Things we said today

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Today I got a call from my sister about our other sister. When the phone rings from one family member to another, and it’s not birthday season, it’s always bad news. Our other sister, because that’s how we always called her, was dead. She was the adopted daughter of our father’s third marriage, and she was a very unhappy, angry person who the rest of us had a hard time liking, or even caring about.

At various times I’ve felt guilty about my attitude toward her, not wishing ill of someone who had such a hard time with life. But honestly, in the end she could be downright mean and nasty. Eventually I grew hardened and suspicious, resentful of her attempts to brush aside years of similar behavior with others of her siblings. I feel bad about her sad life, but that’s about all I can muster.

As this played out this afternoon, so did a quarrel between two friends on the network. The trigger, but not the root, of this was the demise of the Gillmor Gang some weeks ago. In the aftermath of that event, the realtime world of FriendFeed and to some extent Twitter seemed caught in an ugly spiral of what Mike Arrington calls mob behavior. I share Mike’s alarm at this wave of off-the-cuff vitriol, even as I continue to be at least partially blamed for the drama that swirled around our show.

I’ve tried to stay out of the controversy, other than to speak my mind during the attempt at talking through the incident in a restarted show. I even took my show’s archives down as a way of indicating how strongly I felt about the tone with which many people spoke about members of the cast and myself. I’ve enjoyed producing the show through its many incarnations and participants, and have felt for the weeks since then that something would have to change before we could return to our sessions. Today’s continued vitriol over Mike’s attempts to frame the seriousness of the issue don’t bode well.

I’m 60 years old and have always felt proud of what I’ve tried to do in my career as a journalist, filmmaker, producer, and whatever my role in the Gang could be called. I take my work seriously, and have always tried to take others’ seriously as well. Sometimes I am guilty of hyperbole and failed attempts at humor; I don’t suffer slights and insinuations with the best of grace, and stumble far more than those whose work I admire and attempt to match. I most often err on the side of silence, hoping to say nothing with as much or more impact as wading in.

We need to fix this problem, whether it’s called realtime or social media, or whatever. We need to recognize that words mean something, and those that are thrown casually or viciously carry the same force as weapons. As a community, we must begin to own that responsibility, to make it clear that disagreement can be expressed without name calling, that fighting for innovation and progress does not excuse ugliness and slander, that we live in a world where news travels fast and emotions faster. We need to own our words, and we need to help each other to understand when we go too far.

I can understand when people make mistakes, when their passion gets the better of them. But saying nothing while people heap scorn and ugliness on others needs to stop. We must learn to separate argument from personal attacks. No one is immune from this criticism. I have failed at this regularly, even as I pretty it up with humor and caustic silence. It’s easy to want an eye for an eye, but we have to start somewhere to break the cycle. If that means I need to say what I mean instead of waiting for others, so be it.

When I got off the call with my sister, I told her that even though I didn’t want to admit it, the bad news could have been a lot worse. I wished my other sister no ill will, but thank god it wasn’t any of the others. I have to live with that feeling about myself, that sometimes things go too far and there’s no turning back. If I’ve gone too far down that road with any of you, I apologize. Let’s try and work toward less of this ugliness, and failing that, figure out a way to share in a community of people who respect some sort of rules about discourse.

  • Karoli

    This whole thing is so interesting to me, for a number of reasons. First, because it is completely not new. It’s been going on forever, and I share the frustration over it.

    But as you point out, it happens online and offline. People use words as weapons, intentionally lashing out with venom intended to slay their target. It’s as old as humanity.

    In my experience, Twitter and Friendfeed and Facebook have the most robust tools yet for dealing with Those Who Must Be Rude. On Twitter, a simple unfollow works. If that’s not enough, block them. On Friendfeed, it’s simple enough to moderate threads to remove messages that are out of line and hateful. Tools that work really well.

    In the olden days, the real time stream had to be controlled with humans behind the scenes, removing crap as fast as it was splattered on the site. They used their real names then, too. Now we get to do it ourselves. That’s really the only difference.

    The fundamental question, the one that really goes underneath everything you’ve just said, is this: How do we get people to take responsibility for their words? The only way I know how to do it is to give weight to those who are responsible, and hit the mute button on those who are not, just as one might walk away from an irrational person in the flesh.

  • Karoli

    ps. I am sorry about your sister, even if she was one of those who required effort to include in the family realm. I have a few relatives like that, too.

  • Robert Scoble

    Steve, I too am sorry about your sister and appreciate your friendship.

    I’ve said enough on this whole mess (I’m one of the two friends of yours involved here) but Arrington’s framing of it was not to start a serious discussion on this issue. It was to enflame and enrage and it did exactly what it was designed to do and I am sorry I fell for the bait and bit back because it apparently meant the end of our friendship, if you take Arrington’s tweets to be accurate.

    That said, this has been going on a very long time. Anyone remember the awful things said about me and my wife around the Kathy Sierra thing? That was done on blogs. We didn’t solve the problem then and I don’t believe we will solve it now.

    The thing is we’ve built a baseball stadium which has more people in it than a baseball stadium (seriously, look at how many followers we all have) and we are passionate people who argue passionately about our point of view.

    We set this up by gathering a crowd and throwing a game and now we’re going to be mad that the folks in the bleacher seats are yelling invectives and throwing their half-eaten hamburger on the field? Or worse?

    I’m not sure how we can put this wine back in the bottle given that the cork was lost years ago.

    I’m sorry for passionately defending my tools and my community from what I saw as a needless attack and a poorly-chosen metaphor.

    By the way, I found this post in Google Reader and am taking the week off of FriendFeed.

    • michael arrington

      why is it that every time i open my mouth, no matter how serious I’m being, i’m accused of flamebaiting. i guess i’m just completely fucking incapable of communicating.

      • Karoli

        It could be argued that you invite it. Or at least, it appears that you invite it to those of us who observe.

        When you use the metaphor of syphilis to make a point about a community gathering spot that many feel passionate about, it seems to me that you do so with the sole intention of raising a WTF response.

        When you do so and you have one of the largest geek followings on the Internet, it follows that some people are going to react with irritation and anger that you would wield your power (or perceived power) in a negative way, and they respond negatively.

        When you express strong opinions, there’s a strong response.

        Note: I am not justifying any tone, nor am I making excuses for those who react with cruel, threatening, or intimidating words. At the same time, I think it’s a little bit silly to give them any power at all.

        Your options with regard to mobs are to: a)moderate discussions within your control (a la Friendfeed, Twitter, Facebook); b) moderate your tone or consider how your words will be received and either care or not care; or c) continue to rant about the lack of manners on the web and maybe it will change, though I find people change when they’re led toward change, particularly positive change.

        With regard to the Leo thing, he lost the most credibility of anyone. Oh sure, his fans cheered his temper tantrum, but anyone with half a brain knew that it was out of proportion to what was said and that by losing his temper on a self-proclaimed family friendly network and then blaming it on the culture of the Gillmor Gang, he was passing responsibility off to everyone but himself, giving permission for the bashing to continue instead of end. While the two of you may have patched it up, there wasn’t much leadership toward patching the wellspring of vitriol that was unleashed in the community.

        Your struggle isn’t new. You use strong imagery to evoke strong reactions. Don’t be surprised when you get them.

      • Rasmus Lauridsen

        Totally agree with you Karoli on the Leo thing.
        In my opinion Leo was the one coming out looking like a “temper tantrumming little baby” Quoting my wife who sat next to me when I watched the clip the next day.

        Mike just keep on what you do, but think about how you say stuff, not just what you say.
        Your post raised an important question, but in a way that infuriated a good deal of a big community.

      • jccalhoun

        As I tell my public speaking students: there is content and there is delivery. You can sometimes get by with only one of them but not often. If the content is great but the way it is delivered is terrible then it is very likely that it won’t have the impact it could if the delivery was better. The opposite is also true.

        It is the delivery or style of the Gillmor Gang that creates such bitterness not the content. I’m glad Steve seems to be realizing that the style of the discussion on the show could get in the way of and overshadow the content.

        People online will be mean because they can hide behind anonymity. But it there it will be harder for them to do so if the public personalities online don’t give them an easy excuse to be hateful by having harsh delivery and/or content.

  • Rasmus Lauridsen

    Sorry to hear about your sister Steve :-( My condolences.

    I do miss your show, it was a great place to find out what was happening in the whole social web sphere. Not to mention interesting people bantering good naturedly. The Leo inclusion changed the show, and I’m sorry you pulled the show off after that little spat. I really think you should go back to the old call in format that worked so well. You relinquished the control of the broadcast over to Leo and he could shut it off. When you controlled it, it was great and the conversation would have continued after the little hissy fit. You moderated the conversation, but you did not edit out people on a self serving basis.

    I joined the conversation on Michael’s post on both FF and over here. I even posted to someone who called Michael a douche asking him to moderate himself and think a bit before writing stupid stuff. (didnt put it like that)
    That post got removed but he left the “representative sample”. My other posts were more critical on Michael’s post, they got to stay.
    Removing a supportive post making it look like he’s a victim is a slippery slope. He is bending the conversation to his own purpose, and shows why the conversation needs to be taken somewhere neutral where MA, or others with agendas, cannot control the conversation.
    Shame because I normally enjoy this place, but if conversations can’t live, without being butchered by someone with an obvious agenda, I gotta stay away.

    Looking forward to future Gillmor Gangs when you feel like doing them again.

    Rasmus Lauridsen

  • Aron Michalski

    Steve, first off I am sorry for your families loss.

    When this particular row began I was actually part of the real time FriendFeed stream but unable to actually listen to the event due to technical limitations. I found myself in the middle of the growing growling group that created the “mob” effect. Often these things take on a life of their own; you could bring in a rotten day unconnected to the event and get gathered up in the rising voices. Personally I find it much more fun to find obtuse and clever ways to poke holes in things, perhaps prevoking thought or at least laughter when people get too serious. I did find the mood that day to be snowballing, gathering speed and anger from all angles, the actual confrontation was sorting itself out while the pitchforks and torchs were being handed out. A large crowd always has the potential to turn into a mob; this is why the precautions are always taken in the concert business. No matter how mellow or old a crowd might be, they can become too happy, too excited, too angry or wound up and people get hurt. Sometimes security guards and barricades are not enough, the actual flow of humanity has to be throttled initially until the vessel is mostly full.

  • Aron Michalski

    Post interrupted.Often the group is manipulated by an individual in either a positive or negative way.It can be a very delicate balance, trying to get this large group of people to respond in a mass fashion.Encouraged, they can rise up and take the event to the next level. Insensed or prevoked, they can turn and become out of control.

    Both the audience and the performers have a responsibility, even in losing themselves in an event or a passionate conversation, to not cross the line. How is the line defined? For someone a rude pushback is enough. A beachball being thrown at the stage is different than a beer bottle. A beachball at a Three Tenors show would not be welcome though at a Buffett concert it might be.

    Ok, this metaphor may be running out of steam but the only thing I have to compare it to is an audience that is mad because they didn’t get what they want An artist might look to create energy or tension within the audience for effect or to push the performance forward. The conflict of a discuss-u-ment might get people to tear away their masks or make that leap of faith to the next level of the conversation, either standing by their point or bending to the arguement.
    I have always enjoyed this group of people because of the passion, the humor and quite honestly the unsureness of some of the participants, in that often this group was figuring out as they go along, new views being created as the words came poring forth from each participant, the anger of the stubborness and narrow views giving way to a new path that none of us, listener or gang member, saw before the call began.

    I can’t speak for anyone else in the mob but I am going to try to be a better listener, a better commenter and a better part of the commmunity.

  • Khürt Williams

    Stick and stone may break my bones but words WILL destroy me.

    It is time to put the past in the past. Let’s move on.

    “With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.”

    Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  • Jeff Weber

    Sorry about the loss of your “other” sister Steve.

    I just wanted to say I will miss the Gillmor Gang. It was always my top priority podcast.


  • Edward Coffey

    While this behaviour happens both online and off, it does seem more prevalent online, with bigger reactions, more often, to smaller stimuli. In the offline world a significant, if (hopefully) small, fraction of people seem to have difficulty perceiving anyone outside their close friends and family as a complete human-being, with the same capacities for thought and emotion, and deserving of the same basic treatment and consideration. Online you replace an entire flesh-and-blood person with a few characters of text and perhaps an icon – I suspect the proportion of people unable to perceive that as a complete human being increases dramatically.

    So, can we raise the bar for online behaviour to the level currently present offline, and can we make people treat strangers better in-general both offline and on? In the latter, I think we have always and will continue to make glacial progress. In the former, I think we can do a lot better. Aside from just being careful to always treat people online the same way we would offline (not slipping into the “it’s only the Internet – harden up” mentality), I think it’s important, particularly for online community leaders, to be willing to act against any individual involved in nasty behaviour that would be unacceptable offline. It might not be comfortable confronting and potentially blocking people from FriendFeed, Twitter etc., but I think the “do nothing” approach is going to work out a lot worse for everyone.

    • Amyloo

      “it’s only the Internet – harden up”

      Agree, Edward. Not only that, vituperation has gone unchecked for so long that people see it as the very nature of the internet. That’s going to be hard to change, but it’s possible through a mix of technological and den mother countermeasures.

    • Denton Gentry

      > it does seem more prevalent online, with
      > bigger reactions, more often, to smaller stimuli.

      I suspect part of the problem feeding this behavior online is the persistent nature of the communication. In real life when tempers flare and words are exchanged, we quickly focus on the fact that we are upset and allow the memory of what specifically was said to fade into the background. Once the emotional response subsides, the memory is already fuzzy.

      With text, you don’t forget what was said. You re-read it, possibly over and over. The emotional response is triggered again and again, building upon itself and being amplified. This can happen in real life if one obsesses over slights or insults, but the nature of social media particularly encourages such obsession.

  • PXLated

    Sorry to hear about your other sister – a loss is a loss – Wish your family well through what are always trying times.
    Have been out of the loop since the original GG incident so haven’t followed the latest. Do hope everything gets worked out. Sure miss the Gillmor Gang

  • Jeremiah Owyang

    Wishing you, your family, and the Gang best wishes.

  • Steven Patrick Rodriguez

    Steve, my condolences to you in dealing with this tough news about your sister. As a public figure,it must be incredibly difficult for you to keep your public and personal life in some sort of balance. This new generation of ‘internet celebrities’ produces quite a vexing problem as the lines between personal and public become blurred as people attack each other at the speed of real-time. In any event, I do thank you for the Gillmor Gang, which you have so diligently produced over the years. The show may be dead, but the conversation lives on.
    Remember “Happiness is A Warm Gun”

  • Gary Mintchell

    Sorry to hear about the whole thing. Mike does seem to have a talent for provoking people, I guess, but the lack of civility in discussion is disgusting. Too bad we didn’t teach responsibility and basic good manners to a lot of people 20 years ago. Hope you can regroup the GG. I’m growing tired of the other one. Cheers.

  • RobShaver

    Just as you suggest that I must take responsibility for my words, so to must I take responsibility to my reaction to the words of others. I have full control over my reactions. I can only be insulted if I decide to be insulted.

    Yes, I have been wounded by the words of others, but upon reflection I realized that the wounds were really self-inflected.

    My deepest condolences to you and your family in this time of personal loss.



  • rules for mobs, or mob rule?

    […] toward reconciliation with Mike, but the mobs on both sides of the conflict need to stand down.Steve Gillmor, earlier today: We need to fix this problem, whether it’s called realtime or social media, or whatever. We need […]

  • Arnie Klaus

    General Henry M. Robert built his first cannon emplacements on San Juan Island Washington for an event that was to be called the Pig War, because after 15 years a pig was the only casualty of this land dispute between the US and England..The Kaiser of Germany mediated the solution. Robert went on to build many other cannon emplacements used for violent battles during the Civil War, but later wrote Robert’s Rule of Order as a means for groups with differing opinions to be civil.
    The Gillmore Gang represents both the frontline of Internet Social Technologists but also the early adopters. Your group failure is a systems crash to global real time conversation that can spin into Schismogenesis (god love Gregory Bateson).
    I encourage your efforts to bring forward an orderly way to carry on for the sake of many of us to enjoy your common frontier and to set the foundation for civil real time global group conversation. Throughout our naturally diverse live we must struggle to find peace of mind for ourselves and others.

  • John Taylor

    I am moved to respond, not so much to the primary subject of the post as, to the absence of the Gillmor Gang, a podcast that I found to be an invaluable source of intelligence on what was going on in my industry.

    Steve was a catalyst! A catalyst is:
    – something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected, or
    – a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic

    I miss, first and foremost, the Gillmor Gang, but just importantly Steve, without whom it would not have been worth listening to.

    I am sorry that the ferment of debate seems to have destroyed a great asset for those listened.


  • http://www, choubb

    you post delivers a lot. diferent people has different perspect. I am touched cause there are so many “accidents” here in China , emotion,passion, rumor, limited public media, social media, lot of thing cross over, and you had a wonderful point, none of the parties own their words, they just publish/forward as quickly as thet can and dont thin about any consequnces. People dead and hurt, that is all real.
    Allow me re-post you post on my blog with some translations.

  • Things we said today我们今天说的话 « CEM and Countryside

    […] 原文: We need to recognize that words mean something, and those that are thrown casually or viciously carry the same force as weapons. As a community, we must begin to own that responsibility, to make it clear that disagreement can be expressed without name calling, that fighting for innovation and progress does not excuse ugliness and slander, that we live in a world where news travels fast and emotions faster. We need to own our words, and we need to help each other to understand when we go too far. […]

  • The Gillmor Gang Podcast - temp RSS feed and other stuff

    […] 20 July 2009: After the little Spat with Leo Laporte, Steve has not done another Gillmor Gang. It looks like we shall have to go without for the forseeable future Posted by Jemimus […]

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