Angry vs. rabid weasels

People keep asking me who the twelve rabid weasels are. I deliberately didn’t say, in part because the hate mail came in while I was in office and I feel like that would be a breach. Also because talking about specific people changes the conversation from being about the behavior into a personal slapfest. A rabid weasel is someone who isn’t interested in conversation, or even in argument but just in proving the other person wrong. It’s not even that they want to be right, but they want to win. They’ll appear to have a passionate conviction, but will move the goal posts in order to say that the other person lost.

Helpful hint: Real discussions aren’t a competition.

But… I’ll say that there is a metric for someone to figure out if they are one of the twelve. If your first reaction to my blog post was:

  1.  How dare she talk about me?! Fascism! Nazi! Free Speech! Then you are a rabid weasel.
  2. Yikes. I hope that’s not me. You’re not a rabid weasel.
  3. Who are those jerks who are doing that?!? You’re not a rabid weasel.

angry weasels

It is worth noting that the twelve are not all men, and not all old. Also, if you watch the blogs, and spot reaction #1… well. That weasel is rabid. Be forewarned.

Now, I want to draw a distinction between an angry weasel and a rabid weasel. I chose rabid for a very specific reason.

A weasel that is angry will calm down eventually. Heck, we’ve probably all had a day when we are angry, angry weasels.

rabid weasel is contagious and a danger to the community.

Let me be very clear that someone who disagrees with you is not a rabid weasel. They’re just someone with a different opinion. You can have a conversation about the differing viewpoints and, while you might not convince each other, you can at least come to an understanding.

A rabid weasel, on the other hand, is only interested in biting, frothing, and urinating on you for no reason. When you hit the point where you realize that you are dealing with a rabid weasel, that’s when you move to damage control. People talk about ignoring the trolls… But a rabid weasel, when ignored, will just go on biting people. If you have the ability, you quarantine them.

If not, you actually do have to respond, for no other reason than to let newcomers know that there’s a danger here. Responding doesn’t mean you have to try to convince them of the error of their ways. You’ve already tried that, before realizing they were rabid. Your response cannot be to bite them back, or you’ll pick up the rabies yourself. Your goal then becomes to protect the community through whatever means are necessary.

Jeff Atwood at Coding Horror talks about an interesting study about Bad Apples, which I encourage you to go read. Basically, the thing to know is that these rabid weasels, or poison apples, will bring your community down by causing other people to emulate their behavior. Once you realize that the weasel is rabid, understand that your conversation is now aimed at everyone else in the community. This isn’t the same as ignoring the weasel. It’s there and doing damage. Your job as a responsible community member is now about damage control and finding ways to be productive. Ask yourself before posting if you are attempting to bite the weasel, or to improve the situation for everyone else?

What strategies do you have for dealing with rabid weasels in your community? How about the ones who are just angry?

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11 Responses

  1. GlennS

    For the rabid ones? Bring the mallet. Eliminate them from the community by whatever means is effective and causes minimal damage to the rest of the community.

    For the angry ones? A calm, cool, collected response addressing their concerns. (It may take posting – or back-channeling – “I’m cooling off and will get back to you” if they managed to light you up as well… )

    My two shekels’ worth…

  2. Sally

    You’ve got rabid weasels, Scalzi’s got fevered stoats… Jim Hines best be working on his diseased mustelid metaphors too…

  3. Meagen Voss

    As you said quarantine is the best option, but not always a viable one. Having allies and outnumbering the weasel helps. It seems to me that the only way you can “win” is by doing your best to block the weasels from turning their heinous thoughts/words into actions that hurt people. In democratic communities, it also helps to structure community rules so that they are difficult to change without consensus from the majority of the community or the community’s elected leaders. One rabid weasel in power can cause a lot of damage otherwise because they love to change rules so that they’ll always win.

  4. Grant Gardner

    I have little to no experience with rabid weasels in the online communities that I’ve been a part of, but on the angry side, I have seen some very effective ways of dealing with it and I think a lot of it comes down to the sense of community.

    I’m a member of a 3D art and animation forum and the moderators there I think have done a fabulous job of setting things up. Here’s what I’ve seen work well there:
    * group/forum rules were established at the start and very CLEARLY communicated to the new members.
    * if a discussion gets out of hand, thread is shut.
    * any new discussions that starts rehashing the previous thread are also shut.

    All of that requires moderators that are vigilant and timely. That’s a lot of dedication, but it absolutely shows.

  5. Dela

    I agree that as soon as you name names, the topic goes from being “rabid weasel behavior is destructive to an organization, a debate, or a discussion, and it pulls attempts to be productive and achieve things way off the rails, over and over,” to being:

    “You think so-and-so is a rabid weasel? But I met him once for 3 minutes at a convention bar and he was nice to me! How dare you!”

    “So-and-so just lost her dog last week, which totally explains why she’s been testy for 20 years, and you should cut her some slack.”

    “=I= am so-and-so, and I’m calling my lawyer now that you have described me on your blog as a ‘rabid weasel.'”

  6. Sylvia

    Way before the internet was invented, there was a tale of the “Four Children”: Wise One, Evil One, Simple One, and One Who Does Not Know How To ask.

    In InternetSpeak, they’d be Experienced Blogger, Weasel, Newbie, and Lurker.

    When Wise One or Newbie asks a question, they get answered with information. Non-Asker, obviously, doesn’t ask and has to be gently invited into the conversation.

    When Evil One asks a question, the answer is aimed at Simple One – because Evil One’s questions aren’t really designed to elicit information, rather it is just an opportunity to mock. The correct answer to any of Evil One’s questions to to metaphorically knock his teeth out – so he can’t scare off the Simple One.

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