Narcissism and toxic communities

Dispatches from the dark places of community management, where comics pros groom young women, and My Little Pony communities get infested with Nazis…

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

If you're not familiar with the online culture around comics and games - you should be. The "GamerGate" crisis of six years ago was a sandbox where many of the techniques used by online populist movements were refined - and then deployed to devastating effect in mainstream politics.

It's worth paying attention to now because there's been a rolling exposure of historic abuse and manipulation through online and offline communities. One of the latest figures to be accused is Warren Ellis - whose work has spread beyond comics into film and TV.

Warren Ellis Accused Of Grooming Young Women For Decades
Comic book writer, novelist and TV writer Warren Ellis has been accused of ‘grooming’ much younger women, only to deceive and use them.

What's interesting about Ellis, as compared to some of the others, is that he has long been a talented community developer. His Warren Ellis forum was a hub of both fans and creatives in the comics and geek media space in the early 2000s, and he's repeated the formula more than once. So far, so good.

The fact that he was using his disproportionate position of power to solicit younger women for sex is significantly less good. It's interesting to note that his communities have been centred around his own persona. There's a narcissistic touch there, that looks - to me, at least - like one of the alarm bells. Many analyses of trolling suggest that there's a dark tetrad of characteristics that lead to toxic behaviour. When the community organiser is gathering people around himself, these characteristics may well be amplified.

The architecture of ego

We've built a digital infrastructure that tends to favour the construction of personal brands. Ellis was a pioneer here, but you can see it in the cult of personality around influencers, youTubers and steamers.

And some of those streamers are following Ellis's example in more way than one:

Twitch “Will Be Taking Action” Over Sexual Misconduct Claims
CEO Ed Shear says he’s “looking into” the claims.

There are soe very clear problems with people building such power and influence around themselves. It's also good that we're finally seeing some consequence for abuse of that.

But we also need to think about ways of stopping it taking decades to expose these people — and if so willingly giving ourselves over to these developing cults of personality is a healthy activity in the first place.

The hidden impact of COVID-19 on journalism: the freelancer apocalypse

Sobering reading - and something I can identify with as a self-employed chap working in journalism, who has taken a financial hit during lockdown.

Estimates of COVID-19’s impact on journalism fail to count freelancers, whose livelihoods have vanished overnight - Poynter
When the crisis has passed, and our profession begins to dust itself off and rebuild, the real toll of the damage will never fully be counted.

If you're a freelencer who is struggling, or in need of encourgament or support, check out the Freelance Journalism Assembly.

The Facebook Ad Boycott Grows

Noted in passing. If this keeps growing, it could have more impact on Facebook than any amount of conventional political pressure.

Ad Boycott of Facebook Keeps Growing
Eddie Bauer, Magnolia Pictures, Ben & Jerry’s and others have suspended campaigns over the platform’s content moderation practices.

Second Life's Second Life

Hey, rememer when Second Life was the future of the internet? I'd bet Reuters would love you to forget this:

Well, Second Life has had a pandemic renaissance.

Second Life enjoys a surprising renaissance as social distancers flock to virtual worlds
Once hailed as the future of cyberspace, this famously eccentric online world is seeing a surge of new users and inquiries from businesses

The lesson here? It's never wise to write off platforms for good. There was a time when everyone wrote off Reddit as inferior to Digg - but who remembers Digg now?

The Lean Back Read: My Little Facist Pony

I shared this to Facebook last night, and the reactions were just a steady stream of 😲s. Thanks to my daughters, I'm in danger of becoming a bit of a Brony myself —  I can hold forth intelligently on the subtle differences between the Mane Six and their Equestria Girls counterparts if needed — but the idea that people could take the central message of these cartoons and make them facist is…

…well, an insight into the challenges of managing online communities, and the consequences of not doing so.

‘My Little Pony’ Fans Are Ready to Admit They Have a Nazi Problem
Even a niche subculture built around magical cartoon horses is reckoning with racism.

Today's Listening: My Little Pony: The Movie OST

Listen to this while reading the above for maximum cognitive dissonance.

(I want Time to be Awesome played at my funeral.)

My Little Pony: The Movie (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Various Artists
Album · 2017 · 13 Songs. Available with an Apple Music subscription. Try it free.
My Little Pony: The Movie (Original Motion Picture Score)
My Little Pony: The Movie (Original Motion Picture Score), an album by My Little Pony on Spotify
toxic communitiescommunity managementsecond lifefreelancers

Adam Tinworth Twitter

Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.