If you’ve ever spent any time in an online forum, you’ve undoubtedly encountered certain individuals who abuse their status within the forum. I’m not talking about forum trolls. They’re easy to spot – and just as easy to dismiss. But rather, a different kind of malicious entity – the forum bully.
The Nature of Forums
Online forums are no different than any other group formed by people throughout human history. There are leaders, followers, outsiders. For convenience, you can look at a forum as kingdom. There’s usually a king and a queen, a prince and princess, court jesters, members of the nobility, wise old advisors and outsiders. While an online forum is a trivial kingdom, remember that people defend their kingdoms, no matter how small. It could be an office, a playground, a seat at the table, or a forum.
Troll or Bully?
In many ways, I have more respect for a troll than a forum bully. At least a troll is direct. If you pick up a snake, and it bites you, whose fault is that? The snake was just doing what it does. It’s the same with trolls. Their intentions are obvious – they’re in the forum to disrupt and cause trouble. They arrive with all the subtlety of a jet on a landing strip.
Forum bullies are harder to spot. They disguise their intentions. But make no mistake. When you encounter one, you will know – because their bite is equally malicious and just as full of venom.
What is a Forum Bully?
A forum bully is school ground throwback. Remember that middle school bully with his pathetic little band of sycophantic followers? That’s a forum bully. In ways the forum bully is just a pseudonym for a troll, but with a major difference. While the troll’s behavior is condemned by the group, the forum bully’s actions are condoned by the group. Established members of the group, who don’t agree with the forum bully, usually remain quiet while the bully tears apart people just for sport and as a demonstration of power within the forum.
Basically a forum bully is the equivalent of a popular troll — a troll with power within the group. And therein lies the danger. Picture that popular girl in high school who takes pride in belittling others less popular. Then toss in a few of her friends, along for the ride, who derive their own sense of power by picking up her table scraps, and you have an accurate picture of a forum bully.
Evolution of a Forum Bully
Forum bullies are typically intelligent. They usually begin as helpful members of the forum. But as their power grows, their true nature reveals itself. Once established, forum bullies begin mixing their helpful posts with intimidation. As they evolve, and develop a reputation, they attract followers. The followers serve as back up, often times speaking on behalf of the bully to clarify the forum bully’s statements. Other times the followers are like a pack of hyenas jumping in for the kill after the bully has drawn blood.
As the forum bully fully evolves, she begins to feel immune to attack. She states her opinion regardless of accuracy or consequence, knowing full well that she can always rely on the support of followers to bail her out of trouble.
The danger of a forum bully is two-fold. In one respect, the forum bully makes the other respected members of the forum appear hypocritical to an outsider. When the forum bully spouts her own brand of nonsense, when the forum bully tears apart other forum members for no reason other than because she can, it makes other members of the forum look bad – simply because the very behavior a troll is ostracized for, is the exact same behavior permitted to the forum bully. The double standard so created reeks of hypocrisy and undermines the legitimacy of everyone who does not call the forum bully out for her repugnant behavior.
The forum bully is not stupid. The bully will never attack other respected members of the forum. She will also mix her attacks between those who genuinely deserve being attacked, and those she attacks for fun. After all, the only way a forum bully stays in business is with the consent of the other members of the forum. And she knows the fine line between being labeled a troll and being called blunt or to the point.
The other danger of a forum bully is that she creates an atmosphere of fear within the forum – not fear among the established members, but rather fear among those outsiders who want to participate in the forum. It is this fear that enables the forum bully to operate. A forum operates on the classic in-group/out-group dynamic. The bully’s behavior is tolerated because of an understanding of this dynamic. You don’t attack those within the inner circle, only those outside it.
If one of the respected members of the forum were to call the bully what she is, a petty, repugnant fraction of a human being, this member risks losing position within the forum. The resulting forum is a place in which comments are guarded. Politics are played. And the free flow of information is stifled. This is the true danger of allowing a forum bully to continue her activities. By not calling her out, the forum loses part of the dynamic it was created to foster. The forum bully also undermines the legitimacy of everyone else in the forum.
How to Spot a Forum Bully
The key is in the comments. Look at how most forum members reply to comments. Most are polite. They may disagree but they do so with a level of respect for the opinions of others, unless those opinions are genuinely ludicrous. The forum bully does not respect anyone but herself. She respects the power of others in the group, but nothing else. Everyone is beneath her. Her comments are made without regard to the feelings of anyone but herself. And if she is wrong, she cannot admit it. To do so would undermine her power. While others in the group will add prefaces to their comments or phrase their comments in the form of suggestions, the forum bully will tell others what to do, like a master issuing orders to slaves. When called on this approach, the forum bully’s followers will claim the bully is just being blunt. After all the bully is the source of all truth, and their own sense of power.
What to do When Attacked by a Forum Bully
Unfortunately if you are an outsider, there’s not much you can do. To attack the bully often will cause the more established members of the forum to close ranks and dispel the outsider. There’s a certain logic in this. As an outsider, you’ve yet to prove whether you’re worth defending – especially against an established member of the forum.
If you’re a semi-established member of the forum, you stand a better chance. But know that politically, most people will not back you up because to do so risks losing position within the forum – in short, it’s bad politics.
If you are a prominent member, you have nothing to worry about. The forum bully derives her power from her standing within the group and will not jeopardize this position by attacking anyone with power.
If attacked by a forum bully, disagree politely then get out. Diffuse the situation with silence. Remember, others will read your posts and make determinations about you. Even the most skillful defense will dash up against the walls of the kingdom. Besides, you may have more people rooting for you than you think. Forum bullies are not necessarily liked by the more respected members of the forum, they are merely tolerated because they are part of the inner circle.
If all else fails, and the actions of the forum bully still bother you, you can always write an article about it.