Cyber Disrespect: An Editorial

My last nerve has been inflamed, so today I’m going to address the way we treat one another in cyberspace. Perhaps you’ll recognize these situations, or perhaps you have some of your own.

1. I founded and run the International Encaustic Conference, an annual forum for artists who work in the medium of pigmented wax. It’s the only international conference of its kind, and the best of the few (regional) others out there. Recently I made the decision to limit my speakers and demonstrators to those who have not presented at those other events and will not, per contractual agreement. In addition to ensuring the uniqueness of my event, which draws 250 artists from North America, Latin America, Europe and as far away as New Zealand, my decision will allow me to develop ongoing relationships with the speakers, a kind of rotating senior staff, if you will. There will be plenty of room for new presenters, but I want to establish a place where presenters, many of whom teach in university art departments, have some freedom to develop new ideas and offerings. I could have said nothing about my business decision and quietly turned down anyone who had presented elsewhere, but I chose to be upfront so that potential presenters could choose where and how they wished to focus their energies.

One artist has been loudly decrying my business decision, so much so that in almost any mention of The Conference in a certain Facebook group, she sours the discussion. And on another, she initiates conversation with thinly veiled references to me. I have what Italians call a faccia tosta (in Yiddish: chutzpah), so I don't don't find it hurtful, just annoying. Responding honestly just seems to fan her flames. The participants in those discussion groups are sick of it, and so am I. I have backed out of any discussion with her or her cronies and defriended the offending parties, or been defriended by them. But the lingering residue (I call it a chalky undertaste) remains.

2. In Philadelphia, The Artblog, a respected cyber magazine run by Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof, two dedicated artists with bona fide writing credentials, has been mercilessly satirized on an anonymously written impostor blog.  Actually, “satirized” is the wrong word, because that implies wit and humor, and the offending impostor is sophomoric and mean spirited. The impostor, an artist, started out a couple of years ago with a mildly amusing play on the names of the real blog and its authors but immediately descended into unrelenting cascades of rage, sexism, ageism, and bouts of cyber bullying–bitterness that has turned in on itself to the point of what I would call pathology. And it’s not just the authors of the real blog who are targeted. Almost any Philadelphia artist who has achieved some measure of visibility or success has been verbally attacked. Galleries, teaching institutions, museums, publications and other art writers have been targeted, too.  

I don’t know Philadelphia art politics but I can read. The impostor site is disgusting and offensive. Philadelphians know who the impostor is, so he has effectively excluded himself from the possibility of any presence in Philly under his own name. Check it out so you know what I’m talking about, but then for your own good mental health, stay away.

3. On the Edward Winkleman blog, run by the eponymous Chelsea art dealer, politics and art are on the menu. Most of the time the discourse is lively, and disagreement is not discouraged; indeed, it can fuel interesting discussions. But occasionally comments directed at the blog author are so offensive as to take my breath away. Ed dispatches them smartly, but I have to wonder at the thinking of disrespectful commenters. Would you go to someone’s home for dinner and then insult them?  Worse, try to pull the tablecloth, laden with the meal, off the table?

I know, I know, absent facial expressions and body language, irony can be easily mistaken. But the regulars on that blog, or any other, establish their personalities verbally early on, so when a comment lands upside the head, you know that’s where it was intended.

There's more, but I think I've made my point. Respectfully. Now, over to you:

. What are your thoughts on cyber disrespect?
. How do you deal with it when it’s directed toward you?
. Have you disrespected someone online? What happened?

I will accept anonymous comments if they further the discussion, but if you have something negative to say to me or to anyone, own up to it please.

Tomorrow: Critical Mass. Part 3, An Opening and a Closing


Judy Shreve said...

It's happened to me. Someone was being very ugly about my work and accusing me of copying their work -- which is crazy. It was very distasteful and I first tried to diffuse it through email - but the person continued to rant and post ugly comments.

I actually removed my blog and quit blogging for awhile. As far as the emails, I don't respond to them from that person anymore and have marked them spam so I don't even see them anymore. I don't visit that blog anymore either.

I waited a few months and created a new blog. Now all comments on my blog await moderation. I love a lively discussion - but I won't tolerate disrespect so I nip it in the bud before it has a chance to start.

It's a difficult situation when some one is dissing you on their blog or fb. I think you just have to speak up and try and stop it. Sometimes speaking up can just fuel it, so that's why I decided to just go away (to my studio) for awhile.

Your post helps.

Anonymous said...

I have found all of this especially sad. The thing that comes up for me is something that I myself have done (we are human). I find that if someone has something to say about someone, it should be said TO them, not gossipped about to others. Joanne has worked incredibly hard in her profession, and has offered so much. I feel that she is accountable for what she says Others have not shown the integrity.

natalie said...

i think that anyone who comments anonymously, in a disparaging light, is a coward. they know what they're doing, they know they're acting without respect and ethics, and they're ashamed.

i post because yesterday my significant other and i actually had to deal with a troll on our site as well. we have a blog with a facebook presence, and our intent and agenda is pretty obvious. we encourage and love sharing, dialogue, comments and debate, but we don't tolerate trolls. although we don't have to enforce it often, we have comment rules which are posted and periodically referenced. if someone breaks the rules, their comments are deleted and they are blocked from the page.

i have a high sense of respect and ethics, and if i don't feel i can add quality or support to the conversation, i don't comment. i expect my readers to treat me and their fellow participants with the same respect. if they don't, i have no interest in knowing them or furthering that relationship.

A Place for Artists said...

First off let me say that I think it is a really smart move to develop an exclusive and supportive staff, and state clearly that you expect your speakers to be exclusive to your conference. There is so much administrative work to pull together a top notch event like this, and getting the best of the best is so important. I have found that the teachers and artists that feel really part of things and become team players so to speak do the best job and take pride in participating in these events, and enjoy the exclusivity to a prestigious event.
As to the ranting and raving online, thank heavens for the buttons we can push that take those soreheads out of our field of vision. Next week I'm attending a conference called "Where Creativity meets the Law" and the topic of most interest to me is the presentation on the topic To Post or Not To Post: Legal Issues Surrounding Social Media and Business

Can't wait to hear what the lawyers say
Fleta Monaghan

natalie said...

@judy, you might consider using the comment moderating system called disqus, if it will work on your blog platform. it will allow you to block specified people from posting in the event you have a problem visitor. i use it on all our sites, and it's actually great. i don't even have moderation set on, and disqus still catches all the spam. fortunately, we have a pretty good group on our site, but the tools are there when we need them.

Susan Schwalb said...

I am really shocked by this post, I guess I am not online enough and definitely not on social media sites or discussions enough to have encountered this. I am sorry to hear you have had these cyber bullies.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

Judy: You are smart to moderate the comments. You can'tcontrol craziness, but you can control it when it enters your own sphere. Yes, for sure there's a balance between speaking out and going away.

Natalie: Yes!

Fleta: I'm interested in hearing about what you learn at the "Creatovoty Meets the Law" conference. Will you post about it? If so, let me know. I'll post a link.

kim matthews said...

Flaming and adolescent behavior on social networking sites and blogs will go on as long as posters remain reasonably anonymous. I'm sorry that you have to endure this asinine behavior; your hard work and generosity deserve so much better responses than that. I had a similar incident a couple of weeks ago on Facebook when posting about a certain Chelsea vanity gallery on a friend's page. A complete stranger flamed me because she didn't like my post or the fact that I refused to retract it. I left it up and I blocked her from any further engagement after reminding her that if a statement is true, it's not libelous. I guess some people just insist upon learning the hard way-or worse, not at all. Keep your chin up; your work is loved and respected.

Joanne Mattera said...

The vanity gallery flamer was probably someone from the vanity gallery itself. You are absolutely correct that the truth is not libelous. Opinion is not libelous either.

Nancy Ewart said...

What asshats! Juvenile behavior, nasty insults, an endless stream of invective without consequences - alas that "our" Internet, which connects us, can also bring out the worst in people. None of the people - like Joanne - who give so much and enrich us in so many ways deserve this kind of treatment. But public discourse seems to have taken a turn for the worse in recent decades. I COULD blame the politicians and their vile slurs but I fear that the trouble goes deeper - I'm not a sociologist but I think we've lost the idea of civility in public life in almost every area that I can think of. But it's worth fighting to get it back. I have comments moderated on my blog and I have never been so glad to know that I'm under the radar when I read about the way that Joanne has been treated. It's disgraceful - cyber nasty and cyber bullying need to be called out and stopped!

Joanne Mattera said...


You are correct, IMO, to connect egregious behavior in cyberspace with the egregious behavior in Congress. The disrespect shown the president by repugnicans (yes, I'm being disrespectful here, too), as well as their disrespect to the American people whom they so readily invoke, has created an escalating climate of verbal abuse. The House majority leader has stated that his job--his party's job in this term--is to prevent the President from being reelected. Really? Not make laws?

The same mindset of disrespect is why cyber-bullied teenagers are so desperate they feel they need to kill themnselves.

Artists have the opportunity to create art; that's a positive act. To create groups with original ideas; that's a positive act. Don't copy, don't "borrow," don't undercut. Creative people have so many options for expression. Use them!

Mery Lynn said...

Thomas Paine wrote extensively and anonymously. So I don't think the problem is that per se. I do think envy is a large problem. Those who act, who share, who create threaten those who don't. That envy when combined with a misplaced sense of entitlement yields nastiness.

Jeri said...

What I keep bumping up against are individuals not listening, or not carefully reading, jumping to conclusions as to how things must be based on their personal filters. When people do not want to learn or to grow, they will attack those they perceive to be different or what they don't
"understand". Growth is hard work, it is much easier to look outward and attack, and not inward to question your own paradigm.

Unknown said...

Joanne i have not experienced this so much online but I think your description of this kind of behaviour being pathological as very accurate. The other words that come to mind are cowardly and jealousy. The cyber world bully certainly is not limited to school children but it is definitely childish pathology, for those desperate for any kind of attention positive or negative. It is good to speak out about it and get some positive feedback and support.

Mead McLean said...

It's easy to slip sometimes when you're far away from things and interacting through social media, and that's permissible. Sometimes people get angry. It happens, especially when political things get involved.

Of course, when it's consistent negativity, something has to be done.

It's a very adolescent thing to do to go on the internet and start an anonymous verbal war with someone. Happens all the time among online video game people, I'd imagine, given the age groups. You'd think that art people would be a little less likely to do such things.

Best thing to do about it is comment moderation and requiring legit ID. Disqus is awesome for that.

For people who create their own blogs and other forums for idiocy, the best the to do is inform people who are affected and try to ignore the source of trouble. It's like a cat with a ball of yarn. If it stops moving, the cat loses interest.

It's just sad when stupid stuff on the internet has real-world effects.

hamlett said...

I would imagine that some of it is A) no matter how many "GREAT JOB!" posts we get, it's always the jackasses that stick with us the most and B) I read your blog everyday and really enjoy it but have never commented, I would imagine that there are hundreds or thousands of people like me who have never commented, again it's the squeaky-wheeled-jackasses that seem to make the comments. The internet seems to be a perfect storm for those people who get off on that kind of thing. You are doing good work, keep your head up, shake the haters off.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I had a look at that imposter blog. Truly awful - I will never step near it again.

It always seems to me that people feel 'safe' being mean in cyber space because they don't have to deal face to face with the person. But it is a very small world in the end and nothing is truly anonymous. Cruelty of any sort destroys the soul, and artistic capacity, of the person performing the cruel acts.

As a librarian, I see teens being very cruel from time to time and step in quickly to stop the rot. If only people would do so online, telling others when their behavior is not okay, we would all be much safer.

Thank you so much for raising this Joanne.

Elaine LIpson said...

It's happened to me in a big way, and it's unpleasant, to say the least.

I highly, highly recommend the book You Are Not a Gadget, by Jaron Lanier. He is an advocate of what he calls digital humanism. It's an important book.

Linda Starr said...

So sorry to hear what you've been going through, just plain childish; you've been so generous with your art and marketing information; I do appreciate your blog.

It seems in this age of cyperdom, some folks have lost their politeness. I haven't had folks make rude remarks about me that I know of, perhaps it went over my head. I have had folks email me asking for advice or glaze recipes and I respond to all; one preson I sent a rather lengthy resonse to and asked them to share one of their recipes in return and they never even responded back, not even with a thank you. Another, a student, asked me to elaborate on my style and inspiration for a report they were doing, and they said they'd email me a photo of their work to see since I was curious, no email yet. The student was a senior in high school so I might excuse that since they didn't have any other social media presence, but the first was an established potter with a website, makes me feel like they feel their time is important and mine isn't; makes me hesitant to respond to others. But I try to keep an open mind to all who communicate with me. To the folks who are impolite I think there are petty jealousies and politics, too bad since many artists are sensitive and bullying and rudeness can be so disheartening (at least to me).

Anonymous said...

Having read this and commented, this morning, I hopped over to a FB art group I was a member of. More drama, sniping, snarling and bad feelings. None involving me but the tension wears off onto those who read it. Having just read this, I chose to take the 'high road'. I wished them well, explained that the negativity was not good for me, and left the group. Thanks for inspiring me to act swiftly.

Nancy Natale said...

Thanks for this post, Joanne. As a member of the Facebook group that saw comments posted by another member who continually stirred up trouble in the group with comments about you and the encaustic conference, I am glad that you took this opportunity to bring the subject out into the open air. Even when people are not anonymous, some feel they can make negative comments or stir up tension in the virtual world without repercussions. Other members of online groups are hesitant to comment on such troublemakers because they don't want to add to the troubling discourse or are afraid to "get in the middle" of such talk.

This forum, on the other hand, allows people to express themselves more fully and to show the support for you that they are hesitant to do otherwise except in direct emails to you or to others in the group. Anyone who knows you and the generous way you share your knowledge and ideas has to be appreciative. In fact, readers of this blog continually benefit from your willingness to share your observations, thoughts and information. Giving of yourself so freely deserves the accolades and thanks that I know most people willingly offer.

But there are always a few rotten apples, and the virtual world allows them to spread their rot and disease without a face-to-face confrontation. It's true that the models we see in the political world encourage such behavior. Lying, name calling, hypocrisy and bad acting are so prevalent that they have come to seem the norm. If we call them out, then we are attacked and so it all escalates.

I know that the person(s) causing the Facebook trouble for you was not anonymous and was more annoying than anything in comparison to the Philadelphia psycho, but I hope that this is like swatting a fly and doing away with that continual irksome buzzing. The buzz of negativity that such people create can contaminate a group and eventually drag it down. I have seen this happen elsewhere and it is disturbing to witness.

Your organization of the encaustic conference has always been superb, and I applaud your decision to limit speakers and teachers to those who are willing to commit to making it a unique endeavor. As it goes forward into its sixth year, the conference has increasingly improved as it builds upon prior years. The foundation you have built for it has been constructed from many thoughtful decisions that have the future in mind, and your business model is built for long-term sustenance. Some of our corporate enterprises could benefit from such decisions as you are making to sustain the future instead of going for the quick and immediate return.

As always, thank you for what you do.

Joanne Mattera said...

Nancy, thank you for your very kind comments. I want to tie them into something Cath said in the post just above you. She said she was a member of a FB group in which there was bickering. "None involving me but the tension wears off onto those who read it," she says. Right-o.

Who wants to be involved in someone's fight? And yet sometimes the issues being disputed can affect more than the two people, or the group, who are disagreeing. I would ask anyone viewing a dispute to perhaps step in and ask, "How does this issue affect more than the two of you?" If it does affect more than the two, a discussion--possibly moderated-- could actually be positive. If it involves just two parties, then you have to take it outside, so to speak.

This blog, as Nancy points out, provides a different venue for discussion by people who were not embroiled. It allowed me to speak up in the midst of intelligent adults.

As for the dreadful situation in Philadelphia, the best course of acton is probably for a group of artits to work together with legal assistance. Sometimes it comes to that.

annell4 said...

I am amazed. Why yes, I can't imagine anyone being so rude! I completely understand. It doesn't seem right for people to be so cruel? I hope they will stop.

KRCampbellArt said...

Would you go to someone’s home for dinner and then insult them? I know this first hand and the answer unfortunately is yes. We live on a lake and friends like to visit. We like to have them visit. But people have said and done things while visiting to make my hair curl! And I don't want to get started on cell phone discourtesies! Have we come to believe it is okay to be nasty and rude? I fear we have and the internet is just another venue for this behavior.

Mindy N said...

Hi, Joanne. First, I want to thank you for all you contribute to the artist community through this blog and the encaustic conference (even though I have not attended). In reading about your decision to change the way you manage acquiring presenters and workshop demonstrators, it makes great sense. You are working within the context of a very real marketplace. You have been leading this incredibly large undertaking. Creating a group of people playing large roles in the success of the conference that you know have the experience and that you can trust is called 'effective leadership'.
Regarding negative anonymous comments, it is unfortunate that cyperspace that allows those with passive-aggressive issues, anger management problems, petty jealousies, and insecurities to say things they would never dare to say in person. As a recipient of this, one faces a choice. Most people's first natural inclination is to let it get under the skin. But we do have a choice to let it go, though it's incredibly difficult. I am sorry for all you've had to deal with (even through your thick skin!). Know there are those of us out here who have had minimal contact with you but are in awe of the time you spend offering your knowledge to others.

I hope the others you've mentioned and who have posted that have been victims of this type of anonymous criticism will also be able to let it go and not enter into your beings.

Anonymous said...

This post is long overdue! As a member of the FB group where this tiresome, negative, nagging, and at times, rather manipulative person has posted, I couldn't agree more that the dialog should happen somewhere else.

It's not that this person (and a few of their colleagues) don't "get it". IMO it's that they are angry and feel rejected, and get a certain amount of pleasure from adding gas to the flame, and attempting to discredit you, your work and event in this forum.

Your decisions are in the best interest of the conference that you have developed and nurtured for a long time. It is a preeminent event and is helping so many art professionals navigate the experience of work and life as an artist.

The exclusivity "clause" for presenters at the conference is one that I totally respect.

As far as the bantering in the FB group, I agree with Nancy — the negativity can really damage the group and it is not the place for this. I have considered leaving the group and/or FB because of these types of situations (as well as the "time-suck factor"). I have also considered "fighting back" as in the FB group; but it would only fuel the flame.

So, when I post "I feel a Facebook headache coming on..." I am at my wits end, and stepping away from the computer.

Joanne thank you for your dedication, hard work, your wonderful blog and THE Conference.

kim matthews said...

Should have said this in my earlier post, but the flamer was someone who ponied up for inclusion in a show at the gallery in question and had nothing but love for them. If it's so great, I wondered, why the uber-defensive behavior? She said she was going to tattle on me, and I told her to go right ahead. I'd already told them I'm not interested in paying to play, thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

It took me this long to check out the imposter blog because I (correctly, as it turns out)figured it wouldn't be work-friendly. This guy needs help. Seriously. It's more than just rudeness. He's putting hours of hard work into this bitter project. Mister (my gut feeling is that you're a man, if not I apologize), you may be reading this. Get some professional help. You don't have to go through life being so bitter. I really mean it.

Angeline said...

My blog does not seem as lively as yours as far as comments, etc.

Did have an interesting set of comments left on my YouTube channel, which I quickly and thoughtfully responded. It felt like most people cheered me on.

I hate bullying of any kind. I enjoy your blog, even if on a rare occasion disagree with you. You are always candid and sincere. The art you present is done in a respectful manner for the artists AND the audience.

I applaud your decision concerning the conference presenters. Perhaps in the next two years I can attend the conference!!! You make a successful and unique workshop - and you are rewarded with popularity.

Keep going! Love your voice!