9 Strategies for Navigating Internet Drama
February 17, 2016
I was thinking earlier about, after years of being around, how I now manage Major Internet Drama and wanted to share some of my personal strategies for navigating these situations.
To some extent, calling this ‘internet drama’ trivializes the severity of some of the things I’ve witnessed, been a participant of, or even been a target of. More accurately, much of this is abuse, harassment, bullying, or something quite serious. This isn’t a trivial issue. However, I’m going to try and discuss my strategies without reference to specific events and from the perspective of when everything starts.
Whatever the situation is (and regardless of your personal involvement), when these things begin, its usually very confusing. Or it is for me, at least. Details tend to be vague and sketchy at the beginning; since the story usually unfolds over a period of time (sometimes hours and sometimes days, weeks, etc). Add to this the fact that as everything comes to light, there will be conflicting accounts, contradictory stories, accusations, denials, etc and so on. Sprinkle the emotionally coercive environments and communities many of us participate in on top and you’ll also be dealing with peer pressure to ‘pick a side’ or make some Public statement, bc silence is apparently the same as endorsing whoever is the popular ‘bad guy’ of the situation.
Add on to it various mental/cognitive/etc disabilities and suddenly the situations are fraught with danger and can leave you reeling and panicking. At least this happens to me. For myself, I’ve mentioned before that I process information very slowly. Significantly slower than average. I also tend to be gullible, impressionable, and easily influenced overall. Combined… these two things have landed me in places I didn’t want to be and had me saying/doing things I didn’t feel good about.
This post is the principles I now use to make sure that when internet ‘drama’ breaks out, I’m not triggered. I don’t have panic attacks. That my anxiety doesn’t get so bad that I can’t sleep at night. That I don’t end up making decisions or taking actions that I regret in hindsight.
1) Set your boundaries (and stick to them)
These boundaries should be in place for your general engagement online. Whatever your boundaries are before the drama begins, they should remain your boundaries while everything is happening.
Example: I refuse to discuss mine (or anyone else’s) humanity. If the central point of the drama is essentially about whether or not someone is human? I won’t publicly participate. At all.
Example: I no longer defend myself. Again, this is a personal boundary. I decided a while back that I’ll no longer defend myself against whatever attacks or accusations come my way. This means if the drama is about me? I probably won’t say anything about it. Or at least nothing to defend myself. If the drama involves me by proximity or some such, same. If ppl are getting mad at me bc I’m not picking the ‘right’ side? So be it. I learned long ago that regardless of what you do and which side you pick, someone will hate you for it. This is inevitable given the way that internet drama tends to play out.
2) Give yourself time and space
Depending on your proximity to the drama, these situations can get really difficult. One thing I’ve learned? Is that I should never, ever rush myself in trying to assess and process the situation. And neither should you.
Do not rush. No matter what the nature of the callout or drama, do not rush. Give yourself all the time and space you need to (safely) process the situation. Anyone in your life who isn’t willing to give you whatever time and space you need, isn’t actually your friend and they don’t care about you.
I process information slowly. The more I rush myself, the bigger mistake I end up making.
3) Don’t forget that your personal health and safety always matters
Because these situations tend to move fairly quickly and information about it can shift and vary wildly from moment to moment, I tend to feel obligated to stay engaged (even if just lurking) despite whatever harm it might cause to me.
Its weird how many people will talk about disability justice but turn around and expect you to harm yourself in order to maintain some semblance of ideological purity. Like. If you simply don’t have the spoons to try and process any part of the situation? Don’t force yourself to. Keep your spoons for eating and other necessary activities rather than feeling like you must use them up trying to keep on top of a messy, volatile situation.
(It should be obvious that this relates to setting boundaries and taking needed time/space.
4) Examine and consider any ‘receipts’ with a deeply critical eye and some level of skepticism.
I’ve definitely learned that receipts, by and large, are pretty much useless when these things happen. It is so easy to take stuff out of context, erase nuance, etc that often when you see the ‘receipts’ they have been curated to tell a specific story. A story usually favourable to the person providing them.
Moreover, these things are easy to fake and many people don’t actually know how to take a ‘receipt’ in a way that cuuld help establish its verity and authenticity.
A contextless screen shot of someone’s tumblr isn’t really all that helpful. It could be faked. It could actually be something from two years prior to the current drama and entirely unrelated.
The point being to take your time to evaluate the ‘evidence’ with a critical eye before ‘picking a side’.
5) Make your own decision
For me, this is important. because it means that whatever the side I pick and whatever consequences there are for picking that side, I can at least feel like they are the result of a decision I made. For myself. Using my best judgement and according to whatever ethics I subscribe to. This makes dealing with any negative fallout much more palatable (for me anyway).
It also means that, I can feel confident about my decision and generally I don’t look back in hindsight and feel guilt, shame, or regret over my behaviour and decisions.
Note. I’m not saying you can’t discuss this with friends. But friends will let you discuss it with them without trying to push in one direction or another. I mentioned earlier that I’m gullible, so I tend to rely heavily on the people I trust to help me sort out the situation. But I also trust these ppl bc they respect my boundaries, give me time & space, and respect my agency.
6) Stay out of drama that doesn’t involve you
This might seem… obvious, but it really isn’t. Depending on how public/famous/popular the people involved are and depending on your relative proximity (real or percceived), just… stay out if you aren’t involved (and remember: you decide your own boundaries so you, and only you, gets to decide if the situation actually involves you).
A great example for this is if there is some celebrity or whatever shown to be problematic in a major way. Its unlikely you are personally involved with any famous person, thus don’t feel obligated to comment on any drama involving them. Doesn’t matter how much you like them. Or don’t like them.
You don’t have to be in the drama if you don’t want to be. And… overall, you’ll probably thank yourself for staying out of it when its all over.
7) Neither ignorance, proximity, nor silence confers guilt or whatever
This one comes up a lot, imo. Depending on your relative proximity, Major Drama might seem huge and world changing. And it very well could be. For you. But don’t expect that it is for everyone. Don’t expect that people (regardless of their proximity) will be informed about every little thing everyone else has done or is accused of doing. The fact that someone doesn’t know isn’t a sign that they endorse whatever.
Guilt by association is one of activism’s greatest tools for community abuse. I can’t tell you the number of times ppl have called me abusive or whatever simply bc of who I’m friends with. Or seen other people likewise condemned because of their close promiximity to another person. But proximity isn’t a sufficient reason to condemn a person. But there is a flip side to this: proximity is also not a reason to presume innocence. You have to be prepared to accept that people you are close to might very well fuckup or, unknown to you, be doing horrible things. Again, see the point about taking time and space.
The issue of silence is tricky since being silent on certain things does confer some level of complicity. I think this is one of the things that often leads people to quickly and publicly jump into drama, so that this doesn’t happen to them. It certainly was an issue for me.
But… you don’t know why someone hasn’t spoken up in a situation. There are a lot of good, valid reason why a person might not have said something. It might be simply too soon and they need more time to process. It might be a situaton too personal and close to them for them to want to publicly discuss. There are also a lot of… quiet ways to disengage with people you do decide are too problematic to interact with. A person could’ve simply decide to unfollow/block without saying anything about it. Etc and so on.
8) Beware of people who conflate oppression with interpersonal conflict
I think one of my least favourite things about how Drama often goes down, is that no matter what the issue is or who is involved, at some point it becomes about more than them. Suddenly an issue between two people is about Oppression and you, as representative of you respective communities, must be involved.
This isn’t to say that power and oppression isn’t relevant in these situations. Power differentials are always relevant. But you should pay attention to the differential between the actual people involved, not their respective communities in a general sense. You also have to gauge to what extent the conflict is interpersonal, rather than a matter of Identity.
Honestly? I’m having a hard time writing about this because it’s really the most difficult point. Its the one that requires the most thought and nuance. The one that you’ll really have to dig deep to think about. Because there isn’t any easy formula to this. There aren’t any absolutes.
9) Stay critical
I’m going to make this the last point because its kind of the most general one. To some extent it unifies many of the earlier points but other than the boundaries, time & space points, I’d say this is one of the most important. These would be my top three.
Staying critical is important to me because if I’ve learned nothing else over years of seeing and being involved in Internet Drama, is that you should keep your critical eye open all the time. Because… even in some of the most seemingly clear cut situations, it might not be immediately apparent whether or not this is a Real Issue or if someone has actually been targetted for mass harassment and a smear campaign. In some cases, you might not ever know for sure.
I’d honestly love to say that I unquestioningly (and perhaps naively) believe possible victims first. But… I’ve reached the point where I’ve seen too many people fall victim to someone manipulating the Discourse. In these days of a diluted and, tbh, almost useless word like ‘abuse’, its far too easy for abusers to mobilize the discourse around victims/survivors in order to abuse someone (and to enlist others in their abuse).
Note what I’m not saying: I’m not talking about ‘false’ accusations inasmuch as I’m talking about people purposefully manipulating the Discourse to abuse someone else. I’m talking about a method of abuse that appears to be… especially bad within activist types of spaces and communities. This one tactic alone is why people should remain critical and take the time and space they need to process the situation and figure out their feelings/position.
Let me assure you, it really fucking stings when you realize you got caught up in someone else’s smear/abuse/harassment campaign and have become complicit in their abuse. And ignorance isn’t really a meaningful defense.