Dogpiling on Social Media: Without long term goals, it’s just empty performance – by WhiteClaw
by Dogpatch Press Staff
WhiteClaw previously submitted Why furries should care about politics in 2018.
Most of us on the internet have probably heard of and witnessed dogpiling. Some of us have even been unlucky enough to be on the receiving end. But nearly everyone will deny having taken part in it.
Even people in the middle of dogpiling will resist the label. According to them, they are: critiquing, complaining, offering their opinion, standing up for themselves and/or others, responding, calling out — and any other number of words and terms that can be used to describe their actions.
But never are they dogpiling.
So, what is this strange act that seems to be everywhere, but committed by no one? To answer that question, we have to start at the beginning.
The Cycle Begins: Something “Bad”
With very few exceptions the cycle starts the same way. Someone, somewhere, does something “bad.”
Now I say “bad” because the range of events that can kick off the cycle is so broad, that one word is poorly equipped to describe them all.
Within the spectrum of events there are: making an honest mistake or slip up, wording something poorly, having a bad take, promoting an idea or opinion that is polarizing, promoting an idea or opinion that is actively harmful, being a bigot, or committing acts that are dangerously close to or are in fact illegal.
Pretty much any event that begins the cycle can be slotted somewhere into the above list. But the truth is that the act or event that begins the process often doesn’t matter in a way that significantly affects what happens next. And what happens next is, invariably…
The Cycle Continues: The Callout
Now there have been countless articles, essays, and thinkpieces that have explored the topic of callouts and cancel culture, and honestly, I’m not here to rehash. Callouts, like most things are neither all good nor all bad.
It is worth mentioning a few things, however.
Whatever the “bad” thing that kicked off the cycle, the internet is a pretty big, chaotic place where things can be and often are lost in the shuffle. Even within a relatively smaller community such as the furry fandom, it’s impossible to keep track of all the events, discussions, and drama happening at any given moment.
But within the fandom (and really the internet in general), there are online accounts who, more or less, exist solely to post and signal boost callouts. Now I won’t name names, but many of you know the type.
They typically have hundreds to thousands of followers and usually gain more with each callout post. They love internet fights and have a seemingly endless amount of time to engage in them. And their big go-to move, especially on Twitter, is the “quote retweet” to ensure every one of their followers has a chance to see not only how clever, woke, and perfect their response is, but also the account of the person that dared to offend them.
Now I said I wasn’t going to rehash the callout/cancel culture debate, and I honestly don’t think all call outs are bad. Some I consider almost a public service.
Yes, I would like to know if this person whose work I enjoy is actually a racist, or abuses women, or hates trans people. Because whether or not I still enjoy their work (which is an entirely other topic about if it’s possible to separate art from an artist and whether you should even bother trying to), I don’t want to support that person. Not with my money, not with exposure… and probably not with my appreciation of their work, either.
So good can come from callouts. But, one of my favorite articles on this topic, titled “We Can’t Fix The Internet” has the following lines:
“It isn’t advocacy, it isn’t activism, it’s pure performance. It’s fundamentally the equivalent of saying “you’re in my hopes and prayers,” after a national tragedy.”
Yes, the town gossip can be an invaluable source of information when you need it. But they aren’t doing it for you. They’re doing it for themselves. So, make of that what you will.
@speaksangie did nice work here. Callouts on their own fall into "the thrill of empty catharsis and spectacle", they can't substitute for deep investigation. Of course there's a difference between "performative wokeness vs de-platforming of harm" as a commenter says. 1/ https://t.co/2aS6JY7lAD
— Dogpatch Press (@DogpatchPress) November 11, 2019
The Cycle 3: This Time It’s Personal — The Dogpile
Now it’s tempting to blame the callout accounts for what comes next, and certainly some of their tactics are designed to elicit a specific response. But the cycle is not a coordinated, planned event. In fact, it’s often very reactionary and spur of the moment.
And while “raids” conducted by forums and sub-communities do result in dogpiling, there is one very important difference. In the cycle, the members of the dogpile don’t know about each other.
Side A: The Attackers
Okay that’s not entirely true. It’s not like each person in a dogpile is sealed off in a bubble. But members of Side A do tend to suffer from tunnel vision.
In fact, at this point, the word “dogpile” seems like an inappropriate metaphor for what’s happening. A better visual description would be a wolf pack biting at and tearing apart its victim. Each wolf is definitely aware of the others, but their main concern is getting in there, and biting off a piece for themselves.
And that’s why members of the dogpile (or wolf pack, or whatever you want to call it), don’t see themselves as a group. At least not at this stage of events. Each person views themselves as unique. In fact, many view themselves as the leader of a silent army. They are the ones speaking up and championing for those who can’t defend themselves.
Unfortunately, many of the people they’re “leading” are doing the exact same thing.
This is why it’s impossible to engage with a dogpile. There’s virtually no communication between its members. Which brings us to…
Side B: The… Bictim(?)
To the victim of the dogpile, the attack is not one of several individuals, but a single, solitary mass of hate directed right at them. Because Side A has little to no communication, many of its members will repeat the same words or phrases. To the person on the receiving end, this feels like a coordinated effort, where the attackers have rallied behind a very specific interpretation or criticism of events.
(It could take another article to list all the ways in which interpretations can be out of context, distorted by emotion, misstated with crude literalism about figurative meaning, mischaracterized in bad faith, or otherwise twisted and cooked-up to hurt.)
Amplifying makes the attackers feel more justified and their grievance more real. But the reality is that the repetition of certain words or phrases is a symptom of their division, rather than their unity. It’s also the result of a single person receiving several comments in a very short amount of time. After a while, the entire thing starts to blur and run together. The brain focuses on what’s repeated.
Now if the victim tries to call out people for dogpiling, each person will claim they’re independently offering criticism… which may be true. And the victim can try to respond with a nuanced explanation that is tailored to each and every person coming after them. (It becomes orders of complexity harder the more twisted the accusations are from sources playing telephone-game from a root cause.)
But… Individual responses to an onslaught is a ridiculous thing to expect anyone to do.
Except that’s exactly what the people on Side A want. Remember that Side A doesn’t see themselves as a group, they see themselves as individuals. So, because they have individual criticisms, they expect individual responses.
Which is why what Side B does next never, ever works.
The Cycle 2.0: The Public Apology
The section titles I’ve been using here have mostly been jokes, but there is a sort of 2.0 or next phase element to this part of the cycle. See, Side B has been drowning in a deluge of negative comments and criticism, and it’s not feasible for them to address everyone individually. So, they pretty much have two options.
Option 1: Run.
Now, most people don’t go with this tactic because it usually involves abandoning your online accounts. It’s also not a great look because there’s a mindset that only the guilty run. (It isn’t true, but it is the first conclusion most people jump to.)
Option 2: The public apology. (The more popular of the two.)
This is where Side B attempts to explain themselves, apologizes for their actions, and seeks forgiveness. The statement can’t address every criticism that’s been lobbed at them, so it typically goes for a more general, “I messed up, I’m so sorry, please forgive me.”
Some are short, some are long, and some spend a little too much time trying to explain or rationalize their actions. But it’s a typical reaction that most people at the center of a dogpile are going to try and save face at least a little. What matters is what the person does next and how they act going forward when —
Oh wait, never mind, no it doesn’t. Because this never works. In fact, this is where the cycle begins its 2.0 phase, and a new set of dogpiling occurs in response to the public apology. The statement is criticized for being cookie cutter, insincere, and just all around not good enough.
And at this phase of the cycle, it’s tempting to write the remaining members of Side A off as trolls, and there are certainly a few of them who are just there to cause damage. But the amount of anger and rage some of these people exhibit can make them seem like trolls, when in reality, they’re just really, really mad.
Unfortunately, there’s not a great way to tell the difference.
For a long time I have given opinions that if a callout is used it should come with higher goals for longer term effect. Exposing while reporting or organizing has a place, but aim for a "high value target". Just attacking, making it a sport and chasing clout sucks. 3/
— Dogpatch Press (@DogpatchPress) November 11, 2019
Now before we wrap things up, I’d like to address a couple of things.
1. “Genuine criticism =/= harassment.”
This is a phrase popular with Side A when they’re called out for dogpiling. It’s also a massive form of gaslighting that’s attempting to delude everyone.
“Genuine” means real, which is in direct contrast with… fake? This is basically a math equation, so if real criticism doesn’t equal harassment, then fake criticism does? And therefore, harassment equals fake criticism?
Except, why does it matter whether or not I believe what I’m saying? If I’m following you around, shouting it at you, it’s still harassment. You can follow someone around and shout “Trans rights are human rights!” But if they don’t want you there, you’re harassing them.
(Now does that person deserve to be harassed? I don’t know, are you just following around a random person and shouting at them? Because there are better ways to get your message out.)
The point is that this is a phrase that tries to convince both the person on Side A and the person on Side B that what’s happening… isn’t actually happening. It also makes no sense and isn’t true.
2. “Attacker” and “victim.”
There’s a connotation that accompanies these terms that suggests the “attacker” is always in the wrong, and the “victim” is always in the right. But I don’t believe that’s true. You can be a victim of your own terrible actions. That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve what’s coming to you.
As for “attacker” well… If everyone in a dogpile where calmly stating something like “I feel like you have maligned this group of people with your words/actions, and I would very much like you to explain yourself and/or apologize”… we wouldn’t even need to even have this discussion.
But an attack is defined as an aggressive action and members of a dogpile are pretty aggressive. I’m not saying that aggression is always unwarranted, but dressing it up as something else isn’t much better than the whole “genuine criticism =/= harassment” thing.
Sometimes, something should look and sound ugly. That’s why we don’t call it the “pretty truth.”
This stuff came up in a phone call with Gizmodo this weekend. They're working on a story about furry history and how it evolves with social media. A need for deeper investigation and the shallowness of callouts was just a small part of the topic. 7/
— Dogpatch Press (@DogpatchPress) November 11, 2019
The Final Chapter
So, is dogpiling bad? Afterall, if callouts can be good or even have good results, can’t dogpiling be the same?
Here’s the problem. Dogpiling is pretty much a masturbatory act. The callout is posted, and you get to ride a wave of indignation along with other people.
But it isn’t really accomplishing anything. That big, public apology that Side B posts? It doesn’t work. It doesn’t make anybody feel better. Because the goal of the dogpile isn’t to have Side B change for the better.
The dogpile wants only one thing: to revel in the enjoyment of taking someone down.
Because if it were about something else, literally anything else, then dogpiling would be the least effective means to an end.
If you feel someone is dangerous, problematic, or just overall a bad person, you could spread the word about them to others who are affected, organizing with real solidarity. You could start a campaign to have them banned from conventions or group outings to create distance. You could encourage others not to support them online and dry up their earnings. You could call the police.
But if your solution to a problem is to confront someone both publicly and directly, I think it’s important to ask: What is your long term goal? Are you looking for a response, or are you looking for a thrill?