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April 6, 2018 27 mins

Welcome to our premiere episode. This week, Dylan and Kathleen bring you interviews about the relationship between meanness and the internet. Special guest: Lauren Vogelbaum.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Yeah, this is pretty cool. It's a small little box,
but it seems like there's a lot of power inside
this box. M Welcome to the Question Booth. My name

(00:24):
is Dylan fig and I'm Kathleen Coullian, and we'd like
to thank you for joining us for our first episode.
We are very excited, we are, and we hope you're
going to come along with us each week as we
ask people the big questions like what's the difference between
a human and a machine? Or why are we alive?
We're really excited to share people's answers with you. We've
gotten some great responses so far, and we're also looking

(00:46):
forward to talking to experts each week about the questions
we're asking in the booth. This is going to help
us get a better understanding of why people might feel
or think a certain way. But first, let's talk a
little bit more about the booth. How does all of
this work? So each week I'm here at Pond City
Market in Atlanta, Georgia talking to people in our Question Booth.
And yes, the booth is a real place and it's

(01:09):
a special place. All around the booth there are shops
and restaurants, and this place can get pretty busy, especially
on the weekend. It can be a real experience to
come into this nice, cozy booth and just have a
face to face conversation, no phones, no crowds, no distractions,

(01:31):
just two strangers talking about a single question. I love
the booth. It's so unexpected to come across and I
know a lot of people are really surprised when they
walk in. Oh, this is so interesting. And for our
first episode, we're listening to the answers to the question
why are people mean? Everyone had their own take on why.

(01:52):
But one interesting thing about the Question Booth is that
each week there seems to be a pattern in people's answers,
and for this question, people kept coming back to the
idea that social media has really changed how we're mean
to each other. M. I just don't have the time.
I I don't have the time in the day, like
much to do? Lost is not like number twenty seven right,

(02:14):
petty comment like what do these what do these people do?
That's Bethel and Taylor in the Question Booth talking about
meanness on the internet. Well, it's almost like, you know,
for every good there's a bad, and for every extremely
good there tends to be an extremely bad, And that's
kind of where like internet bullying like just falls into
that there. It kind of sucks because it can provide

(02:35):
such a false sense of power, which I guess that's
also something people can be addicted to too, and that
continuing the reason why they're mean a lot of it.
I know, on say like Twitter or Instagram is for
likes or retweets, people will put other people down and
it just doesn't make sense. I think it's stupid. People
build careers now based on the brand that they create

(02:56):
an Instagram and Twitter and whatever other social media. There
definitely too many examples of if you take the time
out of your day to scroll through the comments on it,
like a famous person's like post or something, you can
see an insane amount of pettiness and all of that
in there. So that's more of what I would see,
like on a day to day basis. I wish it

(03:16):
could be eliminative. I don't think that's gonna happen very
time soon. I mean, just people every day just try
to put out as much positivity in this world as
you can. Like, I just think if people thought about it,
just trying to do like one positive thing a day,
that would actually make a really big difference, right, Like
put your energy into that instead of being mean exactly,
because I promise it's so much more fulfilling long term,

(03:39):
it's so much more fulfilling. You know, it is really
hard to ignore negativity on the Internet. It's becomes second
nature for me to open a YouTube video or scroll
by a famous person's Instagram post and try so hard
not to look at the comments. Perhaps it's not the
best way to tackle the problem, but it seems like
it can get mean fast. Yeah, and most people are
on a device like a phone or a tablet or

(04:02):
computer all day. It's a necessity to stay in touch
with friends and family and a requirement for a lot
of jobs. And when a lot of people came into
the booth, I mean, they were already snapchatting and instagramming it,
so it was natural for it to come up. I
have some social media numbers for you. Give me the scoop. Okay,
so these figures are from the end of last year.
But they're around two billion active Facebook users each month,

(04:24):
and they're around five million monthly Instagram users and Twitter
has three million monthly users. Okay, you've read this to
me a lot and every time I feel the same way.
I'm still shocked by the amount of people that are
constantly on these platforms. I mean, it's a lot of
posts in grams and tweets, I know, and two billion
that's just so hard to fathom. So you may or

(04:45):
may not be surprised when I tell you that teenagers
say that they've experienced repeated bullying online or through text,
and that fifty teams say that they've been bullied online
at least once. And there are different terms for social
media meanness like what there's impersonation trolling, which a lot
of us know, but there's also stalking and doxing. After

(05:05):
leaving what she considers was an honest review on Facebook,
she says, the business started posting nasty things about her,
like people digging into your personal history to use it
against you. It's a practice called doxing. Doxing is when
someone publishes your personal information or pictures online. Well, police
showed up at the address that that the suspect gave them.

(05:28):
This was in Kansas, but when they got there, twenty
eight year old Andrew Finch came to the door. Police
say he moved suddenly and an officer fired now Finch
had no weapon. Not only was he unarmed, he had
nothing to do with the online gaming dispute. That second
clip is from a recent incident that was the result
of swatting. It's a tactic that's related to doxing. Swatting

(05:51):
is where you use someone's personal info and make a
fake nine one one call as that person, hoping that
law enforcement will show up at that person's house sat
This call ended in the death of the Kansas man.
So far, we've heard that one of the reasons people
might be mean is to feel a sense of power
and control. After the break, we'll look into laziness. Yes,

(06:15):
laziness as a possible explanation for meanness. We'll be right back.
M hm, And we're back, and let's jump right back
into the question booth to hear what Jonathan, Juliet and

(06:36):
Colin have to say about meanness. See my theory on
most of this is that there's way less meanness than
you think and a million times more laziness than you think.
No hear me out, So most things about being mean
are like staying closed off and not considering other perspective,

(07:00):
and a lot of the times that's met with the
idea that oh, well, so and so it is just
me and they don't care about this, when really, so
and say, it's just lazy, and like it's a lot
of work to consider other points of view with how
we're all connected and we can communicate nowadays, like I've
been able to get other people's perspectives on so many
other things, which is like open to my world to

(07:21):
see how other people think. And I'm convinced that's because
it's easier to find perspectives online. But those perspectives are
often formed from headlines or characters sentiments on the internet.
They're often not pulled from the actual article or research.
I think people tend to like maybe lose their remembrance
of what critical thinking is before just taking something as fact.

(07:43):
So what you're saying is people are taking the easy
way out and being lazy about it. Yeah, exactly, It's
all that comes full circle before. And that's something that
I really struggle with a lot, because a part of
me really wants to think that, you know, people can change,
and people do change, and sometimes people have like this

(08:04):
Eureka moment or something that happens to them and then
their values change. But then yeah, I look at these
people who were mean to me elementary, middle and high school,
and I see them on Facebook. I see them post things,
having the same thoughts, some things that they did years ago,
and being like they really haven't changed. They still go
back home, they have the high school reunions, they go

(08:24):
to the same events every year with the same people.
They're in that same little bubble. And maybe that's because
I'm just you know, maybe salty that I was bullied
in you know, those at those ages. But at the
same time, it's like, I wonder when they're going to
have that moment where they realize maybe those false um

(08:45):
thoughts they have about people different from them or something
like that. And if they don't realize that and they
have a kid, there's a good chance that they could
model their behavior after how their parents acted, kind of
continuing the cycle of meanness. Go away, loser, why are
you wasting your life? These postings may sound like another
case of team cyber bullying, but they're actually the rantings

(09:05):
of grown women, moms attacking all their moms, and it's
rampant online. Mean girls all grown up. Don't be mean kids.
Don't Matthew, if you're listening, don't kids. Just at kids only,
No adults, just kids. It's okay to change kids Like
It's also okay if you have that moment you're like, wow,
I've been a jerk. Like that's an acceptable thing to think.

(09:29):
You don't have to be ashamed of it. So, up
to this point, question boothers have talked about power control
and laziness as reasons for our poor behavior toward one another. Yes,
but leave it to a high school student named Carly
to get right to the heart of the situation. Well,
I think people are mean because they're insecure about themselves
and because they want to feel better about themselves by

(09:50):
putting other people down. Have you ever come across that
in your life? Yes, I have. There's a few people
who used to be in my life who would put
me down own to build themselves up, and it made
me feel so bad about myself. So I distance myself
from them and human better person. Is that your go
to when you come across people who are mean or

(10:12):
meanness is to distance yourself from it. Well, I try
to surround myself with positivity and like people who are
different from me and make me feel like I am
like a unique person. Whenever I experience, like someone being
negative or mean. I don't associate myself with them because

(10:34):
it's not worth it to feel bad about myself. Over
the past a couple of interviews, people walked in and
they've talked about how meanness has changed, especially in form
of like social media, because today it seems like it's
like the go to way to be mean without any repercussions.
Have you come across any personal forms of meanness on

(10:56):
social media that you've seen, or yeah, well, I have
different beliefs than a lot of people at my school.
I go to Catholic school, and I'm not Catholic, and
I am very open about my beliefs and what I
believe in. There's a few people who do believe that,
and then there's a lot of people who are very

(11:16):
opposing to what we believe in and try to make
us feel bad. And I mean, I just don't want
to bother me when I get out of high school.
There's so many people in the real world who accept
other people's beliefs as they are. I mean, I used
to try to fit in that box and like be
the person that everyone thought that I should be, and

(11:38):
I was mean and I was not nice. And I
was it myself. And I feel like if you realize
who you are as an individual, then you've learned to
accept people and you're more open, and you realize that
meanness is actually really hurtful and like harmful to other people.
And the more confident you are in yourself, the more

(11:58):
confident you are in like other people, and you don't
have to rely on meanness to feel good about yourself.
That was Carly and the Question Booth. After the break,
we'll hear how meanness creeps into the professional world. M hm,

(12:28):
and we're back. Um, so I'm Asian obviously. That's Sanda
with her partner Gil and the Question Booth and they're
talking about their ice cream shop. The meanest review I
got was when a fellow twenty year old Asian girl
left a review and said that I was super racist
to her and I didn't offer her any ice cream samples,

(12:50):
but I had offered the people standing in line before
her samples and it made her experience horrendous because I
was just so racist. And it goes on. It was
like three paragraphs long about going to talk about this point.
She that I was really racist. I was like, we're
at the same race. I didn't know this was possible.

(13:13):
So that's pretty mean one. That ruined my day for
a couple of days. That's a bad one. Yeah, And
that's what the thing is. I feel like people don't
even realize that they're you know, they're, oh, this is
just a business, Like they don't realize that. Like there's
people that are passionate, they pour their souls into this
business and they're just so willing to like be super

(13:34):
mean on line or on Yelp or Google reviews or whatever,
and it just affects us so much. Like that, Like
that happened to Sandra maybe two years ago, and she
still talks about like we probably talked about it like
every other month. Wow. So I don't think about Yelp
every day. But it turns out that's a pretty big platform.
Some people are pretty devoted to it as well. There's

(13:56):
even a program called yelp Elite for influential reviewers where
you get to go to special events. And here's some numbers.
They average on eight million visitors a month and their
user base is eighteen to fifty four, which seems like
a pretty large demographic. It's a huge demographic, and I
was very surprised about the rating distribution on Yelp. Oh yeah,
what's it like? Okay, so one star reviews are super

(14:18):
memorable and usually distract me from all the five and
four star reviews. That being said of Yelp reviews are
five star reviews, and only fifteen percented reviews are given
that dreaded single star only. It seems like there are
so many more, and it might feel that way because
the negative comments always seem to stand out no matter

(14:40):
where we see them on the internet. We want to
know more, so we talked to someone in this very office.
We brought in writer and producer Lauren Vogelbaum. You may
know her from her work on food Stuff and brain
Stuff as well as our online videos. Hi, I'm Lauren,
and this is brain Stuff. She used to manage the
comment section of our YouTube page, and it's a space
that can get pretty negative with comments like this, for example,

(15:03):
who okay, um, I've paid the girl in the green shirt.
Her arms are crap and so is her face. That's harsh. Absolutely,
we wanted to talk to Lauren about what it was
like to read comments like this and learn more about
our experiences. So, Lauren, we're very happy to have you
join us in the booth. Ah, yeah, it's I'm happy
to share my PTSD with you. So how did you

(15:28):
end up moderating the comments section? I had the combination
of the most time and the best emotional capacity two
answer and respond to the comments on on YouTube of
the brain stuff videos that we were posting at the time.
Keep in mind that under the House Stuff Works banner
we have a ton of different kinds of podcasts and
video series. At some point, the House to Works channel

(15:49):
had published a whole lot of stuff they don't want
you to know videos, and that's one of our brands
that is based around conspiracy theories. The most popular conspiracy
is well known that the nineteen sixty nine NASA moon
landing was somehow faked. And so when we started posting
these videos that we're about more general science and maybe
about like ladies or something, at some point we definitely

(16:12):
got some very colorful commentary from people. Added to that,
just the YouTube in general, the the relative anonymity of it,
and there's just different cultural morey's on YouTube than there
are anywhere else. I think it's not always the most
friendly of places. There's also this rather than other communities

(16:34):
that respond to media where you feel like you're you're
really talking to the creator. I think that a lot
of people, especially from large brands like ours, on how
stuff works. The commenters don't have a concept that any
real human person is ever going to read their comment,
and so it's sort of partially like a review, probably
partially of the physical appearance of the host and any

(16:55):
other qualities that they find remarkable. So, as someone who
was checking out the YouTube comments, how much time did
that take up and wanted it really entail? Oh? Kind of,
especially at first, sort of as much time as I
had to pour into it because there was such a backlog,
because there hadn't you know, we would go through periods

(17:17):
where no one had responded to these in or gone
through and and weeded out the nasty ones in months
and so it could take a lot. But I tried
to limit myself to maybe like an hour or so
per day. I was like, Okay, here's the part where
i want some anger to fuel the rest of my afternoon.
So I'm going to go and I'm going to read

(17:37):
some YouTube comments, and I'm gonna post really passive, aggressive
smiley faces at people. The rest of my day is
going to be just just andy? Was there like a
requirement and how you're supposed to respond to people like
where you only allowed to smiley faces per response? Oh
we we we all made it up as we went along.
But now we didn't really have best standards and practices

(17:59):
other than to be polite, be understanding, and you know,
like maybe don't feed the troll and post links to
further research to back up our stuff whenever possible, but
don't feed the troll. Part was always the hardest part
of that too to adhere to, because it's so tempting
when someone says, when someone says something just mean, it's like, oh,

(18:21):
I want to respond, I want I want to take
them down a notch. So did you ever respond to
anyone and they responded back to you. I'm not sure
exactly how the YouTube comment system works. Oh yeah, oh yeah.
There were definitely whole threads between me and various other
human people. And the most remarkable thing that I found
between that and I also, at one point way back

(18:42):
in the past, was the social media manager for for
housetuf works in general, And so with those two things combined,
if I called someone out basically every time with like
maybe two exceptions over the past five years. Every time
someone said this is wrong, you're dumb, and I don't
like your face. Um. If I would come back and

(19:04):
say like, hey, here's you know, here, here's the reason
why we posted this and why we thought it was interesting,
and you know, thank thanks, very thanks for giving us
a chance, nine times out of ten they would be like, oh, oh,
I didn't. I didn't know that anyone was really reading this.
I thought I didn't. I'm I'm sorry. I was having
a bad day man, and like and you know, thank
you so much for posting, which is so unexpected and

(19:27):
delightful and really gives you hope for humanity. On the
other hand, the you know, the the one out of
ten times would wind up with someone doubling down on it.
That that that was the response. Like either people would
back off tremendously or completely double down. I don't remember
what the topic was about, but someone was like, was like,
you're wrong and you should feel wrong about it. And
I was like, actually, I'm right and this is why,

(19:47):
and they were like, well, I don't think so, and
I expect an apology. Yeah. They just a lot of
people really want apologies I think it's because people haven't
apologized to them for something else in their lives and
they just need it from someone else, Like right there,
I think is the keystone of why people are so
awful to each other on the Internet. When when I
was really in the weeds, sometimes I would post the

(20:09):
copy to like my Facebook page of like the comment
that was really getting my goat that day, and people
would go like, I can't believe that you look at
this every day, Like how do you like? How do
you live with it? Doesn't it burn inside of you?
It's so awful? And I would say, they're not talking
about me or my co workers. They're talking about this
holidack version of us that went into a studio for

(20:29):
thirty minutes two months ago recorded a video and and
that's not that's not me, that's not them. It has
nothing to do with us, and it has everything to
do with the people who are posting those comments. Do
you think it de sensitized you to any meanness? Um?
I still get that like flush of anger, that that

(20:49):
fight or flight kind of response where it gets so
mailed and I and my whole body is filled with it.
But I try to, I really do try to remember. Yeah,
that that everyone everyone has bad days and everyone is
going through stuff, and so they probably deserve compassion. Um,
do you have any comments that just stuck with you

(21:10):
for like the rest of your life? Like, do you
have any that just haunts you? I know you're pretty
good about letting them go, but I don't know if
there was any that just stuck with you. I I
collected my very favorite comments as part of this kind
of personal self therapy to get me through this in
this gigantic word document. I would just copy and paste
them in, and I've performed them at open mic nights

(21:32):
as like found poetry. I have a whole bunch for
you if you guys want to just like like, Okay,
I'm just gonna jump in here and say that some
of these comments you strong or vivid language, but we
did want to share a handful of them with you.
Just a heads up, we're ready. Okay. This guy has
the sex appeal of an aviation disaster. I want to

(21:53):
slap her ugly donkey face. The video is good, but
she's so disturbing I'll stop watching any future video like such.
It's a cool video, but the guy presenting it has
all the charisma of a toad. This video has so
much filler and barely any useful info. Also, the woman
is ugly not subbing. He is so annoying. I became
a white girl, so I can't even I hope he

(22:14):
reads this and kills himself. This presenter's haircut distracts from
her eloquence and intelligence. Why is this woman so annoying
and dresses like her grandmother? Hey dude, sorry to let
you know that you're going to regret wearing this shirt
for the rest of your life. And speaking of regrets,
lose that belly asap. She is saying bad things about figs,
which is a clean nature given fruit. She thinks figs

(22:36):
have wasps, which the figs do not have wasps in them.
She should check herself first as to how much wassp
like and the butt like bacteria. She has a downsize
things about nature pathetic. Yeah. I would sometimes respond to

(22:56):
people who criticized by performance, even in strong words, are
be like, yeah, you know, I was, I've been still
working on it. Thanks for thanks for watching. In the end,

(23:17):
was there anything that you were able to take away
from it positively? Like in other parts of your job? Oh, definitely,
you know, especially when we would post videos about various
health issues and uh, we had young women writing in
about their experiences with with i U d S, we
had people writing in about mental illness, all of these

(23:39):
things that it was so ridiculously rewarding to be able
to talk to them and provide more information and help
a human in some way. Again, kind of the reverse
of some commenters looking at us like we're just the
spaceless robot. It's really easy to put commenters on the

(24:00):
other side of things into a bucket where they're just
faceless when they're absolutely human people behind every single screen
name or you know, you know some screen names. Anyway,
there's a bunch of bots out there. Uh. But but yeah,
but between that and just just learning more about even compassion,
it's kind of trying to reach a sort of headspace

(24:20):
where you realize that and you know, treat everyone in
your life a little bit better because of it. So

(24:42):
we heard from a lot of different people this week
about meanness. But what's your takeaway overall? You know, I
think a lot of people walked away from the booth
realizing that there is hope and maybe there are ways
we can overcome it. Maybe we can be like Lauren
and try to open dialogue with strangers in the comment section,
or follow a queue from Carly and take steps to

(25:03):
cut the negativity out of our lives. It also seems
like most people were able to come to terms with
their experiences and in some cases even find happiness. In fact,
gil gave us a recommendation on how to lead a
happier life. I just feel like if everybody took the
time to step away, even for five minutes every single

(25:24):
day and just enjoy an ice cream, it doesn't really
matter what it is, it could just make the world
such a better place. Like people get so caught up
and just taking like five minutes to like step away
and do something for yourself that would make the world
such a better place. And I think it would make
it even better if they all had ice cream. I

(25:44):
don't think I could have said it better than gil M.
And if you weren't able to make it into the
booth this week, we'd still love to know your thoughts

(26:05):
on meanness. Why do you think people are mean? What
do you think we can do to be nicer in
person and online? You can email us at the Question
Booth at houstaff works dot com, and if you're in Atlanta,
make sure to stop by the Question Booth so we
can have a chat. We're on the second floor of
Pont City Market from twelve to five every Friday through Sunday.
We'd like to give a special thanks to executive producer

(26:26):
Julie Douglas and senior producer Annie Reese. Thanks as well
to Lauren vocal Baum for speaking to us this week
into Pont City Market for hosting the Question Booth. The
Question Booth is written, edited and scored by me, Dylan Fagin,
and my co host Kathleen Quillian. Thank you Kathleen, Thanks Dylan,
and thanks to all the strangers who walk into a
random booth, talk about a random question and have a

(26:47):
chat with me. It's a great experience. We promise it's
my favorite experience. So what are we talking about next week?
Next week, we're talking about what one childhood memory shaped
your idea of the world. So like every night he
say that, you know, putting me to bed, knowing that
I could count on him no matter what, and that
he loved me no matter what, And you have that
sense of stability and strength and foundation, And so I

(27:10):
think my parents. The goal was always that they wanted
to give us roots so we could fly. I look
forward to hearing all about that, but until then, see
you in the question booth

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