The Flying Monkey Effect explained

In my recent talks to Sydney Atheists and Western Sydney Freethinkers, I've been a little damning of email-writing campaigns and blog comment campaigns due to something we've termed the "Flying Monkey Effect". At the same time, I've tried to get across the point that they could have positive effects, properly done. I wanted to expand on this a little.

The Flying Monkey Effect, as anyone with a modicum of pop culture nous has twigged, comes from the 1939 movie "The Wizard Of Oz". The Wicked Witch of The West employs an army of flying monkeys which she sends out to do her evil bidding. They're not smart henchmonkeys, and while they might get the job done, they'll accomplish it with much poo-flinging, public masturbation and stealing of bananas.

Meryl Dorey, and nutters like her, often play a similar trick, mobilising their followers via social media, email or similar, sending them out to wreak their special brand of havoc by email, on blogs or by social media, against media outlets, businesses or even in some cases against individuals deemed fair game by Meryl.

Much like this:

 What I've wanted to impress on skeptics at my talks has been that such activities, carefully herded, considered end-to-end and tightly controlled, can have their place, but that merely calling in the monkeys is just as likely, if not more likely, to damage the cause. We hear anecdotal reports from targets of such activities that they now routinely ignore large spikes in email or comment noise. We also have the Twitter version of the FME, which got Mike Adams disqualified from the Shorty Awards when it became clear that his followers were too dumb to follow the rules. The flying Monkey Effect is a bad thing.

Of course, the Flying Monkey Effect only happens when the monkeys are uncoordinated, uncontrolled and unprepared. 10,000 badly-written emails all on the same subject are likely to annoy. 10 well-written, carefully tailored emails, perhaps with many signatories to each, are likely to be seen as reasonable, rational and, frankly, sane.

This is not to say that the Flying Monkeys of the AVN and their compatriots worldwide should not be countered when unleashed. They absolutely should. But skeptics should not embark on the same kind of ill-considered mailbombing that the forces of woo so fondly love.

This, of course, brings us to tools such as ReasonMakesADifference*. I like this tool. I like what it indends to do, but I worry that it's a little vulnerable to Flying Monkey disease. I think it should batch-process or collate emails to cut down on flood effects, and institute a membership system to monitor who's sending what. It should encourage personalisation of emails, and give the option of adding multiple signatories to a single mail. Above all, it should conform to the Prepared, Coordinated and Controlled approach.

I promote ReasonMakesADifference in my talk, but I do have these minor reservations. I'll be talking to the originator of the site sometime soon for a podcast I'm working on and I hope to discuss a few of these concerns. I hope it'll make for interesting listening, should I manage to get it off the ground.

To close, I'll re-iterate. If you think your cause can be supported by an email campaign or other mass mailing tactic, please think carefully about it before you start, make your aims as clear as you can to your troops and maintain a steady hand on the rudder throughout. Prepared, Coordinated and Controlled.


[This is the second post in the new category "Running Guns To The Dissidents", in which I'll be trying to promote better digital activism to skeptics, atheists and freethinkers through more effective tools and tactics.]

* Currently, the ReasonMakesADifference email tool is down, so I can't check and see if it still operates the way I remember it operating. Please consider these remarks provisional until the tool is back up for analysis

posted @ Tuesday, September 21, 2010 2:29 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: The Flying Monkey Effect explained

Left by Simon N. at 9/22/2010 12:24 PM
Good advice and a great analogy. As much as I enjoy on a guttural level watching, for example, PZ's minions go after someone repeating nonsense, it still sometimes leaves a bad taste in one's mouth that one or two people will be so crass, profane, or illiterate as to be an example for The Opposition™ to latch on to as to how amoral/ill-informed/closed-minded/fascist/strident/<insert bogeyman of choice> skeptics/atheists are, and use it as a justification for disregarding their entire position wholesale.

There is, of course, room for more than one tactic, something I think the people straying toward "accomodationism" in the recent kerfuffles have overlooked. But a bit more organization is definitely warranted, and it resonates with my personal tactics of striving for calm, reasoned, evidentially-supported argument (while seething and seeing red inside).

I really like your effort, and I hope it takes off. Looking forward to the podcast.
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