Handling Antagonists in Social Media: Our Public Voice

It may be self-evident to you, but I have to remind myself that my response to antagonistic comments could be a powerful influence to everyone in my audience, not merely an answer to a hater.

angerIn many places where we seek to love and serve people, there are groups and individuals who oppose us and our message, no matter how much love we pour into our content. One friend of mine says it’s not unusual to get 90% negative comments on his posts that are intended to speak of peace for people in his region.

It may be self-evident to you, but I have to remind myself that my response to antagonistic comments could be a powerful influence to everyone in my audience, not merely an answer to a hater.

Imagine you’re in a public place like a shopping mall or university center. A person spots you from across the room as you are discussing something important with a new friend. They make a beeline toward you, yelling out angry comments and insults before they even reach you. It’s a tense moment. At least one person seems to be spoiling for a fight, right there. How would you respond?

Many of us are naturally inclined to avoid any kind of confrontation, especially a direct one like this. We would try our best to just back away, apologizing, fearful, and praying for others to intervene to cool down the situation. Others of us are very bold, risk-takers, and would step up ready to embrace a challenge (hopefully, with fists un-clenched.)

angry (1)In social media, I have encountered such situations. A number of years ago I was developing a feature film project in Latin America and I was using early Facebook and other social media to raise awareness of the project. A certain gentleman, who lived on the other side of the world, decided that we were evil people, exploiting the indigenous people, etc. (We were making the film at the request, and in partnership with, an indigenous group in the Amazon.) He didn’t know me, but he attacked me, and threatened to rally people in the country to shut us down.

Now, this was Latin America, so things never go according to plan in the best of times, and I had no real concerns that he could have any clout. My partner thought I should just block and ignore him. I thought I’d at least try to engage with him to see if I could convince him that we were OK.

happy copy

It became an interesting conversation for me, though I don’t think my arguments were very convincing for him at first. He did cool down and kind of disappear after a while. But, I did get to know something about him, his own past and personal issues that seemed to drive his anger. So, I felt it was fruitful. He never went further with his threats and actions, and it all basically blew over.

Ironically, a year or so later, he contacted me again. He was raising money for a project to help the indigenous group for which he was an advocate (in East Asia) and actually asked for my advice and help with his own project. It was a crazy turnabout, but I believe it was because I treated him with respect and tried to understand where he was coming from when he was attacking us. I pray for his project.

Of course, it could have gone much worse. Sometimes, and you may not be able to discern this in advance, it is truly fruitless or even dangerous to engage much. However, in this case, I felt it was worth it.

Now, in my story, all of this deeper engagement was through email, so it wasn’t public. However, if it had taken place in “public” on a comment thread on some social media site, I would have to discern the value of the engagement.

peace-talksMy theory is that, in a situation like this, where we try to have a conversation with an antagonistic person, our comments may be more for others in your audience who are “eavesdropping” on your conversation, than they will be for the person with whom you are conversing.  We can’t know if there could be some softening if our gentle speech turns away their anger.

I often get wise advice from people who say it’s not worth the engagement. But, as my original example in the shopping mall, I may also consider that there are many more people with whom I’m communicating. Anyone within “earshot” could also hear my arguments and my tone, and it could be beneficial to them as they assess just who I am.

Am I a good or bad person?

Does what I am saying in answer to common objections sound reasonable?

Do I sound like they could have a safe conversation with me?

This indirect communication could form an important part of someone else’s journey.

What do you think? Have you had this kind of experience on social sites? How should we handle people who oppose us in public? Are there principles or “rules” we should follow?

  • Tom

 

 

 

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Now Streaming – “The Enemy God” indigenous film

I’m really pleased to announce that a feature-length film I produced, “The Enemy God” is now available for streaming rental or purchase on Vimeo On Demand. Watch the trailer here, then, just click on the “From $2.99” button on the video to rent or purchase.

The Enemy God from Tom Khazoyan on Vimeo.

This multi-award-winning film tells the story of a Yanomamö shaman and his search for the truth about the spirits he served. It is a powerful, true story, told from the point of view of an indigenous people group from the Amazon rainforest.

Storytelling 101 – Why one version works and the other does not.

I saw this short animated film today from a Facebook share. It’s called “The Present” and it has won a bazillion awards at film festivals. It’s touching, simple, visual, emotional – all of the things we know makes an idea “stick.” The comments in Vimeo and on FB posts are pretty uniformly positive. It’s definitely worth a viewing.

The Present from Jacob Frey on Vimeo.

Now, for a comparison.

Facebook is so helpful to give us the “people also shared” links on this stuff, so we can sometimes stumble on other interesting items (anything to keep us swiping and clicking.)

So, I took the bait and clicked on this link:

http://9gag.com/gag/aXXWodz

It’s a comic version of the exact same story. For some reason, it doesn’t affect me the same way as the short film. From looking at the comments (language-warning), it doesn’t have the same effect on readers either. Just a different audience?

I’d suggest it’s a radically different visual and storytelling style. It’s graphic, static, and less warm-and-fuzzy, for sure. Also, notice that, in contrast to the film version, the story is told through dialogue – especially the boy’s feelings toward the dog. What was left shown and un-said in the film was expressed definitely and very on-the-nose.

What other differences do you see? Think about the difference in the impact of each version and think about what you can learn.

(Note, this comic is just a clipping and not the whole comic. Click on the link above to see the whole thing.)

3-legged dog

 

 

“She looked for love, and then…” – New Web Clip

In a place where young people aren’t allowed to meet face-to-face; relationships can be risky.

In a place where young people aren’t allowed to meet face-to-face, relationships can be risky. I just finished this new web clip for Arab World Media. It’s a light-hearted, cautionary tale about ‘phone dating.’

Here’s a link to one of the Arabic-language pages where it’s embedded at Maarifa.org

Or, you can watch the English version here:

“She looked for love, and then…” — English version from Tom Khazoyan on Vimeo.

Zero Dark Thirty: A Tale of Bias and Burqas

What can we, as storytellers, do to avoid biased and inaccurate (perhaps offensive) portrayals of others in our films? As much as I may intellectually value other voices, it is exceedingly difficult for me to recognize the impact of my own inner biases when I am creating stories.

As a filmmaker passionate to cross-cultural stories and also dedicated to crafting authentic stories that present accurate depictions of culture, this article is a great caution for me. While I think of myself as one who values other voices and hates simple stereotypes, I’m sure I am guilty of falling into the same traps. I am, after all, tremendously influenced by my own culture, religion, and upbringing. As much as I may intellectually value other voices, it is exceedingly difficult for me to recognize the impact of my own inner biases when I am creating stories. I may really be committed to presenting authentic points of view, but I have to acknowledge that I often can’t see the impact of my biases.

Here’s what this author says about the portrayal of Muslim women in two Oscar celebrated American films.

Zero Dark Thirty and Argo have twelve Oscar nods between them. There has been much heated discussion on their portrayal of Muslims and how much of it ought to be excused do to artistic message. In the end, though, their many accolades serve as one more example of anti-Muslim women dialogues in Western society being fervently rewarded.

Read the whole article here, from Patheos: Zero Dark Thirty: A Tale of Bias and Burqas.

What can we, as storytellers, do to avoid biased and inaccurate (perhaps offensive) portrayals of others in our films?

The Proper Posture for Mentoring

I try to shift my own thinking and self-perception when I’m in a situation where I’ve been brought in as the ‘expert’, especially if I’m foreigner.

It’s nice to come into a situation where you’re the expert–often treated with honor. It feels good. But I try to shift my own thinking and self-perception when I’m in a situation where I’ve been brought in as the ‘expert’, especially if I’m foreigner.

It may be true that I have special experience and gifting that separates me from the group in a significant way. However, my goal is that, by the end of our time together, we will have bonded together in such a way and I will have shared what I bring in such a way as to have broken down many of the invisible walls.

In the words of John Perkins, pioneer of Christian community development…

Go to the people.

Live among them.

Learn from them.

Love them.

Start with what they know.

Build on what they have.

But of the best leaders,

when their task is accomplished,

when their work is done . . .

the people will remark:

“We have done it ourselves.”