Mob Response

Let me get this out of the way, Paul Christoforo acted like a self-important jerk in his correspondence with a customer about delivery of an Avenger controller accessory. His self-congratulatory, imperious, dismissive explosion of barely literate correspondence to a customer asking a completely legitimate question touched as much a raw nerve with me as anyone else who has ever had to endure what passes for customer service these days. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that every single person who read the e-mail chain that began with the customer and ended with Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade took vehement exception with virtually everything Paul said.

Though contrite now and quick to talk about how he was having a bad day —- despite the fact the e-mail conversation stretched over the better part of 2 weeks — he presented the gold-standard example of the worst kind of service. But this article is not about Paul. This article is about the response, and how deeply disquieting the sanctioned retribution of the online hit-mob has become.

The people of the internet know no limits to their charity, but neither do they seem to know limits to their bloodlust for abuse, revenge and humiliation. Even a small corner of the virtual universe can focus into unimaginable pressure — just ask GoDaddy, which has been under siege for more than a week after coming out publicly in favor of the Stop Online Piracy Act. Now, like Paul, GoDaddy isn’t exactly a sympathetic figure, but they are a cautionary tale that when the Sauron Eye of an organized internet mob turns to put your indiscretions under the microscope, the results can be devastating.

In truth, what I have taken away from both these incidents is that there is good reason to fear the tyranny and unrestrained animosity of a virtual lynching, for there is no compassion to be had in its almost random punishment.

At times like this my thoughts always turn to Micah Whipple. He was the unfortunate Blizzard employee caught in the storm of angst associated with the company’s quickly discarded idea to require the use of RealID on Battle.net. Micah made the unenviable decision to prove that using your real name on the internet is safe, and the internet seemed to turn as one to squeeze Mr. Whipple and show him the deep error of his ways. Within minutes his private information became the plaything of hundreds of thousands. How his world must have turned upside down for a day. Or a week? Or even a month?

Unlike Paul or GoDaddy, it’s hard to find much reprehensible fault with Micah. Yes, it was probably naive of him to throw himself into the middle of a brewing storm, but the result must have been terrifying not only to him but all those near to him. The level of harassment brought to bear on him is the kind of thing that will wake you up at night in a cold sweat.

In moments like this, here on the safe periphery, it all looks pretty entertaining. Heck, I’ve laughed at a few of the more clever pokes delivered to Paul Christoforo over the past day or two. But, spare a moment to imagine what it must be like to be the focal point of the laser beam. Suddenly you are completely vulnerable, exposed for an angry world with malicious intent to see. For all the good that internet communities are capable of, they have equal capacity for nothing short of unfiltered hate.

Did Paul deserve an angry rebuttal? Yes. Did he deserve to get fired? Yeah, probably. Did he deserve to get inundated with thousands of e-mails, harassing phone calls, public rebuke from hundreds of thousands and even threats of violence against himself and his family — including his two-month-old infant? Does that punishment really fit the crime?

The truth is, I’m frightened of the internet. I’m really troubled by the thought that someday I will write the wrong thing and somehow it will be the thing that locks into focus at just the right place. I have sometimes specifically considered stopping this writing endeavor and getting out while the getting is good. I’ve had as many as a few hundred people really annoyed with me before over things I have written, and that is unsettling enough on its own. I can’t begin to imagine what the pressure of hundreds of thousands or millions must feel like. And, I don’t want to know.

There is a hypocrisy at work here that villanizes people like Paul but takes no issue with the almost criminal response. Yeah, the guy was a complete tool to a customer, but you can’t tell me that’s worse than threatening the guy’s 2-month-old baby. How is that OK? How is it that we didn’t all stop at exactly that minute and turn our holier-than-thou scorn on the people that decided the best response to a guy who provided crappy service is a death threat? Sanctimonious rage, unrestrained abuse and impotent threats of violence are far more troubling to me than that someone acted inappropriately in a communication with a customer.

This is a mob, as sure and as dangerous as if it had formed in the street to throw garbage cans through windows and topple police cars, and now that it's done with Paul it's looking for the next target. And the mob mentality in its virtual form is as terrifying a thing to witness as it would be in the real world. It is remorseless, relentless and without compassion, and to me it is the real story of the past few days.

Comments

momgamer wrote:

Then you're not reading. Malor starts it off on the other thread, and four posts above mine MrDeVil909 is claiming that Mike's post "released the dickwolves". In this thread alone, disobedientlib, Nosferatu, Crawling Chaos, Prederick, TheHipGamer all have couched the discussion in those terms. ClockworkHouse is all over page two and three of the other one.

Here's a fairly plain example:

ClockworkHouse wrote:

...Because, so far as I can tell, Penny Arcade is ground zero for this....

This whole discussion is riddled with it. Heck, you came close to it earlier in this thread.

I'll turn your question right back on you. So, say I agree that anyone who gave this thing high visibility is to blame and should be vilified. Then I want to know why you give Crecente (in case you didn't know, that's the Kotaku guy) a free pass on this. He not only helped drop this whole mess into the pot there, but has continued to stir up page views by posting subsequent "summaries". But I'm not hearing a word about how he shouldn't be doing that from you or anyone else here.

First up, let's include ClockworkHouse's entire post:

ClockworkHouse wrote:
momgamer wrote:

So why aren't you suggesting that Reddit and Destructoid (and Kotaku and about 10 other sites that I know of) do this? Why only Penny Arcade?

Because, so far as I can tell, Penny Arcade is ground zero for this. The customer having problems might have posted about it elsewhere, but it didn't blow up; get reported on Destructoid, Kotaku, and a dozen other sites; and become an internet crusade until Mike put their exchange up on Penny Arcade's front page.

Now, it's entirely possible that Destructoid, Kotaku, and Reddit were already starting to abuse Mr. Cristoforo before Mike posted to PA (I haven't seen links to demonstrate that, but I'm willing to concede the point). ClockworkHouse was answering your question with what his experience was - namely, that all the articles he found on those other sites were subsequent to Mike's involvement (a point he made in more detail here).

I disagree with your reading of the other names mentioned (with the possible exception of Malor) as arguing that PA has sole responsibility for any/all abuse & harassment. MrDeVil909 didn't even say that Mike "released the Dickwolves" (that was Nevin73, in a post I don't think you'd take issue with). Even if MrDeVil909 had used that phrase, that doesn't come close to saying "and nobody else has any responsibility here".

I'm not entirely sure which of my posts you think was close to saying PA was solely responsible for any abuse or harassment that got sent Mr. Cristoforo's way (I'm assuming it's this one, which was referencing the Dickwolves saga to give context for why I don't doubt that some PA members sent death threats - that was done because the "I don't believe PA fans would do this" meme keeps getting repeated and I felt that information was relevant).

Since I seem to be doing a bad job communicating, I'd like to be explicit. Reddit, Kotaku, Destructoid, and Penny Arcade (and likely others) have a shared responsibility. Anyone who fanned the flames or otherwise encouraged abusive behavior is at fault here, as are any of the folks who actually sent death threats. I don't know Kotaku well enough to have a read on their community, but if there's a chance that Kotaku's coverage led to death threats against Mr. Cristoforo, then shame on Crecente, too.

I can't speak for other folks, but a big part of why I am personally more disappointed in PA's role is that it's a site I actually care about. They've done a lot of good, both directly with projects like Child's Play, and indirectly by putting a positive public face on gaming to people who are outside the gaming community. The fact that they have done large amounts of good doesn't mean I'm willing to turn a blind eye when they screw up. The Dickwolves fiasco should have been a wake-up call to Jerry and Mike that some of their fans are prone to rabid zealotry, and Mike's choices here are doubly disappointing, since I can't believe that he failed to realize the effect his post would have.

I don't know if it's at all related, but Brian Crecente stepped down today. Totilo took his place.

Dimmerswitch wrote:

Anyone who fanned the flames or otherwise encouraged abusive behavior is at fault here, as are any of the folks who actually sent death threats.

So that means you hold Christoforo at fault as well, since he's done quite a bit to fan the flames since it happened and even encouraged Mike to "stir up a lot of controversy" about the situation?
Mike's certainly not blameless, but to his credit, he did tell people to stop any harassment of Christoforo's family on the 28th.

Stengah wrote:
Dimmerswitch wrote:

Anyone who fanned the flames or otherwise encouraged abusive behavior is at fault here, as are any of the folks who actually sent death threats.

So that means you hold Christoforo at fault as well, since he's done quite a bit to fan the flames since it happened and even encouraged Mike to "stir up a lot of controversy" about the situation?
Mike's certainly not blameless, but to his credit, he did tell people to stop any harassment of Christoforo's family on the 28th.

I'm leery of blaming the victim, but I'd agree that Cristoforo does share some responsibility for how things unfolded.

He appears to be legitimately mentally ill, which I'd argue lowers his actual responsibility, but Cristoforo has made plenty of bad choices throughout this process.

Dimmerswitch is doing such a great job expressing my thoughts clearly I don't need to bother to do it myself, but I will say that I don't consider PA to be solely responsible for anything. There's plenty of blame to go around.

There are no heroes in this narrative.

A lot of the hoo-haa surrounding this seems to be focused on threats made against the guy's family.

Maybe my inner cynic is getting the better of me, but if some rando-Internet-pubbie was threatening my family over Twitter, I have to ask myself:

"How credible a threat is this?"

And the inevitable answer is:

"Barely credible in the slightest."

Absolutely. Most likely such threats do not exist. If anything he has continued to stir the pot since this went viral. His every interaction seems designed to prolong things. You can tell from twitter that he's enjoying getting interviewed by various big sites.

That's just silly. Whether or not a death threat is credible, or made in jest, does not make it okay.

At the risk of repeating myself: there are times when violence (or the threat of it) is necessary to protect yourself or others, but sh*tty customer service is a large ways away from that threshold.

No one here has said that death threats are OK. Just we are skeptical as to whether, credible or otherwise, any were ever made. I think anyone who has been closely following Paul on Twitter, Reddit etc. would have similar suspicions.

Paper lions. Nothing more. A stiff breeze will scatter them to the wind eventually.

If you really think that folks who sent death threats to rape victims who had the temerity to take issue with a PA comic that arguably did make a rape joke, are going to decide that a world-class idiot like Cristoforo would be off-limits, I'm not sure what to say.

To be clear, I don't think the assholes who are making death threats are representative of the PA community as a whole. But that doesn't mean they're not a part of it.

Dimmerswitch wrote:

If you really think that folks who sent death threats to rape victims who had the temerity to take issue with a PA comic that arguably did make a rape joke, are going to decide that a world-class idiot like Cristoforo would be off-limits, I'm not sure what to say.

To be clear, I don't think the assholes who are making death threats are representative of the PA community as a whole. But that doesn't mean they're not a part of it.

Dimmer.. does a local news station have a responsibility to avoid broadcasting 'shame on you' segements because of possible repercussions?

Dimmerswitch wrote:

If you really think that folks who sent death threats to rape victims who had the temerity to take issue with a PA comic that arguably did make a rape joke, are going to decide that a world-class idiot like Cristoforo would be off-limits, I'm not sure what to say.

If you think Paul is behaving like a man receiving death threats I'm not sure what to say either.

This is getting way off track guys. So many threads, so many different conversations kind of talking at cross purposes.

Geeze, and I had something cool to post.

I'm going to bow out, but Dimmer I don't want to just pull the jade's trick on you here. If you want to keep going, please PM me and I'll be glad to oblige.

Mr GT Chris wrote:
Dimmerswitch wrote:

If you really think that folks who sent death threats to rape victims who had the temerity to take issue with a PA comic that arguably did make a rape joke, are going to decide that a world-class idiot like Cristoforo would be off-limits, I'm not sure what to say.

If you think Paul is behaving like a man receiving death threats I'm not sure what to say either.

I've already said that he is almost-certainly mentally ill, something it sounded like you were open to, upthread.

His continuing actions are not making me think that is less likely.

Edit to add, because it's a fair question:

Tanglebones wrote:

Dimmer.. does a local news station have a responsibility to avoid broadcasting 'shame on you' segements because of possible repercussions?

If the fans of a local news station had recently issued death threats to people who disagreed with their coverage I think that yes, they would have a responsibility to try to pre-empt that misbehavior. In Mike's case, something like MrDeVil909's suggestion "Here are the details, let's try keep the rape and death threats under control" would go a long way towards that, to my mind.

Dimmerswitch wrote:

I've already said that he is almost-certainly mentally ill, something it sounded like you were open to, upthread.

Fair point. There are different types and levels of mental illness (arguably the majority of people could be said to suffer from some kind of mental illness). While I agree he doesn't seem to be the most balanced guy I guess I'm just not seeing the same thing you are with regards to his behaviour in terms of someone who is concerned about the safety of a spouse and child.

Dimmerswitch wrote:

In Mike's case, something like MrDeVil909's suggestion "Here are the details, let's try keep the rape and death threats under control" would go a long way towards that, to my mind.

I'm not as familiar with the "Dick Wolves" incident but it seems to me that this fringe element is going to do what they want to do even if Mike says something along the lines of the above. Perhaps these types spend most of their time harassing someone and it's just a matter of whatever hate train they are on that particular day.

Our thread on the Dickwolves fiasco. The link in the OP has an excellent timeline. Essentially, PA issues a dismissive non-apology to rape victims who get offended by a PA comic that uses a (to me) very mild rape joke to comment on how quests in MMOs are handled, then Mike leads a group of PA fans in mocking rape victims who are still offended.

I mentioned this above, but I want to reiterate it again.

There are two responses that happened here. The first is by the overwhelming majority of readers of the various sites (PA and otherwise) who simply called and took reasonable actions in expressing their displeasure in how Dave was treated.

The second is by a very, very small minority of the members of the various sites who, for whatever reason, decided to take it past the line that most people would consider reasonable responses.

Now there are people who say that these people don't exist, or that there is no proof that it happened. May I point you to this thread here on Redditt, where a contract employee for TellTale games was threatened with rape. Then there is the dickwolves incident that happened via Penny Arcade. Personally, I have no doubt that there are people out there that would make death threats towards a person's family over this. None whatsoever.

Now, if this had never happened before, I could understand not doing something. But this *has* happened before. Both on the redditt forums and to Penny Arcade. And there is no way that the people at the head of the other sites would not have known that there was a better-than-average chance of something like this happening.

I think that a reasonable person, with a baseline knowledge of what was very likely to happen, given the attitude that Paul displayed towards the people he was communicating with, would have made at least a token effort to prevent the mob from going that extra step past the line of reasonable.

I wouldn't expect them to be able to stop it completely, but I do think that there would have been a significant number of people who made the threats that would not have done so had there been a "and let's remember that just because Paul broke Wheaton's Law doesn't mean that we have to stoop to his level" message in there somewhere.

Note - In case it is not perfectly clear, the above is aimed at *all* of the sites that took part in this, not simply Penny Arcade.

Dimmerswitch wrote:

Edit to add, because it's a fair question:

Tanglebones wrote:

Dimmer.. does a local news station have a responsibility to avoid broadcasting 'shame on you' segements because of possible repercussions?

If the fans of a local news station had recently issued death threats to people who disagreed with their coverage I think that yes, they would have a responsibility to try to pre-empt that misbehavior. In Mike's case, something like MrDeVil909's suggestion "Here are the details, let's try keep the rape and death threats under control" would go a long way towards that, to my mind.

If Mike had said this, would you have accepted it as a good faith statement, or assumed that it was a lampshade with a knowing wink for the upcoming bad behavior?

I would have taken him at his word.

Mike is good at many things, but I wouldn't count dissembling among them.

Dimmerswitch wrote:

I would have taken him at his word.

Mike is good at many things, but I wouldn't count dissembling among them. :)

Fair enough, then Thanks for clarifying.

Tanglebones wrote:

If Mike had said this, would you have accepted it as a good faith statement, or assumed that it was a lampshade with a knowing wink for the upcoming bad behavior?

If Mike had said this I would have, as Dimmerswitch mentioned above, taken him at his word that he was serious. There is no history of the Penny Arcade guys doing *wink*wink*nudge*nudge* type stuff before. They are generally brutally honest and upfront. I am not sure that they even know how to be deceitful, unless it is by accident.

wordsmythe wrote:
doubtingthomas396 wrote:

As my father, student of history, frequently said: In the early 1900s little French children were taught to be nice and kind and nonviolent. Little German boys were taught to be hard and aggressive. Then came 1930, and those little German boys rolled over those little French boys in 30 days.

I don't think we really need to be taking our cues for how to function in society from Germany in the 1930s.

Was that a deliberate misread? Because right after the line you quoted I said:

Bad people will always be grasping for strength. The proper response from good people is to be stronger.

The point is not to be like Germany in the 1930s. My point is to not be like the French, insofar as that means thinking that everyone will be reasonable and you can talk everything out politely.

Pacisism only works if the other side is unwilling to pound your face in if you don't fight back.

I read the series of email and I would like to comment on this. While Paul, the customer service agent did make a huge mistake in how he responded, Dave is also partially at fault for hammering the customer service agent with what seemed to be "a spoiled kid not getting what he wanted when he wanted it" attitude. It's just a game controller...not your whole life. Dave made ever increasing whines to customer service over something they really had no control over. How much of that would you take if you were customer service? How many of the same "Why can't you do this for me?" or "Make a miracle happen for me" emails does the guy have to get pummelled with before you relax and just go about your life until your controller arrives?

I pre-ordered Diablo 3 many months ago, but I don't pummel Blizzard customer service with emails everyday wondering where my product is and how come I didn't get it before Christmas. Some people really need to chill out. In this case, I think it was both sides fault...but that's my opinion. Paul went off the deep end and Dave felt victimized because his controller didn't arrive (way before he was insulted).

With that said and the article read, this was hilarious:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqV9kx40RG0

I think I read the emails differently to you. It seems like he was expecting them around Christmas (for a present?) but he hadn't heard anything so he contacted the company for an update. Despite repeated polite requests, he couldn't get a straight answer. Yeah, there are more important things in life than a controller but I'm sure Dave wasn't spending more than a minute or two typing out each polite request. Also, offering a better discount to new preorders of a delayed product and not doing anything for your existing preorders is just bad PR.

Btw, saw this tweet:

mrackley: Good news @OceanDeepSea, another PR Disaster to take some heat off you @PapaJohns @minymin bit.ly/yi3pJD
doubtingthomas396 wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
doubtingthomas396 wrote:

As my father, student of history, frequently said: In the early 1900s little French children were taught to be nice and kind and nonviolent. Little German boys were taught to be hard and aggressive. Then came 1930, and those little German boys rolled over those little French boys in 30 days.

I don't think we really need to be taking our cues for how to function in society from Germany in the 1930s.

Was that a deliberate misread? Because right after the line you quoted I said:

Bad people will always be grasping for strength. The proper response from good people is to be stronger.

The point is not to be like Germany in the 1930s. My point is to not be like the French, insofar as that means thinking that everyone will be reasonable and you can talk everything out politely.

Pacisism only works if the other side is unwilling to pound your face in if you don't fight back.

In the early 1900s was Germany definitively "evil," or just attempting to be stronger?

Taking Germany as an example, if we take as fact that Germany (functioning as some mythic collective) raised all its boys to be "hard and aggressive," then it's little wonder that such a mindset leads to a German Nation (again, a problematic view) that would respond to defeat and economic trouble with more aggression. Train your children for strength in combat, and they will view their struggles in combative terms.

TheHipGamer wrote:

We're already far off the mark, but are the straw-man stereotypes really necessary?

Ultimately, this guy was a dick. A bunch of other people were dicks in return, at the tacit request of Mike K., who was also being a dick. We can talk about how he got what was coming to him, how we're avenging the kids who beat us up when we we kids, how beating people up is some kind of Greater Good, but all I can see here is that the world is, as always, full of dicks.

Every time I read one of the discussions on this, I recall a certain stirring speech from Team America: World Police.