How Artists Starve, Part 2: Lessons to Draw From Ongoing Drama

The previous post has become unexpectedly popular. Issues addressed there are ongoing.

As in that post, the privacy of all involved is preserved here. No personally identifying details are included here or anywhere else. AltSciFi protects your privacy, and will continue to do so.

Unfortunate aspects of the situation aside, this is a fascinating example of how social media accelerates and distorts issues that could otherwise have been resolved quickly and simply.

Over the past two days, Twitter has revealed a pattern that’s worth keeping in mind moving forward. Read the previous post first if you haven’t already.

A snowball becomes an avalanche. AltSciFi is a bystander at this point, marveling at how strange all this has become. This is how artists destroy each other. No wonder nothing ever changes as corporations take over our lives. They don’t need to force us to work for them. We’re too busy fighting amongst ourselves to do anything worthwhile at all.

The Vicious Filter Bubble

You’ve probably heard of the “filter bubble” effect, where users of sites like Facebook and Twitter cocoon themselves inside opinions that agree with their existing beliefs.

This also applies to disagreements, but in even more amplified form. Here’s the scenario:

One user with a large social media following (in this case, Artist B) hears a rumour from someone she likes. The rumour — in this case, a wrong one concocted by someone looking to spread gossip — was “someone is stealing your art”. Instead of asking the target of the rumour (in this case, AltSciFi) “is it true?”, Artist B decided to crowdsource for more opinions.

On a social network like Twitter, typical gossip quickly becomes a campaign of cyberbullying, as followers “take sides” to “protect” their friend. Note that AltSciFi doesn’t play this game — we’re not part of the Artist Twitter clique, so the bullying was one-sided from the start. What’s fascinating is how the bullies convinced each other that they were just an unusually massive, loud and assertive group of victims.

Bullies in an Echo Chamber

No one looked further for facts by asking the target of the gossip, because within minutes, an echo chamber emerged. Everyone began entertaining themselves with the juicy tea of the day. That’s the whole purpose of social media for most people: to use others as a form of free entertainment. In this case, artists were doing to each other what Twitter “fans” usually do to artists (i.e. demand entertainment for free), only in a more blatantly malicious way.

The real problem arises when people try to use social media to transact business with each other.

As we see in this ongoing situation, Artist B could have sent email saying “AltSciFi, please take down my work” or in a more cool-headed moment, “I found this site. What’s going on here?” Instead, Twitter was used, leading to a predictable pile-on of the mindless herd seeking rage as entertainment. Even worse, as the bullying intensified, legitimate voices asking AltSciFi for clarification went unheard amid the noise. The purpose of these blog entries is to at least have some way to counter the louder narrative. But of course, gossip-seekers and angry mobs aren’t exactly known for their reading comprehension.

There’s a second dynamic at play which is more important.

The second aspect here is the misuse of language, and its effects.

To Weaponise a Group, Convince Them That They Are Victims

If you follow AltSciFi, you’ve recently read about how easily individuals and groups can be misled into doing the wrong thing when they feel threatened.

What’s the easiest way to create and weaponise a group?

Convince them that they are victims, and demonise the evil “other”.

AltSciFi was targeted by Gamergate a few years ago. The dynamic was identical to what’s happening now. The roving horde showed up and started talking trash for whatever reason, probably something related to their hatred of women in videogames. But the strangest part of it was that they — about fifteen or twenty howling at once — consistently repeated how AltSciFi was impinging on their “freedom of speech”.

They came to bully AltSciFi, yet the gang was genuinely convinced that the target of their bullying was the aggressor.

It was amazing.

Gaslighting, Shaming, and Victim-Blaming

The same situation is happening how. Artist B incited a Twitter mob to harass AltSciFi, all the while whining about being “gaslighted”, “shamed” and “victim-blamed”.

Gaslighting

is an emotional abuse tactic where Person B tells Person A that they’re “crazy” in order to undermine their self-confidence. At no point in time has anyone done that here. It’s bizarre to assume that anyone who disagrees with you automatically thinks you’re crazy.

Shaming

is the weaponising of a crowd to enforce social norms by isolating and applying group pressure against the targeted individual. AltSciFi has never retweeted or mentioned anyone directly during this entire drama.

The only people who know about this situation are those on Artist B’s side, because Artist B brought out the horde. It’s quite likely that most of AltSciFi’s followers don’t know or care about Artist Twitter, just as Artist Twitter doesn’t know about Hacker Twitter (the other half of our audience).

Victim-blaming

requires a victim. Taking the posture of a victim does not make you one, and the misunderstanding in this case could have been resolved before that posture seemed necessary to anyone. But that’s not how things happened here. The mistake made by AltSciFi here could have been resolved in a way that was useful for everyone. How frustrating that years of work have been reduced to a rage-fueled trash fire by people who couldn’t be bothered to send an email before releasing the hounds.

(The whole point of the store site is that it has no inventory — we have to collaborate with artists in order to sell anything. What’s online is a prototype, not a finished store. The whole bit about “stealing art” is a bullshit soundbyte repeated ad nauseam based an a complete lack of anything resembling facts beyond surface assumptions.)

Connect a lie to a person’s values, and anything will become a fact if you repeat it often enough. And so here we are. Gossip becomes viral bullshit, and viral bullshit becomes sanctified fact.

It Ended Before It Began

By the time the conversation began, it was already an argument, like a circle of elementary-school children on the playground goading two kids in the middle to fight each other. The circle prevents Kid A from leaving, as the circle is friendly with Kid B. What happens? It’s not even a fight, fair or otherwise: it’s an episode of violent bullying.

If you’ve ever experienced this in real life, you know this all too well. It’s happening between adults right now, bleeding out from Twitter as you read these words.

So why does this blog post sound so calm and detached?

Mainly because it’s impossible to control other people. There is no way to de-escalate situations like this, even if you apologise for honest mistakes (to an already-suspicious person, there are no “honest mistakes”) and deal with the issue quickly (there is no such thing as “quickly enough”).

For most people, their emotions rule their lives, and it has nothing to do with gender.

The Only Thing to Fear

Humans are primarily emotional animals. The strongest emotion is fear. If you can convince a person to be afraid — then connect them with others who are similarly persuaded — you can weaponise them against nearly any target. Even their own allies. Fellow citizens in their own country. Friends. Neighbors. Random strangers. People of a different sexuality, culture, economic background or ethnicity.

Read the previous paragraph again and ask yourself when this tactic has been used to influence you, because it definitely has been. The question is “were you aware it was happening?”

This is just how humans operate. It’s unfortunate, because once a person has been persuaded emotionally, very little can be done to change their perspective. Thinking ends. Reacting begins. Snowballs naturally roll downhill.

In this specific situation, this drama interrupted other work in progress yesterday, so the completion of that work came first.

Now, Artist B’s complaint has been dealt with, as will anyone else (privately via email, not publicly on Twitter). This is the professional way to deal with situations as they arise. Social media is not the place for professional communication or dispute resolution.

In any case, it’s a fascinating example of how this type of situation unfolds, isn’t it?

Suspicion and Trust

If you study the lives of successful people, you’ll see that this type of problem is inevitable. Either intentionally or inadvertently, others will try to destroy anything new, because it is unknown, and therefore seen with fear and suspicion. You don’t need “evolutionary psychology” to know this is true.

Examples:

– electric car makers versus the oil industry.
– indie music labels versus the majors.
– people who defend the rights of women and minorities, versus those who yearn for a return to a misogynist, sexist and racist past.

With the addition of social media, situations like this one can lead to people using misplaced rage and self-validation to justify acting against their own best interests — jumping to conclusions and weaponising entire groups in pointless tribal warfare.

We’ve seen how this has transformed politics and society since 2016. The ways that social media have changed communication on a smaller scale are equally important, and in this case, troubling.

AltSciFi is designed to help artists, and it is artists who are trying to destroy AltSciFi.
Isn’t it ironic? :)

And yes, sad as well. But this is life. You have to roll with it, preferably with a sense of humour. There’s no other choice. The horde’s next tactic is to howl, “it took too long to fix it! You’re still the devil!”

Well, okay then. That doesn’t change AltSciFi’s purpose, which is to help artists. Your feedback is still welcome if our purposes align.

Choice

So what to do from here? Unfortunately, not much can be done, aside from responding promptly to reasonable suggestions and professional requests, and ignoring the rest.

This blog entry ends with a question: from the beginning of this drama, had you already made up your mind? (Hint: the answer is probably “yes”.) Really, it’s not truly answerable. We all rationalise our decisions immediately after the fact; everyone is 100% right in their own minds. Rightness is feeling, not fact.

These blog entries are not intended to change anyone’s mind. Hopefully, at least you’ll think before joining a social media mob next time. In the worst-case scenario, it could be too late for AltSciFi, but good enough if it helps you as an individual and as an artist.

P.S. The two main thinking-related issues here are called self-confirmation bias and the consistency principle. Look them up and read more if you want, especially if you intend to deal with groups of people, and even if you just want to better understand yourself.

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