AltSciFi Drama, Part III: How Distorted Language Transforms False Rumours into Bullying and Harassment

Since the social media harassment campaign against AltSciFi began, one hurdle facing this project has become increasingly clear.

(The storm seems to have mostly passed now. These three blog entries serve as documentation and a guide for the future. 1 2 3)

Artists are just people. Like any group of humans online, many artists suffer from weak or absent critical thinking skills. This often combines with high fluency (loves Twitter) and low reading comprehension (rarely reads anything longer than an tweet). The problem only grows when narcissism and cynical “positive thinking” are added to a tribalistic mentality. This results in a babbling pseudo-logic such as “we special good artists against all the mean bad people who steal our art and make us poor victims get really mad.”

And yes, in this case, the behaviour involved was as petty and childish as it sounds.

This entire episode of cyberbullying began due to a false rumour about AltSciFi “stealing art.” The rumour was repeated and gathered steam the more people talked about it, spreading across various social media sites.

No One Asked A Single Question

The most frightening aspect is that, throughout the entire course of bullying and harassment, not one single person thought to ask, “wait — is this true or not? It might be a good idea to directly contact the people being harassed. Maybe there’s another side of the story.”

No one questioned the rumour. No one looked for evidence. Not a single person. Everyone fell for the lie, and hundreds of people thoughtlessly repeated it.

That’s pretty scary, especially in the age of social media where an entire ecosystem is designed around passing emotionally charged information among peers at dizzyingly high speed.

Textual Harassment By “Visual Thinkers”

Visual artists might not like to read. There’s a reason why they’re not writers, after all.

That’s written half-jokingly, but many people believe the false pop psychology concept of learning styles. No matter how naively true it may feel, the idea of a “built-in learning style” or sensory modality isn’t real (dyslexia is an obvious exception). Learning styles are a myth, one step less credible than the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and your “emotional intelligence quotient.”

There’s no such thing as a visual learner; you probably just need to read more. But for most adults, it’s too late. If you believe a falsehood and it’s repeated enough times, it eventually becomes true and real to you. In that sense, false rumours and discredited urban myths work in much the same way.

Artists have no excuse for spreading misinformation and engaging in harassment due to poor reading skills, or “I’m an artist; I don’t need to read. I’ll just ask my art friends on Twitter for their opinions.”

Under the Spell of Distorted Language

During the worst of the cyberbullying campaign, three language patterns stood out. They remain memorable for their ability to preclude and defeat basic critical thinking. These tactics were highly effective in ensuring that the harassment exploded exponentially and lingered for days, rather than being extinguished and forgotten within hours.

Pattern 1.

“If you had done y, I would have done z. But you didn’t, so I’m going to keep doing x.”

“If you had contacted me before creating your website (which was in fact a test version of the site that was never marketed or promoted to the public), I would have thought it was a great idea and helped you promote it (although promotion wasn’t even an issue yet, since the site was an incomplete test version, not for public consumption).

But you didn’t contact me (although there was no reason to do so, since the site hadn’t launched yet), so I’m going to continue slandering you using rumours and false accusations (because I need to save face after making a fool of myself in front of thousands of people on social media; I can never apologise because my ego commands me to be right at all times).

Notice how item “x” can be any arbitrary action that didn’t take place. This pattern is nothing more than rationalisation for continuing to do more of the same, while appearing to have been open-minded in a past that never happened at all. This also called arguing a counterfactual, one of many arguments better known as bullshit.

Pattern 2.

“Regardless of everything you’ve said, written and shown that you’re doing the opposite of x, I just know you’re doing x.”

“Even though you’ve written two extremely detailed blog entries documenting the events that took place, and have shown that you’re not stealing artists’ work, I just know you’re stealing artists work.”

Hopefully, the denial at work here is obvious to see. If someone demonstrates that they’re not standing on one leg, it obviously doesn’t mean they’re standing on one leg. It’s a self-contradictory statement; the statement eats itself if you pay attention to the pattern. This was probably the most popular pattern, and it’s also pure bullshit.

Pattern 3.

The fact that you defend yourself by saying and demonstrating that you’re not doing x only makes it more obvious that you’re doing x.

“If you say and show that you’re a group of artists who are trying to help other artists, the more you say and show that it’s true only makes it more obvious that you’re actually an evil middleman corporation stealing from artists.”

Instead of just re-asserting the wrong argument as in Pattern 2, this tortured syntax creates an imaginary cause-effect line between the two statements. “The more evidence you show me that the sky isn’t blue, that only convinces me more that the sky is blue.” This is a word game in which a person can say that any evidence against x actually is itself undeniable proof of x.

What’s the word for this one? It starts with a “b”.

These are all real language patterns that appeared as they’re shown here. The problem is that AltSciFi is doing something different; words are necessary to explain how this project works. There needs to be some way to communicate to artists, many of whom have weak critical thinking skills, high fluency and low reading comprehension. There’s no easy answer, but we’ll see. Maybe the average artist online is more capable of independent thought than many have recently shown themselves to be; hopefully that’s the case. The success of this project might depend on it.