post specifically aimed at this Fireball, stating that not only do I moderate my own blogs, I strongly suggest that others do the same. And I pointed out that M&M’s hero, President Obama – also a Baby Boomer, by the way – now moderates all of his websites at the White House. So call me Obama-like in my decision.

Manny and Moe disregarded the analogy and went on Flaming – but I decided not to participate further, nor did any other poster. So for the next two weeks, Moe and Manny continued their Flame-throwing dialogue, talking to each other, possibly without a single outside observer, and turned their Flamefest into a hundred-comment extravaganza. Alas, it’s been removed from the site now, or I would gladly link you to it, as a sort of relic.

Bring in the Clones

An even funnier Flamefest is in motion right now, at the date of publication of this story. I don’t think I’ll tell you where – think of it as a Treasure Hunt – but the venue is a political discussion board at a social media site. The topic which started this particular Comments thread is by now lost in prehistory, but the thread has now reached the 80-plus posts point. What makes it so hilarious is that there are – as in the Manny and Moe scenario – now only two posters left in the stream, trading virulent insults with positive glee. The twist is that these two “opposing” Flamers are almost certainly the exact same real person. A Man and his Clone, together at last.

The “Man” in question – I’ve confirmed he does exist – is quite intelligent, a Harvard grad in his early 30’s. The “Clone” is his Avatar, in the three-dimensional, rather than graphic, sense: a distinct Internet personality created by its user to represent him/her/it in Web interactions. Avatars like this are the essence of Virtual World-type communities, like Second Life, and various multiplayer games, like World of Warcraft.

I’m sure that the Man and the Clone are one in the same, because He/They have made multiple verbal slips in their Flame-Party-A-Deux. Sometimes, the Man (let’s call him Ralph) claims credit for remarks the Clone (let’s call him Rafe) has made and vice versa. Or Rafe insults Ralph insults Rafe for characteristics of “background” or “opinion” formerly attributed to the other.

Possibly, this is all preparation for a Hollywood blockbuster – or a political coup. One can’t be sure.

The moderator of this discussion board may have declined to intercede in this split-personality Flame thread because (s)he found it entertaining and/or mind-boggling. The moderator of the Manny-Moe Flamerama inspired by my article probably should have intervened and doused – i.e. deleted – the conflagration as soon as it included malicious insults.

As I have said elsewhere, most discussion board and other group moderators don’t take this facet of their responsibilities seriously enough. They don’t consider the emotional distress Internet bullying, sometimes escalating to character assassination, can cause, even among we sane and stable adults who make up the majority of Internet participants.

And by not choosing to Just Say No to Nastiness, they may be encouraging Flamers to continue in their dubious careers of Cyber-Sadism.

But We Who Have Felt the Burn can certainly do our part to douse the flames.

The Little Man Behind the Screen

Remember the denouement of the Wizard of Oz? Toto kicks over a screen to reveal the Wizard as a shriveled up, rather pathetic-looking little man, whose manifestations of power are nothing more than magic tricks.

Flamers are just junior Wizards, whose power is illusory, based as it is on a certain facility to string hurtful words together, reinforced by what are clearly sociopathic tendencies.

Your concern as a writer or website owner isn’t with the Flamer or Flamers, anyway. It’s with your audience of readers, potential readers, or website visitors. You don’t want to have them shun you because of lies and character assassination coming from your attackers. But you don’t want to participate in a “volley” of exchanges with your Flamers, either – because if you do, it may go on for years!

On your website or blogsite itself, there’s the simplest of solutions: Insist on moderating your own Comments streams. Allow in comments which disagree with your text or ideas, if they are made honestly in the spirit of discussion and debate. But simply zap comments which are irrelevant to your text, insult entire groups of people, or insult you.

“I find a logical flaw in your argument about aardvarks with leprosy,” is OK. “Dentists are aardvarks with leprosy,” “Romanians are aardvarks with leprosy” or “You are an aardvark with leprosy” are not.

In a social media discussion thread or the Comments section of a News feed, the situation is more difficult, because you don’t moderate the site. You can try appealing to whomever does moderate it to delete posts from Flamers. Good Luck! I have found that most site moderators either don’t care, are too busy, or – quite often – believe that a Flame Exchange brings new readers to their group and is therefore positive.

Your real concern is that Flamers might be taken seriously enough by the rest of the group that they’re persuaded not to read your article or visit your website.

So I suggest you post once – sometimes twice – politely but firmly stating why you believe whatever the heck they’re saying is all wet. If you can deflate them with wit or humor, that is a definite plus:

“No, our site was not designed by a ten-year-old. Stanislaus is 43, lives in Cleveland, and won the Website of the Century award last year.”

“There are 80 million Baby Boomers in the US. Surely, you’re not suggesting all of us are cannibals?”

“My parents are not a gangster and a chorus girl. Dad is a veterinarian, and Mom owns a dress shop.”

Then, painful as it is, just walk away.

Possibly, they’ll say more cruel, nasty things about you. Possibly they’ll continue saying them for weeks, like Manny and Moe, or Ralph and His Clone.

But you won’t be there to hear them.

What Do You Think?

Have you been the victim of Internet Flamers? OK – Of course, you have! But tell us about the most interesting, horrible, or funny incidents.

Should moderators of social media groups and message boards be compelled by top site management to delete posts that insult or damage the reputations of group members?

Should web security organizations or law enforcement agencies step in and stop the activities of perpetual Flamers?

What do you think motivates the typical Flamer? Does their existence indicate greater problems on the Internet or within our society?

Should Ralph and his Clone be given a Hollywood contract?

For the Introduction to the Media Revolution series: http://wp.me/pycK6-19

For our story about False Spam Accusations as Political Weapons: http://wp.me/pycK6-1b

For Ellen’s popular article, “Will Boomers and the GOP Save Twitter? http://wp.me/pxD3J-K

by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

Trust me, this isn’t a story I want to write. But my previous blog about Extreme Malice on the Web – http://wp.me/pycK6-5 – quickly spawned even worse malice, in the form of a bona fide Internet Stalker.

Since neither diplomacy, nor entreaties, nor repeated pleas to Customer Service has made a dent in this demented young woman’s determination to make my life a living Cyber-Hell, I must fall back once again on satire.

A Mistake So Egregious, Only Harakiri Can Assuage Our Outrage

Shortly after publishing the saga of Algernon, Herbie, et. al., I decided to sign up for Twitter, to see what the fuss was all about. Like so many others, I didn’t really understand the rules, which seem to resemble the Red Queen’s famous game of croquet. But like Alice before me, I plunged in mallet in hand.

The main thing I didn’t understand was the difference between a Tweet-Into-the-General-Bouillabaisse-of-Tweets and a Tweet-to-a-Specific-(Probably-Faux-Possibly-Criminal)-Individual-Twitterer.

Cheerfully unawares, I made the latter kind of Tweet to several dozen individuals, with a link and an abridged title of my “serious humor” blog about malice. Here’s an example:

@Saintly, Kind Philanthropist “I Don’t Like What You Wrote. You Should Be Stabbed With Stiletto Heels, Have Vultures Eat Your Liver” http://wp.me/pycK6-5

The majority of those I Tweeted seemed to understand that this was a humor piece. And in fact, most of them immediately decided to “follow” me, in Twitter parlance, becoming my Connections.

But a handful of those who received my story title and link seemed to think – or pretended to think – that I was threatening them, clearly reacting to the well-publicized raft of serial killings involving high-heeled shoes, plus the propensity of so many villains to train their pet birds of prey to eviscerate criminal rivals.

In any case, a small group of young Twitterers, primarily in the UK, demanded my immediate public apology for their undue distress. I gave it to them . . . but perhaps I shouldn’t have.

In retrospect, it might have been better to ignore them completely. Because immediately after acknowledging their existence, I started receiving an escalating stream of malware, the seeming immediate response of any computer-savvy young ‘un with a chip on his/her shoulder these days.

Attila Was A Pussycat Compared to You

These confrontations occurred over a weekend, about eight days into my hazing-by-Twitter. But nothing could have prepared me for what happened Monday morning, when a pingback link appeared on my Word Press site, directing me to a truly shocking hatchet-job-of-a-blog, which called my direct-reply faux pas at Twitter “The Worst Tweet in Human History,” before going on to make scurrilous and frankly ridiculous comments about my background and character, which even minor research could have proven untrue in fifteen seconds flat.

The author, a young woman I shall call Agatha-Anne, describes herself as a public relations practitioner based in London. Silly me! I always thought PR people were supposed to be adept at enhancing reputations, not destroying them. One wonders, in fact, exactly what this young lady’s clients hire her to do.

But it’s possible young Agatha-Anne takes pleasure in a menacing public persona. Her blog, which is based at Type Pad, presents a portrait photo of her from a fish-eye viewpoint, her head blown up to absurd proportions, resembling nothing so much as a giant squid. On the morning in question, I clearly felt like squid-food.

But ours is not to reason why. And after spitting up my breakfast and pacing around and around my office for ten minutes or so – I do so like to pace – I decided the first order of business was figuring out what sort of damage an essentially silly amateur hatchet-job could do.

I looked up “Worst Tweet Ever,” “Terrible Tweetings,” “Twitter Hall of Shame,” and several dozen other variations. I found neither me nor Agatha-Anne at this point, but I did find thousands upon thousands – upon thousands – of Google and other search engine entries.

If I am, indeed, an Inept and Stupid and Awkward and Cootie-Ridden Tweeter, at least I have a heckuva lot of company! Among those who’ve been placed by the irate in this Negative Pantheon of Bad, Bad Birdies are Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oprah, Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper, Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi, the Pope, virtually every political pundit, everyone in Hollywood, everyone who wants to be in Hollywood, as well as your local bank manager, your dentist, the mechanic who works on your Honda, and half the neighbors on your block.

In fact, there seems to be an entire cottage industry surrounding “Tweets We Disapprove Of.” It may well be Google’s fault, since their Search archives endeavor to record every tiny Tweet ever Tweeted, including such momentous and fascinating ones as “I hate Billy, he stole my girlfriend,” or “Mom made me a peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch.”

So verifying that I wasn’t the first perfectly innocent Tweeter pilloried by a psychotic squid-woman, I thought I would try to post on her blog, explain that I was a Twitter newcomer, and attempt to convert her from foe to fan.

It was not to be! You may view my pitiful attempts to curry favor on Agatha-Anne’s blog site still, followed by her rejecting my subservient apology with escalating scorn, while some of her Kiddie friends chime in with posts like, “Don’t forgive her, she’s a Monster, a Manatee, a Member of the Mafia, and possibly a Mason” – or words to that effect.

I finally gave up. But anxious to prolong my psychic pain as horridly as possible, Agatha-Anne somehow arranged to post a permanent pingback on my blog’s home page, so that although I was assured it wasn’t visible to anyone but me, every time I went to my blog, I was greeted by this cheerful little cutout thingie with the endearing message, “You Wrote the Worst Tweet in History.”

My plaintive letters to Word Press Customer Service, their Askimet spam-sniffing associate, and even corporate management have been repeatedly rebuffed.

But Something (Even More) Wicked was This Way (to) Come.

I Don’t Care If His Hat is Purple. He’s Simply Not a Gentleman

Agatha-Anne may believe she’s a world-class Web Intimidator. But despite her intimidating me, I doubt if anybody I actually know happened to see her delightful little hatchet-blog. Anyone, that is, except a fella I’ll call Palance, because he’s a rather large and scary-looking dude, who tends to dress in black like a Western movie bad guy.

I know this, because I once actually met Palance at, of all places, the Princeton Club in Manhattan, at an Ivy League event. It’s hard to believe Palance even went to college, because despite looking so scary, his personality resembles that of a teenaged boy who plays computer games 24-hours-a-day. Which, indeed, he probably does.

Palance is a professional computer consultant and, he says, a “White Hat” computer hacker, which apparently means that he breaks into and changes computer code, but only for benign and benevolent purposes. This is in contrast to “Black Hat” hackers, who break into computer code to sink battleships, divert shipments of armaments, or cause your Aunt Mary’s microwave oven to emit flames while playing the Hallelujah Chorus.

Palance contrived to meet me at the Princeton Club event, because he heard I was a journalist and fancies himself a Blogger Extraordinaire. The day after the event, he sent me some links to his blogs, which are extraordinaire, indeed. They consist mainly of lists of people he knows and what they’re doing, whom they’re connecting with on Linked In and other social media sites, and what they’re posting to websites on a moment-by-moment basis.

You have to see these blogs to believe them, and maybe you should, because they’re so unusual – rather like detailed intelligence dossiers for some unfathomable purpose only Palance himself may know. In any case, they scared me witless! So much so that although I would rather have dropped Palance from my own list of acquaintances then and there, I decided that it was better to be on his good side than his bad – or possibly downright evil – side.

So I allowed him to send me a series of little notes whenever the fancy hit him, which managed to be both incredibly cheery and totally creepy, along the lines of, “I happened to come across that nice story you wrote in 1985 about XYZ Corporation. Pity their Vice President of Marketing absconded to Rio with 300 million dollars in 1992.” Or “I just saw a photo of you at Senorita JKL’s Christmas party in 1979. Your hair was so much prettier then.” Stuff like that.

It should not have surprised me, then, that Palance seemed to know immediately about Agatha-Anne’s hatchet-blog. The afternoon after the morning it appeared, I got another cheery little note from Palance, commiserating that “You must be upset about being called the Worst Tweeter in Human History,” then adding that “You clearly frightened those poor people with your talk of eating their livers, so what do you expect?”

What I would expect, Palance, is for anyone who pretends to be my friend to be against my being Blogged-to-Death by a total stranger! And I told him as much in a return note of my own, adding that since he didn’t seem to be on my side, it was probably better if our acquaintance ceased.

Oh, dear! Talk about baiting a consulting-hacker-bear in its consulting-hacker-den. Palance must have changed out of his White Hat and into his Black One in a phone booth on the way back to his computer desk. Because seemingly within minutes, he hatchet-blogged me, too, in some ways worse – although some ways better – than little Agatha-Anne did.

Worse because what he did – in line with the intelligence dossier format of his blog – was to string together our entire mutual correspondence since I met him at the Princeton Club into what he clearly feels is an epistolary indictment of my thin-skinned-ness. But better, because after reading this novelette-in-letters at least forty-seven times, I still don’t think I come off badly.

I did tell him in one note, as I’ve told numerous friends, that I’m hoping a couple of my ongoing media projects might result in books. Maybe Palance thinks that sounds pushy. I think it just says accurately what I’m striving for. As for my telling Palance I no longer wanted to correspond with him after the hatchet-blog incident – hey, if that brands me as touchy, so be it. I restrained myself and didn’t curse – although, believe me, I wanted to.

What does upset me about Palance’s semi-hatchet-blog is that he identifies me by name, as, of course, does Agatha-Anne. I would never think of doing that to him – or to her – or to anyone at all. It’s just – not nice!

In fact, I remember back in my sorority days, when we were evaluating whom to invite – or not to invite – to pledge the group, we had a little code word for people who behaved in a nasty or malicious or perennially impolite fashion towards their fellow human beings. And that code word was “common.” Well, Palance, whatever color hat you wear, you’re common.

We Will Haunt You – Or At Least Google – Till the End of Your Days

These events happened over a month ago. But their worst effects are just beginning to hit-the-proverbial now. That’s because, paradoxically, my own blogs are becoming quite popular, which moves them up in the rankings at Google and the other standard search engines. And along with my name and my article titles – like barnacles – come Agatha-Anne’s “Worst Tweet in History” hatchet-blog and the “Ellen’s Thin-Skinned-Ness Revealed in Our Correspondence” epistolary hatchet-blog from Palance.

Moreover, Google’s strange system of preserving truly idiotic ten-word “publications” related to Twitter seems to have caused a couple of other nasty comments – literally one-sentence comments – to be attached to searches about me.

They obviously come from malicious little friends of Agatha-Anne, and they’re especially annoying, because they’ve upped the ante, slandering my reputation by not only labeling me a very bad Tweeter, but also – I kid you not – a “notorious spammer.”

I invite anyone in the Universe to examine not only my entire output – sparse though it is – on Twitter, but my entire output anywhere since the day I was born! and try to find anything I’ve ever written that qualifies as “spam.”

I intend to write a more serious article about the casual and malicious use of the “spam” label applied to things that have absolutely no relationship to what “spam” by definition actually is. But this is not the place to do that.

What I want to point out here – and get my readers’ advice about – is how hatchet-blogs and even ten-word hatchet-comments can, under Google’s extraordinary system of linkages and “search engine optimization” tactics applied by the unscrupulous, allow computer-savvy Nasty People like Agatha-Anne, her little buddies, and Palance to link to and libel my good name and reputation forever and ever in Internet searches to come.

Is there any way I can just get rid of them?

For that matter, is there any way I can persuade Word Press to take Agatha-Anne’s seemingly perennial pingback or whatever-you-call-it off my poor little blog for good? Every morning, it greets me and taunts me, “You Made the Worst Tweet In Human History.” Nyah, nyah, nyah.

I’ve complained and complained and complained. I’ve tried to tell them that being visually harassed by this pingback every time I go to my blog is the equivalent of an African-American blogger being greeted with “The Ku-Klux-Klan-Is-Watching-You” or an Israeli blogger being taunted by a pingback to “Carefree Nazis Unite on Word Press.”

But they just won’t help me.

I fell down the Rabbit Hole unawares, and now I’m stuck at the Mad Tea Party for Eternity.

Readers who enjoyed this story might want to take a look at Ellen’s new – and controversial – series, Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation.

For the Intro to this series, please go to: http://wp.me/pxD3J-3

And if you like more wholesome games than those played by Agatha-Anne and Palance, please see “The World is Divided” at:
http://wp.me/pycK6-n

Summer Camp For Seniors

August 1, 2009

by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

While the client base at many elder-oriented facilities becomes more upscale, sophisticated, and well-educated, activity rosters remain numbingly downscale and unimaginative. Do we want our elders consigned to kindergartens?

When I moved to California a few years back, my attorney father asked me to look up a former client – let’s call her Janet. She was a lovely, vibrant, exceptionally intelligent lady, a retired social studies teacher who read voraciously, enjoyed boating and fishing, maintained a chic appearance, and delighted in intellectual pursuits of all sorts.

But a year or so after I met her, Janet, by then in her early 80s, suffered a series of falls, followed by a minor stroke. Despite her vociferous protests, her son and daughter, who were largely supporting her, determined she could no longer care for herself and placed her in what they believed was an upscale nursing home.

I remember visiting Janet there, a few weeks into her residence. And on its surface, her facility was upscale, indeed – spacious bedrooms, attractive public spaces, excellent food, and a competent medical and nursing staff.

But Janet was thoroughly miserable. For one thing, this distinguished, educated lady felt she was continually “talked down to” by the caregiving and recreational staff. “They treat us as if we’re three years old,” she told me. “Ooooh, honey. Oooooh, sweetie. Can I hold your juice for you? Do you think you can walk all the way to the dining room? May I help with your shoelaces? What a big girl! We’re so proud of you!”

Janet may have been exaggerating. But this expensive, upscale facility somehow seemed to believe that a proper diet of intellectual stimulation for the former schoolteachers, lawyers, physicians, and businesspeople who could afford to live there should consist of endless games of bingo and balloon volleyball, craft projects like stringing beads and making ashtrays, or a memorable activity called “Senior Orchestra,” where hapless elders were forced to shake toy tambourines and beat miniature deerhide drums, while an obese woman in a striped shirt belted out “tunes my Granny used to like” and urged them to sing along.

Pining for her former life of museums, opera, sailing, and dinner parties, Janet became more and more despondent as the weeks went by. She died less than six months later – some would say of a broken heart. But that’s in the unenlightened past, you say? If you believe that’s true, I suggest you make some casual visits to a few deluxe senior sites near you.

You will probably be impressed by their physical appearance. As a senior services professional, I’m invited to parties, events, and tours at assisted-living and independent-living venues all the time, and there are quite a few of them at which I’d be happy taking my summer vacation! Some suites are half the size of my house – or larger – with tasteful furniture, comfortable beds, tons of closet space, and chi-chi bathrooms. There are jacuzzi rooms, gardens to stroll in, in-house movie theaters like the Hollywood moguls have, and private dining rooms you can book for family parties. And often, the food is restaurant-caliber.

Wow! you’ll say. If my Mom or Dad ever decides to opt for assisted-living, this is the place for them! Not so fast. Look at that row of people with walkers, sitting around looking bored to pieces. Notice the pretty, perfectly-coifed lady roaming the halls with a catatonic stare. Or the well-groomed elderly gentleman, slowly sipping a cup of coffee, while tears run down his face. Well, lethargy’s normal in old age, you’ve heard. Boredom is normal. Even a degree of despondency is expected, with all the losses elders have experienced.

Indeed, the statistics on depression and the elderly are disturbing, with some research reporting that up to 70 percent of those 80 and above may suffer at least mild depression in clinical terms.

But how much of this reported clinical depression – let alone simple lethargy and garden-variety boredom – is due to physical ailments, the aftershock of catastrophic losses, or merely “getting old,” and how much is due to the absence of intellectual and social stimulation? Just think back to the times you’ve been laid up in bed with the flu or sidelined in a cast with a broken bone. The lack of activity, lack of social interaction, and inability to practice your normal everyday routine probably made you pretty darn despondent and lethargic, too – even if you were 22 years old!

Yet this is the environment the majority of people at elder sites have to cope with for years on end. If you doubt this, talk to some residents about their typical days – or simply request the roster of activities at the site at which your relatives reside. I can almost guarantee that you’ll be shocked.

Functional Illiteracy, Anyone? I have a pilfered recreation schedule from an upscale site I visited right in front of me. About 90 percent of the activities listed are either games or rudimentary arts and crafts projects – by which I don’t mean plein air painting under the aegis of a qualified instructor, but rather “Make a Seashell Necklace” and “Decorate Your Own Coffee Mug.”

There are also exciting supervised field trips every week – NOT! Yes, the modern fleet of buses such sites maintain do take residents off-site frequently. But not to museums or symphony concerts or historical sites. No, they take them for a gala lunch at Red Lobster or a half-hour shopping trip to Dollar Tree stores. It’s as if the average recreation director believed that when people turn 80, their education, interests, and prior life experiences fall by the wayside and they miraculously slide to the nadir of the intelligence scale and the bottom of the social ladder.

Perhaps that’s because some recreation staff members are already there. “I don’t understand it,” one of my friends, a geriatric social worker, said to me over lunch the other day. “Is there some kind of Recreation Director Mafia that controls things, demanding that sites hire the least qualified people they can possibly find?”

I can sympathize with her frustration. While most assisted-living and nursing home sites employ excellent general managers, nursing directors, and marketing personnel, some recreation staff members seem to have shaky qualifications at best. “She’s pleasant,” was the best explanation I could get from a super-smart marketing director about his colleague, the recreation manager at one of the highest-end assisted-living venues in a neighboring county.

But I know for a fact that this woman, who is over 40, not a “kid,” is functionally illiterate, a term that, as a Ph.D., I do not throw around lightly. I have held on to a series of letters from this woman, with whom I corresponded about a particular program, in case I ever summon up the nerve to send them to her employer, who would undoubtedly fire her on the spot.

Derry, let me call her, believes that all plural nouns are formed with an apostrophe and an s – and worse, that all verbs of any sort are formed with an apostrophe and an s. So she writes about senior’s and elder’s and program’s and room’s and meal’s. She relates how she run’s her program’s and schedule’s her activity’s. She also does not know the differences among there, they’re, and their or among to, too, and two.

I seriously do not understand how this woman got past fourth grade, if she did. Nor why someone decided that she should run a recreation program for retired doctors, teachers, and small business owners, the typical residents at this beautiful and costly facility. One hears that she’s quite good at pottery.

Or take Kenny, the 20-something recreation manager at a slightly less posh but very physically comfortable facility I’ve visited. Kenny has a TV game show fetish, it seems. His idea of an intellectually-stimulating morning for residents is playing simulated versions of Wheel of Fortune at 9, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire at 10, and Family (Resident) Feud at 11. I expect him to initiate The Amazing (Walker) Race any day now.

Then there was the time I was visited an exceptionally pretty site in the New York suburbs near a lovely county park. Residents had been crowded into a secondary dining area with an impromptu stage to be subjected to the crooning or screeching, depending on your tolerance level, of someone I strongly suspected was the Director’s Brother-in-Law George. Now I don’t know this for sure. But the crooner/screecher in question was a small, round man with a bad toupee, with all the charm and talent one might expect to find among performers at a very cheap hotel in the Catskills.

When we walked past this performance venue, my guide, the marketing manager, happened to ask a trio of blue-haired ladies standing on the sidelines how they were enjoying the festivities. One just rolled her eyes. Another sighed deeply. And the third chimed in distraught that “I used to have season tickets to the Opera.”

So What Would You Do About It, Smarty-Pants? Other than immediately axe Derry, Kenny, and whoever hired Crooner George? Well, the first thing I’d do – and fast! – is ask residents on a regular basis exactly what they think of my facility’s activities roster: what they like, what they don’t like, what new activities they think should be introduced.

In fact, I might poll residents’ children, too, especially if they’re picking up part of their parents’ tab. No matter how posh a facility is, resident retention is always a major concern – or should be – especially among healthier residents, who can pick up and leave if they find greener pastures elsewhere. And if the kids are footing part of the bill, it’s likely they have a say-so in such decisions. Beyond that, I’d be proactive, rather than reactive, in coming up with activities that residents may not suggest on their own – but which they’re likely to enjoy once they’re in place.

I’d concentrate on activities meant to exercise and broaden intellectual capacities, not stunt them. Instead of silly kiddie craft projects, book lecturers on art history and legitimate instructors of painting and fine arts. Instead of game show knockoffs, have in-house courses on memory retention and keeping one’s intellect sharp, perhaps followed by a challenging trivia tournament that relatives and friends can attend. (The Former Schoolteachers versus The Retired Physicians?)

Crooner George may appeal to some. But you can easily bring classical, folk, or jazz musicians of real talent and skill into to your facility – sometimes for free. Music schools, university music departments, or community arts groups may have programs in place to provide top-notch performers to senior sites at little or no cost.

For sources of interesting lectures that can stretch residents’ minds and increase their zest for lifelong learning, cultivate local historical societies, museums, and business associations. Ask an antiques dealer to bring in examples of porcelain or specialty collections and talk about them. Have a university historian make a presentation dealing with some aspect of his research of special interest to the over-80 set, like the development of suburbia after World War Two or sports stars of the 30s and 40s.

Rather than balloon volleyball and other grotesquely demeaning “fitness” activities, bring in educated and skilled trainers who have actually researched which exercises and regimens help the elderly regain strength, agility, and a sense of physical well-being. And when you schedule ‘field trips” for residents, find out where they’d actually like to go – I’ll bet it won’t be Red Lobster or Dollar Tree! Again, many non-profit groups, museums, and other venues will go out of their way to cater to groups of elderly people as part of their “community outreach programs,” a fancy way of saying it makes them look good!

Chances are your facility can schedule many outside programs for free or at very little cost. Consider approaching museums, botanical gardens, historic house sites, and even some sports stadiums. Or treat residents to a luncheon cruise, a fishing trip, or a picnic at a county or state park.

In other words, let what you and your own parents have enjoyed and would enjoy be your touchstone for what typical residents – paritcularly those in upscale sites – would probably enjoy, too.

There’s no excuse for a lack of respect towards elderly residents. And treating them like kindergarten tots has no place in the world of senior services.

About This Publication: I gave permission for my article Summer Camp For Seniors to be printed at Baby Boomers Knowledge Center, where it appeared on April 11, 2009.

Since I retain all legal rights to this story, I have decided to “bring it home” to EllenInteractive.

Readers who enjoyed this story might want to read “Recession? What Recession? Not in the Senior Services Sector” at: http://wp.me/pycK6-p

Also look at the wide-ranging interview with Ellen, in which she talks about her idea for a “University for Elders” at: http://wp.me/pycK6-v

And for Ellen’s new – and already controversial – series, Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation, please go to: http://wp.me/pxD3J-3

The World Is Divided

July 2, 2009

 by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.
 
 
In the spirit of interactivity, this little exercise is meant to get you to put on your thinking cap and dig down into your preferences and biases, innate tastes and pet peeves, true likes and true dislikes.
 
In these enlightened times, nobody much – or at least very few – believe in their heart of hearts and soul of souls that our world is divided into Men and Women, Young and Old, Purple and Green, or Microsoft and Apple.
 
Rather, we tend to see the global landscape in terms of what we feel is really, truly, deep-down-in-our-guts important to our own worldview, however skewed it may be.
 
For instance, my friend Georgia, whose delight is flowers and homegrown tomatoes, would surely say “The world is divided into Those Who Garden and The Non-Cultivating – and Uncultivated – Ones Who Don’t.” 
 
My brother-in-law, on the other hand, whose passion is Fantasy Baseball Leagues, might say, “The world is divided into Those Who Can Pick ‘Em and Non-Team Players.”
 
While my cousin the ferret fancier – Yes, really – probably thinks, “The world is divided into “Those Who Appreciate Clean, Cuddly, Adorable Little Creatures and Uncouth, Uninformed Ferret-Phobes.” 
 
Well, how about you?
 
At the end of a busy day, when you’re drifting off to LaLaLand, which of the myriad petty events and annoyances of the past few hours do you tend to obsess on, grinding your teeth and grumbling, “If only I had said or done that differently – or disemboweled Johnny or Janey So-and-So?”
 
In your opinion, The World is Divided Into:

Readers who appreciate strong interactivity might also enjoy reading the numerous responses to Ellen’s serious-humor story “Stilettos-Vultures” at: http://wp.me/pycK6-5

Also already impressive is the Comments stream at her new series Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation: http://wp.me/pxD3J-3

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