7 Out of 10 Blog In the Nude

November 23, 2009

Hello, fellow Group Members!

This will either infuriate you or amuse you – one hopes the latter.

It’s a frivolous little experiment with ten faux headlines to see which kind of outrageous title readers might be most likely to click on.

I need every advantage I can get.

Because starting Monday, I’m the Baby Boomer entrant, versus a couple of dozen SEO-savvy young ‘uns, in the Great Blog-Off contest at Community Marketing.

Here’s the link, if you haven’t read about it yet. (Link now disabled.)

Not only am I the Veteran – or Evil Cougar, depending on your viewpoint – in this bunch, I will probably be the contestant representing CONTENT, as opposed to quantitative formulae for blog optimization, or whatever the latest incomprehensible jargon is.

In fact, the blogs I will post will be very serious ones, indeed, elaborating upon the political and economic theme of Baby Boomers as modern history’s Angriest Generation, a phrase I’ve coined and hope will become a buzz-phrase on the Internet from this day forward.

But I will mix up my serious blogs with some frivolous ones harking back to my days as a heavy-volume tabloid writer – an era in my life I look back upon with much fondness and nostalgia.

Want to help me by making suggestions about my campaign for top-of-the-heap status in the Blog-Off?

I truly welcome your advice and any assistance you can give me.

If I’m elected, you may have a Cabinet post or any Ambassadorship of your choosing.

Leave a comment here, or write to me at (E-mail address given).

Warmest regards – or to you Kappas, Loyally,

Ellen Brandt

FOR MORE ABOUT ME, PLEASE GO TO ABOUT, at http://wp.me/sycK6-about

(To return to “Corpses, Mollusks, and Kinky Sex-How I Won the Blog-Off,” go to: http://wp.me/pycK6-2s )

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.

Misuse and misinterpretation of the term “spam” is now so blatant, one has to wonder if Big Media might not be behind it. But we in “Little Media” are aware of the abuse, and it can’t last much longer.

If you publish a blog, own a website, or participate in various social media sites, chances are you’ve been accused of “spamming” at one time or another. You’re probably seriously angry about it. Well, so am I.

Besides the (ongoing) campaign of pure annoyance coming from my darling Twitter Stalker Agatha-Anne and her buddies (see “Slaughtering Your Pet Hamster” http://wp.me/pycK6-L ), I’ve been subjected to two accusations of “spamming” this past summer, one truly silly and inconsequential, one more serious in its implications.

First, the purely silly one. Several weeks ago, a young woman I’ll call Janette sent me an invitation to connect on Linked In, where I have a fabulous high-quality network of over 1400. Because she was a member of an organization I belong to and trust, I said Yes.

But the first time I sent one of my standard To-My-Network mailings with links to a couple of my stories, Janette wrote me what can only be called a hateful, malicious note, along the lines of “How dare you pollute my mailbox with your vile publications, You Evil Spammer You?”

Huh? You’re in my Network. You asked to be in my Network. I’m a publisher and writer. Do you expect me to send my Network pictures of bunnies or needlework instructions? Moreover, if one does not wish to click on a link in a letter, the obvious solution is not to click on a link in a letter.

And Linked In has a handy little feature called “Remove This Person from Your Network.” This handy little feature allows you to “Remove (Any) Person from Your Network,” for any reason whatsoever, quietly and efficiently, without having to write them letters and insult them.

I immediately took Janette out of my Network, after replying to her charming missive by telling her about the handy Remove-This-Person feature, thinking perhaps she honestly did not know about it.

As the teens say, As If . . . Over the next few days, I got five or six additional charming little notes from Janette, escalating in venom, going on about “You sent me Spam. Your stories are Spam. I hate your stories. My father hates your stories. My third cousin hates your stories. My goldfish hates your stories. My goldfish will not eat Spam. Spam, spam, spam, spam, and spam.”

OK, Janette. You’re just another Flamer, playing Kiddie games and trying to make people unhappy, because making people unhappy is “fun.” We’ll treat the general subject of Flaming in the next article in the series. But in the context of this story, you are silly and inconsequential, and I am now going to ignore you.

Except to say that as someone with a large Linked In network and a growing one on Twitter, every day I receive maybe a hundred mailings of various kinds from people with whom I’m connected. I like some of these mailings. I don’t like some others. Several fall into the category of articles and other publications. Some are newsletters. Others are new product or service announcements or out-and-out advertisements.

I click on the ones I want to read. I archive the ones I don’t want to read. I send a return message of Thanks, if it looks like I am expected to do so. I am never annoyed or upset receiving these mailings, because I allowed these connections to come into my Network, meaning they are cordial on-line acquaintances, and I want to hear about what they’re up to.

If at some point I find a connection annoying or upsetting, not to mention downright rude – remember Palance? – I remove him/her/it from my connections list, and that is that. This is what nice people do. This is what sane people do.

You’re Not Foie Gras, But You Sure Squawk Like Geese

Which brings us to the second incident this summer, a far more serious one, which goes to the very heart of the misuse of the term “spam” and demonstrates why we should all be concerned about it.

I honestly don’t know – nor particularly care – what Mz. Janette’s political leanings are. But I do know, from several people who are acquainted with him, that a young man I’ll call Chaz is a committed Leftist Democrat. He’s also the appointed manager of a large group for computer professionals at Linked In. I joined this Group because I’m an Internet publisher, but also because I’ve been seeking some interesting Boomer IT people as interviewees for my Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation series. (See http://wp.me/pxD3J-3 )

As you undoubtedly know by now, Angriest Generation is already popular among Boomers, Centrists, and Republicans, but decidedly unpopular among a vocal cadre of mostly young people on the Far Left. Primarily, they dislike this series because I’m among the few to have called them out for spewing anti-Boomer propaganda.

Chaz refused to allow stories from Angriest Generation to make it into his Group’s News feed, even though this particular Group’s feed is generally a dozen pages long and includes many utterly hideous stories from the likes of shady SEO purveyors in Bangladesh and Taiwan.

The first time he deleted one of my stories from his feed, I complained to the Group’s owner and Customer Service. It was reinstated. The second time he did it, I complained again. Reinstated again.

But the third time he did it, Chaz decided to escalate the quarrel and reported me for “spamming” his News feed. I cannot tell you how shocked I was that he would stoop so low. I could have escalated this little tiff in turn and transformed it into a first-class vendetta. But I decided I was tired of Chaz’s shenanigans and simply left the Group.

I want you to ponder this incident for a couple of reasons. First of all, as in the case of a Network of connections above, a bona fide member of a social networking Group should always – that is always – have the right to post blogs or other publications of which he/she is the author or publisher without any restrictions whatsoever – except, perhaps, if they’re pornographic or in some other way universally offensive.

If you don’t want someone in your Group in the first place, by all means, you have the right to refuse them membership. But once they’re in the Group, a manager can’t arbitrarily refuse their right to post articles they’ve written, just because he doesn’t happen to like their subject matter or agree with their political bent.

Chaz’s behavior is offensive to other Group members, too. Is his Membership a gaggle of geese, who have to be protected from being force-fed material they might not like to read, turning their livers into a certain French delicacy? Most adults are capable of deciding for themselves what they want to read and clicking on it. Or deciding they don’t want to read it and not clicking on it. Personally, I have no interest in reading anything from the shady Bengali and Taiwanese SEO purveyors. Or for that matter the New York Times.

Hookers and Con Artists – Good! Bloggers – Evil!

But far worse than Chaz’s battle to shelter his Membership from exposure to us dread Republicans and others he considers politically incorrect is his daring to label our articles as “spam.”

This takes us to the heart of the matter: Publications are not “spam.” Never ever, ever, and ever.

In fact, nobody really thought of labeling any publication as “spam” up to a few months ago, as it became more and more apparent that Big Media was being forced to relinquish its absolute domination of the Internet to hordes of upstart bloggers and websites keen on garnering their own “eyeballs” and audiences, taking them away from the Official – in their own minds – Gatekeepers of the US Media.

The term “spam” was originally – and quite clearly – meant to apply to annoying, repetitive, and unsolicited Internet-based advertising – solicitations that want to persuade you to part with your money. “Here’s a Hot Stock Tip” is usually spam, as are “Buy Foreclosed Houses,” “Get 10,000 Twitter Followers,” and even “Eat at Joe’s Diner,” although I have nothing in particular against Joe.

But someone posting a link to their article, blog, free newsletter, or website, without desiring that you pay them any money to do so, is in no way “spamming.” They are offering information and attempting to build an audience, the same way the Wall Street Journal or CNN or Oprah.com is, when they post and disseminate their latest articles.

Oh, but those are “professionals,” you argue, while bloggers are in a different category. If you think that, I suggest you are reading the wrong blogs. There are many thousands of former or current high-volume print journalists who have their own blogs now. If you’re unfamiliar with my background, I have over 3,000 print articles to my credit over the past 30-odd years. Now I’m in the so-called Blogosphere, working to develop and increase an audience of my own. I like it, and so do many others.

But I also strongly defend the right of newer and less experienced writers and website owners to try to build a readership of their own through the exact same means more established media outlets, including a handful of now-institutionalized Big Blogs, do.

If the New York Times can aggressively post its stories on numerous Linked In Group News feeds, so can Carolyn’s style blog or Arthur’s blog on economics. If the Huffington Post can get staffers and friends to retweet pieces repeatedly on Twitter, so can Charlie’s senior care publication or Nancy’s small business-oriented website.

And if Mashable can strive for blogroll and pingback links from other blogs, John the orthopedist, Patty the homeschooling expert, and Lou who writes about horses can use these tactics, too.

Without fear of being called “spammers.”

Proof positive that the abuse and misuse of the term “spam” applied to Little Media has been calculated is the fact that the mostly young, mostly Far Left-leaning Twitterers and others who’ve been doing the complaining have completely neglected to make complaints about all the real no-doubt-about-it spammers in our midst.

There’s nary a mention of the various get-rich-quick marketing schemes touted constantly by the Trump Network and others. No complaints about barkers for tooth whiteners, gourmet coffee, organic pet food, or Cars Seized from Drug Dealers. Nor even the offensive-to-many pleas to buy male enhancement products or patronize Ladies of the Night.

But Jim or Jane may be harried and harassed by a battalion of “concerned youth,” if they dare to try to publicize their Right-of-Center political articles. “Spam, spam, spam,” some Kiddies now wail – but I don’t think they can get away with it much longer.

For one thing, the social media sites are becoming very wary of Kiddies with chips on their shoulders, since they’ve now been implicated in the Twitter and Facebook Denial-of-Service attacks and the Word Press worm scare in Europe and Asia.

For another, if social sites were persuaded to adopt the “Spam-means-non-Left-Little-Media” theories of MoveOn.Org and their ilk, it’s only a (short) matter of time before they’d start getting hit with some serious and costly lawsuits.

More intriguing, though, is whether any part of Big Media – maybe rogue PR outfits who believe they’re working on media clients’ behalf – are encouraging these youthful legions of “You’re Spamming” accusers or otherwise conspiring to get Little Media’s audience-building efforts unjustly labeled as “spam.”

Surely, we hope not. But one wonders.

What Do You Think?

Have you ever been accused of “spamming” while trying to publicize your blog or website?

If so, what was the outcome? How did you rebuff this accusation?

Do you believe there are sometimes political motivations and biases behind accusations of spam?

Is Big Media using the S-word in its efforts to hold onto Web dominance against the onslaught of Little Media sites?

How should the social networking sites, like Linked In and Twitter, change their spam policies to protect and promote their Little Media members?

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

by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

The old rules no longer apply. The new rules haven’t been written. But out of chaos comes opportunity. Those of us with decades of experience should be leading, not following, in a media sector undergoing profound transformation.

I used the paragraph above to describe Media Revolution, the new Group I “own” and manage at Linked In, welcoming experienced journalists “to theorize, debate, and collaborate on how to navigate a sector in flux.”

I’ve decided to crystallize some of my ideas about what’s happening now – and what may happen as we go forward – in a series of articles exploring various aspects of the media sector’s transformation, specifically on the Internet.

For now, I’m publishing these stories as a subseries on my EllenInteractive blogsite. As the series develops, they may be relocated to their own site or become part of another media blog.

Much of what I write may be controversial, particularly to those with a stake in the status quo or to anyone who believes a change in current media sector “Gatekeepers” may decrease the influence of certain political groups or other elites which they support.

Others, I hope, will find my ideas helpful – and hopeful – in illustrating what seems to be amiss right now; what needs to be changed; and how the greater public of Internet users generally and those of us in “Little Media” specifically might work together to effect profound change in how information reaches our audiences and which information is “permitted” to reach them.

Because make no mistake, what’s happening right now is a major battle between so-called “Big Media” and its political and financial allies and all of us upstart publishers and entrepreneurs who have broken away from Big Media the past few years.

It is nothing less than an attempt to oust the Official Gatekeepers of this country’s media establishment from the extreme domination of viewership and influence they’ve enjoyed for the past two or three decades – an abnormal concentration of power, in American terms, which many think has paralleled a similar unhealthy maldistribution of wealth and influence in other sectors.

Interestingly enough, those with the clearest sense of such inequalities in Internet access and influence are two large groups you’d think would have plenty of both: Baby Boomers and the political Right (and Center-Right). I say this, because despite their size and collective financial clout, both of these groups have had to fight tooth and nail for Web viewership against the institutionalized biases of the major search engines and social media sites towards today’s Big Media, which tends overwhelmingly to skew to the Left of the political spectrum.

This is changing, though – perhaps rapidly changing. (Please see my hard-hitting story on these changes, Will Boomers – and the GOP – Save Twitter? http://wp.me/pxD3J-K

Is Big Brother Here? And Is He An Algorithm?

Both Boomer bloggers and website owners and those representing the political Right-of-Center have also reported widespread malware attacks on their ability to keep functioning on-line, putting them in the forefront of another media battleground – Internet safety.

Safety issues are now on everyone’s mind, however, after widely-publicized malware attacks on such major sites as Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress, breeding widespread disgust for the costly and sometimes devastating damage wreaked by “Script Kiddie” hackers.

Although there is clearly some disagreement about whether or not organized groups of hackers have tacit – or even formal – ties to political entities, particularly those on the Far Left, there is no disagreement on one important point: Everyone concerned about political freedoms, especially Freedom of Speech, needs to support Internet safety and equal Internet access for everyone, even those with views considered other than “politically correct” by some.

Because even more than financial clout, the ability to control the media equals political power. And more and more, the source of such media control resides in the Internet.

One aspect of such control that many find particularly disturbing is that recent technological “advances” in autonomic computing and so-called botnets now allow for the establishment of Cyber-Gatekeepers which control the flow of Internet access and information.

These Cyber-Gatekeepers are often linked to Big Media or its affiliates, which implies some overt conflict-of-interest from the outset. But one wonders if even Big Media is prone to lose control of these Cyber-Gatekeepers at some point. Think of Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster.

It’s bad enough, say many, if the New York Times or Google or CNN or Fox News or Disney has excessive influence over what we hear, read, and discuss. But it’s worse if people are taken out of the equation and programs – maybe mathematical formulas – are allowed to take control of the public conversation on issues crucial to our economy, country – and world – going forward.

We’ll expand on this topic in future entries. But this series will begin with what seems a straightforward topic on which everyone can agree, controlling Internet “spam.”

Not so! I hope you will see that the topic of “spam” – what it actually is and who should have the power to control it – is anything but simple and straightforward. Indeed, it is actually quite complicated and quite controversial.

As are many other topics this series will highlight.

Please keep tuned. Because the Media Revolution has already begun.

For the first article in this series, “Spam I Am Not – The Big Media Weapon Hidden in Plain Sight,” go to: http://wp.me/pycK6-1b

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