This is the story of Bob: Bob is active in her chosen field, which exposes her to some wider audience. As Bob does things that people value, she has a podium on which to speak and she uses it to some effect.
Alas, Bob has a problem. For some reason, some folks don’t like her. Where she posts, there are often arguments, accusations of some kind, to the point where people publicly get into (verbal) fights about the perceived innocence or guilt of Bob and others.
Bob of course defends herself, and friends of hers join in, calling those out who deal in reprehensible behaviour. She makes a convincing case that she is the victim here, and gets increasingly vocal about it over time.
Eventually, friends become enemies, communities splinter and sometimes even the police needs to get involved when some people cross lines into doxxing, actual death threats or worse.
Poor Bob, you probably think.
But maybe we should take a dispassionate look at Bob. We may find that sometimes, she is either completely on the defence. Mostly though, Bob is doing full-on attacks on those who have slighted her.
For her, people are apparently either useful, background noise or, well, enemies. And once you are her enemy, or are not immediately distancing yourself from those enemies, Bob will remember you forever.
Occasionally, Bob will admit to err on factual things, but she certainly is always right in her assessment of interpersonal relations. And yes, she is the undoubtedly the victim here, because, have you seen what Steve did?
If a situation escalates, it is never Bobs fault. If people cry foul, they are harassers. If they want to have no part of the drama, they are enablers. If someone on her side oversteps some line, it is their fault, certainly not Bobs for inciting them.
Still poor Bob?
Look up the vocabulary that describes an Abuser. You will find terms like Gaslighting. Victim Playing, DARVO, Stalking, Belittling, Controlling who is allowed to talk with whom.. If you’re online, you will also find all the rhetoric tricks too: Hiding behind technicalities, ad hominem attacks, Whataboutism and so on.
Bob portrays all the quality of a narcissistic, highly abusive person.
There are many Bobs online, and I am often not sure if they are simply broken persons or just plain evil.
Before I get to know a Bob, I usually assume that she simply has problems parsing emotions through text, that I didn’t make my point or argument clear enough. Because I have that problem myself: Often enough, I don’t know how the other person wanted me to perceive them, what they really wanted to say.
Online interactions are often fleeting or brief. That means that I miss a half-sentence or misread things. English isn’t my first language, and often enough, I converse with people who are also non native english speakers. So I allow for a wide range of misinterpretations, attribute to human error what could also be malice.
Sadly enough, that plays right into Bobs hand, reinforcing the notion that she is blameless, and everyone else is wrong. Bob sits secure in her perfect perch, and laps up the attention she receives, slowly ruining the online life of others.
Don’t give in to the Bobs. Resist that. Stop interacting with them, even when they bait you to it. It is hard. It can be very painful. And you do not have to stay in an online place where a Bob resides. We don’t owe a Bob anything at all.
But we do owe the community we want to live in. Identify the Bobs in there and then make it clear that they need to demonstrate a willingness and effort to be civil, to be polite and to be mindful of how others perceive their voice – or they will be shunned and shut out.
Do not ask Alice to “make up with Bob, for the sake of the community”. This will allow Bob to further mess with Alice. In the end, Alice will have only the option of more suffering from Bob, or to leave the community that continues to allow Bobs presence.
And above all: Don’t give any attention to the Bobs. It’s what they want, what feeds their ego. It should of course be positive attention, but they don’t actually care if it is negative, so long as it keeps their ego fed.
Identify the Bobs. Explain them the rules. And shun them (and only them) when it becomes apparent that they won’t change.