One of the life lessons I will apparently never learn is that it never, ever pays to mix it up on the web.
Last Friday morning, I was awakened by an early phone call. A friend of mine–let’s call him/her “Pat,” just to keep her/him out of this mess–was calling to tell me that industry rumormonger Rich Johnston, in trying to drive traffic to his new rumor site, was contacting him and others for “comments and background” based on a Twitter comment I’d made, since deleted.
Yeah, I know. Twitter’s a public forum. That’s the point of Twitter. I get it. But (a) the only “story” seemed to be whether I knew this person and, if so, how and why–how is that anyone’s business and how does that merit an outside follow-up, and since when am I Kim Kardashian, who cares?–and (b) the sidewalk outside my house is a public forum, too, but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to get frustrated if paparazzi stake it out to take pictures of whoever might be dropping by.
In this particular instance, the collateral damage was fairly negligible (which, in my experience, is unusual for a visit from Rich). Pat seemed harassed and annoyed that he’s being bugged out-of-the-blue, I got an early wake-up call, I had to take time out of a busy morning to commiserate with Pat…that’s no big deal, I suppose. But you can bet that the first thing I did after that was block Rich Johnston from following me on Twitter. I mean, as he does with all comics pros, yes, he’s gonna cyberstalk me and the rest of us everywhere we go anyway in hopes that he can find things to pull out of context and twist into a morass of Dramatic Supposition that can give his site more hits. There’s no stopping that. That’s how he chooses to feed his family, by doing things like exploiting Twitter streams to his monetary advantage. But anything I can do to make that less easy for him, I will. And if you think that’s foul play, you try spending a chunk of your workday dealing with the backlash that happens when the context of your words is ignored and they are instead judiciously lifted, edited, and then spot-welded to paraphrase and conjecture simply to create someone else’s traffic-for-profit. Doesn’t matter how careful you try to be about what you say; hell, give me ten Kurt Busiek posts, a text editor and a need to drive traffic to my site, and I could make Kurt sound like a nut…and Kurt’s the yardstick by which pretty much all of comicdom measures Good Internet Behavior.
So, anyway, I block Rich from eavesdropping, treat him the same way I do that weird Britney Porn video twitterer that finds us all sooner or later. (What, just me?) No big deal, so far, so good. But then I let my annoyance get the best of me. I then offered to spot ten bucks to the HERO Initiative charity for anyone else who followed suit and permanently blocked this Twitterazzo from eavesdropping on his or her account.
I suppose you see where this is going. Meaning that you are wiser than am I.
In retrospect, bad form, words chosen poorly, a kneejerk reaction on an already bad morning. (But, to be fair, kinda funny.) I honestly assumed the only replies I’d get would be from fellow pros (because who else would even care or know what I’m talking about?) equally as frustrated with him as I’ve been–and, believe me, plenty such replies rolled in. In addition, however, I also got an unforeseen slew of fans following suit, eager to make a contribution to charity even though they didn’t have a dog in this fight. And I will freely admit being overwhelmed by that, maybe even a little bit intoxicated by the momentary power. (Because that’s what passes for “power” in my tiny world. My tiny, tiny world.) But it was a fleeting moment. And I honestly didn’t see–don’t see–the harm.
However–that wasn’t the intent. The intent was to raise awareness among fellow pros to be careful and to remind them that even their personal, non-comics chatter is under the microscope of a guy trying to attract attention to himself and his own work by leveraging the reputations of others. So the charity donations start to stack up, which is swell, and pros are being reminded, “Hey, yeah, I oughta do that” and acting on it…but then someone else points out that if Rich is blocked often enough in a short-enough timespan, his account might be banned.
Well, that’s no good. That’s also not the intent. Twitter’s not my private property; I don’t have the right or the desire to decide who can and can’t play there, nor would I
ever assume otherwise. So a couple hours into it, I decide I’ve made my point–a bunch of pros have messaged me “Oh, yeah, thanks for the reminder–blocked!”, the charity is richer…and God knows Rich’ll be able to find some way to monetize the event on his site, as he always does, so shed no tears for him. I dial it down, and at the $540 threshold, I call “game over” and everyone goes on his or her way and I think it’s over because IF self=relaxed THEN GOTO opening paragraph.
You would think I would be capable of learning. I have thumbs. And yet.
In the last 48 hours, the private messages and e-mails and “you’re such a bully, Mark Waid!” crime-of-the-century comments have been rolling in from those who’ve read Rich’s account of this whole affair over on his Avatar Publishing-funded, “Nothing I’ve done with [my website] has been an attempt to stir up controversy” website and think they now know “the real story.” Well, no, but I can certainly see how they’d think so after reading Rich’s write-up. So now I’ve said my piece. I don’t know or care if it makes me look better or worse–I suspect nothing I’ve written here has swayed public opinion on my level of childishness pro or con, and I admit to a moment of dubious judgment–but since this seems to be eating up so much of the comics blogosphere’s time and energy, I was asked to give my side.
While Rich is certainly capable of doing some genuine reporting from the greater good, and he has, he also causes a great deal of unrepentant harm. Gossip, by its nature, is salacious and unreliable and does more damage than good, and that’s something we all learn almost as soon as we learn how to talk. I’m as guilty as anyone else of dishing it after a drink or two, but I would no more think to make a living off of it than I would sign up to be a Big Tobacco lawyer. Nor would I try to hide behind bogus disclaimers or semantic technicalities if I was busted. I doubt there’s much question at this point in my career that if I have something to say, I tend to come right out and say it.
Actions have consequences. Say what you like on the internet–God knows, I write something stupid there pretty much every time I hop on–but don’t be disingenuous about it. If you said something that causes harm, if you knowingly implied it…then own it, be honest about your motivations and methods, stand by it if it’s true and apologize if you were wrong and hurt someone, and then move on. Here, I’ll start. If Rich had to take time away from his day to deal with any unintended Twitter fallout, I apologize. See? Was that so hard?