From Monetize to Block

By Mindy Wheeler

Trolls aren’t worth your time! Trolls are bad actors with bad intentions. These are sentiments one can easily sympathize with, but I’m here to give you another perspective: trolling is democracy.

(Note: this article is not about psychos who wish you harm. Some trolls are truly nasty people who have genuine mental problems and may even pose a danger to you. Call the police if you feel in danger.)

The idea of holding figureheads with large followings or influence accountable extends throughout history, prominent in all of our most pivotal moments. Trolling—or what I like to refer to as “passionate critique”—is not a new phenomenon, by any means.

Let’s go back to the beginnings of America, during the presidency of George Washington. The newspapers were fervid with political polarization and criticism of Washington himself, calling him a sensitive tyrant, unable to accept criticism and intolerant towards those who disagreed with him. I quote an article on Washington, describing his behavior:

[Washington] “… not always concealed dislike of tiresome preachers, financial deadbeats, and virtually anyone with the effrontery to question his motives or challenge his dignity; the painfully sensitive public figure who writhes under the criticism of newspapermen he condemns for “stuffing their papers with scurrility and nonsensical declamation…”
(Source: National Archives)

Observing the reasons why he was trolled by the press leaves one to question the difference between criticism and trolling. I put forth there is not much difference at all. It’s easy to villainize trolls online simply because they “exist online,” but in reality, it hasn’t been much different for thousands of years. Some of the biggest “trolls” in history were a couple of Greek philosophers, and we have their dissenting opinions to thank for shaping our entire Western culture and inspiring logical debate.

Diogenes of Sinope is a great example. He publicly insulted both royalty and poor alike (with no shame) and is famous for shoving a lantern in passerby’s faces to “look for an honest man,” claiming he couldn’t find any. Diogenes was basically Twitter, just in 300 BC. With his cynical attitude, constant bantering in the public square (where he chose to live), and barbaric mannerisms, he embodied everything offensive and showed it off whenever he could for a reaction. Ironically, some figures of royalty found his cynicism to be quite inspiring and traveled long distances to meet him. Funny how that worked. Poop in the road and all of a sudden, Alexander the Great wants to meet you.

In that sense, it seems a luxury in the year 2024 to be able to silence voices left and right with a simple touch of the “block” button instead of having to endure your 300 BC Greek philosopher defecating in public to make a point. In this digital age, voices of the public are amplified to the max. Figureheads can now carry the influence of millions while making videos in their pajamas. It’s never been so easy to tap into public discourse and start influencing. Unfortunately, this also means many who go viral and get monetized can shamelessly attack others for their own benefit.

This has been a big problem in the comic book scene for several years now. While I know the negative effects of it first-hand, you STILL shouldn’t be quick to block if you are a comic book creator, unless they pose a serious risk of harassment to you. If you do, you will create more problems for yourself, more dissenters, and more voices coming to monetize you simply because they can brag that you blocked them. There’s one thing to admire in a troll and that is their capacity to remain unapologetically obnoxious. Block screenshots are like candy to them. They are a troll’s trophy that they’ve bothered you. They will wave it around in public. Consequently, new trolls will provoke you to see if they get the same reaction. This creates a negative chain reaction. Endless waves of trolls appear to test your strength and laugh at you when you cave, time and time again. All of a sudden, you’ve got threads on the deep web about you, 20 YouTube videos popping up with your face in the thumbnail, and you’re known as a LOLCOW. That’s the nature of the blocking game.

Instead of falling into the rabbit hole, you can easily hit the “mute” button instead. Now you don’t have to listen to them while also depriving them of fuel. It’s a win-win.

A few years ago, I endured a heavy wave of trolling and was quick to hit the block button. I thought I wasn’t feeding the trolls because I was ignoring them. The opposite turned out to be true. I found out years later that many of them aren’t as bad as I thought they were. Also, there was a lot of miscommunication at play. I’ve since made several friends out of those who have previously meme’d my face. All in good play. I’ve since noticed how harsh of a stigma it attracts and how many comic book fans feel left out if you block them. Turns out, Rob Liefeld has an entire Facebook group dedicated to people who have been blocked. My favorite example is someone who won a spinner rack from Rob’s Instagram contest. He claims Liefeld blocked him after he simply tried to check in with Rob on the status of his prize and has no idea why he got the boot.

Touché, I say, touché.

Now I rather enjoy popping onto the random livestream of a “Wheeler hater,” saying, “Hey, what’s up?” Confronting the issue head-on has proven immensely productive time and time again. The last couple of years, I’ve confronted many trolls and unblocked all but three people on Twitter. My life as a creator is exponentially less stressful. Funny how that works.

Eric July presents himself as an interesting example of history going down in real-time. From my perspective, it appears he endures much of the same trolling as I did, coincidentally, from the same group of people. While Eric states he is prepared from his background in the music industry, I warn him that comic books are a much different industry with its own fandom. If you come onto the scene rubbing the comic book fans the wrong way, they will make sure you don’t forget it.

For those who don’t know Eric, he is a musician and contributor (or former contributor) to The Blaze and maintains a very popular YouTube channel sharing his views on Libertarianism. He is known for cheering on the slogan, “Monetize your Haters.” He recently released his first comic book “ISOM,” which made over a million dollars, and with it, a lot of censure, which was then exaggerated due to his tendency to block.

I’ve noticed TONS of “blocked by Eric July” screencaps floating around Twitter lately. I was able to have a very civil conversation with Eric on Twitter about it. He believes blocking people protects his fan base from harassment. I fail to see how that works exactly, but I respect his views. I stumbled upon this post while I was already writing an article about creators being too quick to block, and the rest of this article wrote itself.

I’ll write down here in interview format, as close as I can to how it unfolded on Twitter, respectively. Some bits and pieces have been omitted for a smoother reading experience.

Twitter Conversation with Eric July

Eric: “Yep. That’s why I’m much quicker with the block. If I don’t respond or ignore, I have an ego. If I correct a lie, I’m then told I shouldn’t respond. If I prioritize the fan’s opinion over ‘peers’, ‘muh criticism.’ ‘Can’t take criticism’ is a projection by those that have trouble existing in a world where people disagree with them or like what they dislike. They simply want to dress people down with impunity and be validated.”

Mindy: “I used to block people a lot when CG started trolling me, but that’s exactly what you don’t want to do if you want to avoid the ‘they can’t take criticism’ stigma. I’m writing an article on creators & the block feature. It’s seen as a bad thing in comics. Comics is its own world.”

Eric: “I don’t think businessmen (SIC) should be focused on ‘stigmas’ among people with bad intentions.”

Mindy: “Stigmas mean a LOT in the comics world (trust me, I know!) I’ve suffered on the bad side of it for years for things I didn’t even do, lol. Comics is a very passionate sphere, and it’s been full of nepotism for decades. If you unblocked though, that stigma would go away.”

Eric: “It means, perhaps, a lot to those with bad intentions. Businessmen (SIC) should be focused on those that value whatever they’re producing. Anything else is a distraction. For the same reason I don’t exactly care if leftists call me xyz, I care little about the perception among those with bad intentions.”

Mindy: “Like I said, they are very passionate people. I call their passion ‘nerd rage.’ There’s just something totally different about comics and the way it functions. I’ve run several companies in other industries successfully, and comics is unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere.”

Eric: “Comics aren’t that special in this regard. I dealt with the same exact thing in the music industry. It’s more of an art/entertainment thing that one will encounter.”

Mindy: “Well, you’re doing just fine with your books, but if you ever want to widen that scope and be embraced by those that you may deem to have ill will (and many would embrace you), it would serve you well to

break down those gates. I’ve befriended many who once meme’d me, lol. It’s sort of a ‘fandom initiation’ to get heavily trolled. It’s a compliment in a way, but you only make it worse when you block.”

Eric: “I don’t care to try to ‘kill off’ ‘stigmas’ from bad actors/dishonest people.”

Mindy: “Just trying to make your life easier. Many would embrace you if given the chance. You will always battle the stigma of being unable to take criticism as long as you block. I see many people on my feed who aren’t peers, just comic fans, who you’ve blocked who don’t even know why they are blocked. This is doing a disservice to some fans, in my opinion.”

Eric: “I don’t see it as a battle. It’s just what IS. It is not a productive use of my time to attempt to fight off ‘stigma’ from people with bad intentions.”

Mindy: “Well, if you hit the ‘mute’ button instead of the ‘block’ button, you can avoid further backlash. That’s what worked for me, and it’s kept my stress down.”

Eric: “You can’t stop trolls. I’ve been in the public sphere for almost 2 decades. You hit a threshold of popularity, and it’s not going to go away. It’s the nature of it all, and I don’t recommend any businessman (SIC) waste time attempting to stop what can’t be stopped.”

Mindy: “I agree. But I don’t block because it makes the trolling worse. It’s like feeding a fire. The trolling will ease if you don’t block.”

Eric: “You are free to that opinion. Speaking from experience, I don’t find that correct.”

We spoke for a minute on Eric’s experience in the music industry.

Eric: “Nah. It’s a lot of the similar stuff, which is partially why it’s so easy for me to handle. I’ve long been prepared for this. I’d argue the music industry was worse due to the more physical nature of it.”

Mindy: “If that was 100%, why do I see posts from people all the time who don’t even know why you blocked them? What purpose does that serve? Are you using block lists?”

Eric: “I’ve not blocked anybody without reason. Consider that perhaps they are concern-trolling or lying.”

Mindy: “How many people do you have blocked currently? Of course, you don’t have to answer as that might be personal information, but… I think that would be telling.”

Eric: “No idea.”

Mindy: “Here’s mine. You can run things however you like, just letting you know, there’s another way. Blocking people has resulted in a large percentage of trolling against you, and it is why they say you can’t take criticism.”

Eric: “That’s your business. You’d perhaps have a different perspective with comparable engagement, but I’m not trying to tell you how to run your block list. Wrong people are free to say whatever they’d like. I don’t work for them.”

Mindy: “So, to concise this all up, I ask objectively: do you not consider blocking people the inability to take criticism? If you block on the basis of thinking they are dishonest or ill-mannered, are you then intolerant of people who dislike you? Not everyone you meet will like you. And hardly anyone in this world is honest. But we certainly can’t block every one of them.”

Eric: “Nope. People are free to dislike me all they want. You can disagree without trolling or being dishonest. That’s a very easy thing to do.”

On honesty: “I disagree with this statement. Like I said, you hit a threshold, trollers troll. Doesn’t matter what you do. Businessmen (SIC) should not worry or stress themselves trying to change the inevitable.”

Mindy: “I agree with that, so the debatable point is then… Why even care to block at all? What does what any of them say or do matter? This has been a great debate, and I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you.”

Final Thoughts

If what Eric does works for his business, then more power to him. However, in my experience, blocking only feeds the fire, making the trolling worse. The moral of the story here is that comic books attract passionate—and sometimes mean—fans. To have positive rapport in the eyes of true believers takes a lot of work and cutting through the crap. Not everyone is cut out for such a job. My best advice is that if you want to be respected by comic book fans, don’t be quick to block. Don’t be a Rob Liefeld.

Stay passionate, true believers.

Mindy Wheeler

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