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Down by the Schoolyard

Down by the Schoolyard

So, spending half an hour the other day wallowing in the latest Interweb meme—Tuesday’s catastrophic PR meltdown by a one-man firm called Ocean Marketing, begun on Penny Arcade, mainstreamed by MSNBC, and covered in depth by International Business Times and The Escapist—got me thinking about (a) why this happened and (b) why this is exactly the sort of thing that the Internet ecosystem tends to flock to in droves.

It comes down to this: nobody likes a bully—especially anyone who was ever bullied.

Whatever else you want to say about the whole scenario—and my bet is case studies will one day be written, if they aren’t already in progress—the core issue seems clear. Ocean Marketing chief Paul Christoforo employed the classic tactics of the bully—name-calling, belittlement, and angry threats—and was held accountable for that behavior in spectacular fashion.

I have wondered once or twice why one particular scene in Believe in Me has garnered the response that it has, both from the book’s audience and from me when I first wrote it. There is a bully in my story, and the scene in which he receives his comeuppance is among the most memorable in the book, even though it amounts to a footnote in the larger landscape of the story’s arc. There is something viscerally satisfying about seeing a bully held accountable and forced to taste his own medicine.

This is especially true for those who were subject to bullying long ago in the schoolyard—the small and the weak, the odd and the different, the polymaths and the artists. The latter being the castes who largely created and now rule the Internet. Yes, everyone can play in this sandbox, because unlike the bullies they remember from childhood, technologists and creatives as a class tend to instinctively value justice and equality, and abhor any form of coercion or unprovoked aggression. But make no mistake, if you break the unwritten rules that hold on the Web—above all, play fair and take responsibility for your own actions—you’d best be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Bullies, the Internet is not your schoolyard – it’s your Waterloo.

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