Because skeptics constantly criticize the claims of others, we often provoke angry reactions. Ideally this provokes some educational debate, but sometimes it goes sour. That can take the form of trolling, harassment or even escalate to legal action. In the United States the legal option tends not to be too successful, thanks to our First Amendment rights. But that doesn’t apply outside the US.
Some opponents of skeptics seek out more creative ways to shut down our commentary. A few years ago a German named Claus Fritsche was paid by homeopathy manufacturers to create spam websites that would poison the search engine results for Edzard Ernst’s name, in an effort to discredit his critiques of alternative medicine. Numerous skeptics have been targets of spurious DMCA claims on YouTube over the years.
Recently the European courts have created a brand new way for the people we criticize to tamper with (at least in Europe) our ability to reach an audience. It is called the “right to be forgotten” and skeptic webmasters need to stay on top of their tools in order not to get blindsided by this.
Read on and I’ll explain.
Complaint Department grenade by Adam the atom , distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
Complaining about things is pretty central to being a skeptic. Most skeptics are good complainers by their nature.
But if you want to be an effective skeptical activist, you need to know how to target your complaints properly. A blog post complaining about something (often the first resort for many skeptics) is only immediately effective if your blog has a large following. That’s nice for those that have it, but the rest of us usually need to take our complaints to a more effective venue. I’ve written before about complaining to government regulators using Fishbarrel, for instance. Complaining to the police via a change.org petition was a crucial step in getting a notorious Twitter spammer arrested.
In online activism, complaining often involves using the specialized complaint procedures of a particular website or platform. Most of the larger, well-established sites (Facebook, YouTube and so on) have relatively robust complaint procedures. Smaller sites will have less well-thought-out procedures, or perhaps none at all. But the key is to know what’s there, what the rules are around them, and when it is appropriate to use them.
There were two stories in the news recently about complaints involving websites that caught my eye. One involved skeptical activists using complaints to target Scientology. The other involved complaints in the opposite direction – from paranormalists about skeptics on Wikipedia. Let’s take a quick look at these two cases and see what we can learn about effective complaining.