Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Online forums and bullying

I love the Chronicle of the Horse online forums and have gotten wonderful advice and encouragement on those forums. It is well-moderated, and for an online forum its pretty civil for the most part. But things do get out of control at times.

A recent forum discussion about a dressage trainer in PA went a bit wild -- I do a lot online, and have seen a lot of bad behavior. Still, it was astonishing the way a group of adults used the anonymity and ease of the net to to rip apart this local trainer. He admittedly had shaky credentials, but that ain't unusual! For some reason the guy hit a nerve with people. They stalked him, berated him, they went on a jihad to undermine some events he was planning. If he had been making a living professionally, he is probably not now. People unearthed all kinds of dirt (finances, litigation) It was awful. COTH closed down several threads, but the damage was done.

I recently read an article in the New Yorker, "How the Internet has changed bullying." So this New Yorker article made an interesting point about bullys. The author writes...
Ask people why they bully, and they rarely say, “Because I can.” They say, “Because I need to.” Bullies believe they are teaching someone a lesson; they claim that their victims are, through their own actions or faults, asking for it, and that they need to be called out and corrected. They build narratives of their behaviors. Many of the bullies Swearer has dealt with don’t seem to have realized that what they did was bullying: they demonstrate “a lack of insight and self-awareness.” Instead, they see themselves as righteous crusaders.
 I read this passage to Bob. He replied, "I just think they're a$$holes."

I'm reminded of the Will Ferrell quote, "Stay classy." Not bad advice.


  1. It's mob mentality taken to the internet. I'm sure that people in Germany told themselves it was deserved when they sold out their neighbours. It's sickening and it seems to be integral to humans. Most of us judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.

  2. That said, there is something to be said for protecting yourself. In my neck of the woods, there are a couple "trainers" who definitely did not deserve the title. They outright lied about their accomplishments, sold every horse ever as "totally kid safe, trailed in the mountains, etc". They were regularly investigated by the SPCA for neglect. They had unhappy customers by the droves. By consistently moving around, changing their names, etc, they did fairly well for nearly a decade. They drove new trucks, rented nice property, and came across as very nice people. It was only when people "became bullies" on the internet that the truth came out; they were legally bankrupt and thus not responsible to pay for the very nice trucks they drove, the hay they bought, or the credit card bills they had racked up. Operating a cash in hand business meant they could ignore all their debts and still live the lifestyle they were accustomed to. They still post "anonymous" ads advertising their services, and I'm sure they still scam the occasional recluse who doesn't use the internet, but the horse community has been very good "bullies" and regularly posts the locations where they are advertising, the pseudonyms they are using, even, *gasp*, the current disposable cell phone # they are using.

  3. Sadly -there's a lot of that kind of behavior on COTH.

  4. I think Bob is right. Most of the bullies I've meet in real life have very little skill or talent and are also woefully lacking in the social graces.

  5. I've seen the same thing recently with a couple authors. One author wrote a "civil war romance story" between a slave and the master's son. Pretty much a story line that had been written three years ago by a different author. The only difference was that the first author was white, and the author of the older book was African American. The older book got a "pass" because of the color of the author's skin, but the more recent book's author was harassed and trashed and "how dare you write a story like that." And anyone associated with the first book is a racist etc. The back lash was horrible. Now I'm all for being careful when dealing with internet personalities especially in regards to horse dealings, but to intentionally go out of your way to harass and vilify a person because you don't like them or one thing they did wrong is beyond my comprehension. If the "trainer" was doing something illegal (ie animal abuse) then report him to the authorities and be done with it. (note I have no clue what you are specifically talking about as I don't frequent the Chronicle forums any more). But if a person is just going after a trainer because someone doesn't like him, then I agree, "that's just an a$$hole."


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