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TED2018

Dylan Marron: How I turn negative online comments into positive offline conversations

Filmed
914,814 views

Digital creator Dylan Marron has racked up millions of views for projects like "Every Single Word" and "Sitting in Bathrooms With Trans People" -- but he's found that the flip side of success online is internet hate. Over time, he's developed an unexpected coping mechanism: calling the people who leave him insensitive comments and asking a simple question: "Why did you write that?" In a thoughtful talk about how we interact online, Marron explains how sometimes the most subversive thing you can do is actually speak with people you disagree with, not simply at them.

- Writer, performer
Dylan Marron takes complicated social issues and finds accessible ways to talk about them through interviews, short-form videos and satire. Full bio

Hi.
00:12
I've received hate online.
00:14
A lot of it.
00:18
And it comes
with the territory of my work.
00:19
I'm a digital creator,
00:22
I make things specifically
for the internet.
00:23
Like, a few years ago, I made
a video series called "Every Single Word"
00:27
where I edited down popular films
00:31
to only the words
spoken by people of color,
00:33
as a way to empirically and accessibly
talk about the issue of representation
00:36
in Hollywood.
00:40
Then, later, as transphobic bathroom bill
00:42
started gaining media attention
around the United States,
00:45
I hosted and produced an interview series
00:49
called "Sitting in Bathrooms
with Trans People"
00:51
where I did exactly that.
00:54
(Laughter)
00:56
And then --
00:57
Sure, I'll take applause.
00:58
(Applause)
01:00
Thank you.
01:02
And then, are you familiar
with those unboxing videos on YouTube
01:03
where YouTubers open up
the latest electronic gadgets?
01:07
Great, so I satirized those
in a weekly series,
01:11
where instead I unboxed
intangible ideologies
01:14
like police brutality, masculinity
and the mistreatment of Native Americans.
01:18
(Laughter)
01:23
My work --
01:25
Thanks.
01:26
One person applauding, God bless.
01:27
(Laughter)
01:29
Mom, hi.
01:31
(Laughter)
01:33
So, my work became popular.
01:35
Very popular.
01:38
I got millions of views,
a ton of great press
01:39
and a slew of new followers.
01:42
But the flip side of success
on the internet
01:44
is internet hate.
01:47
I was called everything.
01:49
From "beta" to "snowflake"
and, of course, the ever-popular "cuck."
01:51
Don't worry, I will break
these terms down for you.
01:57
(Laughter)
02:00
So, "beta," for those of you unfamiliar,
02:01
is shorthand online lingo for "beta male."
02:03
But let's be real, I wear pearl earrings
02:07
and my fashion aesthetic
is rich-white-woman-running-errands,
02:09
so I'm not angling to be an alpha.
02:13
(Applause)
02:15
Doesn't totally work.
02:17
(Laughter)
02:20
Now, "snowflake" is a put-down
for people who are sensitive
02:21
and believe themselves to be unique,
02:24
and I'm a millennial
and an only child, so, duh!
02:26
(Laughter)
02:30
But my favorite, favorite,
favorite is "cuck."
02:33
It's a slur, short for "cuckold,"
02:37
for men who have been
cheated on by their wives.
02:39
But friends, I am so gay,
02:42
that if I had a wife, I would
encourage her to cheat on me.
02:44
(Laughter)
02:48
Thank you.
02:50
Let's take a look at some
of this negativity in action.
02:52
Sometimes it's direct.
02:57
Like Marcos, who wrote,
02:58
"You're everything I hate
in a human being."
03:00
Thank you, Marcos.
03:02
Others are more concise.
03:04
Like Donovan, who wrote,
"gaywad fagggggg."
03:06
Now, I do need to point out,
Donovan is not wrong, OK?
03:09
In fact, he's right on both counts,
so credit where credit is due.
03:14
Thank you, Donovan.
03:18
Others write to me with questions,
like Brian, who asked,
03:19
"Were you born a bitch or did you
just learn to be one over time?"
03:23
But my favorite thing about this
03:27
is that once Brian was done typing,
his finger must have slipped
03:29
because then he sent me
the thumbs-up emoji.
03:33
(Laughter)
03:36
So, babe, thumbs up to you, too.
03:38
(Laughter)
03:41
It's fun to talk about these messages now.
03:43
Right?
03:46
And it's cathartic to laugh at them.
03:47
But I can tell you that it really
does not feel good to receive them.
03:50
At first, I would screenshot
their comments
03:56
and make fun of their typos,
03:59
but this soon felt elitist
and ultimately unhelpful.
04:00
So over time, I developed
an unexpected coping mechanism.
04:05
Because most of these messages I received
were through social media,
04:09
I could often click on the profile picture
of the person who sent them
04:13
and learn everything about them.
04:16
I could see pictures they were tagged in,
04:19
posts they'd written, memes they'd shared,
04:20
and somehow, seeing that it was
a human on the other side of the screen
04:23
made me feel a little better.
04:26
Not to justify what they wrote, right?
04:28
But just to provide context.
04:31
Still, that didn't feel like enough.
04:34
So, I called some of them --
04:37
only the ones I felt safe talking to --
04:40
with a simple opening question:
04:42
"Why did you write that?"
04:45
The first person I spoke to was Josh.
04:47
He had written to tell me
that I was a moron,
04:50
I was a reason this country
was dividing itself,
04:52
and he added at the end
that being gay was a sin.
04:55
I was so nervous
for our first conversation.
05:00
This wasn't a comments section.
05:03
So I couldn't use tools
like muting or blocking.
05:05
Of course, I guess,
I could have hung up on him.
05:08
But I didn't want to.
05:12
Because I liked talking to him.
05:13
Because I liked him.
05:15
Here's a clip of one of our conversations.
05:18
(Audio) Dylan Marrion: Josh, you said
05:21
you're about to graduate
high school, right?
05:23
Josh: Mmm-hmm.
05:25
DM: How is high school for you?
05:26
Josh: Am I allowed to use
the H-E-double-hockey-stick word?
05:28
DM: Oh, yeah. You're allowed to.
05:31
Josh: It was hell.
05:32
DM: Really?
05:34
Josh: And it's still hell right now,
even though it's only two weeks left.
05:35
I'm a little bit bigger --
I don't like to use the word "fat,"
05:38
but I am a little bit bigger
than a lot of my classmates
05:41
and they seem to judge me
before they even got to know me.
05:44
DM: That's awful.
05:48
I mean, I also just want
to let you know, Josh,
05:50
I was bullied in high school, too.
05:52
So did our common ground
of being bullied in high school
05:57
erase what he wrote me?
06:00
No.
06:02
And did our single phone conversation
06:03
radically heal a politically
divided country
06:06
and cure systemic injustice?
06:09
No, absolutely not, right?
06:12
But did our conversation
humanize us to each other
06:15
more than profile pictures
and posts ever could?
06:18
Absolutely.
06:21
I didn't stop there.
06:23
Because some of the hate I received
was from "my side."
06:24
So when Matthew,
a queer liberal artist like me
06:29
publicly wrote that I represented
some of the worst aspects of liberalism,
06:33
I wanted to ask him this.
06:37
DM: You tagged me in this post.
06:40
Did you want me to see it?
06:42
Matthew (Laughing): I honestly
didn't think that you would.
06:44
DM: Have you ever been publicly dragged?
06:46
Matthew: I have been.
06:49
And I just said, "No, I don't care."
06:51
DM: And did you not care?
06:53
Matthew: But it was hard.
06:55
DM: Did you not care?
06:56
Matthew: Oh, I cared, yes.
06:57
DM: At the end of these conversations,
07:00
there's often a moment of reflection.
07:02
A reconsideration.
07:04
And that's exactly what happened
07:06
at the end of my call
with a guy named Doug
07:08
who had written that I was
a talentless propaganda hack.
07:10
(Audio) Did the conversation
we just had --
07:14
does it, like, make you feel differently
about how you write online?
07:16
Doug: Yeah! You know,
when I said this to you,
07:20
when I said you were a "talentless hack,"
07:22
I had never conversed
with you in my life, really.
07:24
I didn't really know anything
really about you.
07:26
And I think that a lot of times,
07:29
that's what the comment
sections really are,
07:30
it's really a way to get
your anger at the world out
07:32
on random profiles
of strangers, pretty much.
07:37
DM (Laughing): Yeah, right.
07:40
Doug: But it definitely
has made me rethink
07:42
the way that I interact
with people online.
07:45
DM: So I've collected these
conversations and many others
07:50
for my podcast "Conversations
with People Who Hate Me."
07:53
(Laughter)
07:57
Before I started this project,
07:59
I though that the real way
to bring about change
08:01
was to shut down opposing viewpoints
08:04
through epically worded
video essays and comments and posts,
08:07
but I soon learned
those were only cheered on
08:11
by the people who already agreed with me.
08:14
Sometimes -- bless you.
08:17
Sometimes, the most subversive
thing you could do --
08:18
yeah, clap for him.
08:21
(Laughter)
08:23
Sometimes, the most subversive
thing you could do
08:27
was to actually speak
with the people you disagreed with,
08:29
and not simply at them.
08:33
Now in every one of my calls,
08:35
I always ask my guests
to tell me about themselves.
08:37
And it's their answer to this question
that allows me to empathize with them.
08:40
And empathy, it turns out,
08:45
is a key ingredient in getting
these conversations off the ground,
08:47
but it can feel very vulnerable
08:51
to be empathizing with someone
you profoundly disagree with.
08:53
So I established
a helpful mantra for myself.
08:57
Empathy is not endorsement.
09:01
Empathizing with someone
you profoundly disagree with
09:04
does not suddenly compromise
your own deeply held beliefs
09:07
and endorse theirs.
09:11
Empathizing with someone who, for example,
believes that being gay is a sin
09:12
doesn't mean that I'm suddenly
going to drop everything,
09:16
pack my bags and grab
my one-way ticket to hell, right?
09:19
It just means that I'm acknowledging
09:22
the humanity of someone who was raised
to think very differently from me.
09:24
I also want to be super clear
about something.
09:29
This is not a prescription for activism.
09:32
I understand that
some people don't feel safe
09:35
talking to their detractors
09:37
and others feel so marginalized
09:39
that they justifiably don't feel
that they have any empathy to give.
09:41
I totally get that.
09:45
This is just what I feel
well-suited to do.
09:46
You know, I've reached out
to a lot of people for this podcast.
09:49
And some have politely declined,
09:52
others have read my message
and ignored it,
09:54
some have blocked me automatically
when I sent the invitation
09:56
and one guy actually agreed to do it
10:00
and then, five minutes into the call,
10:01
hung up on me.
10:03
I'm also aware that this talk
will appear on the internet.
10:05
And with the internet comes
comment sections,
10:09
and with comment sections
inevitably comes hate.
10:11
So as you are watching this talk,
10:15
you can feel free to call me
whatever you'd like.
10:17
You can call me a "gaywad,"
a "snowflake," a "cuck," a "beta,"
10:19
or "everything wrong with liberalism."
10:24
But just know that if you do,
I may ask you to talk.
10:27
And if you refuse
or block me automatically
10:31
or agree and hang up on me,
10:35
then maybe, babe, the snowflake is you.
10:37
Thank you so much.
10:40
(Applause)
10:42
(Cheering)
10:44
(Applause)
10:45

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About the speaker:

Dylan Marron - Writer, performer
Dylan Marron takes complicated social issues and finds accessible ways to talk about them through interviews, short-form videos and satire.

Why you should listen

Dylan Marron is the host and producer of the Webby-winning podcast Conversations with People Who Hate Me, where he calls up folks who wrote him negative or hateful messages on the internet. Previously, Marron created Every Single Word, a video series that edits down popular films to only the words spoken by people of color as a way to tackle Hollywood's representation problem empirically. To address the anti-trans bathroom bills, he created and hosted Sitting in Bathrooms with Trans People to broadcast a missing element: mundane, funny conversations with trans folks in the very spot their presence was debated.

As he tells it: "The 2016 presidential election inspired me to satirize the popular unboxing genre where YouTubers open the latest electronic gadgets by instead unboxing intangible 'products' like Islamophobia, police brutality and masculinity. And because this work gained popularity on the internet, I received many negative messages which inspired me to start Conversations with People Who Hate Me, a podcast where I call up some of the folks who sent me those messages. In the end, I'm trying to turn the internet into a place where we can connect and learn, not divide."

More profile about the speaker
Dylan Marron | Speaker | TED.com