058: Sometimes You Gotta Punch Back

058: Sometimes You Gotta Punch Back


This is the 58th edition of Cultivating Resilience, a weekly newsletter how we build, adapt, and lead in times of change—brought to you by Jason Shen, retired gymnast, and 3x startup founder turned Facebook PM.

This week I’d like to welcome all the new folks who joined us from my friend Tony Stubblebine’s newsletter. Tony is (among other things) an original thinker, an early advisor to Calm and Medium, and the leader of the most practically useful personal development pub on the internet: Better Humans. I’m glad you’re all here and I recommend any readersd who don’t know Tony to check him out.

🧠 Stanford Paper Finds Online Communities Must Aggressively Defend Against Attackers to Maintain Long-Term Engagement
🖼 Extra Strength (comic)
👉 The Peacemakers Code (novel)

Subscribe now

🧠 Stanford Paper Finds Online Communities Must Aggressively Defend Against Attackers to Maintain Long-Term Engagement

One of the things that I believe about resilience is that it's often more about being soft & adaptable rather than hard & rigid. You gotta roll, duck, and weave with the punches. But there are still times when that won't work. There are times when you gotta hit back.

I recently read a paper by a couple of internet researchers at Stanford that tried to study what happened when online communities fight. They especially looked at groups on Reddit, which are organized around themes like /r/fishing or /r/atheism or /r/thedonald (as in Trump).

Their first finding was that groups that attacked each other were often similar in topic but took opposing stances. Which makes sense - you both care about a thing but have different opinions on it.

Their second finding was that a small number of groups initiated the vast majority fo the attacks. The more senior/longstanding community members would post a link to another group (e.g. “Look at dumb those people in r/FlatEarth are”) and the more junior members would follow up with nasty comments and posts. In other words, there are aggressive, bullying groups out there that can make things awful for the whole ecosystem even if most groups are pretty peaceful.

Their third finding is that conflicts often lead to the attacking group harming the long-term engagement of the defending group. That is the members spend less time posting and interacting in that group and it gets “colonized” by attackers.

Successful defense are defined by three things:

  1. Defenders don't just talk to each other (which is naturally what happens), but respond directly to the attackers. You gotta respond to the haters sometimes or else they think they can yell with impunity.
  2. Defenders don't let individual members get ganged up. Don't let the dogpile happen, respond to those attackers and stay in the mix.
  3. Effective defenders use stronger, more aggressive language. Successful defenses feature at least a quarter or more of all defender responses to have at least one "anger" word. This is about punching back, and punching hard.

This makes sense when compared to research around bullying and "fighting back". Doing nothing shows bullies they can repeat their behavior with no consequences. But being erratic and overreactive in their response isn't effective either as it triggers more provocation.

Instead, the most effective response is a strong but controlled "counter punch". It needs to feel commensurate and delivered confidently, without too much anguish. That's easier said than done of course, but it's a reminder that we sometimes need to learn to fight so we can keep the peace.

Community Interaction and Conflict on the Web (stanford.edu)

🖼 Extra Strength (comic)

Do any of you drink Death Wish coffee or one of those other aggro brands? I haven’t but I imagine this is how it’d go for me.

👉 The Peacemakers Code (novel)

I know we just talked about why sometimes punching back is necessary, but I also just finished a novel that takes the other side of that idea. The Peacemaker’s Code is like Arrival1, except the professor is a historian instead of a linguist and the focus is not on getting to communication, but understanding the interests of a powerful unknown force in an effort to stop a war.

I discovered the book from the After Hours podcast and it’s written by an HBS professor who mostly teaches history, strategy, and negotiation classes. The key message is how hard it can be to make peace, not just a temporary truce, like North vs South Korea, but lasting peace in the way that the US and Canada could never imagine going to war - and how easy it can be to misinterpret actions negative to reactivate conflict.

It’s a fun, easy read with an intriguing premise, unorthodox plot, and useful nuggets of lessons from history and negotiation. I did find the main character a little bit too perfect - attractive, smart, brave, charming, eloquent. No real flaws. And the love story felt a little too easy. But the central premise was quite original and I’ll be thinking about the ideas within this book for months to come, so overall worth it. Giving it 4/5 stars

Evergreen Links


Arrival was a 2016 scifi film based on a short story by Ted Chiang called the Story of Your Life, about how alien spacecraft land on Earth and a professor of linguistics is called in to try to communicate with them.