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Internet Tough

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

NOTE: Language warning for video above. NSFW.

This is what we call “internet tough.”

It is another example of social shaming tactics which are common online, similar to the last one I wrote about. Parents: you might be tempted to laugh things like this off. While this video is, indeed, so cringe worthy that an eye roll and simply going about your day is an entirely appropriate response, if your family is like most American families, your kid swims in this stuff. Online in places like Tiktok are where most kids spend an inordinate amount of time, so your kid probably sees things like this on the regular. Though most would shrug it off if you asked them, confidently saying “naw I’m my own person, this doesn’t affect me,” if I were a betting man, I’d bet that tactics like this actually *do* have an effect on them. If I've learned anything from interacting with teens over 16 years in the classroom, its that this stuff sways them more than they realize. It has an effect on adults, too, otherwise cancel culture wouldn’t be such a powerful force. People do stuff like this all the time. If it didn’t work you wouldn’t see it so often, so I think it’s worth covering exactly what time it is, here. As I’ve pointed out above, the main goal of folk like this is not to persuade, but to twist your arm into compliance by social manipulation. It’s a power move, plain and simple. What they care about is social power, so their tactics are aimed solely at that purpose. They talk down to you like you are five to intimidate.

A few specifics that accomplish this end are worth pointing out. Note the condescending tone of voice, the exaggerated eyes and facial expressions, the sarcastic use of “hi there,” and, most notably, the sudden and quick extreme close ups of the face. They do that because it’s jarring, and the effect it has is similar to if someone suddenly got in your face in real life. One guy who has helped me see things like this for what they are is Mike Young, aka “Wokal Distance” on Twitter. He posted an example and analyzation of another video some time ago making similar points to what I’ve made here, but I can’t find it to link. At any rate, he is an excellent follow and commonly has very insightful threads on stuff like this. He has helped me put my finger on the problem with these tactics and articulate how the game is played. As he says often, when you see the sleight of hand and see how the magic trick is done, it stops working. How should you respond to things like this when they come your way? Simple: call out the sheistyness. Point out the social shaming tactics for what they are: power moves, nothing more. You do not need to address the substance of their argument charitably, because there is no argument. In the usual persuasive situation, absolutely charity is called for. But in situations like the above, when there’s a power move in play, if you try to be nice and be charitable, you’ve lost. It’s the equivalent of giving the bully your lunch money to try to get him to go away. When tactics like the above are used, the social playing field is not level...the whole point is the asymmetry of it all, so coming from the principle of charity is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. You don’t need to be a jerk and stoop to their level, using the same tactics. No need to adopt a condescending tone, or exaggerate your facial expressions too. Simply point out that the emperor has no clothes. Refuse to be intimidated and live by lies, and call out the shadiness.

If you are a parent of a kid who has an online presence, show them how the magic trick is done. Find examples like this and explain what’s going on to them. Help them see, from a young age, how the shaming works, so that they will be immune to it. Not doing that leaves them vulnerable.

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