Is Responding Worth It?
April 28, 2021 9:01 AM   Subscribe

I started a non profit that changes burnt out lights in cars. My first event was this past Saturday. Lots and lots of positive comments. And, already, negative comments are trickling in. But I wonder what these people in the second group are really saying.

They say stuff like "obey the laws and you won't get stopped." And I'm not trying to psychoanalyze these people. But knowing how they feel about something that sometimes has an outcome so different from their simplistic response (many drivers who did obey the law still got stopped and killed) is really interesting. So, instead of ignoring them or heavily engaging them, I thought about just replying with a simple "thank you", since their comment is valuable to try to see what those minds think. Is it worth it to even say that to them? I think it might be, but what do you think?
posted by CollectiveMind to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You have to ignore those people. They're the sorts that believe police can do no wrong. Their comments are, in fact, not valuable.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:06 AM on April 28 [85 favorites]

What they're saying is "Police violence is understandable and controllable. It will never happen to me because I understand it and am in perfect control. Suggesting that it isn't controllable frightens me and I want you to stop it."

This is an emotionally comprehensible position but neither a helpful one nor one you can or should engage with. Just ignore them; they're not your audience.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:09 AM on April 28 [56 favorites]

I don't think responding to them is worth doing, but of I were inclined to do so, I'd point out that changing burnt out lights is literally helping people to comply with the law.
posted by saeculorum at 9:12 AM on April 28 [57 favorites]

"We are helping these people obey the law by making sure their lights are functional. Why would you object to this?"
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:12 AM on April 28 [31 favorites]

Maybe I'm missing something, or the comments are nastier than your example. I agree they are nasty people and don't require engagement.

"Obey they let and you won't get stopped" is indeed a shitty thing to feel the need to tell you, but it's ultimately the reason why you are helping in this way, right? So, if you want, you can in good faith reply "yes, safety is important and that is why we are helping people more easily comply with rules of the road! We hope you will let others know or seek us out if you need our help".
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:12 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]

I am a social media manager, and my general rule of thumb is to only respond if they a) ask a question or b) share something that is incorrect about the company.

So for example if they asked "Does Southwest have direct flights to Miami?" or if they engaged with another person saying "Southwest charges baggage fees," that's when I'd jump in as the brand and respond or correct (or look into the situation, as necessary.)

We just went through a rebranding and we're getting occasional comments saying "I don't like the new logo." Those I feel comfortable ignoring.
posted by jschu at 9:13 AM on April 28 [17 favorites]

Don't respond to derails; if you have the ability to delete, just delete without explanation. They WANT to get a rise out of responding, and they hope you say something back so they have an excuse to continue their self-indulgent rant and hopefully trip you up, confirming they were correct all along.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:14 AM on April 28 [14 favorites]

If I understand correctly, the point of your project is to help people be in accordance with the law, so, in that sense, you agree that obeying the laws helps reduce the likelihood of getting stopped.

I don't think there is any value in responding, unless it is a blanket courtesy you provide for every comment....
posted by rhonzo at 9:15 AM on April 28

If you want to put the energy into it, I say go with the "That's exactly right! We're helping people obey the law with a task that can be difficult to do without the right tools or knowledge, thanks for your support!" Use the exact same phrases every time.

It's petty but satisfying and super upbeat and positive. You don't have to continue to engage, just ignore anything else. But if it's just becoming a time suck, delete instead.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:16 AM on April 28 [71 favorites]

It might feel a little unfulfilling to agree with a statement like this, but I'll cast another vote toward doing so anyway. If you felt like pushing more on the reality of the situation, you could offer that "helping with the obvious markers of 'obeying the law' may help us eventually to get to better data on underlying issues" might fit the bill, but that might be just for you and not valued by your respondent. It's just planting a little seed.

I'd also share what I share with my team at work "yes, feedback is a gift, but you don't have to open or appreciate every gift you receive - sometimes gifts are thoughtless, performative tokens".
posted by ersatzkat at 9:21 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]

"Thank you for your support!" Then drop a link to the fundraiser.
posted by bleep at 9:26 AM on April 28 [14 favorites]

I don't have a lot of patience for certain stuff. IMO, this is most likely someone trolling either to be a jackass online deliberately or because they just are a racist jackass in general.

I doubt very much that it is a sincere statement intended to help anyone.

That said, IMO, either ignore or kill em with kindness without actually engaging. bleep's answer seems more than enough. Even engaging with the truth that you are helping them obey the law seems too agreeable to someone who (again, IME/IMO) isn't engaging in good faith.
posted by jclarkin at 9:53 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't engage with these people. You're not going to influence their thinking at all. "Obey the laws and you won't get stopped" is a far-right meme shared in the same kinds of forums where more extreme posters routinely advocate violence. For every 99 blowhards who are content to say nasty things, there might be one who escalates.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:58 AM on April 28 [9 favorites]

From what I've seen online, people who make those kind of comments are nothing but anti-BLM trolls, looking to "own liberals" and see who they can get a rise out of. I would never in a million years dignify their comments with a thank-you. It might annoy the troll to not to get a rise out of you, but for anyone else looking on it might appear that you somehow actually appreciate their viewpoint.

I like Lyn Never's advice above. Again, it isn't going to inspire the troll to change their views, but for anyone looking on who might be inclined to agree with the troll it at least gives them a succinct counterpoint to consider.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:58 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]

It's very important that information be more common than misinformation. Please, if you have time, counter these claims without getting emotionally drawn in.
posted by amtho at 10:12 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]

After a year of COVID-related social media for my hospital employer, I recommend 2 things:

1. Find a neutral report online that has easy-to-understand language or charts stating the truth, and then respond with just the link. The same link. Every time. If you must add copy, say "This study may be of interest" or something equally neutral. The same copy, every time. And delete any responses to that, good or bad; the science ends the discussion.

2. Make it part of your page's rules to not engage with trolls, and delete* your followers' well-meaning responses shaming them. That's where the derail happens, not with the troll but with everyone responding to them.

*Don't just hide the comments, delete them - hiding a comment only hides it on your page, it doesn't notify the commenter and it's still visible to the commenter and their friends.

Good luck - what a great idea!
posted by headnsouth at 10:18 AM on April 28 [13 favorites]

I'd ignore it, or at most come up with a very brief canned response with links to a few FAQs/resources, fire it off, and do not engage further. Doing anything else is going to get you involved in prolonged back and forth with people who are often not acting in good faith.

My personal calculation is that the energy you would spend on that is better spent doing the thing you set out to do, networking, working on your own personal projects, etc. Especially if this is playing out in a public venue where other people may jump in and make the conversation spiral out of control. You don't want people's first experience of your program to be "hey I heard there was a shitshow happening on this social media site, let's go rubberneck at it."
posted by Stacey at 10:51 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]

A galaxy-brain customer support technique is to let people cool off when they're being assy or demanding -- never respond immediately. By the time you respond, they may have forgotten why they were so angry in the first place, and be more willing to engage (but canned response is still a good energy-saving idea, unless you want engagement for some reason)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:03 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]

To clarify--are these comments publicly visible on a social media page? Or are they private emails to you/your org?

If they're private emails, you could (if you feel like expending the energy) reply with a canned response along the lines of Lyn Never's wording. Or you can just ignore them.

If they are public, I strongly encourage you to immediately delete all comments like this. Orgs who provide services to combat racial injustice are very vulnerable to trolling, and I have a scorched earth policy when it comes to that kind of thing, because it's directly harmful to the people you're trying to serve. In my opinion, allowing these kinds of trolls, JAQ-offs and sea-lions to leave comments (as though there's some kind of debate to be had) will just poison your social media presence and scare off people who would otherwise be valuable vocal proponents of your cause. At best it may cause supporters to become embroiled in arguments with trolls on your social media. Either way, it's a bad outcome.

If people accuse you of being an echo chamber, they're being ridiculous. There can be no argument against the service you're providing: if people are concerned about the well-being of POC and helping them avoid police harassment, then you are providing a concrete way to do so; if people just want everyone to adhere to the letter of the law and not have burned out lights, well, you're doing that too. There is literally no reason to object unless someone's goal is that POC continue to be harassed by police. Are these the people you want taking up valuable space on your social media?

There is zero productive conversation to be had with the people you're describing. They're not commenting in good faith, and you don't have to tolerate it and let them pollute your page. The bottom line is, they are NOT your audience--and they may drive away your actual audience, the people whose burnt out lights need changing so they don't get harassed by police. AS an organization with a very specific purpose, your main goal on social media is to promote your service to people who need it and want it, and maaaaaybe to explain why it's important to the genuinely unaware. However, you do not need to convert racists. That can be someone else's job.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:13 AM on April 28 [22 favorites]

Another +1 for Lyn Never's response.

Gotta remember that these are people whose support for police is not organic, it is a direct response to the increasing number of those opposing police brutality and working to minimize police encounters that have disproportionate negative outcomes for people who aren't white. In their mind - they hate all this Black Lives Matter and protesting shit, and their siding with police and chiming in how no one should have anything to hide or fear if you "don't break the law" is how they choose to signify that they are not on your side, it's not for starting any kind of real debate or conversation. That is to say their worldview is so radically different that they basically occupy a different moral universe, essentially one where state violence against individuals and fascism would probably be fine with them, because it would be fine FOR them.

That's my long way of suggesting don't engage much beyond the quick, almost troll-ishly positive "thanks for your support" suggestions above because there's definitely not going to be any common ground. If you can masterfully troll with brevity and aloof online wit go for it, but anything beyond that - long-winded exchanges, trying to "educate" them, sending them FACTS and DATA, etc no matter how correct it is - is going to be both exhausting and likely fruitless.
posted by windbox at 11:29 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]

I have been involved with gratis "tags and taillights" projects for 30 years. In my experience, three kinds of people object to helping people be safe, legal and on their way by by helping them have clean tags and bright lights:

1. People who have never had any issue maintaining their cars because they have plenty of extra money to buy new cars and take them in for regular maintenance. They sell their cars before any of the lights burn out. These drivers cannot understand that many people must drive older cars to have any car at all, and cannot pay for the fancy maintenance purchased by wealthier drivers. They have no real contact with people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, or in poverty. They have no concept that some people would have to change out their own lights in front of a car parts store to have it done at all. These people feel you are wasting time and money on willfully lawless losers who just aren't trying hard enough. They feel they know best who should get the charity help, and it isn't people who can't keep their cars maintained. ("If they can't afford a car they shouldn't have one" is a common comment by these folks.)

2. Per restless_nomad above, people who are afraid for themselves and theirs, knowing that bad things happen to some stopped by the police, and fool themselves into thinking that anyone hurt "brought that shit on themselves" by not achieving complete compliance with every law. It is human nature not to want to think of an unavoidable risk at all times, otherwise one couldn't live one's life. The same thing happens in rape cases, where people want to say "well, if only she hadn't worn the short skirt, or hadn't walked into that dark parking garage by herself." Or "She should have put her keys in her fist and fought him off, that is what I would have done, etc." This is, of course, bullshit thinking, pulling the wool over their own eyes for their own psychological reasons.

3. Malicious people. These come in all kinds. Some people just cannot stand to see anyone get something for free that they are not also getting for free. Some people cannot stand to see someone be taught to do something, in a kind and supportive setting, when they had to learn the hard way. Some people just want to see others hurt, kind of a schadenfreude thing. Some people are hijackers: they want to use your good thing to express their hatred of somebody or some group. Some are just internet trolls looking to upset and derail people. There are more different types of malicious people, but you get the idea. You want to avoid engagement with this group of people.

For groups #1 and #2, I have found it useful to portray "tags and tails" clinics to be like bicycle safety clinics. No one objects to a community putting on a clinic to show people how to maintain, light, and ride their bikes safely. No one objects if bike clinics are free, or the riders pay only for the bells and lights. The point is, the clinic starts them off and the cyclist continues the safety measures on his or her own. That is what you hope to achieve with your tag clinics. I'm sure you will achieve it with a large percentage of your participants. Once you show someone how to change a license plate light, it just becomes a non-issue for them. They go around checking all their friends cars's lights and helping them change them out at the car parts store. Thank you so much for doing this for your community.
posted by KayQuestions at 1:02 PM on April 28 [17 favorites]

The best thing you can do for the universe is to just delete these comments. Don’t let their racist trolling ruin anyone’s day.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:42 PM on April 28 [5 favorites]

Don't respond. These comments are posted simply to cause trouble. They aren't interested in a debate. They aren't posting in good faith. They're just trying to stir things up. If you have the ability to delete those comments, by all means, do so.You get no points for winning arguments on the internet, so there's no real reason to engage if it's going to be any trouble at all, and there is definitely no need to engage with trolls.
posted by azpenguin at 10:55 PM on April 28

Yep, ignore them and delete. No need to placate racists.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:09 AM on April 29

Ignore and forget.

Also, just as a side note, while I agree there are police indiscretion undertones to those types of statements, I also know there are a lot of people (at least in my area) that don't like the idea of doing-for others; they believe, for whatever reason, that if you can't do it yourself, you don't deserve to have it. Regardless, negative people that have nothing better to do and aren't contributing to your cause - they don't get free rent in your mental space and should be ignored.
posted by _DB_ at 7:59 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for your comments, thoughts and suggestions. I appreciate it.
posted by CollectiveMind at 9:13 AM on April 29

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