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8 Things Arguing on the Internet Taught Me About People

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This article first appeared as a Chick on the Draw column Dec 5, 2014 at Luna Station Quarterly

For the past two years, between watching cartoons and doing other crazy crap, I’ve helped moderate an online support group forum for survivors of family trauma. In that time the community has grown from fewer than a hundred members to tens of thousands. I no longer do the heavy lifting of moderation duties, but I still pinch-hit.

It’s been a hell of an education.

1. On the Internet, humans are meeting artificial intelligence halfway.

As a species, we set the stage for AI when we started writing letters.

Considering that text-based communication strips away vocal inflection, facial expression, and body language–what had been for a million years our only communication mechanisms at all–it’s a miracle we can get across any idea. Considering any online forum throws together total strangers–who have complete access to their own hurt feelings and no access to anyone else’s until they exercise heroic imagination–it’s a miracle anyone can get along.

Those who can get along are in a much better position to make sense of our eventual digital overlords.

2. If you find yourself in disagreement with someone, and you sincerely want to figure out the solution, prove it by starting with a good-faith restatement of their case (Rogerian-style negotiation.)

I’ve seen nothing soothe bruised feelings like this approach, e.g. “I hear that you think X, and you want Y.” Restating the other person’s position before describing my own has transformed me from being a “power-tripping fascist” to a reasonable human being in no more than three exchanges.

In his 1951 paper, “Communication: Its Blocking and its Facilitation,” [therapist Carl Rogers] proposes that the empathy and feedback model could be used to facilitate communication in emotion-laden situations outside the therapeutic relationship, such as political or labor negotiations. His formula is simple: “Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker, and to that speaker’s satisfaction.” In later articles he details Rogerian-style negotiation sessions that have produced astonishing results, including the Camp David negotiations conducted by Jimmy Carter, a conference involving health care providers and impoverished and embittered health care consumers, and even opposing sides in Northern Ireland (Rogers and Ryback 1984).

Rogerian Rhetoric: An Alternative to Traditional Rhetoric, Douglas Brent, University of Calgary

I heard about this approach being used at a Bay Area tech conference debate, I think, and boy howdy does it work.

3. Contrapositively, deliberately mischaracterizing someone’s position is a great way to piss them off

e.g. “Oh, I get it. You’re just doing this because X.” More than name-calling, abusive language, or threats of violence, deliberately mischaracterizing someone’s position is the single most effective way to make someone fly into a rage. So 1) please don’t do this and 2) if someone does it to you, beware it is sanity Kryptonite.

4. The best way to tell a normie from a troll is to push on them a little.

I’ve seen malicious-looking posts from users who turned out to wish help. I’ve seen helpful-looking posts form users who turned out to wish harm. I’ve seen posts with absolutely undistinguishable intent. Fortunately all a mod has to do is say, “We don’t do that here,” and intent readily identifies itself: normies recant and trolls explode. About one in ten will be a normie who is outraged by being pushed on. That’s where lesson #2 applies.

5. Like a defense attorney, a mod most defend every poster.

      • A) The person who posts is more vulnerable than the person who comments. By standing up and speaking, a poster makes themself a target.Commenters can dogpile. Posters can’t. Thus as a mod I always side more with a poster than a commenter, occasionally to a commenter’s outrage. In these cases, lesson #2 works a treat.
      • B) It does more harm for an innocent individual to be falsely accused than for a guilty individual to walk free.It is vital that we take every poster seriously. If we let the community dismiss/belittle/shout down one person expressing–among other things–thoughts of suicide, then others with thoughts of suicide will be less likely to express them. That insecurity is exactly what keeps suffering people silent, and exactly what the community cannot abide.

 

Yes, this means you’ll see mods supporting and failing to remove content you despise. But the flip-side is that, when someone questions your post, the mods will defend it, too.

Yes, this means no matter how many people decide a poster is faking, exaggerating, or catfishing, we let the poster keep posting. There is a solution for catfish, and it has nothing to do with us mods:

6. Healthy boundaries work in all cases.

If you exercise loving detachment, it doesn’t matter whether you believe what a person is saying or not.

If a stranger says they need money, healthy boundaries will keep you from sending money–or permit you to send money only if you’re completely prepared to see no advantage from it.

Now’s a good time to reiterate how highly I recommend Codependent No More.

7. Giving orders is anti-social.

Even if you’re 100% sure what someone should do to solve all their problems, giving them an order (“leave him,” “get a job,” “you should stop calling her”) is not going to go over well.

I recommend giving life advice the same way one gives a fiction critique:

[N]o should; use “I” statements; phrase things in the context of what worked for you or not, without assuming the stance of every reader; talk about the story, not the author; don’t refer to other authors as any kind of example.

Denver Fiction Writers pretty damn good fiction critique how-to

8. I am pretty OK with being called a power-tripping fascist.

It helps to have other power-tripping fascists around to check in with.

Dead Week

Dead Week

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Dead Week

I promise this is the scariest interactive horror webtoon about final exams you’ll play today.

Beware of watching while alone at home.

PLAY Dead Week

(Tested on OSX in Chrome and Safari, and on Windows in Chrome and IE. Layered audio does not work on mobile. Sorry about that.)

If you like IF, you might be interested in sub-Q Magazine, launching Spring 2015.

Twine is a platform for making interactive fiction–stories integrated with choice, picture, and sound. Do you make Twine things, too? Enjoy these audio macros with volume controls and seamless loops:

Twine icon

A Barbarian at the Gate: Five Ways to Protect Twine’s Village from the Coming Invasion

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Twine icon

This article originally appeared at Storycade on October 7, 2014

I’m not the most curious pup in the litter. When Michael Lutz’s “My Father’s Long, Long Legs” hit MetaFilter last November and scorched my brain stem, I assumed it was the thousand-hour effort of a lone HTML5 gunman. I even glanced at the source, thought, “Huh. Never heard of ‘Twee’,” and didn’t even bother to Google it. This pup stayed in the crate.

Imagine my shock this month when a more astute acquaintance explained that, like MyFLLL, hundreds of enhanced fiction experiences are being created on the open-source, beloved, and blossoming platform of Twine. The possibilities of Twine are exhilarating. Its future is glorious. I’m convinced teeming hordes are going to want in, and they’re coming. If a late adopter like me is at your gate, the barbarians are on the march.

(more…)

2011-02-03-read-the-flippin-manual

5 Stages of a White Person Trying to Write a Person of Color

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This article first appeared as a Chick on the Draw column Nov 7, 2014 at Luna Station Quarterly

I am white. I make drawings and stories. I get some of these published. I take up bandwidth. So I try to make those drawings and stories reflect the people who are stuck looking at them. Continually I discover the areas in which I could be better at this, particularly when it comes to representing people of color.

Drawing a person of color is one thing. If a character doesn’t have solid anatomy, expression, and appeal, it’s a failure of skill, not empathy. Plus, in the cartoony style I tend toward, disbelief is suspended, character conflicts are simplified, and if my comic strip characters express no diversity in their food choices, observed holidays, language, or beliefs, I have a handy “it’s just a cartoon” blanket to hide under (despite all I’ve said about why cartoons matter.)

But in writing every word matters. Every omission matters. Each character makes decisions informed by their experience, or they don’t. There are no big eyes or Dreamworks smiles to smooth rough edges. There’s no blanket.

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28 Silly Things About Interstellar

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interstellar mackenzie foy matthew mcconaughey

Generations of corn-disrespecters

Oh my.

I don’t always have beefs. I saw Big Hero 6 this weekend and was rendered nearly beefless. But the thing about beefs is once you have one good beef core, more beefs tend to snowball around it, until you are in the middle of the second act taking out your notepad because the beef is so massive it goes supernova.

Not that I hated this movie. There’s some great stuff here–ideas, performances, cinematography, visual effects. Hating this movie would be like hating the guy at the Y who grunts really loud when he lifts. He’s just doing his thing, man. Let him do his thing.

Still, there are many silly things about Interstellar. There are almost too many silly things going on in Interstellar to document, so I am trying to pick only the most amusing or least remarked upon by everyone else’s lists of silly things.

Some heckles contributed by very good-looking co-hecklers. Absolutely uncontrollable amounts of spoilers ahead.

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SNL Gap Girls

Drawn in Drag: Examining Male Voice Actors Cast in Female Roles

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This article first appeared October 3, 2014 in my Chick on the Draw column at Luna Station Quarterly.

Sometimes animation is sort of like SNL in the early 90s–it assumes men dressed as women are funnier than actual women.

SNL Gap Girls

I’m not saying Cross-Dressing Voices is always men-as-women. Where would animated boy roles be without June Foray, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Christine Cavanaugh, E. G. Daily, Laura Torres, Tara Strong, and Cree Summer? Not every show dares to let their male kid lead grow up –as Avatar: the Last Airbender and Adventure Time did.

And I’m not saying men posing as women can’t be funny or subversive. Divine as Edna Turnblad, the Kids in the Hall as their lady counterparts, and Jordan Peele as Meegan are all comedy gold. But what’s vital to their success is that the funny comes from the characters and situations, and not simply the drag itself.

And I’m not saying the male performers don’t deserve the part. Many of the cases I’m about to describe are actually male show creators who took on female roles in development and never let go. Who could say a show creator doesn’t know the character?

What fan would single out one not-entirely-satisfying drag performance in an otherwise satisfying movie or show?

Who could ask a show creator to give up their sweetest plum?

Who could suggest the character might take on a new dimension in the hands of, say, a professional female performer with decades of experience?

That person would have to be a bit of a nit-picky dirtbag.

Let this dirtbag say it: unless a man-in-drag voice performance is damn funny or damn subversive, it’s frustrating to see.

Jack and Jill movie theater still

And maybe just a bit tired.

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Ziva's Conjury Mart

Ziva’s Conjury Mart

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Ziva's Conjury Mart

Twine is a platform for making interactive fiction–stories integrated with choice, picture, and sound. It’s pretty great. I’ll explain more later, but first I made you a present:

PLAY Ziva’s Conjury Mart

(Tested on OSX in Chrome and Safari, and on Windows in Chrome and IE. However audio doesn’t appear to load in iOS. Sorry. Working to resolve.)

Do you make Twine things, too? Would you like some audio macros with volume controls and seamless loops? Have I got the link for you:

sqTwineSound audio macros — source and downloads

Want to know how to use these audio macros? This delicious demo will explain:

sqTwineSound demo

I listened to so much accordion making these. So. Much. Accordion.

Enjoy!

Shame Cakes

Shame Cakes

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Shame Cakes

Shame Cakes

This week will also be without vocabulary comics. There have been abundant fun distractions.

Be assured more words are coming soon.

In the meantime, hope I’m not this:

quakebuttock