The 27 favorites and 13 retweets all came from total strangers. It seems I struck a welcome chord in today’s rough and tumble internet frontier. This was the original post I was replying to:
For the record, I do not know Wil Wheaton. I’ve never met him either through industry connections or at fan conventions. He’s not endorsed me writing this blog and I do not speak for him in anycapacity whatsoever. Unlike VictorWTF, I’m a fan of his work in Star Trek: The Next Generation (arguably the best US Science Fiction show ever) and especially his performance in “Stand By Me”. Mr. Wheaton and I both share a love of the LA Kings and Doctor Who. He’s done a tremendous job reinventing himself on-line and has the reputation of being an easy-going, fun-loving, all-around good guy.
He’s also an adult, a well-seasoned celebrity and certainly doesn’t need me sticking up for him or fighting his battles. But still I had to say something on the twitter because there’s nothing quite as despicable and gutless as anonymous trolling, is there? And considering how folks responded to my tweet and some recent events, I figured this is a good time to investigate the modern phenomenon of anonymous internet bravery.
I’m kind of disappointed that the term troll has evolved to be used beyond the anonymous. I remember (or maybe I misunderstood the term, I’m not 20 anymore) just a year or so ago when the trolls were only the cowards who hid behind aliases and fake photos. Now trolling can be referring to even passing criticism of a celebrity or public figure. I don’t think this is a good thing as I believe the cowards hiding behind keyboards deserve an exclusive epithet and “troll” more than fits.
Of course, irrational criticism of celebrities wasn’t born during the internet age but it seems like our online world has either shone a spotlight onto it or brought a lot of scum rising to the surface. The fine folks at Jimmy Kimmel Live know how to make a joke out of it:
But take a look at some of those twitter handles. Very few use a proper name and who knows if that’s even a real name.
The internet gives voice to the voiceless in many grand ways explored by both symbolic and practical activism. But it also gives voice to the voiceless who have found no other way of expressing themselves productively.
Let me be very clear though, this blog is not meant as an indictment against online criticism. This blog is an indictment of those who criticize without taking responsibility for their words and actions. I like to debate and discuss a wide-range of topics on my twitter account (@handsometimmyd, go on, give a follow if you’re so inclined) but I have one policy: People can disagree with me all they want but anyone using a fake alias and/or doesn’t have a picture of a real person gets only one reply – and that’s usually to tell them they’re blocked.
(Now might be a good time to mention I will employ a similar policy on this blog. Disagreement, vehement or otherwise, is more than welcome in the comment section. Name-calling of myself or others will not be approved by this handsome devil.)
See, it’s hard to argue with someone in your real voice using your real face. That requires the possibility of consequences. It SUCKS being wrong, doesn’t it? No one likes to be wrong, even fewer like to admit it. But it happens to the best of us. I’ve been wrong hundreds of times (back in 2002, I thought the Iraq War was a good idea until the WMDs were evidently not in existence. I’ve gotten numerous technical details wrong. I’ve had to admit when I’ve written the wrong thing in a script or produced an episode of TV in the wrong direction. In 1996, I even thought the internet would be a fad soon to tire out. Yup, I was wrong about all that shit.) The sun still rises and sets of course. As much as it sucks to be wrong about stuff, it’s simply part of the human experience, much like failure that I’ve written about before. But there’s something refreshing about writing about all that stuff openly – I can say (hell, I just put it in writing) that I’m man enough to admit that I’ve been wrong and not only that, learned quite a lot from those and other experiences of being “wrong.”
It’s funny but the older I get, which is each passing minute, the more I can admit I don’t know – and ironically, that makes me feel a lot smarter.
So everyone hates to be wrong. If there’s anyone out there who likes it, I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting them. But there’s more to it than that. Hiding behind a keyboard and alias not only hides you from consequence – it hides you from hurt. Maybe Victorhcj reveals everything about himself in his profile somewhere. I don’t know but I doubt it. Because when you hide behind an alias you can say “YOU SUCK” all day long at people – and no one can say “YOU SUCK” back at you, not really.
Attacking people like this is engaging in a kind of modern day duel. But it’s a duel that goes only one way. The target gets all the rocks thrown at them, but the rocks that are thrown back are sent to the alias – not the true identity of the attacker. That person can go about their day, feeling like they’ve accomplished something or giving themselves a false sense of superiority because they took it upon themselves to act like some of kind of digital Grover Norquist, thinking they speak for the rest of us. In the example above, VictorPussyface speaks for “a significant amount of people” who hate Wil Wheaton because “he sucks.” Whatever scientific method he used to take this survey and the exact statistical results of said survey, he elected not to post.
“But Tim, you’re calling Victor names and I may have seen you tweet John Boehner calling him an asshole once or twice. Isn’t that hypocritical of you? What’s the difference?” I don’t think it’s hypocritical at all. You see, I’m not hiding. I’m Tim Davis. My resume is available online at imdb and linkedin. I appear regularly on a podcast. My personal email is easy to find and my phone number is on my calling card which is all over town.
I got into a very fierce debate with John Cusack on twitter last year about the Edward Snowden gambit. I didn’t troll him. I didn’t name-call him. We just debated several points and I didn’t hide behind any alias. He was debating with Tim Davis. He knows my name & he knows my face. I wasn’t some weird troll with a weirder name or a stupid picture. In fact, I’m guessing Mr. Cusack engaged me in debate for so long BECAUSE I didn’t hide behind keyboard courage. God knows, celebrities hear from countless nameless trolls every day, and as much as he disagreed with me, I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a hearty handshake from him one day over the whole affair.
And it’s not just celebrities. I’m going to share three cases of anonymous trolling in my life. They were some parts hurtful, borderline frightening and all equally pathetic.
The first occurred when I was in High School. I was pranked called regularly by someone who instilled a fair amount of verbal abuse toward me. They always used a different name when calling but never their real one. It being small-town New Jersey, it wasn’t hard to figure out who it was. I could tell you his name but it wouldn’t mean anything to you. His main purpose was trying to goad me into a meeting or confrontation. He told me to meet him at several points at certain times. I took him up on none of these rendezvous figuring that physical harm was on the agenda and who needs that? We came close to calling the police but after hanging up on him so many times, he got bored and moved on to God knows what. I don’t know where he is or what he’s up to. And I don’t care.
The second occurred in 2004. Remember Friendster? Well, I was new to LA and someone set up a dummy account for the sole purpose of sending me one email. The account was called “Cheez Whiz” and I doubt that appears on any birth certificate. And there was no profile picture. The gist of the email? I was unwelcome in LA amongst my group of friends. No one in LA liked me and also that despite my best efforts, I was ugly and bald. This letter came at a particularly low period of time. I was recently in a car accident and going through a very tough transition at work. I hate to admit it, but this letter threw me for a loop. I asked several of my friends what they thought of it and was given many numerous assurances that yes, I was indeed welcome in LA and that whoever sent the letter was the real asshole. Really didn’t take that much to eventually figure out who it was that wrote that one either. I’ve never confronted the person for 2 reasons 1) Deference to mutual friends. I don’t want people to worry about inviting both of us to a party in case of drama 2) Is there really any point? More on that later.
And you know what’s even more ironic, I was put in a position a few times to help this person out – and I did. You know why? Because I’m not the person they think I am – I’m a lot better person than they think I am.
The third instance I’m going to tell you about came up because of this blog. Yup, I got my first piece of hate mail on my piece about guns “Just Another Day In America.” It was from a dummy account under the name “Ed.” No picture, of course. This person had this to say – and this is the one and only time I will allow abusive comments like this on the blog and it’s simply for context:
Knew this POS trust fund baby when he lived in Boston. Arrogant beyond belief. Especially for a guy with hair grown nearly down to the small of his back in order to compensate for his advanced male pattern baldness. (FYI: Everyone laughed about it behind your back.) So nice to know that back in those days you were screaming into your laundry basket when you weren’t being a condescending prick to anyone who wasn’t a woman, a racial minority, a homosexual, or uglier than you. Btw, how’s your talk show that you used to tell everyone you’d have?
I find the last part weird because the talk show I told everyone about was the podcast I’m part of now. The Dan & Travis Show. It’s awesome. Check it out. We did it in 2002 during the infancy of internet radio and we restarted it last year. And it was very easy to find via google, so Ed can’t even do simple homework (always important when throwing stones).
(Side-note about the hairline thing: It’s low and crude to attack someone for something they have little-to-no control over. Ed, like Cheez-Whiz, sound like that goofy thug in “Roxanne” saying “big nose” because I can come with 20 better jokes off the top of my head easy.)
Ed here decided to attack me opening up about personal pain here. Well, I’m a writer. Every writer will have to be honest with themselves and write about their personal pain for all the world to see. If he thinks this is detracting me from doing more opening up about personal pain, I have disappointing news for him. In fact, I have A LOT of disappointing news for him in a bit.
So, you may be asking yourself – well shit, Tim, did you deserve this? Ed from Boston says you were arrogant beyond belief. Were you arrogant? Were you an asshole? Were you some kind of prick? Did you say things that hurt people’s feelings? Did you offend people, however accidentally?
Of course, I did. I’m plenty guilty of things like that. Like being wrong, it’s part of the human experience. Anyone NOT full of piss & vinegar in their 20’s? (And if you weren’t, MAN did you miss out.) Am I arrogant? I think my confidence has slid to the arrogant/egotistic side at times. Sure, I’ll cop to that. There’s always room for lessons in humility. Am I an asshole? Well, of course there have been many situations and conversations I wish I handled better but that’s certainly not unique to me. We’ve all had those. There are plenty of people in this world who don’t like me. But here’s the interesting thing: many of the reasons some people don’t like me are the very reasons other people like me. So what in the world did I do to make these people so upset that they had to sum up all of their false internet bravery to anonymously try to hurt my feelings.
Because trolling has one purpose and one purpose only: to hurt people.
Besides, any betterment I’ve received as a person has been face to face from real friends – not unsigned letters from gutless trolls.
Like I said, I know who two of these people are (sorry, “Ed’, for the life of me, I have no clue who you are). And when I looked at their lives then looked at mine, I realized what I had done. I wasn’t being trolled because I was an asshole sometimes. I was being trolled from the very opposite reason. Here’s my great sin:
I’m a happy and successful person.
(Yeah, OK, I’m a lot more outspoken and opinionated than some others which will of course lead to being targeted more – though I’m not sure how that justifies being trolled. Especially because I am an easy to find open book who is more than happy to talk about anything.)
But when I look at the totality of my life and accomplishments, I can see what makes these sad people so angry:
-My closest friends are truly golden human beings anyone reading this would be glad to know. I can’t begin to describe my luck when I think of the people I’m closest with.
-I’m in a healthy, long-term relationship with a successful, intelligent and beautiful woman with no low standards. (It doesn’t hurt that I can cook too)
-I have 614 Facebook friends & believe it or not, I’m selective. If I can’t see myself having lunch with you, I’m not approving the friend request.
-I have worked alongside, learned from and been instructional to some of the most talented people in my chosen profession. My services have been requested by some of the best crews in Los Angeles. My skills as a writer have been endorsed by movie producers, film festivals and other more-acclaimed writers. That is not only an honor, it’s a privilege.
-I have close to 800 twitter followers, not always folks I know but many acquired through networking as I transition from reality to scripted.
-I’m also blessed and fortunate to be able to say that I have friends and family who would put me up in the following cities; Seattle, Phoenix, Boston, Salem, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Houston, Chicago, Orlando, Gibbsboro, Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco, and London. I know this because they’ve told me “You have to visit us.”
-I say none of this with any kind of arrogance. It may literally be impossible for me to truly express the gratitude I feel for the life I’m living. And the same can be said for so many of the people I choose to spend my precious time with. People who worked hard and smart to live the lives they want on the paths they’ve chosen.
-I’ve been successful in every profession I’ve endeavored on, from being promoted to the corporate office at City Sports to writing copy for Stone Cold Steve Austin. I smile as I go about my day. I dance in the shower. I sing in the car. When I set out into the world, I know that I’m in my own small way, helping. I’ve followed my bliss. Just like Wil Wheaton. Just like countless other celebrities. Just like countless other successful people who are not famous but are living happy lives as I type this. Just like anyone who looks in the mirror and likes what they see.
And THAT’S what the trolls can’t stand. When others are happy – and they’re not. So instead of following their own bliss or doing what they can to make themselves either happier or at least on the way to happiness, it’s easier to try to tear down others. Especially from behind an internet shield where they can hide their plentiful vulnerabilities, insecurities and hurts.
Because underneath every angry, hateful line a troll is writing, is one underlying thought:
“How dare you try to be happy when I’m not?”
For my past sins, anyone whom I owe an apology to has gotten it. I will, however, never ever under any circumstances apologize for being successful or trying to be happy. No one should ever apologize for that.
Because to take to a nameless, faceless identity to attack someone, God almighty. That’s a bit more than just an asshole move. It’s not merely pathetic or weak or gutless or petty.
To be so consumed by hatred and anger and jealousy – whatever world these guys and other anonymous internet keyboard haters inhabit is a frightening and sad place. I hope you, dear reader, and I never end up there.
So, Ed, Cheez-Whiz and every other internet troll hiding behind a keyboard: YES, I dare to be happy. And I will continue to be happy. I will continue to endeavor and bust my ass every day to further my career. I will continue to improve my writing skills. I will continue to try to be a better, more generous, more thoughtful, more considerate person. I will continue to blog my thoughts and opinions under my real name Tim Davis (and my wrestling-bump earned nickname of Handsome Timmy D) for the world to see, read, enjoy and disagree with.
Over the past 15 years, I can think of about 6 or 7 people whom I truly despise. A handful of folks whom I find irredeemable in any way, folks whom I can say I truly HATE. I think about them sometimes, my blood boils for a few minutes – and then I move on with my day. I do my best to keep them in the rearview because that’s how I handle people I hate. I have nothing to do with them. No contact whatsoever, via social media or otherwise (again apart from mutual politeness for the benefit of our friends). They become non-issues in my life aside from what the memory triggers.
I want to have a happy, successful and productive life. I want to laugh and be giddy and over the top and goofy and silly and dance like there’s no tomorrow. And no matter how bad a day, no matter how stressed or overwhelmed I get, no matter who vehemently I argue my points – I just don’t ever want to live a life where I hurt people.
I hadn’t thought of the prank caller in years, Cheez-Whiz I still see now and then but Ed’s hateful email brought them to the surface. But return to the rearview they will where I’m sure they’ll be joined by more future anonymous trolls.
However, Ed did me an accidental favor. I went onto social media outlets announcing that this dear old blog had received its first piece of hate mail. The result? The traffic on the blog Skyrocketed to see what the hubbub was about:
Funny, but it looks like a middle finger right at Ed, doesn’t it? It was my most read day and almost served as a kind of coming out party for me as I’m restarting this blog and am still building my readership. And that’s how I have to take that hate-mail just like how people should take every bit of anonymous trolling: Just another sign of success.
When you leave a comment on here, you have to give an email so with Ed’s trolling was an email address. I don’t know if it was his real email address or not. I wasn’t going to reply because it’s best not to fight on their terms, but because my traffic exploded, I couldn’t resist. Just in case he hijacked someone else’s email, I hid the real name I found when I researched it. But here’s the email I sent to him. To the surprise of no one, there’s been no reply.
After all, there’s bravery quite like anonymous internet bravery: