Behind the Curtain of Net Storms

I thought this might be useful to some people as a way of gauging how important (or not) these internet storms and controversies are. We seem to have a new one every day over TV, cinema, games, art, RPGs… you name it, someone’s getting upset about it.

I’ve not really had access to good analytic data on this before but thanks to WP and Google Analytics and ‘thanks’ to being at the centre of a storm myself I can now offer some data that others might find useful.

Things to keep in mind

This arose on my writing blog, which has much less exposure and interest than my company/roleplaying site which you’re on now.

Obviously my perception of aspects of this are subjective and coloured by my own experience and personal investment. I have striven to be as neutral as possible but you will have to keep this in mind.

I am using approximate figures, rounding here and there, because I’m trying to be more general about how things are rather than precise about a single, specific case. This is, however, still only a single data point so take everything with a pinch of salt.

1. The Controversy Lasted a total of Five Days

From the day the article posted to the day site hits returned to normal was a total of five days. Of those only three days were truly the heart of the ‘storm’ with site hits outstripped ‘business as usual.

2. The Number of Hits

For those three peak days there were around 800 non-unique hits on each day for a total of around 2500 non-unique hits (as compared with around 50 per day normal hits to the site).

Analytics show that on the first day a high proportion of these were unique (approximately 80%) while on the second and third this dropped (approximately 35% and then approximately 25%).

A lot of subsequent hits were return hits. People coming back to check on their comments, to see how things were progressing, etc.

3. Hardly Anyone Follows the Links

The articles involved in the storm had links to each other and to back-up data and sources.

Only around 0.5% of visitors followed any links from the articles.

4. Reactions Aren’t As Negative as You Think

Of the reactions to the article around half were positive (and seemed to grasp the point of the article) and the remaining half was approximately equally divided between neutral/discursive commentors and negative commentors.

Most commentators left only a single comment. Multiple comments were concentrated in the neutral/discursive and negative sections, mostly the negative commentators.

5. It’s the Same People

I am reasonably certain (90%) based on the same phrasing and attitudes being expressed that the most vitriolic hatred and attempts to coerce/shut down/damage were limited to the same three people across Youtube, SomethingAwful, RPGnet and 4Chan. (Update: One of those three then tried to comment on this blog and seemed to think I thought only three people disliked me. Apparently they don’t have the word ‘most’ in Trolltown as they thought I meant only three people disliked me.)

Some of these people have been following and hating on anything I’ve done for years, at any opportunity they have. These were existing ‘anti-fans’ rather than anyone new.

6. This Isn’t a Good Marketing Tool

While the site, and youtube, got a lot of hits this didn’t translate into sales or new followers which have continued along at the same rate as they were beforehand.

Given the evidence from Tentacle Bento and Tropes Vs Women however, net-storms can mobilise people if there’s something directly related to it but that was not the case in this instance. (In both those cases, trolling/etc ended up simply giving a higher profile and greater success).

7. People Aren’t Interested in What’s True

I suspect that the articles creating the ‘storm’ were far more popular and got a lot more hits than the actual article itself. People don’t follow the links and when they do they’re coming coloured by what they’ve been told you said, rather than what you actually said. When challenged and corrected many people do fade away and the persistent attackers/trolls are a vanishingly small number.

Lessons to be Learned

If you’re the centre of the storm:
1. There aren’t that many haters.
2. Give your support appropriate weight (people who support you are less likely to comment and less likely to comment often. Weight it appropriately).
3. It doesn’t last long. If you’re sure you’re right, hold your course. The outraged will be on to the next thing in, perhaps, a week.
4. Controversy isn’t a good marketing/publicity tool, unless you have something directly involved, a ‘dog in the fight’, being controversial (justifiably or not) doesn’t really make a difference.

If you find something you hate:
1. Making a fuss gives something attention (in this case six times more attention than it would otherwise have).
2. Investigate what you’re pointed at. People may not be being honest when they criticise and hardly anyone fact-checks. Go to the original source and see where it’s drawing from.
3. Starving something of attention is far more effective on the internet than drawing people’s attention to it. ‘Don’t feed the troll’ has universal applicability.
4. You’re probably better off commenting directly at the site of the offence. While you may get blocked/deleted the person involved is going to see the message and you’re not going to contribute to giving them attention.

I hope you’ll find this useful and it will help you to understand how small and insignificant many of these internet riots are.