Congratulations! You’re an online bully

AN UPDATE: The target of this column predictably took issue with this piece, has boasted she was once a journalism major, complained about “no fact checking and “no additional resources” and that “Calling ME names without even knowing the basis of what you’re writing about is slanderous and can constitute libel” [sic]

Welllll… Nope. That’s not how libel works, nor is it how this article was written. and her outrage is rather ironic given the circumstances, but we’ll get to those. With regard to fact checking, all quotes are verified by her own Twitter feed.

Point of full disclosure, I have amended the piece — not that I expect its subject will like it better. You see, I originally left out screen shots of the pages she herself posted of the person’s screenplay, because the victim/script writer doesn’t deserve to be humiliated yet again through the circulation of their pages in an open forum. Alas, we seem to need exhibits — fine, got plenty. It also gave me a chance to prove through other screen shots that I have quoted her correctly.

The heart of this column anyway is about conduct of character. Here then is the mildly amended piece:

I spend too much on Twitter — it works as a wonderful distraction. And so when someone I follow (not anymore after this) “liked” a particular post, I checked it out. Turned out to be one of the most disgusting examples of online bullying I’ve seen in a while.

There is a young woman who is a Masters student at the University of North Carolina and who goes by the Twitter handle, “karina unleashed.” If we are to take her at her word, a copy of a person’s screenplay was left at a record store. Here is what she wrote on Twitter:

Further to that point, when someone online asks whether it’s a genuine script left behind, note her answer:

Now here comes the Character Test: Having discovered the script, she posts pages of it on Twitter (example above) and decides to publicly eviscerate it, allowing others to join in and mock the shit out of the individual’s work.

A few who replied picked up on an essential point (more examples further down), such as this person:

But Frank here seems to have been in the minority, and most were happy to savage the writer’s pages.

Is this script terrible? That’s not the point. It doesn’t matter what you or I think, because once you even get into a critique, you’re playing Karina’s game. We don’t know the gender of the author, but okay, fine, it’s a fairly safe assumption it was a young male, and Karina is full of smug observations, such as “Honestly, this script is an instance of 1) men trying to write parts for women without any input from women or like, empathy and 2) the infantilization of women’s consumption of media.”

But let’s back up. You dropped the E-word. Empathy. Yet you went ahead, took screen shots of this person’s creative material and posted them online, with no indication that you had their permission. We can almost safely assume you didn’t have it, because you’ve already indicated the script was “left behind” by “someone” — implying you didn’t know at the time who the author was. You didn’t write “my friend” or “a customer” left it, only “someone.”

And then you have a little dump-fest all over the writer’s work. Hard to believe this someone would consent to that; close to 900 comments, most of them disparaging of those pages. No doubt you and your gleeful pals on Twitter feel completely entitled to do this, because it’s not your screenplay, your doctoral thesis, your private journal, your creative effort, your anything.

And you want to lecture that writer about empathy? Are you kidding us? Congratulations! You’re a bully. Because this is what bullies do: pick on someone when there’s the least risk, subjecting that person to public ridicule and often inviting others to pile on.

I wonder how you’d like it if you forgot to pick up a draft of your Master’s thesis from a Starbucks table, and folks posted it and held a wolf pack mauling of your literary efforts?

The poor shmuck who wrote this thing probably fretted and busted their ass, not having a clue as to its eventual reception, hoping for the best, hoping someone would love it and see some potential. One of the few blessings of the writing profession is that you most often fail in private. I, for one, would not want to be judged on the execrable stuff I drafted when I was 21 and had little experience with life, let alone with relationships. Hell, maybe even when I was 32! And I’ve sold books. I’ve had stage plays produced. I’ve had folks want to follow up with me over television scripts. And I still can get turned down. It is a tough, brutal business.

But you robbed them of the privacy of their failure… even the privacy of their potential success. Because most good writing is done through revision. We fail until we rewrite and rewrite or write something else and write it better, and then someone buys the good stuff. For all you know, someone whose opinion they value could have been waiting for that copy and steered them gently in the right direction. Sure, this could still happen if they see a draft, but with all the abuse you’ve subjected the writer to, one can imagine you’ve stolen a good portion of their confidence.

No one deserves that kind of obnoxious free-for-all lynching of their work online.

The person who wrote that script — who may have a spark of talent or none at all, who may have a few screwed-up ideas about women and interactions and everything else — arguably had more courage than you’ve certainly displayed of late, because it’s easy to criticize. They put their guts down on a page. That is what professional writers do. That’s what would-be writers do. That is why the old saying goes, “Writing is easy. Just open a vein.”

The best thing that can come out of this is that the anonymous writer use your little hate-fest as motivation to get some good, solid coaching in the craft from individuals who will guide them with respect. It would be too much to expect you to feel ashamed. What you did was cruel, spiteful and childish, and for you to express proper regret would come out of a re-evaluation of your actions and require empathy. You remember empathy, right? You paid lip service to it.

But adults don’t simply use the word for a slogan or online lecture. They feel it and act accordingly.

So instead of ridiculing people’s screenplays, go research that concept we talked about… and borrow a few books from your university library.

Update again: As mentioned above, I was not entirely alone in my objections. For the record, here are some other reactions on her Twitter feed:

But it’s easy for a few objections to get lost in a tide of happy cruelty. That’s the point of this article: not so much fun when the bully gets their actions and intentions scrutinized in detail.

Karina replied on my feed over the first posting of this column, and after tedious fencing and minor insults back-and-forth, I suggested that she take down her thread that’s humiliating to the screenplay writer, and I would be glad to remove this article. After some reflection, I have removed all my tweet threads on this subject because there’s little point in a back-and-forth.

My hope is that in time she’ll recognize her actions as needlessly cruel, but no one — not that anonymous writer or even his mean critics — should have to live with their mistakes forever enshrined on social media. Hence the overture. If you’re a new or regular reader and you’ve found this piece, you can conclude that offer was rejected, but let’s hope the lesson eventually sinks in. For the time being, I noted this tweet later after midnight, and the slogan, “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it,” comes to mind.

***

But wait, there’s more! Because another little side-show is worth addressing. No, I won’t use their Twitter handles, because these individuals seem to thrive on mob rule as morality — they want direct engagement because like all bullies, they need the pack behind them, a swarm on their turf. Amazing that they all comment on a screenwriter’s work posted without permission, gleefully trash a complete stranger’s pages, then feel entitled to get their licks in over here after I’ve pointed out their behaviour; somehow it is “cowardice” in their world not to invite the same kind of abuse or rise to the bait. Well, they have their own little bubble for that.

One troll even suggested, I presume as a joke, that I authored the screenplay. It would be pretty hard for me to have left the script — or anything else — in the record store when I’m nowhere near North Carolina.

But let’s focus instead on their logic.

One person tweets& of course Jeff, a *classic* white male, pays no attention to the script’s toxic misogyny and overbearing patriarchal values… because that wouldn’t fit his false narrative.” Well, I do happen to be a white male — it’s interesting how by definition, I am therefore not entitled to an opinion or my opinion is already assumed. But again, it’s not about me; I don’t need to supply my bona fides in terms of liberalism, feminism, LGBT, etc., and just as this individual made assumptions about me, I think it’s fair to presume none will ever be enough. In any case, I didn’t comment on the script’s text, because it’s irrelevant.

According to this individual, it’s somehow disingenuous that I “pay no attention to the script’s toxic misogyny.” In other words, it’s okay to swipe someone’s stuff, put it online and bash it publicly — as long as you find their views or their creativity offensive. Still another person thinks this article is at “the expense of dismissing [Karina’s] own feelings and opinions.”

Wow. How twisted is that? You bash that stranger online, and then you’re the victim when someone else calls you out over shitty behaviour?

My question: where was the concern for the feelings of the original writer of the script?

Whether misguided or not, the screenwriter was ganged up on and cruelly demeaned in public, on a thread seen by thousands, and because you don’t like what they wrote — which wasn’t even intended for your eyes — you decide the ends justify the means.

That’s the attitude of a fanatic.

It’s also interesting that no one seems to have noticed that in addition to not passing judgement on the script pages, I never weighed in on specific criticisms — except to knock Karina’s comments as “smug observations.” And that goes for how others felt about the script’s bad writing, flat characterization, etc. The upshot is… my objection has always been no one should have been making snide comments or analysis at all, because those pages should have never been shared that way.

So to try to re-cast this column as anti-feminist is frankly, bullshit. Imagine some male sexist creep posting pages of your script or novel draft without your consent, and having that kind of free-for-all on Twitter with all the incel, misogynistic nastiness you could expect from their ranks. Of course, the behaviour would be contemptible. But in addition to their hate, it would also be contemptible on the same grounds that I’ve argued here.

And I would still be writing a column about bullies. They come in all shapes, sizes, colours and genders.

Written by

Writer person. Books - Prevail, The Karma Booth, Gangs in Canada; in June 2021, Winged Bull, a bio of Henry Layard, the Victorian era’s Indiana Jones.

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