Allow me to preface this article by saying that I recognize that staff would probably prefer I not write this article. I know from Calvin's post that this might be viewed by some as counter-productive.
That's not my intent, but I have an action left undone.
In my previous article, I outlined what I perceived to be an organized, external threat to our community. In the ensuing discussion, I was challenged several times to provide more evidence of this threat. I did not do so in that thread because it was already suffering numerous derailments. But I do believe that transparency, openness and an informed Newsvine community are key to dealing with our current crisis, above and beyond anything staff may or may not be doint to resolve our issues. So it is my hope that this article will not be counter-productive or further inflame the situation.
In recognition of the spirit of inclusion so bravely initiated by RebelGirl recently, and forcefully echoed by others, I urge generosity of spirit, forgiveness, empathy and understanding as we forge ahead on this issue. Accordingly, and in hopes of preventing this article from being a locus of conflict, I am disabling comments.
Herewith, then, is my attempt to uncover and document -- in the interest of awareness -- the anatomy of an organized campaign of ill-will.
1. An individual posts a call to action on an external site, calling for specific Newsvine users, who he names, to be attacked based on their so-called anti-Semitism. This despite offering zero evidence of such anti-Semitism (because no such evidence exists, and even if it did, it would be better handled by the proper authorities, at Newsvine and elsewhere). The list refers to them as "Jew Haters."
2. At the same time, this individual posts a list of what he at least perceives to be "friends" -- or as one of those friends later refers to them, "Angels".
3. Subsequently, and immediately following this call to action, Claus Jacobson, then Dennis McCann, then Keld Bach have their threads bombarded by groups of strongly opposed commenters who arrive en masse. Other supporters from the list experience similar coordinated activity.
4. Many of these commenters are known to collaborate external to Newsvine on ideologically driven projects.
5. The tactics used by these commenters follow a specific and consistent playbook, which includes: following up and reinforcing each others' lines of argument; creation of strawmen; argument by analogy; picking up for one another when one of them is at a loss for words or appears to be flagging; inaccurate paraphrasing to mischaracterize the position with which they disagree; and a marked preference for derailing threads by introducing unrelated hot-button items and fastening on a minor point and focusing attention on it for several comments. (One of the most powerful derailing tactics they will use is to refer to 'The Prank', in hopes of capitalizing on the powerful, polarizing emotions that issue once engendered.)
6. A pattern of rhetorical 'roles and responsibilities' often emerges on these threads, keenly balanced across the intellectual spectrum: one commenter will employ logic and textbook debate tactics; another deploys a veneer of apparent accommodation and reasonableness; yet another will stubbornly pretend to miss the point and insist on having it explained ad nauseum; yet another will dart in and out between everyone's legs with baiting and inflammatory comments; and a final outrider will chip in with bizarre, incomprehensible comments in order to confuse the issue further. In extreme cases, sock puppets or false identities are brought into the mix to further obscure the motives of the commenters. And lastly, there is the continued reference to 'MSNBC trolls' -- and the futility of controlling them -- as cover.
7. If and when one of the players in this well-choreographed thread-suppression campaign is banned -- because they've overplayed their hand and their manipulation is detected, or because they lose their cool and blurt out a CoH violation, they typically take out a new Newsvine account --not only resuming their activities (a CoH violation) but fraudulently posing as a new user, ostensibly seeking guidance from helpful Viners -- the same tactic we've seen used by the multi-aliased individual who issued the call to action in the first place.
8. Concurrent to all of the above, action -- including groundless and libellous allegations -- is taken against the targeted party's identity external to the site (for example, in other media), in some cases resulting in real and measurable damage to their non-Newsvine reputations, to their abilities to earn a living and support their families, and in extreme cases, even compromising their mental well-being.
9. When one of the people named on the list of targets is successfully neutralized, a round of self-congratulation and schadenfreude circulates among the commenters. This is often referred to by others as "coming in here and 'spitting' on threads". I suggest you review Dennis' exit thread for numerous excellent examples of this tactic.
10. If and when the concerted nature of the campaign is detected and exposed, the same tactics are used, with additional and repeated emphasis on ridiculing, dismissal of 'conspiracy theories' and demands for specific parties to be named -- itself a blatant attempt to bait Newsviners into violating the CoH by naming specific individuals.
I invite all concerned Newsviners to visit the activity on my previous article or to visit any of the other various threads discussing our current challenge. Look at the dynamic that emerges time and time again, using as a lens the tactics I have outlined above.
Is this organized activity? Or do I simply spend too much time in the Hall of Mirrors group?
You be the judge.
Oh...and one more thing.
If upon reviewing the evidence you detect the same disturbing trends I have, then I would suggest you use any relationship or influence you might have with the parties in question to prevail upon them to cease and desist. Be polite, appeal to their better nature, and point out the benefits we all derive from nurturing a safe and free home on the internet for all of us.
Don't insult them or belittle them. Take a page from RebelGirl's book and reach out to their humanity. It may just work.
Like almost everyone else, what I want most of all is a return to relative normalcy for Newsvine. I'm not looking for campfire circles and choruses of Kumbaya. I don't want everyone to share my viewpoints. I hope that we will still see respectful disagreement, vigorously pursued. The site would be boring, otherwise.
I don't expect a revival of our pre-MSNBC culture, nor do I expect random trollery to just stop. But our normal methods -- staff engagement, CoH enforcement, thread-owner moderation, the Greenhouse, self-appointed monitors and ad hoc groups such as the CoH Militia -- can handle the unorganized threats.
But if I'm right about the dagger currently pointed at the heart of Newsvine, only a spontaneous awakening by the entire membership will suffice to drive out this menace.
It's your move, Newsviners. It's your community.