The 7 Commandments of Blogosphere (and Life) Self-Defense

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I learned self-defense early (Tim, first grade)

I love and hate blogs. One minute I feel like David Weinberger and the next I feel like Andrew Keen.

The beauty of blogs: they give every genius a voice. The beast: they give every idiot a voice.
To be fair, most of us are neither pure geniuses nor idiots but seem to alternate between the two. I get stuck in idiot mode at least 60% of the time and don’t realize it 99% of the time.

So the question of blog self-defense isn’t just “how do we defend ourselves against full-time idiots?” but also “how do we defend ourselves against part-time idiots who are probably cool most of the time but woke up on the wrong/stupid side of the bed this morning?”

“Defend ourselves against what?” you ask? Here is a glowing fan e-mail I received one week ago:

[Your sport] shows that you are a hypocrite to profess helping others with your book. You are showing a grave example of the White horseman to our children. Shame on you. Shame on you… Shame. And Wickedness… It is the most evil war on earth, the one for blood spectacle for those who would entertain by whoring themselves prostituting violence to those who seek and lust to watch inhumanity. You are an evil one who has gained the world and lost your soul.

Was this in response to my how-to article on clubbing baby seals? My “Top 10 Places for Tripping Blind Old Ladies” post? No, ma’am…

It was in response to my post aimed at helping the non-profit Donorschoose raise funding for public school teachers. I mentioned my background in collegiate wrestling (and elsewhere mixed-martial arts training), a controlled contact sport between consenting participants. This reader has since sent me more than a dozen increasingly threatening e-mails (BTW, save all of these types of e-mail for law enforcement, if later needed). I suspect that threatening me into embracing the peace teachings of Christ isn’t what good Christians do. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s a sin somewhere. For shame! Shame on you! Shame!

One female career blogger I know laughed when I lamented about these attacks. She gets an average of one death threat and one sex request per week… and she’s trying to help people build more fulfilling careers! How dare she! Shame. And Wickedness.

Why do people attack others trying to do good things? I can only come up with two theories:

1. There are two ways to increase perceived self-worth: elevate yourself or cut down others. The latter takes less time. It’s a case of “the worse you look, the better I feel about myself” and a short-lived high.

2. Empowering others involves removing external excuses for inaction. This is threatening to those who would rather complain than take action to improve their circumstances. Their alternative solution is thus 1 above: attack the messenger instead of the message (referred to in logic as an ad hominem attack).

Here are the 7 commandments of blogosphere self-defense that I’ve found to work.

Most of them are adapted from my time as a bouncer, which was one of several jobs I had to help cover expenses at Princeton. I weighed about 175 pounds and the other bouncers were all between 220-275, which meant that every drunk wanted to fight me. There were five of us who were paid twice as much as other bouncers because we never had to throw a single punch. Here are a few of the rules I used, adapted here for social media:

1. The only way to win a fight is to avoid it.
2. Focus on getting your desired outcome, not on being right.
3. If a fight is inevitable, strike first.
4. To diffuse a fight, admit mistakes and validate others’ feelings.
5. If a group fight is unavoidable, take out the leader.
6. Remove anonymity.
7. There is strength in numbers. Never fight alone unless you have to.

Here is how I adapted them to social media:

1. The only way to win a fight is to avoid it.

No one ever “wins” a fight. There is an emotional cost even for the victor in an argument, and certainly in a physical altercation. It is not possible to win a logical argument with an illogical person, so don’t bother. Your attempts will just fuel the fire and cause the situation to escalate, encouraging them and draining you. The best response is often no response, unless they are recruiting more formidable attackers and becoming a leader. This is covered separately.

I could spend all day every day responding to attacks from critics who have never read the book. It would be a waste of my life and I would get nothing important done. I even told my agent in the beginning — as he forwarded me every Google Alert for my name, including the negative — “Unless it’s something I absolutely need to respond to, please don’t send me the negative stuff. I need my enthusiasm and confidence right now for the bigger picture, and reading cheap shots just slows me down.”

Ignore idiots whenever possible. You do it offline all the time, so why not online?

2. Focus on getting your desired outcome, not on being right.

Fix the problem, not the person. Being effective doesn’t require being nasty. One reader posted a comment on the blog calling me a fraud for not allowing him to access the “so-called” bonuses on the reader-only section. This was immediately followed by “If your moderator does not post my comment, I will post it on several sites that discuss fraud.” Both comments were approved, and I responded with the following:

Dear [no need for names, right?],

I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve had some trouble. Are you referring to the reader-only section on http://www.fourhourworkweek.com? We’ve worked really hard — there is a team of four or so who work on the site — to add even more extras than are listed in the book. We are really proud to have less than a 1% inquiry rate from those who attempt to register, but sometimes things do pop up, like glitches related to Firefox 2, spam filters for Earthlink/AOL, etc. We also sometimes take down a bonus to add to it or make improvements. More are on the way.

I apologize if you ran into problems and promise that my tech team is really doing their best. They respond to at least 98% of our tech-related e-mails in 18 hours or so, and we’ve made repeated improvements to the registration area based on user feedback.

In all cases, I can’t stop you from putting us on fraud sites, but I’d ask you not to, as there is no fraud here. Please take a second to give it another shot at http://xxxxx.html and email Steve at guru-at-fourhourworkweek-dot-com if you still have problems. We’re really doing our best. Alex and others may also be able to help.

Cheers,
Tim

So, what was the problem? The lead of my tech team spent close to five hours with him, and it was an issue with how he had ZoneAlarm firewall configured on his computer. He thanked the team profusely via phone and said he would post a retraction on the blog. It never came, but the accusations ended. Problem solved. Focus on outcomes, not on being right.

3. If a fight is inevitable, strike first.

If someone is lining up to punch you, there are clear warning signs that a strike is coming. If it’s inevitable, you pre-empt the attack with a loud verbal interruption or you subdue them (for you aspiring bouncers, finger locks work well) so no one gets seriously injured. Knowing that I would be the lightest bouncer on staff at all of the clubs, I fully expected that the drunkest athletes would aim for me at around 1:30am.

The solution? Invite a few of the biggest football players to judo practice for a few consecutive weeks–I was the president of the club–and toss them around or choke them. Word spreads fast and problem solved.

In the case of the book launch, I knew that most people would find my bio unbelievable and aim for personal attacks. To pre-empt this, I put video documentation on the site of the USAWKF kickboxing (sanshou) national championships in 1999, the tango world championships, breakdancing, etc. It didn’t stop people from claiming I was a liar, but those who did due diligence were satisfied. Predict the objections and accusations and pre-empt them.

4. To diffuse a fight, admit mistakes and validate others’ feelings.

and

5. If a group fight is unavoidable, take out the leader.

As a bouncer, you follow the rules of the club and allow in who they want to allow in. This, as you might imagine, produces all sorts of anger in people who are turned away. Simply saying “I don’t make the rules” doesn’t appease anyone, but pointing out that “I would feel the same way, and I hate doing this, but these are the rules I need to follow to keep this job” helps them to empathize and averts most disaster. Emotions run high at the door, so apologizing for an overly aggressive comment also goes miles.

On June 14th, a reader (thank you, Scott!) pointed out a mistaken attribution for the “slow dance” poem featured towards the end of my book. I had hired an intern to double-check the source on this specific reference, but she missed what Scott found. Mistakes happen. I immediately contacted the original author and made the correction that same week for the next printing. Here it is:

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On the 15th, Robert Scoble e-mailed me about someone–let’s call him NBTD (“Nothing Better To Do”)–attacking me all over the web, who was now trolling on Robert’s blog.

Group fights are dangerous. There is a mob intoxication that can drive normal people to attack without good reason. One of my fellow bouncers, a physics graduate student and former amateur middleweight boxing champion of the USSR (this is a world-class accomplishment), had his head kicked in by a group of four shot putters from Princeton and nearby Rutgers. Based on his account, one of them was clearly the leader who incited the rest of a hesitant group to do the unthinkable.

It is near impossible to defeat multiple opponents. The good news is that you don’t have to. If you cut off the head of the group–the leader–in full view, the rest usually regain their sanity or lose their mob-induced balls. I once faced a similar situation with athletes at the door of a club, and as soon as I saw it escalating with one clear alpha-male leader who squared off, I hit him with ippon seoi-nage onto the grass. He just had the wind knocked out of him, but it was so decisive in appearance that the rest of the group dispersed.

NBTD was clearly becoming a potential leader, and I soon saw the extent of his slander all over, but I chose to respond on Robert’s blog because it has the most exposure. Here is part of my response:

I appreciate the skepticism, as I realize that my bio seems unbelievable. I’m a skeptic myself and would probably respond the same way.

I’ll address both of your points here, as I’ve only now come to realize how many places you’ve posted the same criticisms/comments. I would have replied sooner but have been on the road.

I made the attribution of the poem on p. 284 based on the legitimacy of the source of the e-mail — a close friend and doctor. I only just became aware of its use in chain e-mail thanks to a heads up from one of my readers (thank you, Scott), and this will be immediately corrected in the next printing. No fraud involved. I have nothing to gain from making inaccurate attributions other than headache.

For the fighting, please the multimedia section of my site. There is video footage — and has been since the site launched — of me winning the national sanshou (Chinese kickboxing) nationals at 165 lbs. In 1999 in Maryland. I also have a feature article with a photo of me fighting in the May 2007 issue of Fortune Small Business (FSB). I have a black belt in judo from the Kodokan in Tokyo, Japan, where I competed from 1992-1993. I have also trained at Brazilian Top Team (Rio) (photos on Flickr), Norwegian Top Team with Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen (Oslo), Takada Dojo (Tokyo), Kiguchi Dojo (Tokyo, where Takanori Gomi trains), Enson Inoue’s Purebred (Omiya, Japan), Yuki Nakai’s Paraestra (Tokyo), and Fairtex Muay Thai in Bangplee, Thailand (one of my Muay Thai knockouts — knee to the liver — is also on the fight video on my site), among others. I now train with some of best in the world of MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at http://www.akakickbox.com. Drop in anytime to see me in action.

I hope this clears things up. Robert, I sincerely apologize for the confusion caused by my delay in responding.

Have a great weekend to all,
Tim Ferriss

P.S. [NBTD], I’d sincerely appreciate it if you could hold a ceasefire on the assault. I am not a fraud. I’m just a first-time author doing his best to spread ideas that might benefit a few people.

Did it end all of his attacks? Of course not. But it allowed me to prevent an unfounded en masse attack. More people also came out to ask him to stop his one-man war. That’s the best you can do against those who have NBTD.

6. Remove anonymity.

Anonymity breeds what I call coward courage. For that reason, if someone was about to start a fight with me as a bouncer, I would always oddly stare at their face for about 10 seconds without saying anything at first. “What the $#%& are you doing?” they’d ask, to which I would reply, “I’m memorizing your face so we can call the police and press assault charges if you do anything you’ll regret.” Oh. That drops the testosterone right quick. Be stupid and you’ll face consequences.

In the world of blogs, pointing out that you have IP addresses often silences the courageous cowards. If it doesn’t, silence them with deletion or banning. I never publish comments without real e-mail addresses, and I have no problem with deleting and banning users. I treat my blog like a gathering in my home. Polite and productive debate is great, but I have no time for rude people in my living room. I set the rules–spit acid and nonsense somewhere else. Allowing BS on your blog is a disservice to your readers, in my opinion, and it reinforces the type of behavior that does nothing but breed more idiots.

7. There is strength in numbers. Never fight alone unless you have to.

Don’t fight alone unless you have to. Take a breath and see if the community will correct the attacker. If you give it even 24 hours, this happens more often than you might think. Even in the tsunami of misinformation (and disinformation) that is the Internet, the facts sometimes win.

Here are a few goodies I’ve mentioned elsewhere that were strategically missed for these entries:

-I gave out well over 300 advanced copies of the book. Close to 200 were given to SXSW attendees alone. The fact that there were more than 15 five-star reviews the day debuted on Amazon is not strange at all. It is a reflection of A) the sheer number of advanced copies sent out, B) the content, and C) the fact that I encouraged people who e-mailed me about the book pre-publication to post on Amazon when it went live. Few people spend much time reviewing on Amazon, so I can understand how some NBTDs would turn it into the JFK conspiracy, but the numbers alone explain how this happened.

-The body composition changes and muscle gain I talk about on the blog (what does that even have to do with the book?) were measured at San Jose State University using hydrostatic weighing and circumference measurements, combined with measurements from the Brooks Brothers tailor at Santana Row in San Jose, CA.

-I was national champion at 165 lbs. in the 1999 USAWKF sanshou (Chinese kickboxing) championships. I was cornered by Jason Yee of Boston Sanda and hundreds of people watched it unfold. I was nicknamed “sumo”–which was chanted from the stands–for my unorthodox style of throwing or pushing people off the platform to win by default. The African-American I competed against in the kickboxing video here was the silver medalist. Here’s a recent e-mail from one of the coaches, Josh Bartholomew, at Boston Sanda, who videotaped the whole spectacle:

You mean the tournament where you weighed in at 165 and fought at 180. The guy at the scale said that if he put one drop of water on you, you would have been too heavy. You won all of your fights on push outs. You had three or four fights — I have them all on tape. I could probably put them on a DVD for you. Dude I have a memory like a steal trap. I can tell you a great deal more about that event if you want. -Josh

Thanks, Josh! And, no, I don’t want to spar.


After winning the 1999 finals — bowing to the judges.

-Chinese TV? Here is an advertisement I appeared in for one show. I am one of the FBI agents, second from the left, behind the casket (looking very serious and sad). This was filmed in the Bay Area, Daly City, if I remember correctly:

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###

Of course, you can’t win them all. You can’t prove everything to everyone.

When all else fails, just remember what Maryam Scoble once told me: “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.” Word.

Posted on: August 8, 2007.

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83 comments on “The 7 Commandments of Blogosphere (and Life) Self-Defense

  1. Way to go, Tim. It takes a good measure of emotional stamina to be in the public spotlight. Keep fighting the good fight. Your book and example are good for the world.

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  2. It’s amazing just how far people will go to put others down, especially when those others are achieving things of which the attackers are most likely envious.

    Once again you’ve offered some sensible suggestions for how to diffuse heated issues “like a grown-up” and move on. Keep up the good work.

    Like

  3. Hi Tim,

    Loving your blog and your book (still reading it). This particular blog entry reminded me of a slight typo on page 157 – I’ll quote: “If there are 15,000 readers and even 50 (0.003%) […]”

    1% of 15,000 = 150… so, 50 being 1/3rd of 150, is also 1/3rd of 1% – ergo, 0.3% rounded.

    I can’t get enough of your blogs and book content. You’ve eluded to writing a possible 2nd book, and I can’t wait for that to happen.

    Later

    Like

  4. “The body composition changes and muscle gain I talk about on the blog (what does that even have to do with the book?) were measured at San Jose State University using hydrostatic weighing and circumference measurements, combined with measurements from the Brooks Brothers tailor at Santana Row in San Jose, CA.”

    Yes, but you didn’t *gain* 34 pounds; you *regained* 34 pounds; you’d been heavier than that before. Any experienced lifter knows how much easier it is to regain weight than to add new mass; Buster Douglas went from 234# world champion to 268# parade float in 48 hours after the Tyson fight.

    Also, your pictures had the usual before and after tricks; a lot of guys can show similar improvements to the ones in your pictorial in half an hour; shave, apply fake tan, change clothes, tense up, suck in your belly, get closer to the camera, et cetera.

    That said, it was a very impressive accomplishment; framed in a somewhat misleading way. Like the 4 hour work weeks; that’s maintenance, not setup.

    “Here are some examples of where they still haven’t:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Ferriss

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_4-Hour_Workweek (don’t miss the comments/talk page)”

    It looks like the wikipedia entry lacks third-party sources; that “The information about Ferriss himself in the section Entrepreneurship is not sourced for verification. The section 4-Hour Workweek is also unreferenced. The section Book Reviews, Hoax Email Poem & Claims is highly critical of his single published work, and it is externally linked through inline references that are not listed in the reference section. The WP:COI tag on this article is to indicate that a single editor is not abiding by a neutral point of view in developing this Wikipedia article. Timothy Ferriss is a human being, and as long as there’s an article in Wikipedia about him, this article should fairly and accurately reflect the public record of his activities and achievements.”

    Digging up third party links to disputed claims might serve you; for example “The body composition changes and muscle gain I talk about on the blog (what does that even have to do with the book?) were measured at San Jose State University using hydrostatic weighing and circumference measurements, combined with measurements from the Brooks Brothers tailor at Santana Row in San Jose, CA.”

    SJSU shouldn’t object to posting your results with your permission; BB might raise an elegantly plucked eyebrow at you for asking, but why not?

    More generally speaking, for a lot of critics, information posted on your website will hold less weight than a link to a presumably objective institution like a state university; sorry.

    For the record I believe you, but I read you pretty carefully; you’re careful to say no word that is not true, I think, but you’re willing to engage in marketing type deception, e.g. tanning spray. Doesn’t make you a bad person, just a good marketer.

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  5. Blog wars get ugly fast.(Really, I believe they’re mostly about increasing traffic. If you have a decent readership, they’re going to jump to your defense, and spread the word, and voila! More readers flock to your site to check out the trainwreck in progress.)

    I understand the impulse to defend yourself against slander or personal attacks,but you probably gave these turds a boner by drawing attention to their insults.

    You mentioned something when I first started reading about not expending too much energy on blogging. It was great advice.

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  6. There’s a soon to be famous theory on the internet, but the profanity in the name prevents me from giving the solution. The reactants, however, can let a little creative googling take you there…

    normal person anonymity audience = ???

    Anyways, the Wikipedia biography of you has to be one of the lower quality articles I’ve seen on that site.

    Take Care,
    S

    Like

  7. Hi Tim,

    I enjoyed reading your book and now enjoy reading your blog.

    Your ideas about defending yourself reminded me of something Tolstoy said: Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.

    The ideas you presented are practical and proactive. Thanks.

    Be well

    Like

  8. Alas, you haven’t gotten hold of a Christian. You’ve gotten hold of a nutball who hasn’t bothered to take the time to understand you or your sports. Cock fights and dog fights are blood sports (or spectacles). Wrestling and kick boxing are not.

    On the positive side, apparently this person has already put your principles to work for them. It appears they have an abundance of free time to threaten people, so they must only be working four hours or less per week. :-)

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  9. I’ve gotten a death threat and my site is just a personal blog. Why did I get it? Because I also run a fansite and a girl went ballistic because she thought she hadn’t been added to the fan list – nevermind that she was and just didn’t look. She said I should be shot and she’d be happy to do it. Over a stupid hobby site.

    People do think the web affords them anonymity, but I left a note on my blog that I not only had her IP and visit information saved but that I had turned it over to her local police dept. She hasn’t bothered me since.

    Sometimes people are just bent on coming unhinged and there’s nothing you can do to not become a target. Whether it’s jealousy, envy or lack of common sense, you can’t control other people’s online behavior. But, as you pointed out, there are ways you can defuse the situation without animosity or causing the situation to worsen. Nip it in the bud right away, but do it with tact and common sense, I always say. Nothing fuels the fire started by these trolls more than knowing they’ve angered you.

    Kudos on the post, Tim. :)

    Like

  10. Hi Rob,

    Nice catch on the typo! Writing an e-mail to my editor now… Man, you can have a dozen proofreaders read a book 1,000 times and still miss things. It’s amazing…

    Thanks!

    Tim

    Like

  11. Here’s how I keep nasty emails from getting me down — I don’t read them.

    My virtual assistant reads all my public emails and unsubscribes, and deals with them as I have instructed her to do for each situation. She only contacts me if she needs me to give more information or make more suggestions.

    Outsourcing is not just about time management, it is also about insulating yourself from bad-ness.

    That does not work with comments on my blog, though — but I have noticed that when people are mean they tend to address me as “the author” as opposed to calling me by name, and don’t leave a real email address. In that case, who cares what someone says if they are not willing to take responsibility for their own statements. There, it mostly takes practice in letting it roll off me.

    Like

  12. Keep up the great content (so far, I think I’ve sold/bought for friends in total about 8 copies),, so far.

    While I do preface your predeliction for martial arts to my friends who get the book. I was alway very interested in the manner that you fought those and won. Those bouts seem in line with your book exactly. Find a weakness in the system and exploit it.

    I thought this brought home the manner in which your book operates more than anything else.

    The NBTD always make me laugh as well. There’s simply no need to pay too much attention to them, and yes, as you’ve noted, when the whine becomes a wail, do something about it in a way that ends it straight away.

    NBTD obviously had never participated in any martial arts (as the bragging doesn’t have any part in them) but teaching, and learning a new way to do things does.

    I do giggle at times, where you take your work so far to the extreme, I myself take the levels you operate at with a grain of salt (in other words, the goals are there, but I cannot simply drop what I’m doing to complete them all one at a time). But your focus in these operations are always delightful to watch, and your ability to chronicle them make them very watchable/readable.

    Thanks again for your great insights!

    Like

  13. Tim,

    Sorry to hear about all the fun people you have heard from. I hate to think you have to spend your time answering idiots like these guys and girls. Concentrate your efforts on the people who you are helping and want your advice-remember you only have 4 hours a week and we fans should keep you pretty busy!

    Like

  14. IT’S ALL LIES!!!! LIES I TELL YOU!!!

    It was funny reading this. Remember you and I sitting in that restaurant in Austin during SXSW, and me telling you to prepare for all the haters and the people trying to call BS. I remember you not really understanding why people would doubt stuff that was obviously true and you could prove–now you understand. You have handled it really well though; you took all the advice I gave you and added to it. Good job.

    And to everyone who doubts Tim, I will say two things:

    1. I have vetted him up and down, and never found him lacking in truth.

    2. Go roll with him. Seriously, go to AKA and get on the mat and say to his face you don’t believe him. I guarantee you won’t say it twice.

    BTW–Congrats on becoming a #1 NY Times Best Selling Author. I told you it was going to happen…

    Like

  15. Wow, long post Tim! I can tell you feel quite strongly about this.

    Well, now you’re a celebrity, you’re going to have to cope with a bit of celeb bashing I suppose. You can’t please all the people all the time (can you?).

    You’ve really inspired me though, although some times I get frustrated that I’m not there (where you are) yet, then I remember that I’m on the right path, and I’ll get there in the end, and I get excited again.

    Keep up the good work, your blog posts seem to be becoming more frequent, you’ll probably get more readers that way, what are you going to do with us!

    PS I’m surprised you haven’t got any links to your bodyquicken product. I guess you don’t need the extra business (I bought some anyway – it’s a great website)!

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  16. Garbage is just another barrier to entry. For every hurdle, a certain number of people will bail out leaving the rewards to those who choose to keep going.

    And never forget that almost all of those negative comments come from 14 year olds!

    -Richard Lee

    Like