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!