Happy Easter everyone.
So this started out as a tweetstorm, but I thought it might be better as a blog post, so here goes.
So we seem to be having a bit of an issue right now with neo-Nazis in the furry fandom. Now, whether these people are actual neo-Nazis or just middle class punk kids looking to get a rise out of people is another question, but for the time being, I am going to take these people at their word and assume they actually believe in the tenets of National Socialism. After all, when you retweet posts celebrating Hitler’s birthday, you just might be a neo-Nazi.
More broadly, though, this post addresses trolling and antisocial behavior in general. I’ve seen several people saying “just ignore them” or something like that. I want to talk specifically about this viewpoint.
I’ve been on the Internet for a long time - since the early 90s. There have always been trolls. And the conventional wisdom has always been “don’t feed the trolls.” I used to believe this. But recently I’ve started to question this wisdom.
To put it simply, “ignoring them” is how we got to the point where we have (apparently) neo-Nazis in our fandom.
I can’t think of any community I’ve ever been a part of where this this long-held maxim of “don’t feed the trolls” has EVER worked. And the root of the problem with this is the idea that trolls are doing it for attention and thus by depriving them of attention they’ll just go away … or something.
Trolls exist to shit on things. Not for attention. Giving them attention is a bonus, but they’re social griefers first and foremost. They enjoy causing others grief and any attention they get is gravy. They exist to piss other people off and disrupt things, and the joy is in the actual act of rebellion itself, not in the ensuing attention they get for it however negative it might be.
Put it this way: say a person showed up at your house. Say they took a shit on your front lawn. Say they started playing drums on your front lawn at 3am. Say they got right up in your face and screamed at you every time you opened your front door.
Would you say “just ignore them, they’ll go away?”
No, of course you wouldn’t. You’d call the fucking cops or (if you’re me) chase them with a shovel.
So why do we expect our online communities to be any different? Why do we expect our fandom community to be different?
Moreover, expecting everyone to ignore one or two people who are causing grief to a whole community is is likely asking too much of a group of human beings. Someone is going to crack, because it’s simple human nature to be defensive. And boom, the trolls have found their target. You’re asking everyone to go out of their way to ignore a few people instead of punishing the people who are actually causing the problems.
Again, to use a real-life allegory, you wouldn’t expect society to just tolerate a few people making life miserable for a larger community. You punish the people causing problems, not the larger community by asking them to just tolerate it and ignore them.
Without fail, the communities that I’ve been in that have been the absolute best are the ones that are moderated and where any type of trolling is not tolerated. The ones where trolls are immediately banned or maybe given a warning to knock it off. These are the communities that last and that other people want to be a part of.
Ignoring them does not work because they’re not actually after attention. The reward is the rebellion itself, not the attention. And asking an entire community of people to just ignore a troll is likely asking too much of human nature. We are not evolved to handle aggressive people in our faces without responding, and it’s unreasonable to expect us to do, even online.
Now, the furry fandom isn’t a single monolithic entity. It’s an interest. We can’t easily enforce a single “banhammer” and say “you’re no longer a furry!” But we are not completely disarmed, and we can make it socially costly to engage in antisocial behavior.
For those who run communities and furry events, seriously consider whether you’re asking too much of your community in asking them to just tolerate trolls. Consider whether you have a clear code of conduct that you are adequately enforcing. Consider whether you are enforcing penalties for trolling and griefing, including banning toxic people from your communities and events. And even individuals can use the tools available to them through various social networks to block these people. The best course of action is to socially isolate these people until they are willing to obey the rules.
And don’t be afraid to ban these people. They are not adding anything to your community and, in fact, are actively harming it. If they attend your event or maintain membership in your community, the represent you whether you want them to or not. They love to whine, but the problem is them, not you and not your community.
After all, do you really want a person’s first encounter with a furry to be with a troll? One wrapped up in Nazi-reminiscent regalia?
Remember, trolls love to cry about their “freedom of speech” when confronted about their behavior. But freedom of speech does not apply to private people and private organizations. You have every right to control who you associate with and who participates in your community and attends your events. If you don’t like them and don’t want them, you are under no obligation to allow them to participate.
The onus is on the troll to conform to the community, not the other way around, and it’s time that we stopped insisting our communities tolerate toxic people just because they may share a single interest with us. There are a shit ton of furries out there; we can afford to let a few toxic people slide.
Which brings me back to furry neo-Nazis. Like I said, I have some doubts as to whether these people actually believe in the tenets of National Socialism. More than likely they’re just socially maladjusted kids, even in comparison to the rest of the fandom (which is really saying something), who have chosen this as their act of rebellion. But, I have a policy of always taking people at their word. So if you wear Nazi-reminiscent regalia and retweet things glorifying Hitler, I’m going to assume you are a neo-Nazi.
I’m willing to bet these people in total don’t even comprise enough to fill up a bus. Compared to the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of people who attended furry conventions last year, these people are a rounding error. They are not going to make your event. They are not going to make your community. But they sure as hell might break it if they show up or even threaten to, as we just saw play out last week.
And if this fandom wants to be a welcoming place to all, that means we have to balance the needs of the many against the needs of the few. Having these people at your event or represented in your community creates a toxic environment for more people than they represent (it is costing you more than they could possibly ever bring in). Hell, I’m a pasty white Christian guy and they make me uncomfortable, imagine how a Jewish person or a racial minority might feel? And as white as this fandom is, I guarantee you there are more racial minorities in the fandom than there are neo-Nazi furs.
So ultimately, in addition to being immoral, it doesn’t even make good business sense to have these people around. So why do we keep falling back on the same tired excuses instead of doing the right thing and confronting these trolls head on?
The time of hiding behind the “just ignore them” excuse is over. It’s a cop-out for people who don’t want to have a confrontation. It doesn’t work and has never worked. Instead, we need to confront these trolls, and all trolls, head on and let them know clearly that they are not welcome in our communities. And if the furry fandom is not up to this task, we should probably reconsider that whole “welcoming” thing.