Behind the Scenes with Critics United, Part 2

Welcome back to the second half of my interview with three of the moderators of FanFiction.net’s Critics United. Once again, I’d like to introduce Spirit of Paladin, Mr.GoodyTwoShoes, and Cha’s Aegis.

For those of you who missed part one, you can find it here.

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AJ: Welcome back, guys.  Ready for more questions?

Over the years, I’ve seen quite a few “Anti-CU” forums come and go. What are your policies about dealing with these forums? Come on, tell me the truth. Aren’t you sometimes tempted to go in there and defend yourselves with “sock accounts?

SOP: The temptation is there, but most of the time it is easy to let the anti forums go because they die so quickly. Most of them are abandoned in a weekend, and a few last a month. The thing is the anti-CU groups would last longer if we fed the drama, and that is another of the reasons why we don’t get involved with those.

Goody: in the early days we followed the path of other groups and went into them and attacked their members, picked apart their posts, etc. Now we just leave them be as having “forum wars” is stupid and they have as much right to bitch and moan about us as we do about them.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted but no, I don’t do that. Like I said above, they have as much right to voice their displeasure about us as we do about anyone else. Besides, it makes it look like we’ve got something to be worried about by trying to silence them. 

Cha: In the past I’ve gone in, but it always proved pointless as the forum mods either deleted my posts or edited them to say whatever they wanted to say before blocking me. Plus, these anti-forums are a call to the stupid who are only interested in the lulz.

To be honest, in the beginning there was temptation to go in with a sock account, but it truly isn’t worth the effort.

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AJ: How do you decide which members work in which fandoms?

SOP: We don’t decide that. Every member simply goes around the site as they normally do and when they see a violation they follow the procedure I described above. Sometimes we may ask if someone could go and look around a fandom but that is something that has happened one or two times; once with the Hunger Games and the second with Young Justice, and only because of extraordinary circumstances. You see in both cases a small group of people had taken to “kidnap” the categories and flood them with interactive content instead of actual stories and we were asked to look around by regulars on those fandoms.

Goody: We don’t decide per se as its most what the person in CU likes to read. Everyone has their preference and favorite fandoms so they usually work within said areas.

Cha: Usually they stick to their favorite fandoms, which really is easier. I know Naruto quite well, so I’ll have an easier time connecting with writers in that fandom.

AJ:  CU went through a big shake-up a year or so ago, with new leadership and a big turnover among your members. Did those changes have a big impact on the way your group works?

SOP: Yes, it did have an effect on CU. The changes implemented limited the amount of drama drawn to the group and implemented a lot of measures that make it easier for us to demonstrate we’ve never being the evil force to defeat in Fanfiction.net.

I’d say being able to work without attracting a lot of drama has helped the forum being more peaceful and effective than it was.

Goody: Yes, it had quite the impact. Back to the basics of trying to help rather than purposely inciting drama with people for the lulz.

Cha: I absolutely miss DarkSacredJewel. She did a fantastic thing starting CU and trusted us with her baby. She left because her career wasn’t going to afford her the time to continue being our heart and soul.

I was one of the ones who at left around that time, thinking my time was done with CU and I should move on. However, Paladin was handed the keys and asked me to come back. A couple of members left because the backlash we got from the lies told in a tumblr blog was overwhelming. Anyone else who left after usually left because they simply didn’t have the time to contribute to CU. However, all of them did give input on what they thought CU should be.

We even took into account some of the points made by our detractors at that time. Not all of them were brats frothing at the mouth looking for a fight because of the lies spewed about us on tumblr. I know I had quite a few intelligent conversations with very reasonable people who gave us a chance, listened to us and stopped buying into those lies. Those people gave us some really good feedback and we utilized that information to improve our methods.

snape

AJ:  Okay, I know this is an unpleasant subject, but since Cha mentioned the infamous tumblr incident, I’ll go there. No discussion of Critics United would be complete without mentioning “The Purge.” Tell me about it.

SOP: June 2012 was a really complicated time for the group. You can say it was a combination of factors that culminated on a perfect storm which caused us far more trouble than what was needed.

As you must know, the administrators of Fanfiction.net decided to finally do something about the MA* content on a wide scale. They had implemented small purges of MA content on a few fandoms at random intervals but in late May/early June 2012 they did a massive, site wide removal of MA content.

Cha: The Purge happened around our second anniversary and we were as surprised by it as everyone else. [It] was a massive deletion of approximately 40,000 fics violating the MA rule. So, one thing led to another and we were being blamed for deleting over 40,000 fics. Even at that time, we only had about 20 members.  There was no way we could’ve reported THAT many fics even if we all worked at it 24 hours a day for months on end. Not to reiterate the fact we can’t delete fics. Period.

SOP: Funny enough, CU was not truly blamed initially. It wasn’t until a person on tumblr edited screen captures of our reviews to make them look like flames, that CU was attacked by a big number of kids who didn’t bother with doing any research about us. The person who initially edited the screen captures and put them on tumblr was an author with a couple of stories each with several thousand reviews, so they had a large following.

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Goody: Full disclosure: this was during my exile from the group as I had left a few months beforehand because I didn’t like the direction the group was going and how it was being operated.

That out of the way, here’s what I can tell: in the summer of 2012 the owners and administrators decided to remove an extremely large number of works that were against the rules of the site, mostly MA explicit. When this happened, someone who didn’t like the group baited a few members into arguing in private messages with them and then photoshopped their replies to make it seem like Critics United was behind it.

SOP: I guess they felt like being dicks that day, or perhaps they wanted to see if they could destroy something using their “popularity” as a tool. The point is that a few days after the purge, this kid puts the photoshop-edited screen captures on Tumblr and the next logical step was to blame us for the purge. CU became a scapegoat and since we are the most visible group of our kind on Fanfiction.net, lots of people jumped on the hate bandwagon only because they wanted in on the drama.

Did we do something to this person? No, we did not. I admit I tracked the source of our troubles and kept an eye on the person responsible for a while but never cared enough to contact them. It is amusing how the tumblr account they used to attack us is now empty and last I checked they are not what you would call active anymore. On the other hand, we are still here. I’d say that in this case, that phrase was right and what didn’t kill us made us stronger.

Cha: I’d say we’d have about 20 people a day coming and bitching at us for being mean bullies. That’s not even counting the pms a lot of us were getting. I averaged about 15 or so a day. Some members had to turn off their pm features.

It was a very stressful time for all of us because we were accused of doing things we truly weren’t doing and very few were giving us a fair chance. We were convicted on lies told by a writer who didn’t like the fact they were told their story was legitimately in violation and who conveniently forgot to mention that little tidbit in their article vilifying us.

Goody: Being away from the group, I got flak as well for my former involvement as we were accused of being behind it, being cyber bullies, deleting stories etc.  Not fun times especially when I was getting blamed for things I had no part in and people within the group not being interested in ended it and just enjoying the drama.

SOP: The whole thing . . .was a massive dick move against us and it was tiring, annoying and frustrating because people refused to listen or to take the time to read the forum’s rules or the reviews our members left in stories. It died down like every “reason to rage on the internet this week” eventually does, however. As for the person responsible, well if they were hoping to gain prominence by claiming they took down Critics United, it is obvious their plan failed.

I do hope the one who caused all this at least learned that using defamation and slander against a group of people who aren’t doing anything wrong doesn’t pay off in the end. And to be honest I actually pity this person; it must be sad to be so empty inside that he/she had to resort to those kinds of lies to feel important.

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AJ:  Have you ever been disciplined by the administration of Fanfiction. Net, either as a forum, or on your individual accounts?

SOP:  No. All we’ve ever gotten was a request that we remember not to curse in our reviews and that we kept the forum’s language rated T.

So, as you can see, the site administrators know CU exists and they have never asked us to stop what we do and I think that is because we’re not doing anything against the rules of Fanfiction.net or that is wrong in their eyes.

Goody: the only time the group as a whole has ever had any issues was over a former member who liked to curse in their reviews and on the forum.  That was just a warning and when we dealt with it as far as I know the admins were fine with it and has since left us alone.

I myself have not had any interactions with any of them. Not knowingly in any case.

Cha: I did get warned on one of my stories. It had a mild sex scene involving some oral sex. At the time, even I didn’t know what constituted MA content since the site admins weren’t specific. We debated on that issue at CU for the longest time. Well, I got a warning and edited my chapter accordingly. My story never got deleted and I haven’t received any other warnings since.

It was actually a good thing because now I can definitely say what won’t fly regarding the MA rule.

AJ:  Some of your members, like Cha’s Aegis, have stories on their account on Fanfiction. Net. Others do not. Do you have stories on another account, and why? If not, how do you respond to those writers who say that you have no right to criticize if you are not writers yourselves?

SOP: I don’t have stories in any other account, so when I get that argument I remind people that one doesn’t have to do something in order to offer an honest opinion about it. And let’s not forget the rules are very clear and not subjective, so telling the author in question the point of the comment is the guidelines they usually understand what my point is.

Goody: I do and after getting attacked with anon reviews by authors who didn’t like being told by me about issues with their plot and such I decided it would be less a headache to use an account meant for reviewing than to deal with people “revenge reviewing” my writing just because they can’t handle being told of an issue with their writing.

For the second part – do they say the same about movie reviewers that haven’t made a movie themselves?  It’s just another way they try to justify to themselves that they don’t have to admit making a mistake and to cover their actions.

Cha: Even if I didn’t write, one of our former members had a great quote from either Gene Siskel or Roger Ebert that I’m going to butcher here, but is absolutely true. Basically it went you don’t have to know how to make movies in order to know if a movie is good or not. As a reader, we all know what we like and why and when something is good. It’s why certain books become classics. Even if we never have written anything beyond our names, we are capable of saying we don’t like something and explaining why.

AJ:  I see a lot of complaints about your “Worst Response” thread, where your members share some of their crazier interactions with authors on this site. I even got a comment on part one of this interview that refers to it as a “bully thread.” How do you respond to the accusations that you use that thread to mock writers or share messages that should stay private?

SOP: The thread has a very specific rule stating no names must be mentioned to keep the identity of the person who wrote the message secret. If we were, for example, saying “X sent me this, laugh at how stupid it sounds” then I’d agree it is wrong, but we don’t do that. The name of the person is never disclosed so it shouldn’t bother anyone.

Cha: Again, this goes with being transparent and it’s a way to show the entire world that we aren’t making it up when we say some writers act like spoiled little kids when they are told they did wrong. We show how they react and what our responses are. This offsets writers accusing us of being “mean” or  “bullying” them.

Goody: These people tend to ignore what is being said to us in the first place in these messages. I’m sorry but if you tell me to hang myself over a review then you deserved to be mocked for it.

Cha: I will mock stupid responses. The thing people forget is there really is no privacy on the internet. You can’t assume that some stranger is not going to share anything you say to them, especially if you are calling them names, making up pathetic excuses and outright lying. If you don’t want to be made fun of, then don’t act the fool. Behave as you would in real life if someone politely called you out for doing something wrong. Own your mistakes and learn from them, but don’t be a jackass about it or you will be called out for it.

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AJ:  Is there anything that you would like to share here, as moderators of Critics United? Anything that you would like to make known to the general public?

SOP:  All I ask is that people take the time to actually read our Rules and our FAQ threads before they come swinging a steel bat aimed at our heads. Because all those rumors about us are not true. We don’t delete stories, we don’t target, we don’t harass and we don’t bully others.

We are in fact the ones who get constantly bullied by people misled by gossip, and it makes me feel a little sad when someone’s goodwill is taken advantage of by people who lie about us.

Goody:  I guess if any member has in fact gone over the line to let us know before you go running to blog sites to start a grand crusade against us. Most times it’s a misunderstanding on both parts and usually can be sorted out before it gets out of control.

Also, try learning about us before automatically assuming that what you’ve read about us is 100% true.  People do lie and most people rushing to stir up the masses are omitting the fact that they have or may have broken a rule of the site but don’t want to admit it and try using people to cover for their own mistakes.

Cha: Everything about us and what we do is public for anyone willing to bother themselves to take the time to look. If they wish to take it further, they are welcome to engage us in conversation, publicly or privately, via pm or the forum. Who we are and what we do is transparent.

We’re not going to stop what we’re doing. We aren’t bullying people. The choice is always theirs. They can listen to our warnings or not, but they’re aware that we’ll report them if they choose not to listen. I don’t do this because I like telling people what to do. I’d rather focus on reading and writing fanfiction. However, I respect this site and what it gives us free of charge. I’m not going to stand by and let some entitled brats shit on it because they think because it’s the internet they can do whatever the hell they want. I believe in freedom of the internet, but it has to be within reason and respecting the rules of each site or we are going to loose our privileges on it.

We’ve been here for years, we’re not going away anytime soon.

AJ: On that note, I think we’re going to have to wrap things up, even though there are so many more questions I would love to ask.  Once again, I would like to thank all three of you for taking the time to talk to me and try to clear the air a little bit about Critics United and what you do.

***

And there you have it, folks.  An extremely long interview of some of the moderators of Critics United. I hope this opens a few eyes and changes a few attitudes; at the very least, I hope this starts a few good conversations. I know I’ve developed a new respect for what they are trying to accomplish.

I also think I need to go back and tone down a couple of the sex scenes in my own fanfics, just in case.

As always, I welcome any comments or opinions.  If you have any specific questions for my guests, I will do my best to see if I can get them to provide an answer for a follow-up post.

 *MA stands for a “Mature Adult” rating as opposed to “Mature.” MA refers to stories that would be on par with movies that are rated NC-17 or above.  Fanfiction.Net expressly forbids any stories that should be rated MA; in fact, they do not even make the MA rating available to their members when posting stories. 

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Crybaby of The Year

When I was in elementary school, I was given the dubious award of “Crybaby of the Year.”  The boy who gave me that name was a little thug who would get his friends to line up and take turns trying to make me cry.

I wasn’t smart enough to catch on and start crying at the first shove or slap. Oh, no, I would bite my lip and fight back the tears and really drag out the punishment before I’d give in and start bawling.

Back then, nobody talked about bullying.  I got a lot of instructions to “toughen up” and “let it roll off like water off a duck’s back.”  I was told to go into the bathroom until I could get myself under control; come out when I was ready to act my age. The boys who tormented me on a daily basis were not seen as the ones with the problem.  I was the one with the problem, because I was the one who cried every day.

I never really thought about the long-term effect that had on me until much later.  Sure, I dealt with other bullies over the years.  I was, after all, an overweight bookworm from a poor neighborhood, and I had a habit of quoting Shakespeare and Albee at random moments.  I was pretty much a bully’s dream come true, practically delivered with a bright red bow on my nerdy little head.

But I had friends.  Most of them were basically as weird as I was, and we learned to glory in it.  I got to be pretty good at ignoring any detractors.  I rarely cried anymore.  I didn’t realize how far I had gone to the opposite extreme until the night of my car accident, when I lay sobbing, strapped to a backboard with my broken neck and every part of my body restrained in some way, with my family repeating, “But . . . you never cry!”

I’ve cried more in the past three years than I cried in all the years that came before it.  I’ve cried tears of pain and frustration.  Fear and anger.  Hurt and loss.  It’s been hell, but I finally stopped crying again in these past few months.  I’ve been a phoenix rising from the ashes of my former life.  I feel like a newborn at times, like an impossibly old woman at others.

A few weeks ago, I shared some pictures of myself here.  They weren’t flattering pictures, but there was something so freeing about putting them out there.  So empowering.  After baring so much of my soul during the course of my recovery, my divorce, and my fresh start, I was shocked to discover that posting those pictures felt like the most intimate, most personal thing I have ever shared.  I felt naked. But I felt good about it.

At first, the comments were great.  So supportive.  Then came the others, all from the same person.

I don’t blame you for being afraid to show these.  Your disgusting and you should be ashamed of yourself.

You shouldn’t show these pictures to anyone.  In fact, you shouldn’t show your fat, disgusting face at all.

I’m not surprised your divorced. Why would anyone stay with an obnoxious pig like you?

I had always vowed that I would approve any comments left on my blog, that I wouldn’t be the kind of blogger who only allows the positive ones to be seen.  But I just couldn’t do it this time.

She kept at it.

I don’t know why you post stuff like this.  Nobody wants to see your pictures.  Nobody cares what you have to say.  God you are such a loser.  Why don’t you just delete your pictures so we don’t have to look at your ugly face any more?  While you’re at it, you should delete your whole blog and your stupid books too because nobody wants to read those.  Just delete yourself you fat fucking sow.  Nobody will miss your sorry ass.

Today, that same person attacked me and another person in the writing forums.  I’ve edited out all references to the other person to protect her identity.

Stop being a smartass all the time and thinking you are better than everyone else. Go away and strive to be an acceptable human being before you post again.

—NEWS FLASH—
Lots of people think . . . you behave repulsively and wish you would go away. . . you are the one’s trolling this site so why don’t you go and take a good look at your behavior and be as disgusted as the rest of us. . . .  facts are facts and you behave horribly.

Big AL – Please shut up. I said please, that must count for something. You started this . . . by being supercilious, obnoxious and high-handed, so don’t try to blame anyone else.

“Big Al.”  Because I go by my initials in the forums: A.L.  Big Al.  Another  “joke” about my being fat?

I shouldn’t let the vicious, childish words of one person bother me.

I am forty-eight years old.  I have three wonderful children.  I have an ex-husband who is still one of my best friends.  In the past year, I have published three books that all have decent reviews.

I survived injuries in an accident that would have killed most people, and I have fought my way back against challenges that I never could have imagined, including a battle with depression that has pushed me to the brink of suicide on more than one occasion.  I have hit rock bottom more times than I can count, and I have the gravel in my ass to prove it.

I am a survivor.

I have gone through Hell and back, and it’s a round trip I never could have made without the support and friendship of the incredible people in my life.  My friends, my family, the followers of my blog who take the time to leave encouraging words in the comments.  I may not always be good about answering, but I always draw strength from you.

In the past few years, I have come to believe that there is far more good in this world than bad.  Somehow, walking through fire has made me an optimist.

So why does this hurt so much?

Right now, I am the six year-old little girl biting my lip and doing my damnedest not to cry.    I can’t seem to “toughen up” or “let it roll off like water off a duck’s back.”  Tonight, I am tired and hurt and alone. That’s right, I’m defeated by a bunch of fat jokes.

Childish, but there it is.

Tomorrow, I’ll wake up and limp to the kitchen for my pain meds and my coffee.  I’ll stretch and try to get all the parts in working order before my kids wake up, because I can’t bear for them to see how much pain I face on a daily basis.  Then I’ll face them with a smile, and I’ll thank God for their beautiful faces, and for the strength He gave me to survive to see those faces every day.

Tomorrow, I’ll be able to snap back into never-let-them-see-me-cry mode.  I’ll put this all into perspective, and I’ll look at my tormentor with fresh eyes. I’ll see her for the childish little twat she is, and I’ll be able to understand that she is the one with the problem, not me.  I’ll be able to shrug it all off.

Tomorrow, I’ll be able to see the humor in the fact that my tormenter has a blog about fighting bullies and cyber-crimes.  I’ll laugh about the anti-bullying book she is writing even as she drowns in her own hypocrisy, and I’ll be able to remember that I am the adult here – the adult with a very full life with so many wonderful people, so much to be thankful for.

Tonight . . . tonight, I’m going to have a good cry.

Tonight, I’m crying for all of it:  the car accident, the lost career, the pain, the humiliation, the divorce, the struggle to pay my bills . . . most of all, I’m crying for all of us who once learned not to cry.

UPDATE:  Just wanted to share a new comment from the barrage of messages still coming in from the same person:

You think your all the shit but your book bombed! Hahaha I cracked up so hard!  After you hyped yourself up, your dumbass book bombed!  Do us all a favor and STOP WRITING.  Don’t you get it?  YOU HAVE NO TALENT.

Wow.

Bully For You

If I could ban one word from everyday usage, it would be “bully” and all of its variations.

I agree that bullying is a terrible thing.  I was bullied as a kid, most often by a horrible little troll that we all called Tripper.  He gave me the name “Crybaby of the Year” and made it his goal to make me cry every day of first and second grade. 

Now I understand that it was probably because his real name was Emenefe.  I’d probaby be a bully too if I’d been given a name like that.

I was bullied for other things over the years, as were others in my class.  In my generation, for that matter.  And I wish there had been a place to go for help.  I wish someone, anyone would have told me anything more helpful than “Toughen up!”

But suddenly, in our rush to protect our own children from bullying, we have taught today’s young people that everything counts as bullying.  Every negative word, every disagreement, every expression of dislike.  Every word or action that doesn’t belch sunshine and spew rainbows is automatically branded an act of bullying.

I am afraid that we are raising a generation of young people who are utterly incapable of accepting criticism.  We are trying so hard to cushion their existence that we are failing to teach them the difference between criticism and bullying.

Kids need to understand that not everyone is going to like them.  Not everyone is going to swoon with delight over their every utterance or creation.   “You’re just jelly” is not an appropriate response to criticism.  By teaching our children that anything less than gushing praise is an act of bullying or jealousy, we are also teaching them that they can do nothing wrong.  That they are perfect.  Infallible.  Beyond reproach.  That they are always Number One in everything that they do. 

Kids do need to be taught what to do in the case of true bullying.  But the definition they are learning is much too broad.  It should be just as important to teach them how to identify it as it is to teach them how to fight it.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/daily-prompt-no/