The Internet is a funny place, a wondrous place. A place where you can be who you want to be, a place to gather support in in need. Where laws barely apply and people take the law into their own hands. Unleashing their own interpretation of justice as they see fit.
To stand up against bullying is admirable and important. Especially now when these creeps can hide behind an online identity. Making it too easy to torment anyone, swiftly sneaking back into the shadows of the Internet after ruined a life.
One popular way to deal with these pests are, often referred to as, naming and shaming. It is quick and effective. Which often is the issue, as it spreads like a wildfire. It does not leave any room for fact-checking.
The risk of outing the wrong person is often very high. But if it is the right person, the revenge is oh-so-sweet. Which is why these vigilantes take the risk of outing someone. Forgetting that if you have named and shamed the wrong person, it can not be undone, especially online.
But for some, admitting that they made a mistake is not always that easy. Even if the vigilante is confronted by both parties, the alleged bully and the alleged victim, no apology or admitting to have been wrong is ever uttered. As the vigilante sees it, they are doing the right thing, keeping the Internet clean from bullies.
That is what Dan Schwartz ended up doing. Himself a victim of bullying in 1985 when he had to start wearing hearing aids at the age of 24 due to a hearing impairment.
A multidisciplinary electrical engineer with experience as a hearing aid dispenser often shares his views on audiology via Twitter and his blog, even though he has no degree in audiology.
He is an active user of Twitter where he very aggressively tries to push his views about hearing aids and especially Cochlear Implants (CI). Going so far to attempt to provide a diagnosis without ever have met these people in person. He also tries to help– so he claims –those who are bullied [on Twitter] for being hearing impaired, due to his own experience of being bullied.
“I don’t like people who bully us in the hearing impaired community; and sometimes I give them a taste of their own medicine,” Dan said.
His aggressive personality is not something he hides. When Dan was approached via email for comment he respond via Twitter with anger.
“Go harass someone else. I’ll answer whichever e-mails I choose; so piss off.”
He did eventually provide a response via email where he explains why he approaches those he claims are bullies, but not explaining why he responds so aggressively. When reading his response it seems that because of his degree and his life experience he has some kind of carte blanche to behave the way he does. Attacking supposed bullies and questioning experienced audiologists. Drawing the conclusion that anyone who disagrees with him is either attacking him or downright wrong.
“I’m a multidisciplinary electrical engineer so I can throw stones with impunity.”
He also congratulated me for finding his personal email. Which isn’t really that difficult when you are dealing with someone that is very open publicly with his opinions. Also it is my job as journalist to find information.
It is no wonder he acts in the way he does, and so openly. He has convinced himself that his behaviour is perfectly normal.
This is evident when visiting both his Twitter accounts and his blog. He is not afraid to have opinions about audiology, but seems to be unaware that that is all they are – opinions. And when they are not opinions, they are nothing more than vile attacks on those who either disagree with him or he thinks are bullies – unaware he is nothing more than a bully himself.
What made me keep an eye on Dan Schwartz and his antics was when he mistook two friends joking with each other on Twitter. Without asking for clarification if Caitlin Moran was being bullied by Catherine Alberti, he took matter into his own hands and looked up Catherine Alberti in the white pages; then posting her information on Twitter, calling her a loser and urging people to contact her.
Both got in touch with Dan Schwartz [via Twitter] telling him that there was no bullying going on and urging him to take down the information. He was however still adamant that Catherine Alberti was a bully and that she deserved to be named and shamed. Defending his posting of her name, phone number and home address, that it was already publicly available.
Other people chimed in, urging him to take the information down and that he made a mistake. I asked him [via Twitter] several questions regarding the incident.
I was given an angry response, and he also decided to block me.
“Everything I’ve posted is publicly available; so piss off.”
Which is a common response from Dan when people object to his attacks, he always defends his actions that they are having a public conversation.
“What do you expect when you have a public conversation? You can’t be THAT stoopid [sic], can you?”
Yet not taking into consideration that what he also puts online is also public, not aware how some of it might sound a bit weird if taken out of context.
“Tina, I just commented on your blog: It looks like I popped the cherry! (and the color reminded me of that!)”
He seeks out people on Twitter to either push certain hearing aid brands and CIs, give clinical advice [which he is not trained to do] or seek out [presumed] bullies to name and shame.
Often when he approaches people on Twitter they seem a bit confused to why and that he is making them feel a bit uncomfortable.
“I don’t feel comfortable giving you my information,” Monica Taylor said.
“Do I know you,” Kayshia Nia Rowe asked.
After trying to diagnose and give clinical advice via Twitter the person tried to kindly decline Dan’s suggestions.
“If my own audiologist had felt that was the recommendation for me, he’d have made it. Not good to diagnose over the ‘Net,” Barbara Brill said.
A rejection Dan decides to respond to with vitriol.
“Well, then suffer with your deafness. ~300,000 people now are walking around with CI’s [Cochlear Implants] in them, many able to use the phone.”
He kept on sending her tweets to which she tried to make the point that he should stop contacting her.
“It is not an admirable trait your making assumptions about me. Please drop it.”
The least admirable tirade he partook in was when he accused a teenager of using the slogan the university he studied at [Georgia Tech] uses and he claims is the universities intellectual property.
“Hey, sugar tits: DON’T STEAL OUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY! Go make your own slogan, you lowlife STD-infested skank.”
“Skanks of feather, flock together.”
“Is that because you have your iPhone slid into your vagina, vibrating after each tweet mentioning your skanky name?”
In an unrelated altercation another Twitter user sums up Dan Schwartz’s behaviour very well by writing, “this guy is creepy.”
It is tempting to say that it seems that he tries to mean well, but fails miserably at it due to what seems like anger issues. He takes friendly banter out of context and if you challenge what he says he blows several gaskets. Always making it as if it is your fault and that you are the one being nasty.
This is why I decided not to contact Schwartz by phone, even if in a situation like this you would pick up the phone in an instant to get a comment [as a journalist]. But not knowing how aggressively he would react to it, and with a person like this I personally prefer to be able to record interviews, even if they are off-the-record. For the legal safety of the person I am interviewing and me, to avoid possible delicate situations where someone makes false allegations.
The last week however he has toned it down a bit. Actually, he has toned it down a lot compared to some of the things he has previously said. That might be due to the fact he is moving from Philadelphia to Chicago to be with his girlfriend. Keeping him busy and hopefully making him a bit happier with life.
Bullying online can get extremely nasty. Because it is too easy to hide your identity and too easy to get away with it. Which is why reactions to bullying often end up being equally bad. Both sides acts as if they are in a fight with no holds barred. Ending up hurting more than needed. And it gets worse when an innocent is attacked by mistake.
Of course we should stand together against bullying, but let us not become the bullies, the monsters we fight. Or as Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”
If you are bullied, harassed or wrongfully named and shamed on Twitter, try to avoid becoming the bully. Instead, visit Twitter’s abuse page and follow the suggestions posted there: https://support.twitter.com/forms/abusiveuser