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