What’s Up with the Mean People?

The day after I got back home from ALA11, a weird thing happened with a friend of mine, and I thought it would be a good thing to share, think about, etc.

Many of you know Joe Murphy – Yale librarian, frequent speaker at library-related events, and all-around nice guy.

Last Wednesday, he had someone create a fake Twitter account named @JoeMChangeAgent (already deleted – we’ll get to that in a sec), use his picture for the account, friended a lot of people (myself included), and pretty much pretended to be Joe on Twitter for about a day.

Weird, huh? I asked Joe a few questions about the incident via email. Here’s what Joe had to say about it.

DLK: How do you use Twitter?
JM: I use a public/professional account (@libraryfuture) for current awareness, to share resources, and engage with professional communities. I also have a private twitter account for which I control the privacy at the audience level. I use my private account to share and communicate with my trusted contacts.

DLK: So what happened?
JM: One of our fellow librarians created a fake Twitter and FriendFeed account impersonating me. They used this false account in an attempt to deceive us all by pretending to be me and by engaging our colleagues under false pretenses as a way to personally attack me and to disrupt our professional community.

DLK: How did it stop? Did you report it, and did you hear back from Twitter?
JM: Twitter quickly suspended the account because it was a breach of its policy rules. Twitter also permanently barred the account’s creators after completing their own investigation. I also received wide and strong support in the form of fellow Twitter users who promptly blocked and reported the account as spam and for abuse.

DLK: Has that type of thing happened to you before? How did it make you feel?
JM: I wish I could say this was an isolated incident. Unfortunately, I have received a lot of negative attention in my few years as a librarian. But I’ve learned the value of ignoring the negativity, not taking it personally, and not giving them any time or energy from my day. This is not to say I am impervious to personal attacks, but not letting it get to me is an important skill that I continue to develop. I don’t let their hate infect my life, and I definitely don’t let it slow me down professionally.

It is a poor reflection upon our profession that lashing out at colleagues is all too normal, and it is not just me that ends up as the target. Every once in a while you will see people (quite often the same people and groups) attack our colleagues online with bitterness, name calling, deception, and personal attacks.

DLK: What’s up with the haters, anyway? Why pick on you?
JM: This is the key question. Haters in general exist because they feel a lack in themselves, a deficiency that they try to replace by extending their negativity to others. They will strike out at anything in easy view beyond themselves. I often end up as the recipient for their hate because I am out there in the spotlight through giving talks, writing, and making contributions. I am also an obvious target for them because I have my happiness and my health, success at a young age, and I have a sense of positivity. Nothing in particular happened to kick off this most recent instance; it was an example of people lashing out just for the sake of lashing out. These people are deeply troubled and I hope they receive the support they need to heal themselves. I try to stay sensitive towards them because ultimately, they are the only ones who have to live with themselves.

Luckily, I have a lot of experience and support dealing with these attacks. I know how to not take them personally, and I leave their hatred behind by separating it from my own life. Unfortunately some haters go even further to attack our personal lives by harassing friends and family and spreading lies. It is unbelievable how some people behave. But working together with friends in staying wise and careful successfully blocks these attempts as well. If I let it get me down every time a hater lashed out I would become depressed, this of course is their goal. So I shrug it off, move on and keep having fun.

DLK: Anything I’m missing? Anything you want to add?
JM: The thing to remember is that haters are acting out of insecurity. They strike out at any obvious lightning rod because they are unhappy about themselves. So do not take them seriously, don’t let them steal your energy, and definitely don’t take it personally. The negativity is about them, not you. Keep being yourself, and don’t let the haters cause you stress. They may fling venom but only you can control how you feel about yourself.

Haters also feel a sense of entitlement to their hate, and blocking, ignoring, and deflecting their attempts can often send them into a total fluster. So not feeding them and their negativity is often the best response. They say the best revenge is living well. I would also add that a good approach is not giving them what they want; denying them a moment in the spotlight that they think their negativity will win them.

I have seen such personal attacks deeply affect individuals, and it is our responsibility as a professional community to not support hateful attacks, to hold people responsible for their behavior, and to make sure we are all treated with respect.

Me again – so why bring this up?

It was one incident that happened, and was taken care of quickly by Twitter. Right? Well … it’s not really all that isolated in the library speaker world. Here’s an article Stephen Abram wrote awhile back on the same issue.

Something to remember: disagreements are great. Heated discussions and full-out arguments? Also fine. Not personally being everyone’s best bud? Also fine – you can’t like everyone, right? Calling people out for a bad idea – great, please do so (but then back it up, too).

But personal attacks (I’ve had some of those)? Not cool. Impersonating someone else? Way not cool (and possibly illegal, depending on what you did). Sending anonymous death threats to someone because you don’t like their ideas (yes, I know at least two library speaker types that have received those)? Really way not cool.

Play safe out there!

  • LitLinx

    Thank you.  Glad for your positive influence.

  • sarah

    FYI, this sentence was very confusing to me, maybe because it’s early and I haven’t had my coffee yet:  “Last Wednesday, he had someone create a fake Twitter account…”  I had to re-read this several times before I realized that he didn’t tell someone to create a fake account.

  • http://twitter.com/axemurderspree Nicole P

    This is very timely, especially with so many anonymous, very spiteful Twitter accounts lately. They seem to create their personas solely from being haters, so they’re out trolling for whatever they can find. Great advice!

  • http://twitter.com/axemurderspree Nicole P

    This is very timely, especially with so many anonymous, very spiteful Twitter accounts lately. They seem to create their personas solely from being haters, so they’re out trolling for whatever they can find. Great advice!

  • Stephen Abram

    Good post David.  The impersonation of Joe after ALA extended beyond Twitter too and fooled some folks in supposedly informatin literat an internet savvy communities.  I regret that these haters spread their mailiciousness.  It’s just a bad part of our profession where some think that being ‘mean’ supplements or replaces debating based on facts and/or ideas.   Anyway, I think the right attitude is to just keep their views in perspective.  What is bred in hate . . . grows in poor soil.

  • Jll2800

    What a strange thing to have happen! And why on earth would another librarian want to do this? I am shocked. But I will say, never having heard of Mr Murphy before, I know now that anyone who would draw such hate is definitely someone I want to listen to, because he must have some great ideas! It’s the great ideas and thinkers that get the most hate in any profession, so (the real) Mr Murphy has a new follower. :)

  • Colleen Harris

    The LSW caught the impersonation pretty fast on its first post to the LSW room in Friendfeed by about the fourth commenter, and many immediately DM-ed Joe’s known twitter account to verify the identity. Another reason it’s nice to have librarati friends on multiple platforms :)

  • Dmnahl

    Joe is so right on in his response to such unprofessional ugliness. Innovators always get bruised by those who don’t want to learn new ways and means. Keep up the good work Joe, the field needs your vision and all that you share.

  • http://twitter.com/gurulibrarian Diana Moore

    Wow.  That makes me so sad.  I often wonder why some people seem more inspired by hatred to act than by love. It must have taken a good deal of energy to create that account and hold up the ruse for even that period of time.  Such a shame.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=650120580 Natalie Bulick

    I am fairly new to the profession, so I am surprised and saddened to hear this type of behavior is taking place. I’m glad to hear Joe’s incident was taken care of quickly, and that he has the resources to deal with it. I suppose I am naive to library land politics, but I view our field as a service profession, and hopefully that extends to peers and co-workers.

  • Phil

    Impersonating someone is a scummy thing to do. Let’s look, however, at another person who is “famous-for-a-librarian:” Meredith Farkas. Meredith doesn’t receive these kind of attacks. This is because she’s awfully nice, she avoids hyperbole, and when she engages in professional self-promotion, she does it tastefully.

    See, this “haters gonna’ hate” perspective you’re taking here is bogus. Joe is a target because he acts like an ass. Others who have been targeted for mockery (Gorman, for example) similarly invited others to mock them by …being mockable.

    Don’t be an ass, and libraryland will treat you fairly. When you’re frequently mocked, don’t just write it off with “haters gonna’ hate.” ASK YOURSELF why you’re targeted far more than others who are much better known.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Hey guys – great discussion, let’s keep it going. Just an fyi – I just deleted a comment because it contained a personal attack. Those almost always get removed by me. So please continue the discussion, feel free to agree or disagree, etc – just keep it professional and grown-up please!

  • Stephen Francoeur

    As the ever-helpful librarian always wanting to point out just one more resource, I’d like to note the discussion thread about this incident over on FriendFeed in the LSW room.

  • Steve Lawson

    Yes, I have a feeling that in LSW we were the “folks in supposedly informatin literat an internet savvy communities” who were fooled by the impostor for a while. But as you can see in David’s screenshot of the fake Twitter account, most of the posts in FriendFeed were also pretty neutral and gave most of us no reason to suppose it wasn’t Joe. Even with that said, people in LSW who were friends with Joe pretty quickly smelled a rat. (Note that the fake FF account was deleted along with all the posts.)

  • http://twitter.com/WordShore John Kirriemuir

    Odd, but not surprising. Last week speaking to (US) librarian who says she gets more flak from co-workers, jealous at her speaking and travel, than from any other source. She works damned hard to get to where she is, and it seems to be pure jealousy.

    And odd that it seems to be librarians. I’ve had this myself (and I’m not even a librarian) when I started to blog around the issues of library closures, funding and advocacy, and push a ‘Use libraries and learn stuff’ meme. One person – a librarian – went a bit mad, starting commenting on posts with deeply inappropriate stuff, including the salary levels of everyone, named, in his (US) public library. I set the comments to ‘moderated’ which stopped that; but then saw a load of fake RTs on twitter, coming from a new account, using the same wording.

    I sent an email to the senior people at the library, with various screenshots, and it stopped immediately, with a reply back that it had been dealt with. No pointless nonsense since. I’ve been attacked by right wing journalists and media people before, but nothing on the scale, nor vitriol or longevity, of this librarian. All the more odder as the advocacy stance et al I was blogging about and linking to was to support and protect employed people like him.

    (Shrug) as the saying goes, “the devil makes work for idle hands”, perhaps…

  • http://twitter.com/MichelleFarella Michelle Ann Farella

    Good grief!  This is crazy!  The Internet allows people to hide and create fake accounts, but to go this far just speaks to how insecure the haters are.  Being jealous drives people to some far lengths!

  • Sarah Houghton-Jan

    I’ll pipe up as one of the death threat recipients (I think I’m one of your two, David).  I’m sad to hear there was another person who experienced the same thing!  And I can’t count the number of hateful emails, other messages, and even pieces of paper taped to my monitor that I’ve received over the years.  If you put yourself out there, you have to expect to receive the bad with the good, as sad as it is.
    There are people in the world, even within the library world, who I might disagree with vehemently or even dislike as people.  But to attack with such venom does reveal, as both you and Joe say, something about the person doing the attacking — not the victim.  I love libraries and think they’re critical to the survival of free culture.  But is there really anything in what we do day to day that is worth threatening, hurting, insulting, and personally attacking someone over?  Really?

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Since you piped up – yes, I remembered that conversation. And agreed – nothing we do is worth threatening others over (or worse).

  • Rbanks

    I agree with the post that anyone drawing such opposition must be saying good things. I have to say it has been my experience that nearly all librarians have been friendly, helpful, and even going out of their way to be encouraging. It is really sad that a small group can do so much damage. I can’t think of any topic that would merit threatening someone. Joe makes great points about how we should deal with these sick people. The rest of us need to continue supporting each other as professionals and as humans deserving of respect. I’m grateful every day for the amazing people I work with whether at my library or around the world.

  • http://twitter.com/theGoLibrarians steven v. kaszynski

    “One of our fellow librarians”? Which one, Murph? I’ll flip that guy like a cheese omelette every day of the week.

  • Deborah

    I had no idea things like this went on in the library world. My career has been in public libraries, and I have met so many wonderful librarians, many nice people. I am shocked and sad, but glad this victim has a nice thick skin. Thanks for sharing this.

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  • http://twitter.com/michelleannlib Michelle K

    This is just nuts. It is hard to even get my brain around it. It makes me a little sick to my stomach that someone would do this. We need to unite, not pursue pointless attacks. I really just do not get what motivates someone to do that. If you disagree you have every right to, just do it in a professional, honest, and open manner. Sigh. 

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/57YYUUMFGZXY6ITLKNL7P4TZH4 Angie

    David, a much needed and well-done post for today’s day and age. I just got my first negative comment on a negative review I did, that was more a comment on me and my writing style rather than an actual conversation. While I’m no stranger to this kind of activity, it still cuts you to the bone dealing with this kind of thing, and this was an excellent post on how to deal with it. Thanks.

  • Emily

    That sucks. But I have to concur that he’s not alone. I’ve gotten hate mail and been subject to personal attacks from other librarians myself. No death threats or impersonations, luckily! I have to agree with Joe (who as you say is a nice guy) that we need to support one another and not feed the haters and promote an environment of healthy professional discourse. When I’ve had these experiences myself, I’ve tried to take a “haters gonna hate” position and focus on reacting in a professional way and not dwell on it personally. Being seen as a threat is sometimes a good thing, especially when you’re in a position of acting as a change agent, right? It means we’re doing something right. Hope Joe isn’t daunted by this bizarre incident.

  • Tshawytscha

    Jesus… I hate myself for even responding to this crap. But, since I don’t see anyone else pointing out the obvious, I have to say that since this guy, “Joe,” puts himself out in the limelight, he deserves any and all criticisms that he gets. Nobody forced him to be the “Facebook/library 2.0″ spokesman… he took this on himself. Hacked twitter account? Well, Joe, that’s the price of the really crappy technology you profess to be the answer to all librarians problems. Good luck in the future…

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Criticism? Sure – anyone writing blog posts, articles, books, or giving
    presentations should expect criticism. But you said Joe “deserves any and
    all…” Really? Because he shared an idea?

    And remember – this wasn’t a hacked account. It was impersonating. That’s
    VERY different from a criticism – Twitter thought so at least, and cancelled
    the account.

    You also said “that’s the price of the really crappy technology you profess
    to be the answer to all librarians problems.” Can you show me where Joe has
    said that?

    I could be misreading you (so sorry if I am), but you seem to be saying Joe
    deserves over-the-top criticisms and even crazy-illegal impersonations …
    all because he has ideas you don’t happen to agree with.


  • Emily

    Criticism and disagreement is fine, healthy, and can lead to the expansion of our ideas. Love it.

    But impersonation and personal attacks as retaliation for expressing an opinion? Come on. There’s just no way to justify that.

    There’s this little thing called freedom of speech that is supposed to protect us from persecution based on the expression of our ideas. Sounds like you would prefer censorship via bullying and illegal activity. An unusual stance for someone in the library world.

  • Ish51

    Being mean is not okay.  However, if someone is constantly angling for the spotlight, then they had better damn well be conducting themselves with integrity.  Simple things matter, such as not advertising a “sudden death” in the family when in reality, you were fired from your job after a month.  Joe Murphy is probably a fine person, but not all “celebrity librarians” deserve sympathy.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Definitely agree about the integrity thing. It’s usually simpler & better to simply be truthful.

    I’ll also say this – perception & reality don’t always match. For example, with the person you mentioned … it’s quite possible that BOTH things happened, & the death affected blog posts & social media posts more than the loss of a job. Choosing not to share one thing doesn’t mean the other thing didn’t actually happen.

    Just sayin.

  • enrlihn

    Much as I don’t understand how someone can be so divorced from simple community standards as to think impersonation and death threats are appropriate responses to the sharing of ideas, I don’t really get this “well, he put himself out there, so he deserves what he gets” attitude.

    Is that how we encourage intellectual discourse and the sharing of innovation, by defending deeply antisocial behavior as a valid response? Or are people so jealous of the attention Joe gets that they are happy to see this kind of response as a sort of comeuppance? Really? Are we next going to discuss how what Joe was wearing at the time encouraged the abuse? Maybe his Twitter picture had that come-hither-and-steal-my-identity look.

    There’s an old joke in my native country (Uruguay, if you’re curious) about a fisherman who keeps his worms in a cup with no lid because they are Uruguayan worms, so as soon as one of them starts climbing up and out of the cup, the others pull it back down. Seems to me like there’s a similar attitude that is a common thread behind the kinds of events David is talking about, and I see a little bit of that in this comment as well.

    If Joe takes it upon himself to be the king of Library 2.0, either he’s putting forth sound ideas, in which case he should be celebrated, or he’s spouting nonsense. If you believe the latter, have the courage to call him on it in a discussion of the issues at hand, as opposed to carrying out and/or supporting cowardly, childish attacks.