Handy guide for recognizing trolls in the Richard Armitage fandom

[This was my original planned topic for today, but I’ve modified it somewhat to deal with today’s events.]

The Beta XII-A entity from ST: TOS: The Day of the Dove. You can read the story here if you don't know it already.

The Beta XII-A entity from ST: TOS: The Day of the Dove. You can read the story here if you don’t know it already.

We had another incident of fan-directed trolling in our fandom on Friday evening. Trolling usually escalates in frequency when Richard Armitage is doing something fans are excited about, because a troll loves nothing more than sucking up our energy. (For Star Trek fans, think of the energy creature who splits the Klingons and the Enterprise crew in ST:TOS The Day of the Dove). Since I personally find reading the drama around trolling exhausting, I thought I’d drop a few suggestions about the topic here. Your mileage may vary, and of course, you may have good reasons for responding to a troll. I have done so from time to time myself. However, one must always keep in mind that doing so means giving a malicious total stranger who is laughing at you a chunk of your positive energy for free.

In my opinion, there are two key principles in understanding how to respond to problematic fandom content on the Internet.

First, ask (a) to whom am I speaking? and (b) is that a person I really want to speak to? and (c) are they listening?

Second, ask (a) what am I accomplishing by speaking here? What is at stake? and (b) what really needs defending?

I’m not telling anyone not to respond to a troll, even though I wish we wouldn’t, but here are some things I try to keep in mind when I’m debating a response.

What a troll is (and isn’t) and how to recognize one

A troll prepares to cook Bombur in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Screencap.

A troll prepares to cook Bombur in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Screencap.

[I’m using “they” as a neutral pronoun in this post, incidentally, even though it bugs me grammatically.]

Here’s a definition. Paraphrasing that article, a troll is someone who intentionally puts something down in a discussion stream that they know will be highly controversial or inflammatory, solely for the purpose of provoking an emotional response from the normal audience for that topic in that medium. A troll in Armitageworld is usually either an outsider to the superfan community, or if not, uses a sockpuppet. These features are important because there’s a difference between trolling and controversy in discussion between known entities (intense controversy in fan discussion can causing flaming, but flaming usually has an object of contention — it doesn’t happen solely for the purpose of upsetting people), and a fan who says something controversial with their normal pseudonym is typically not a troll. Although some of us enjoy drama, there’s a different pattern to that behavior than that of a troll. (The lady in your church who is always the first to cry wolf about bomb threats is different from the person who calls your church phone anonymously with a bomb threat.) Similarly, and I can’t emphasize this enough, a fellow fan who disagrees with you about something or says something you find troubling and does not change their position even after you raise the issue with them about it is not a troll (or, as I read all too often these days, a bully). Reasoned disagreement, even if it doesn’t result in agreement, is a normal and acceptable part of fan discourse.

In contrast to controversial discussion, trolling is a specific behavior conducted for the purpose of the uproar it generates, which the troll enjoys. Its only goal is the fostering of bad feeling. The troll doesn’t care about the topic they are trolling about — they count on the fan to do that. Indeed, trolling only works because the fan cares about whatever the issue is more than the troll does. This frees the troll to say whatever they like, in order to see the fan squirm in response. The point of trolling is to make fans look silly, crazy, prejudiced, or worse. The troll enjoys seeing this reaction and knows that fans are regularly ready to provide it, which reinforces the troll’s feeling that fans are silly, crazy, prejudiced or worse.

Today we saw the manifestation of something which is not technically trolling, but many tweeps find disturbing — the penetration of non-fans into the stream of responses to Armitage’s tweets because he used the hashtag #Orlando. Some of this disagreement is legitimate. However, some of it is also conducted for the purpose of creating bad feeling. Such tweeps concentrate on specific issues and assemble to discipline people who are tweeting things they don’t like. While some fans were disagreeing with Armitage, non-fan accounts are generally recognizable as such. Whenever we’re talking about a political opinion (guns, immigration, whatever) there are people organized on Twitter to jump on tweets they disagree with and challenge the tweeter. Nothing can be done about this other than making one’s own tweets private, or blocking the people in question when they appear. If their words are particularly abusive, they can and should be reported to Twitter.

Trolls discuss their dinner in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Screencap.

Trolls discuss their dinner in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Screencap.

But back to the fandom. While every principle about recognizing a troll is a generalization to which there will be exceptions, most casual trolls on Twitter are not very well constructed. A little clicking around makes it easy to identify a likely troll simply by their Internet trail.

For instance, a frequent feature of a troll account is that it is often not very old. In the troll incident we experienced this weekend, the account was created in June 2016. I noticed its appearance on June 2. Additionally, a troll account is usually not well-integrated in the fandom. Most Armitage tweeps follow one or more friends who are also fans, or they follow a fan-related account. They like or retweet pictures or tweets about Armitage. In contrast, a troll is typically not following many other fans or fan-related accounts, if at all, and they are not followed by other fans. They may follow Armitage, but they don’t have a trail of content related to him among their tweets. So it’s always important to check the tweets a troll has made, as well as the following and followed — including not only how many followers, but who they are, because it’s easy to follow fake accounts on Twitter and make oneself look larger than one is. Another way you can check on a troll is to google the handle or pseudonym they are using. Although it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, most fans use variations on their pseuds all over the place on different platforms and social media (I use “Servetus,” “Michaela Servetus,” “@ServetusRA,” “Servetus_Armitage,” and so on. A troll, in contrast, doesn’t want to reveal their real identity or put such poisonous comments on well-established social media accounts, so they tend to use either a very nondescript pseudonym (increases anonymity) or one that appears practically nowhere else.

drama-triangleAnother good way to recognize a troll is by the shape of their comments, which often seek to triangulate. Loosely understood. Triangulation is the attempt to bring other people into conflict who are not central to it for the purpose of redirecting emotion in ways that suit the triangulator. (Example: I ask my mom for ice cream. She says “no.” So I ask my dad, who says “yes.” If my mom sees me eating, I tell her “dad said yes,” ensuring that I get what I want, appear innocent, and deflecting her negative response to my father and away from me.) The effectiveness of triangulation relies on a very exact knowledge of the matter that is likely to disturb the person who is being targeted to provide the emotional response. This is not difficult with celebrity fans, who tend to get exercised about a series of not-very-well-hidden matters, no matter the celebrity. In the case of the troll, triangulation allows trolls themselves to magnify the conflict, without ever feeling the brunt of the negative emotion they generate and enjoy.

The triangular role can be played by other fans. So, for example, a troll might say something about a controversial issue in the fandom that will making differing segments of fans fight with each other in order to enjoy the spectacle. The conflict is between the fan and the troll, but other groups of fans are drawn into the fray as rescuers. A typical axis for this is any issue that relates to Armitage’s personal life. One group of fans will disagree with the content of the troll’s statement; a second will disagree that the matter should be discussed at all; soon the fans are fighting with each other as the troll — the actual source of the conflict — watches with pleasure. This effect relies on the fact that fans almost always identify more with their individual pictures of Richard Armitage than we do with each other.

Most often, though, the triangular role in our fandom is played by the notional Richard Armitage. The troll says something I don’t like about Armitage — not to me directly. These comments are often phrased in a way that makes the need to respond appear necessary in order to defend myself against the allegation that I am bigoted or that Armitage is not worthy of fan admiration. As a result, I confront the troll on behalf of Armitage but also on behalf of my own good name, rescuing both him and myself (victims). We saw this this morning when fans began defending Armitage for the way he treats his fans. Or, a classic case of this occurred in the summer of 2014, when a well organized group of three twitter accounts started tweeting that they wanted refunds on their Crucible tickets because they claimed to have learned something they didn’t like about him. (I say well organized, because although the attack was clearly coordinated by a troll or trolls, they had taken care to organize it far enough ahead of time that it took more digging than usual to discover the evidence.) Naturally, fans jumped in to defend Armitage. This defense had the effect of amplifying the matter that the fans didn’t want to discuss. The triangulation here provokes the response from the non-involved party, i.e., the troll attacks Armitage, and that is where the conflict should lie, between persecutor and victim. However, the technically non-involved fan defender of Armitage is drawn in as the rescuer and provides the predictable emotional thrill for the troll. This strategy is most effective if the issue gets lots of play and lots of fans pile on for the defense, which proves to the troll that they are crazy defenders of their crush. If the first effect above also occurs (fans fight with each other), that is an added bonus.

What to do about this? The only one I can change is me

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) prepares to engage with a troll, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Screencap.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) prepares to engage with a troll, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Screencap.

I said above that I think there are two key issues in contemplating a response to a troll. The first — who am I speaking to? — is important for behavior; the second — what is at stake / what needs defending? — is important for one’s state of mind.

First, the question of who is speaking to one, and to whom one is speaking. To me, this is one of the most pernicious problems of social media and it’s taken me years of facebooking to understand it. My college bestie posts an article on Facebook, and I respond. I don’t have to — she’s just throwing it out there and not directly asking for my comment. A total stranger who is friends with her in some other context foreign to me responds to me charging me with being a homophobe. The first question is: am I actually being spoken to? Maybe or maybe not. Then: who is this person to me? No one. So why do I care what she thinks about me? The second is: am I a homophobe? I would say on the whole, no, although no doubt I have prejudices that might be examined, my life shows that I am not. She has no way of knowing this because she has no information about me beyond her interpretation of a single comment. The correct response is clearly not to get into it with her, because why do I care at all about what an uninformed stranger thinks of me?

Applying this to trolls, a troll is a total stranger who knows only one thing about me — that I’m crushed on Richard Armitage and likely to react negatively on certain issues related to him. That’s enough to provoke me, certainly. A total stranger says something to me about something I’ve said something about that could be a vulnerable point. I check them out and they are not identifiable as a fellow fan and I don’t know them from any other context. Why would they be speaking to me if not to provoke? This is someone I need not to respond to. Block or mute if necessary. I would argue this also goes for people who join on a discussion on the basis of a popular tag. No one is required to speak to total strangers who say mean things. Why would I? This essentially constitutes a refusal to respond to manipulated attempts to triangulate.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) decides to intervene to defend Thorin against the wargs, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Screencap.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) decides to intervene to defend Thorin against the wargs, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Screencap.

Which gets me to the second issue: the defense of Armitage.

This has been an issue in the fandom as long as I’ve been a fan and probably longer — the need we feel to defend Richard Armitage. In fact, I read an hour or so ago that Armitage’s reason for deleting his tweets was to keep fans who were defending him from being bullied by trolls. I don’t see everything, so I didn’t see any evidence of this, and I find that explanation implausible, but if it’s true, it would be a bit disturbing. Years ago we coined the term Armitage Protection Mode (APM) to delineate a behavior that all of us fall into from time to time. Because the thing is — the man has been living independently for three decades and he doesn’t need us to defend his words, his career, his actions, his role choices, his relationships, or anything about his life. He makes his own decisions about deleting tweets and they should not be about us. If Richard Armitage needs me to defend anything about him, he’s really in much worse shape than I think. And the odds that he has time to defend me rhetorically against against Internet trolls are really low. In short, he’s a grown up guy with a life in which his fandom is not central and he doesn’t have time any longer to be concerned with individual fans. He has a mum and doesn’t need thousands of mothers; he has an agent and a successful career and friends who actually know what is happening in his life (as opposed to us; we’re just guessing), and I don’t know how many professionals watching out for his interests. In that light, this is one of my all-time favorite blog posts in the fandom, ever, one that has grown more valuable in retrospect. So I’d ask myself, before deciding to respond to a troll — if I think I have to respond to a total stranger who is provoking me on purpose in order defend Richard Armitage, why do I think that?

There was a classic case of this last summer when someone who felt spurned for an autograph in the Vancouver airport began a malicious twitter campaign and, although the actual conflict was between the tweep and Armitage, successfully triangulated fans rose to the bait. My position on that: Richard Armitage knew what he was doing, he was in enough contact with the person to be able to speak to her, if he had wanted to say anything more than he did publicly, he certainly could have. If he didn’t think he needed to justify himself — so why did we? Instead, and predictably, fans jumped up to defend him and gave that troll all the attention and emotion she needed to feed off for weeks. I think the answer to that was not that we needed to prove that Richard Armitage is a good person to someone who claimed to have had an unsatisfactory experience (he is who he is, however that is, and my argumentation won’t change that), but rather we needed to bolster our own beliefs that Richard Armitage is a good person.

And if it’s down to that — if my defense of Armitage is down to having to state what I need to believe about him and thus providing the outrage that makes a total stranger happy — then I can go back to point one. Why do I need to justify my attitude to a complete stranger who knows nothing about me? Especially if the point of their attack is to get me to respond for their pleasure?


Please feel free to share your own experiences with dealing with Internet trolls.

~ by Servetus on June 13, 2016.

58 Responses to “Handy guide for recognizing trolls in the Richard Armitage fandom”

  1. In German we use the phrase “troll dich” which means “shove off”. Nothing more to say.

  2. Awesome essay. Clearly well thought through and brilliantly executed. I am sorry for whoever was on the end of any vitriol or mischief making. I realise I am naive and am always hopeful for a world where we can all just get on, despite our differences. I would hate to think I had upset anyone so to do it for kicks is just very sad and something I really struggle to understand. Thanks for speaking out and giving some tips. I’m just so sorry that you had to.

    • I think this is what is insidious about a lot of trolling — the person who is being attacked is implied and that drives troll targets crazy.

      I wasn’t hassled this time — and the level of direct hassle to me has dropped quite a bit recently. I think trolls think the tweeps are a better target.

  3. Thank you for this. I have always been somewhat in the dark about trolls, because my presence on social media is very minuscule to say the least.
    As a novice – still – to twitter, I have come across something odd very recently; not only yesterday when it apparently peaked, although I wasn’t aware at the time, but in the past week or so.

    I have a twitter account which I opened some five years ago, but never really began using until a certain gentleman began tweeting.

    My twitter account is a compilation of many things that interest me, a sort of archive if you like, and it isn’t apparent that I follow RA. I have tweeted him directly only a few times (twice), when something was entertaining, and that’s it.

    My twitter account hasn’t got many followers; I don’t seek to have many followers, but I follow quite a number of accounts, primarily news, food and travel related. In the course of the years, a few RA-fans have followed me, and I’ve followed them back.

    The past week – the time span eludes me, but it’s not longer than that – I have gained seven(7) followers. Actually, it’s more than seven, because I’ve already blocked about five accounts, all of a sexual nature (then I changed my profile picture ;-)) One account is clearly related to an illness that I’m interested in. Another account is seemingly interested in photography. The last four ‘arrived’ on the same day or night, somewhere in between Saturday and yesterday, Sunday. I find this odd, highly unusual, and apparently their accounts show no signs of being interested in RA or anything I’m interested in. Their accounts hold real names and pictures, but that could just fake. Could they be trolls? Are they on my account for a certain purpose? Can trolls hide behind others’ accounts? Perhaps I should block them, just to be on the safe side.

    I know I shouldn’t conjure up conspiratorial theories, but is some ‘attack’ under way? You can’t possible know the answer to this. Needless to say, I’m highly suspicious at this point.

    • Hello Mermaid, don’t worry. Twitter suggests who you should follow. Those suggestions often don’t make sense but people who are just interested in collecting new followers often act on those suggestions. I also think there is software out there which “collects and suggests”twitter accounts for others to follow automatically.
      If you feel uncomfortable with an account: block and immediately unblock. This makes the account disappear. Trust your instincts 😊

    • I am sorry to hear that you have been harassed by some losers.

      I don’t follow or have too many followers, too. Nor, do I care. I like to just creep on people and see what they are up to. Sometimes I’ll engage, but most of the time I just read and have a chuckle at what might be happening on Twitter.

      When it comes to trolls, I like to have a little fun with them until they end up blocking me. In the past, I noticed some annoyingly mean tweets to me and some people I followed. Instead of blocking them, I just started tweeting back at them about what I thought of them. lol I guess that makes me a troll.

      I personally don’t believe in blocking people, because it make them win in my book. It’s only words and they can’t really hurt me. Besides, I like seeing if they’ll block me after what I say and do to them.😈

      The last psychological pain I had to endure was going to concert with my horrible sister to listen to Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 ( “Tragic” ). Unfortunately, the only thing tragic about it was that I had endure the emotional torture of being told how underdressed I was and how uncouth I was. I could even crack a joke after the concert because she was my only ride home.

    • Don’t worry about that, Mermaid. Those are bots that automatically follow accounts in the hope that you will follow them back. It’s related to marketing rather than trolling. If they annoy you, block and mute. But I don’t think you will receive any hassle from them. They do not engage.

      • Thanks for your advice, Guylty, Duke, suse3. I have blocked the four of them (their profiles were very similar). Hopefully, that’s the end to that.

        • There are also accounts that “sell follows” that might follow you. These can be blocked as well.

      • hm , interesting i might need to look into the followers since i don’t really notice the ones who never talk to me… do they have to be blocked or do they drop off when you don’t interact? Or do they gather information by following and it is safer to block? (sheesh… as if cleaning the flat was not enough of a pain now i better worry about who follows borin’ ol’ me on twitter and what they want if they never say a thing)

        • As long as you don’t follow them back, you’re pretty safe. If you follow them back they can DM you which may set you up to be at risk of phishing, viruses, etc. Usually they are trying to get you to follow to generate a statistic that can be sold (here’s an account with so and so many followers, etc.) rather than gathering information.

    • Thanks to everyone who explained this feature of Twitter.

  4. Did you ever have anon memes in Richard Armitage fandom?

    Trolling experience – not too long ago in the Richlee fandom there was an incident where a well known Richlee blogger kinda went haywire. First, passively aggressively saying they no longer will ship Richlee because they their heart broke with the whole Robsten debacle but that will keep their tumblr up for their Richlee posts. Of course, everybody asked why. Then apparently they went off on Twitter against Lee. Then they deleted their tumblr. But throughout all this you could feel a palpable sense of sadness going through the fandom. I felt it too. There were posts actually defending Lee against these accusations as if Lee somehow owed an explanation to some kid in China (where apparently these rumours originated). While recognizing the absurdity of the situation, it actually felt good to see the posts because they did reinforce my ship, and all the reasons I shipped it. Yes, it fed into the troll but it also felt that those posts needed to be made to address the larger feeling of uncertainty within that fandom. Sightings of the two together had been rare. No obvious clothes sharing incidents. Really somestimes it had come down to looking at the timing of their tweets to justify a reason to keep shipping them beyond the obvious reason of them being hot together.

    In my experience, trolling always picks up on some undercurrent in fandom. The good trolls (yes, I do believe some trolling is good) take the piss out of the issue. The bad trolls sow discord for the sake of discord but they are picking up on a larger issue.

    Maybe the troll did enjoy feeding off the responses for a couple of days, but after a while it ceased to be about them, but more a meditation of the ship which in some ways backfired on the troll.

    • I still ship them together.

      It was funny that they tweeted about #Orlando around the same time as Servetus had mention in an earlier blog. This just makes one wonder more about those two.😉

    • anon memes: not yet; everything hits us eventually, just later and in smaller proportion.

      RichLee rumors are older than Pace’s visit to China.

      I do think combatting a troll does enhance certain kinds of group solidarity because there is a common enemy.

      I don’t think there are good trolls. I am not centrally involved with the RichLee shippers but my observation of the phenomenon of trolling them suggests that they have malicious motivation, they say mean things, and then enjoy the blowups afterward. I have frequently been exposed to the argument that it is good for these fandoms to be trolled because it supposedly corrects the craziness, but I am skeptical of that argument.

      • that is a strange argument indeed, especially since it starts with the prejudice that something is ‘wrong’/’off’ in being a fan and then justifies negative/aggressive action against fans on that basis.
        As a fan i find it infinitely more satisfying to join with others in talking about the work, forever puzzling (up/down/up/down) about the person/personality of the person than fighting some nasty external commentator.

    • Probably not the best place for this discussion but I do not like it when people refer to Richard and Lee together as “shipping” or a “ship”. I feel like it’s dehumanizing somehow. They are real people, not fictional characters. I think the world “ship” belonges to fiction. At this point the majority of us knows (or strongly suspects) that Armitage and Pace are an actual, real life couple. (Or were. I have no idea if they are still together.)

      • I think the word is used in a lot of senses. I have trouble with the insistence that the word not be used to apply to talking about whatever their real life relationship is, because all fans involved in this particular discussion are speculating based on how we apply our fantasies to any evidence that appears. As far as I know, none of us has decisive evidence. The fantasy about real life persons is also a fantasy.

      • I agree to some extent, Alice. But I like fictional Richlee, too. Sometimes I almost like them better than their RL counterparts! One of my favourite Lee’s is tattoo artist Lee. Fictional Richard tends still to be an actor or high powered business man. But somehow people feel more free reimagining Lee – which I love.

        I think you can like the fictional version of each man while still respecting the RL Richard and Lee, together and also separate.

  5. “In short, he’s a grown up guy with a life in which his fandom is not central and he doesn’t have time any longer to be concerned with individual fans. He has a mum and doesn’t need thousands of mothers; he has an agent and a successful career and friends who actually know what is happening in his life (as opposed to us; we’re just guessing), and I don’t know how many professionals watching out for his interests.”

    Thanks Servetus for explaining things the way you did. I could not have said it any better. It is kind of annoying seeing people fawn all over him like a baby or small child, which he is not.

    Yes, I am an admirer of the man’s work, but it doesn’t mean I think he’s a god or ethereal being that some people in his fandom think. He is fallible like any other human being.

    On aside note, I think it’s stupid when some fans decide to jump the gun at getting tickets for a play he may or may not actually be doing and booking plane tickets before RA has actually confirmed it. This scenario reminds me of the story of Henny Penny or Chicken Little. Could you imagine how many people with egg on their faces if RA is not in this play?

  6. I have not attracted trolls because I am not a force to be reckoned with. Not a blip on a troll’s radar. However, when I think of trolling, I think of trailing a lure behind a boat to catch a big fish. In a way, Serv, you should be flattered that your lure (blog) has attracted some mighty big mouthed fish from time to time. Sometimes they provide a good fish dinner. And they never sink the boat.

    • Yeah, I actually assumed that was the origin of the word when I started being a fan. Too much time spent around fishermen? The word origin is apparently disputed.

  7. This is a brilliant and really helpful post – thank you for explaining so well some of the weird things going on. It leaves me quite bewildered as to what motivates trolls, though. I guess they genuinely have nothing better to do, which must mean they are very sad and inadequate people.

    Love the commentary on RA (as quoted above by Duke), too. Spot on.

    • There are emotional constellations in real life that create this need to suck up other people’s negative emotions or simply to live on other people’s feelings. I can’t venture to say what they might be in individual cases. I tend to experience a metaphorical allergy to passive aggression myself — this is a known bug of being an ACOA. I try to tamp down on it but am rarely successful.

  8. Very interesting article with some wonderful explanations of what goes around and around, and the only thing I can think of is so many need to get a life, thank goodness the only trolls I have to worry about are the ones that live under the bridge near my house🙂

  9. I’ve had a few nasty anon asks, but none I’ve given the time of day to. I think being in the RA and RichLee fandoms has thickened my skin considerably. I used to be so bothered (and I do still get riled up now and then), but my tolerance for BS has had a massive overhaul in the past few years. Really different experience from all my past other fandoms, which I find pretty interesting.

    • This brings up a great issue (that is not typically a situation one encounters on WP because it doesn’t have the anon ask feature). I feel like if one is very vulnerable to this problem, one should turn off anon asks. I regularly read people saying that their anon asks are so upsetting and my response is usually, well, then turn them off. It will cut way down on the number of people who are poking you to see if they can get a response.

      This is still my only fandom but my response to certain behaviors has also changed. I feel like it’s a consequence of mid-life. I have much less time for nonsense.

  10. Terrific article, Serv. It really is a good guide for recognizing trolls and determining what one’s response should be, if any.

    Experiences with Internet trolls … ahhhh, memories! (Please note the heavy sarcasm.) In a fandom far, far away, a million years ago (at least in Internet terms), I used to moderate an email list dedicated to news and discussion about a certain musician. Let’s call him George. The name of the list was The George List. It had about 200 subscribers who were a bit of a crossover — most started out as fans of one artist (we’ll call him Zeb) who was actually quite famous. These folks became fans of George because the two of them had performed together quite often back then. I was one of them. I should state here that a few of the subscribers were hard-core Zeb fans. (I was not.) In fact, George was a subscriber and loved to join the discussions with us. There were only two rules I asked folks to follow, both stated in the welcome letter: 1) no flaming and 2) limit discussion about Zeb to stuff that George and Zeb did together.

    On this one occasion, George had told the group the previous day that he was headed out on a brief road trip doing a few solo gigs and he’d be back on a certain date. The next morning, a new “fan” subscribed, someone none of us recognized from previous fandom interactions,and their very first post was, “Zeb is going to be performing blah blah blah.” Being ListMom, I privately emailed this person, off list, welcoming them and asking them politely to follow the rules stated in their welcome letter. Instead of responding to me privately, they took it to the list, saying things like how I had told them they weren’t allowed to talk about Zeb and asking if they all agreed with that and calling me names I won’t repeat here.

    Several of the long-time subscribers tried to explain the intent of the list to the new person, which fell on deaf ears. They continued spouting off about how they should be able to post whatever and whenever they wanted about Zeb. And calling me more names (some of which I had to look up). The first person to agree with this troll (and sock puppet, as I later found out) was the fiercest hard-core Zeb fan on list. She started in and rallied the other hard-core Zebophiles … and voila, flame war.

    Over the next 8 hours or so, each time a solution to end the fighting was suggested, the troll/sock puppet would fire back with more vitriol. Enough was enough, and I decided to desubscribe and ban this entity. As I was doing so, they unsubscribed. Oh, and so did Fierce Hard-Core Fan.

    While I had gone into mediator/firefighter mode, a few of my assistant mods and friends went into investigator mode. They found out that the email account had been set up that morning. And the account was deactivated immediately after the address had unsubscribed from the list. It seemed as though it had been set up for the sole purpose starting the flame war. But why?

    The list quieted down and went about its course. We did lose a few other subscribers over the following week or so. But we added far more in the coming months. George came back and was appalled at what had transpired. He wrote a glorious piece about respect and caring directed at the troll, even though they were long gone. There didn’t seem to be any other huge fights after that, just the usual family squabbles. The list continued in full swing for another 10 good years.

    About that why? Good things come to those who wait. That Fierce Hard-Core Fan? She outed herself as the troll/sock puppet when she tried to start another attack against me on another media, where I wasn’t even subscribed, but one of my friends was. Friend sent me the exchange. It was gratifying to see the troll put in her place by the other posters. Karma …

    • Great story, Zan! (or at least it ended well). Glad you survived this!

      i started to write about sockpuppets here (because we have had as many of them over the years as trolls) but decided it would complicate the issue too much. I think it’s a really interesting phenomenon, but in my experience it frequently falls apart because (as you say) either is a tell somewhere or the fan / sockpuppet feels a need to be recognized on some level. The only really successful sockpuppets are those who rigorously control clues about their identity and it’s very hard to do that.

  11. it took me awhile to realize that when I defend Richard it’s not really about Richard, it’s about me. in defending his character, I’m also defending my own character, justifying my judgment for choosing him. I identify with Richard in various ways, so when I’m defending him, I’m also defending myself in the process. he doesn’t need me to defend him, I need to defend me. it’s still hard to differentiate that sometimes but it makes it much easier for me to not take things that are said about him so personally.

    as for trolls, I think the biggest problem fans have is that they feel they must correct the inaccuracies for others who may be following along, they don’t want misinformation to influence newbies or non-fans and give them the wrong impression about Richard. but that is what the trolls are counting on, they give us a good length of rope and just sit back and watch us hang ourselves. we’re so passionate about the way we feel, what a good actor/person we think Richard is and how that makes us want to shout it from the rooftops, which makes it so easy for them to tap into that passion and then make fun of it, our fanaticism. so for me, I’ve put aside the need to be right. if someone who is just passing through is going to believe the petty lies the trolls spread about Richard, so be it, they’re not the type of fan that would have stuck around that long anyway. I feel that when it comes to crushes, you either get struck by lightening or it comes to you softly. if it’s the first, nothing anyone says is going to influence you into seeing your new crush in a negative way, nothing. if it’s the second, then you’ll scope out the lay of the land, investigate the claims and the character of the crush thoroughly, which will eventually bring you back. but the real question I had to ask myself was, why did I care? what’s it to me if Richard loses fans or gains them? why did it matter what fans said about him on public message boards/blogs? was I afraid he was going to see it and it would influence the way he felt about fans, about me? and that question slapped me in the face. this whole thing was supposed to be one-sided, it was supposed to be about me watching Richard, not Richard watching me. I don’t mean that I shouldn’t take responsibility for the way I act, but rather I shouldn’t be modifying my actions to suit Richard. it’s something I’m still digesting.

    • Well said. I am glad you realized that.

      He is an actor and not a personal acquaintance nor boyfriend to any of his fans. It’s simple to get easily to swept up in the fandom with accessibility his fans have of him through social media. Plus, stories of fan meetings of him after The Crucible at Stage Door where he took the time to sign autographs and take pictures don’t help.

      With the speculation of RA being in a new play, some fans who have booked tickets. They will be shocked and have the same reaction you have experienced if this play doesn’t actual happen or if this play actual happens and there are no Stage Door meetings to be had.

      I think people have to step away from their perfect imagine RA and realize that version of him does not exist. He is human, you know. I think being an admirer of his work is enough for me.

      • Duke, I’m not sure why you are so focused on this issue of fans buying tickets, but I think you should consider, since their activities have no bearing on you, why you feel the need to raise the issue. In any case it’s not the topic here and I have just warned you about policing fans. This is the last warning.

    • That’s an excellent point (fans needing to correct inaccuracies) and it was something that I did a fair amount of when I was a a new fan, although not with trolls. There probably should have been a paragraph about that in the original post. In my case, as my knowledge of the actor, his career, and his fandom has grown, I’ve felt the need to correct mistakes when others make them less and less (although I will still write about them here).

      The second point is a really great question — why do I need Armitage to have fans, why do I care about the numbers beyond the certain good will that one has for someone one wants to do well? and the whole question of me seeing him vs him seeing me is one that has really bedeviled this fandom over the years. Everyone’s switch on that issue is set differently and it causes a lot of conflict.

  12. Well done.

    I’ve been on Twitter a long time. I used it rarely – it was my mean girl place. (Mean, nasty, gun-loving Conservative that I am) however that seems to have become a bit more diversified since He began to post. Don’t ask me why. I still don’t use it very often.

    Over the 15 years I’ve been involved in online fandom, I’ve seen so much drama and while most times I’m willing to sit on the side, eat cheetos and drink cokes and just watch, (and yes, point and snicker at) on occasion, I’ve been sucked into it – whether it be my writing being flamed or mocked (why do people hate hetters so much?) or me not writing what someone thought I should write (go write your own stuff!) or the fact I speak my mind and some people don’t like that. If you don’t want my opinion, don’t ask me, k? I especially hate when tragedy occurs and people use it to push their political agenda. There is a time and place and taking it to someone else’s abode or garden ain’t it. If you’re on your soapbox in your own arena, that’s fine. If you bring your hateful plants and ugly weeds into my garden, you best believe, I’m going to soak you with weed b gone.

    Trolls are attention seeking and the internet makes it easier for people to hide. Richard is welcome to his opinion, even if it’s different from mine. I’ve not walked in his shoes and he’s not walked in mine.

    What was the question? I think I’ve wandered…

    • I disagree strongly that moments of tragedy are not opportunities for talking about political issues. In the US in particular, we are told that we can’t talk about these things when the issues are acute, but no one cares about them when they aren’t. In my opinion, saying “don’t use this moment to talk about the actual issue” is a way of suppressing discourse and insuring that nothing will ever change. That means, of course, that we have to tolerate opinions we don’t like, but that is pretty standard.

      • I respect that. There is a time and a place for everything, and i’m such a passionate (hot-head) that for me, it’s best to step back. (hence why I decided to address something elsewhere a day late)

        The issue here is already a hot topic. It’s really a push-button topic and is currently being beat to death in our political arena. The weapon wasn’t the cause, in my minuscule, personal opinion. We’ve suffered a tragedy and it’s easy to say things and insinuate things and blame things and issues in the heat of the moment. I recall vividly 9/11 when it FIRST happened and 2 radio personalities were angrily blaming someone whose fault it wasn’t. And when it came down they were wrong…

        But now I’m so far off topic. Sigh.

        Trolls are still attention seekers. Most times I think it’s someone simply creating and manufacturing imaginary support and friendships they lack in real life. It gives them a sense of importance, I guess.

        • It’s not much of a hot topic, if this keeps happening and we continue not to act, I’m afraid. I think it’s pretty much business as usual and our leadership showed us that this weekend.

          re: trolls — I think the trolls I’m talking about don’t use the troll identity for friendships (although they may make friendships in other ways). I think it’s different with tumblr and anon asks — anon asks allow anyone to become a troll instantly. The other thing is that I am starting to see that function used for a different kind of trolling, e.g., to express sympathy with the blogger in order to see what kind of potentially ridiculous thing they will say.

  13. To Morgana: thanks for your kind words about the blog and thank you for reading it for so long. I am declining to publish your comment because everything except the first sentence violates the comments policy. You are welcome to leave a comment that falls within the rules. Thanks.

  14. I think these are very good questions to ask and not only before interacting with a suspected troll, but generally. It would probably often to good to the discussion in general to think about who we are talking to and what we are talking about and what point we really want to make and why? I find it is a constant exercise in patience to count to 10 before i jump😉 It’s easiest when i am least in APM mode😉 Sometimes i actually find it harder to resist the case of ‘defense of another fan’ than APM. Because he is sort of remote and can remove himself easier from the debate or isn’t there to begin with whereas the fans are more exposed in certain ways.
    I still often doubt if it was a good idea to say what i said but i do try to ponder a bit before i jump. I think in time and through repeated ‘fires’ one learns what one’s triggers are. Sometimes maybe we absolutely feel we must say something, for our own sanity and then we just stop there.
    I know i’ve jumped in total fan reaction at times but i just had to say it and i don’t have to engage further. But that’s probably true more for press or public figure statements about fans in derogatory terms than trolls. The ones you clearly categorized above are easier to ignore i find. Media and public figure derogatory statements about fans are my downfall, so far even against my better judgment i’ve not been able to keep stumm to that:-)

    The one thing that i am conflicted about is the tone of responses to non-fans… do i try to keep a cool head to make a better argument? Do i try to disprove their argument about the ‘crazy’ fan by appearing/being rational? is a passionate response necessarily a bad thing or am i embarrassed about being so passionate? I always wonder where the truth lies, i’d like to think i can combine passion and reason, but i’m sure it is all those answers at the same time although i wish it were not.

  15. I am totally with you on the trigger regarding celebrities criticizing their fans. Obviously it’s not an either / or situation, but Cumberbatch’s statements about fans in the fall two years ago were a serious turnoff for me. One of the things that I’ve appreciated about Armitage is that until relatively recently (November/December 2014) he never said anything at all negative about fans.

    re: tone of response — I try to stay cool / superior / detached. But that’s me.

  16. You always get to the point! Thanks. I wish I could follow you more often and read all the comments here, but my eyes and lack of time don’t allow that frequently! I know too a lot about trolls and I think you painted the whole frightful scene perfectly! I had years of experience but in other places and for other issues. And I must say that they actually existed in real life, too, they were not born on social media — whenever I was in a public place speaking about things I was campaigning for, there was always someone in the audience or stopping by wherever my group and I were speaking who would just throw a word and try to inflame the audience or us. They were less, they had probably less chances to remain anonymous, but they did exist. I fought a lot against them even on social media, but for the same issues as in RL. This is probably the reason why I try to stay away from all this concerning Richard Armitage. I’ll openly confess: he’s my safe place in the world. When RL is really bad, RA is my healthy thought, my nice escape. So, I voluntarily stay away from any debate and don’t read responses to his tweets – except from those I already follow or know personally – and only write in some selected forums. Of course, sometimes it is impossible not to get wind of the fact that something is going on among the fans and that some issue is inflaming people or that trolls are doing their job as usual. But I try to just skip quickly and go on. As you perfectly say in your article: the real Mr. Armitage needs no defending and I certainly don’t need to defend myself, either. Thanks Servetus, though, because this article is important beyond RA’s question and has a lot to do with how we human beings use that feral weapon which is communication!
    P.S.: it’s nice to see that my profile is fully int he “no-troll” zone😀 My nick name has always been Lookaround or Lookie ever since I got in the first forum about RA and still is in anything RA-related😀

    • I think a lot of people feel that way (avoid controversy to enhance sanity) and I have nothing but respect for it. For whatever reason, it hasn’t worked out that way for me — although one of my most serious priorities in fandom has been to avoid most political discussion, because I have a lot of it in other settings.

  17. Weighing in a little late on this one – I searched late Sunday pm on his @ tag for bullying tweets toward fans who had commented, and only found 1 that could even be considered borderline. And that one actually had a short convo which appeared basically cordial.

    Has anyone found or experienced any that were “off-tag” bullying on twitter?

    I think possible chivalry on his part to “defend” us as fans creates a nice warm feeling for a lot of us, but 1) I’d like to see actual evidence of bullying tweets toward fans (not just him, I saw the one that called him an idiot but did not see that person bully those who defended him) and 2) I’m actually a little concerned about him if he’s going to delete in order to defend his followers. That seems unsustainable and over-responsible to me. Lots of heart, but unsustainable. His active tweeps should know his statements about not feeding trolls unless you’re prepared for the risk. And I think those active tweeps also know to block/report as needed. So I’m skeptical without further evidence of need for it- anyone got? DM to me on twitter if you’d prefer.

    • Yeah, I watch that tag fairly closely and I didn’t see any, which is why I find that article implausible. I always feel like it’s a game of percentages anyway. I hear someone say “Richard Armitage got bullied after such and such a post” and I see that there are 90 positive comments, 8 critical ones and 2 cranks. To me, that is a pretty good result. You won’t get that response in a classroom, that’s for sure🙂

      • Absolutely! I find it surprising that anyone would expect to never see a negative response directed toward him, that’s part of public life, really! Or to your point, anything where you receive formal evaluation.

  18. I’m coming out of lurker-mode again to say “Thank you, Servetus.” I really appreciate the way you explain complex matters with such clarity and patience and without ever condescending to your readers. I’ve learned so much about modern communication and the online world by reading your blog these past few years. You even deepened my understanding of myself!

    • Wow, thanks for the very kind words! I’m learning too as this goes along, just trying to distill the results.

  19. Thanks for this, Serv! Excellently explained!
    Methinks Cybersmile could use you as an ambassador, you have more insights and experience than some people on Twitter we know…😉

  20. […] is that it sparks healthy, critical discussion but that it does not turn to vitriol and trolling (so brilliantly explained by Servetus in her recent post). I expect his message to be empathicalist (yay! I’ve connected Richard Armitage to Audrey […]

  21. […] my own rule about dealing with potential trolls to this situation, I’d suggest first trying to learn something about the speaker whose speech is bothering me […]

  22. […] shouldn’t amplify this, if I were following my own rules, but this is an example of me being concern trolled. This account was created in order to RT […]

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