Thursday, November 22, 2012

Powerless

NB: Capitalization Conventions borrowed and used out of solidarity.

A good friend of mine has spent the last week under withering attack. Over the internet. From people they don’t even know. And probably will never meet. Regular negative tweets and blogs posts popped up every single day.

How’d it happen? Misinterpretation. A request for help from a PLN was interpreted wildly incorrectly. Questions weren’t asked to clarify meaning - attacks were made. Repeatedly. Regularly.

What does one do? Without portraying the internet as the old west saloon I’m at a bit of a loss. There is not an easy way to go talk to folks when people Just Want To Yell And Condemn. Reasoning doesn’t work. There was also a power gradient at work: one of the people who chose to get involved had a significantly larger platform upon which to broadcast their anger - this was one of the people that Just Wanted To Yell And Condemn.

What actions were taken by us, The Good Guys Who Didn’t Want Our Friend Slandered? Many. Discussions on Google chat and over a Google doc (that stretches over 30 pages) happened. There were side conversations and backchannels. To the backchannel discussion we were having. Some (not the attacked party) tried commenting on blog posts only to be (again) rudely told that They Were Wrong. That my friend Hated Their Students.

I write this not to minimize the pain my friend was (and still is) dealing with. My frustration is not comparable to theirs. However, it was incredibly trying for me to be so powerless. Could I offer encouragement? Help strategize? Certainly. But I didn’t know the Internet Cavalry or how to get them on the scene. I didn’t know what to do to Make Things Right.

Many comments were drafted by me. A myriad of tweets were written. And deleted - what was the point of making them yell louder?

That feeling, for lack of a better word, was a tough one: you have a friend whose professional reputation is being called into question and all you can do is support and help, but not really do anything that will make things better, that will make things change. And again, this is not written to minimize the frustration and anguish my friend was dealing with, to pretend that my struggles supporting my friend were as bad as these withering personal attacks (they weren’t even close) - this is written to try to get into words the feeling of powerlessness that I felt. That I feel. I don’t have words for how they were feeling.

So what happened? Someone had a good idea: bring in Important People Who We Kind Of Knew. Maybe then the Angry People Yelling At My Friend would listen. Comments were written. Ground was stood by the angry people. Twitter conversations ensued. No progress seemed to be evident. My friend was, according to people who Just Want To Yell And Condemn, still a Bad Teacher Who Didn’t Think Kids Could Learn.

So where does this end? When does the Internet Cavalry come in and swiftly dispense Internet Justice? How do I send out the Bat-signal to said Internet Cavalry? I still don’t know. And while there is that cliche about knowing what you can and can’t change as well as having the wisdom to know the difference, well, that is kind of a load of doodoo right now. I want to help change things for my friend and I don’t know how to do it. I can be supportive and offer counsel, but I can’t Make Things Right. And that, my friends, is frustrating.