Ask Mandisa 2 – Online Dialogue

by | October 1, 2018

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Mandisa Thomas is the Founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc (Twitter & Facebook). One of the, if not the, largest organization for African-American or black nonbelievers or atheists in America. The organization is intended to give secular fellowship, provide nurturance and support for nonbelievers, encourage a sense of pride in irreligion, and promote charity in the non-religious community. I reached out to begin an educational series with one of the, and again if not the, most prominent African-American woman nonbeliever grassroots activists in the United States. Here, we talk about online engagement.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: With respect to dealing with the media, which as a spokesperson you deal with a more varied and vast way than other people, e.g., social media, how do you recommend people go about doing it if they are not a moderately famous person but more of an ordinary person?

Mandisa Thomas: We acknowledge social media is a very, very important part of communication with fellow atheists and nonbelievers as well as believers, e.g., acquaintances, family members, friends, what have you.

There are times when social media can be very overwhelming. When you are dealing with different personalities, which can make it difficult for communication at times, interestingly enough, YouTube, for example, I have had the pleasure of being featured on a few shows and interviews.

There is a commandment: Thou shalt not read the comments.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Thomas: [Laughing] because they can be quite brutal, quite condescending. There are people who hide behind avatars and personalities to troll people or to disrespect people. If you are a regular person, or if you are a regular person, who is commenting on YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook, or if you have a channel or a page, I would recommend managing the contents and the comments very carefully.

It is important to set ground rules for what the commentary should be. Whether it is more formal or a little more flexible, it is fine for some pages, which encourage discussion and discourse. The rules may be a little more arbitrary or not as applied heavily, or there may not be as much restriction.

It is important to set ground rules, even if you have a personal page. The types of dialogues tolerated and not tolerated on the page. If someone violates that, you have the right. You should use the right to eliminate people who may be problematic.

Jacobsen: In terms of the identification of those individuals who are asking those questions, who have a sincere intent, and those who are trolls, how do you discern there?

Thomas: It is interesting. The content will give it away. A troll is someone, regardless of the boundaries set or the content, will say whatever they want to say. There are things considered loaded or that would elicit either a reaction or a response, which would never be to their satisfaction.

Some people will outright make ad hominem attacks or slander people. I think everything they’re doing is telling from what they say. If you are asked a question, or if you are on a live forum, you can ask for clarification about what they mean.

If they are genuine about the question, they will be more willing to provide more information. But you have some who aren’t. That is one way to identify who trolls are outside of them simply making derogatory contents. They are asking questions considered loaded or trick questions.

It is good to ask them to clarify or provide more detail through more questions. You can then gauge if they are sincere or not.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.

Thomas: No problem. Thank you!

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