Thank You for the Civilination Help

Before people gamed every post for “Content Marketing” optimization, people used blogs to converse, including expressions of gratitude. I guess I am old school, so forget Google. It’s time to thank folks for their help last week with the Punish Geoff Fundraiser for Civilination.

In all we raised almost $3,000 together for online civility.  Though we came short of the $5,000 goal, but did some commendable work to change the online conversation for the better.

Unfortunately a $2,000+ shortfall does mean that we will not be “Punishing Geoff” by making me dress in drag for a full day of work.  A couple of private comments did come in that suggested this punishment may be uncivil in the eyes of GLBT community, so perhaps it’s for the best.

Civilination founder Andrea Weckerle has raised more than $1,000 independently.  You can still donate here, as Andrea’s larger efforts will continue for another two weeks.  Before I thank folks individually, I did ask Andrea to say a few words:

“Thank you so much to everyone who participated in and contributed to Geoff’s CiviliNation’s Indiegogo campaign fundraising last week! It was wonderful to see people tweet messages, leave comments discussing the importance of creating the Academy for Online Conflict Management, and making financial donations to the campaign. Thank you so much!”

Shout Outs

So many of you donated to the fundraiser, and I greatly appreciate that. In that old school way, I’d like to offer a little link love. In alphabetical order here are our donors. Those of you that did donate $100 or more are noted with an asterisk, and will receive an autographed copy of Exodus when it is released.

David Alston*
Jay Baer*
Randy Bowden
Leslie Bradshaw*
Heather Coleman
Shaun Dakin
Kaarina Dillabough
Ric Dragon*
Paul Duning
Lisa Gerber
Kerry O’Shea Gorgone
Jason Konopinski*
Ananda Leeke
Andre Mirkine
Allison Mittlestadt*
Debbi Morello
Rogier Noort
Jess Ostroff
Ellis Pines
Tammy Portnoy*
Patrick Riccards*
Mayra Ruiz-McPherson*
Lauren Vargas*
Andrew Waber
Zena Weist*

In last Wednesday’s blog post The Waste Bin of Mindfulness I promised five commenters a copy of Andrea’s book. She has agreed to autograph and send them to the recipients. They are Joe Abusamra, Gloria Bell, Michelle Spear, Brian Vickery, and Marc Zazeela. Congratulations!

There are so many people to thank for spreading the word publicly, as well as private back channel encouragement, it’s impossible to thank them all. Needless to say, you all stood up and made a difference, and I appreciate it.

I want to thank two that shared in particular, Brian Solis and Chris Brogan. Not because they are A-Listers, but because they have been on the receiving end of so many uncivil remarks, including some from me. They deserve better. Thank you for your support, gentlemen.

And Chris, if you read this, I did want to reaffirm what I said on Twitter last week. You received a ton of grief about Google+ from me and others. Like so many early adopters, you received hell for making a bold statement, and in the end, the proof was in the pudding. Today Google+ a force to be reckoned with and a must for any content marketer, even if only for search purposes. You were right. My hat is off to you.

Thanks again to everyone who helped Civilination last week! Cheers.

Life with a Scarlet Letter

This blog post is running in support of my Punish Geoff Fundraiser: CivilinationPlease consider a donation to support better online conversations. At the time of publishing, we have raised more than $3,000 for the Civilination Academy.

Long-term readers know I have attempted to evolve my language to become more mindful of others. Part of that reparation is learning to live with that negative reputation publicly — my proverbial Scarlet Letter — and handle new disagreements.

At SxSW two different people informed me how a person was telling everyone what an A&^hole I was every time my name came up. It’s no coincidence that this person is someone I wrangled with on here and elsewhere. He’s not the only one. So the damage continues long after the matter passed.

The way I see it, I have two paths; one is to leave the interwebs, walk with some shame, and live a quiet life as a marketer behind the scenes. As entertaining as that seems many days, this path lacks courage.

Part of  acknowledging the problem for me means moving forward in the face of it, and continuing to exist in the ecosystem, albeit in a more productive fashion. I have things to say, and can contribute to the larger conversation.

To do that, I have to accept the repercussions. For me, that means openly acknowledging my mouth, and acting more responsibly. A tainted reputation means you have history. You can’t run from history. You can only openly acknowledge it, make your amends, and live with the outcomes.

I counsel clients who have public errors to do the same. There is no pushing issues under the rug. In fact, that exacerbates the problem.

So you own it, and accept your scars. You let your new actions speak for themselves, good or bad.

New Disagreements

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While I have stopped taking people’s name in vain, so to speak, I do still have disagreements. And you know what, sometimes I feel like I’m right, and I won’t yield.

I’m not going to hurt someone’s reputation directly, but I won’t openly encourage folks to engage in negative actions towards me just to people please.

I was wrong in the past. That doesn’t mean I’m interested in becoming a public or private punching bag as a penance. Change necessitates a more moderated approach, not a complete pendulum shift.

Instead, I choose to detach, distance or ignore. I suppose I have become colder, and less passionate or emotionally invested in issues. I’d rather not feed the negative, instead walking away and turning to a more productive activity.

People that receive this cold distant shoulder can easily say, “Hey, he is the same guy.” And that’s fine, it’s part of living with the scarlet letter. I have to take those hits. Folks can say what they want, but believe me, all parties are living easier without my proverbial cannon locked and loaded.

It’s the path I choose to walk so I can stay public and look myself in the mirror with comfort. As time evolves, I am sure my approach will change, too.

How do you handle the impact of your past errors?

Featured image by ErinJane7284

The Waste Bin of Mindfulness

This blog post is running in support of my Punish Geoff Fundraiser: Civilination! Please consider a donation to support better online conversations. At the time of publishing, $240 in matching donations remained.

I often come up with blog ideas and then scrap them. They’re too pointed, petty or pedantic. So in the name of mindfulness, they get tossed in the Waste Bin.

But rather than just delete the posts altogether, I kept a running list of titles for [censored] and giggles. Here they are:

  • The Machiavellian Guide to Managing Personal Branders
  • Stop Whining About Facebook Privacy. PLEASE!
  • I Don’t Want to Read Your Rough Draft
  • If I Had an Office, There Would Be No Chairs
  • You Can’t Replace Courtesy with Social Updates
  • Worthy A-Listers
  • Author: Why Is Being Underpaid and Poor Cool?
  • Real Authors Don’t Brag About Trade Books
  • Read the Dictionary
  • What Being in the Top 1% of Influencers Gets You

So what does this list tell you?

I still think like an [censored]. I’ve just developed a three second pause in speech, and the good sense not to publish inflammatory posts. Maybe one day, I’ll get to the point where I think more lovingly and with less snark.

It does feel better to not publish these things. And as a result, I think we can all agree this small corner of the world is more civil.

So what do you think? Should we restrain our own speech in the name of civility and mindfulness? The best five comments will win a copy of my former colleague Andrea Weckerle’s new book Civility in the Digital Age.

A version of this post ran originally on Kaarina Dillabough’s blog. Featured image by Steve Brokaw.

The Ethics of Flash Mobs

Anonymous hackers
Image by Anorak News

In December of last year, Anonymous hackers teamed to hack U.S. sites and post angry messages of dissent against U.S. companies that withdrew support of Wikileaks. Last October, when ace photography blogger Scott Bourne posted on Twitter’s digital copyrights, angry photographers flash mobbed his site, causing Bourne to close comments. In 2007 Greenpeace targeted Apple for poor environmental standards with its Webby award winning GreenMyApple campaign, which in part featured calls to action to comment negatively on Apple blogs.

While usually used to organize rallies or market consumer products, online flash mobs are a favorite tactic to silence or overpower opposing viewpoints. Sometimes they involve a negative commenting campaign on a Facebook fan page or a blog. Other instances feature more risque action, such as sending supporters in to report a fan page as spam or taking down someone’s web site.

The above examples are the public ones. Many are not. From animal rights and pro-life activists to political voices and free speech advocates, some deploy attacks to silence their opponents, anonymously organizing in the background and acting publicly. What are the ethics of the flash mob as a means of dissent?

Anonymity, the Mark of Unethical Behavior

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The core of flash mob ethics revolves around anonymity. If organizations and people disclose their identity as part of their mass action, they are acting in accordance within the norms of public communication. In addition to publicly disclosing who they are, mindful civil discourse should be used.

“If you’re going to ask folks to comment, en masse, each person who posts a comment is obligated to reveal his or her affiliation,” said Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism, Kent State University. “It’s the only way the process can be transparent. Of course, rules of civility should also be followed, but folks do tend to get out of control when the issue is an emotional one. The ethical rules really don’t change from one platform to the next. So long as the intent of those posting is to make their case, and they do so with transparency and civility, I don’t see a violation.”

In the end, from a larger objective standpoint, strategists have to decide whether the negativity of such attacks really helps the larger effort. Winning may tarnish an online brand. In essence, by attacking with a public flash mob, a group may win the battle, but lose the war. For example, PETA often wins many of its core public issues, but lacks respect outside of its immediate circle of supporters in large part because of its questionable tactics.

“I know a lot of people will disagree, but is there any victory in winning through negativity,” asked Danny Brown, communications blogger and co-founder of Bonsai Interactive. “Why not get the same followers to promote all the good your organization does, and really push that to others as opposed to trying to change minds that are already made up, not to mention the negative response you could bring on yourself?”

Flash Mobs as Bullies

PETA

Sometimes the mob can be unruly and down right mean spirited, resorting to nasty personal attacks and even threats. Individual voices act with passion and virtual force to achieve their objectives, creating charged situations where feelings are hurt. The loudness and sheer magnitude of the attacks silence the opposition.

“Using whatever communication means available, whether social networking sites, blog comments, Twitter and others to effectively gag another’s ability to express themselves is dishonoring freedom of speech and in my view, not defensible,” said Andrea Weckerle, founder of the nonprofit Civilination. “That doesn’t mean that all views are socially or morally defensible, but as an approach, in a free society we need to defend others’ right to expression and not use strong-arm tactics to force them into silence… When the methods of expression reflect personal attacks, insults, hominem attacks, and threats against individuals and groups, the intent is pretty clear.”

The civility issue seems to come up the most in politics with a focus on extreme elements in U.S. political parties. The outcry that occurred after Arizona shootings in January brought this matter to a new level of public discourse. At the heart of it was Sarah Palin’s efforts to rally on and offline Tea Party activism using gun sights targeted at Democratic Congressional districts, including the critically wounded Representative Giffords’ seat. How appropriate are extreme online and public attacks?

“I prefer to live in a society in which laws, however corruptly enforced, not mobs, decide who is guilty and how to punish them,” said Howard Rheinghold, author of Smart Mobs. “There is the public sphere in which demonstrations and boycotts are legitimate actions, and online flash mobs tipped presidential elections in Korea and Spain. But drowning out voices of dissent has no place in a democracy.”

It is a hard discussion, one that balances free speech versus decency. As we have seen with Anonymous’s most recent target of the often controversial Westboro Baptist Church, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Recourse for the Flash Mobbed?

Recourse is the first instinct for the flash mobbed organization or person left with a blog littered by negative comments and in-bound links, or worse, a fan page or web site that’s down. But it’s not as easy as a gut reaction to fight back. Sometimes fighting back simply prolongs the issue, even validating it. An organization or individual needs to take the time to respond intelligently rather than simply react.

The first and most obvious area of recourse is negative commenting that’s anonymous and/or attacks personas. It is increasingly acceptable to delete such attacks on one’s own fan page or blog. It is advisable to have a publicly stated social media policy that clearly states the organization’s position on anonymous comments and attacks before an incident.

“First, I would delete all comments that use profanity or resort to personal attacks,” said Kent State’s Bill Sledzik. “If the comments are transparent and civil, we have to live with it. When they’re not, we have to call them out for their dirty deeds – and fight back as best we can.”

“If comments are being left on one’s own blog, for example, the blog owner can decide which to allow and which not to publish,” added Civilination’s Andrea Weckerle. “This is not censorship, as far too many people believe – censorship applies to suppression of speech by a government body”.

The next level of recourse is a public statement. It’s important to do this when the situation involves negative, incorrect information about an organization or a person. But it may be best to weigh the gravity of the flash mob attack. Statements and counter actions should be reserved for serious situations that damage a person or an organization’s long-term reputation. In such cases, engaging one’s own community to help makes sense.

“Reach out to your community and ask if they can write about their experiences with you,” said Danny Brown. “Continue to monitor sites and postings about you, and if need be, ask for complete lies and non-facts to be removed. Try and counter bad exposure with facts and good exposure, and use SEO to work in your favor to (hopefully) counter the bad over a sustained period of time. It’ll be tough but it can eventually be countered.”

In the worst situations, people and organizations should seek legal recourse. Certainly violent threats and illegal actions like shutting down web sites require the attention of law enforcement officials.

Queen of Spain Receives Death Threats on Twitter


Erin Kotecki Vest at NewComm Forum in 2008

With great regret this post discusses recent death threats (warning: graphic language) received on Twitter by Erin Kotecki Vest, known on the social web as the Queen of Spain. In the worst cases (warning: graphic language), the lives of her children were threatened.

Death threat

Erin is one of those special people who has been on the social web since the pioneering days, yet makes herself widely open to her community. A Democratic party leaning political blogger and a friend to many, Erin is currently publicly waging a harrowing battle against Lupis. While certainly the ire of GOP social web opponents may be understood, no human being — especially one as fun, loving and special as Erin — deserves such horrifying threats online.

Erin’s situation also follows on the heels of the horrific Arizona shootings. While not a Congresswoman, Erin is a highly visible person on the social web, and thus has attracted the worst kind of parasocial behavior.

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Such cases have happened online in the past, most notably with the Kathy Sierra controversy in 2007. Kathy ended up leaving the blogosphere, and though she came back briefly on Twitter, the threats chased her off the web. Erin has chosen to stay online, an act of courage given the harsh nature of these threats.

Having been threatened with a beating for questioning a photographer’s practice of tagging bloggers with watermarked images on Facebook, it’s easy to say that such threats are not a pleasant experience. Threatening people physically — or worse threatening to kill them and their children for differing ideas — goes beyond “heated discourse,” and enters the realm of criminal and mentally unbalanced behavior. There is no provocation that can justify these kinds of threats against other people.

Yesterday, the Momocrats hosted a podcast on the topic with Civilination’s Andrea Weckerle. While sometimes disagreeing with Andrea about the finer points of civility, we agree that there can be no tolerance for cyberbullying and online threats. If you are sickened by this news, if you have experienced threats online, please check out Civilination’s site.

Let’s hope Erin’s bullies find help, and go away. Lupis is enough of a scourge. Here’s to the Queen of Spain. Long live the Queen!