A Call for Online Civility

In addition to the obvious mission of fighting to make exceptional beer available to the people and freeing shelf space from the white knuckled “Me me me!” grip of the industrialized fizzy yellow facsimile of beer in the process, I’ve always strived to leverage my position to make positive changes within the craft beer culture.

Some know me to be fairly vocal, and yes, even a bit disruptive at times. To that, I say, “Thanks for noticing. I’ll take those as compliments.” In my opinion, it’s the responsibility of people in craft brewing to be stewards of our industry and help move things in the right direction—by sheer force of will if necessary. (It’s taken a lot more than great beer to get our industry this far. If not, all us craft beer guys would have turned totally fat and lazy by now.) Truth be told, there continues to be room for craft breweries to improve our collective efforts and keep this wonderful thing we love called “craft beer” going.

But to put the onus solely on those in the business of making beer would be short-sighted. There’s also a lot beer fans can do to keep craft something we can all enjoy and be both proud of and excited about. Quite often it can all come down to acceptance, civility, understanding and, dare I say it, basic courtesy. The beautiful thing is that, even with diverse opinions and perspectives, this civility is not only possible, but bonus, our industry flourishes best when civility is a leading attribute.

Recently, I hooked up with a local North County guy named Ryan Reschan to put together a short, low-frills, guerilla-style video series to help communicate what became known internally as the “The Anti-Snark Initiative” in which we decided to try fighting fire with fire. (In honor of a certain recently aired cinematic masterpiece, perhaps we should dub it “Snarknado!”)

Ryan is well known online for his thorough and compelling video beer reviews. He’s done hundreds of them and, as such, knows from firsthand experience that social media platforms expose one to the real and present risk of encountering comments ranging from mere snark to serious negativity from mean-spirited “trolls” who, rather than offer cogent, factual, thought-provoking commentary on the topic at hand—in this case, something as seemingly simple and easy to get behind as a beer review—rifle off hate-filled, expletive-laced and often nonsensical comments that only serve to torpedo the opportunity for intelligent discussion. Such abuses laid upon what was once called “the art of conversation” have often decimated online craft beer forums into netherworlds filled with trollish denizens that fans in search of the glories of great beer-focused conversation must now carefully navigate around to keep from getting attacked for simply showing up, let alone (gasp) saying something that’s not 100% accurate or something that’s (double gasp) open to interpretation. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where getting slammed for posting something online is more likely than, say, a fizzy yellow beer marketing campaign ascribing the word “cold” as an attribute.*

After sharing a conversation on this topic when Ryan and his brewing partner Robert Masterson were at Stone to brew their collaboration beer with us, Ryan and I decided to address this compromised state of online conversational affairs. In typical fashion, I thought it would be fun to poke a little fun…all while having a little fun in the process (and enjoying some beers, no big surprise there, amirite?). So, we cobbled up a five-act series of videos in which Ryan posted a fake YouTube review of Arrogant Bastard Ale, awarding it a near-failing grade (which, by the way…and this is too funny…he totally failed at the first time around with a hardly-negative-at-all “B” review, thus off-camera encouragement on my part was necessary to get Ryan, a normally quite agreeable fellow, to be not-quite-so-civil). Moments after that, I posted a response refuting his claim that our beer was of such poor quality (we shot all of vids at his house on the same late afternoon in mid-June). Then Ryan fired off another response, which was followed by a second response from yours truly. All during this tit-for-tat exchange, the other person was standing just off camera, goading, cajoling, laughing…and many times just making faces or jokingly flipping the other person the bird. (Hey, I did disclose we were enjoying some beers during the process…what can I say, we were amusing ourselves.) Then came the triumphant closing act, with Ryan going to town railing against me, and calling me a…well, let’s just say he called me something not so flattering (watch the videos below for the details on that and the rest of this series)…and then, out of the blue, I come flying in from stage right to tackle him using the very best pro-wrestling move a non-steriod-taking scrawny proof-there’s-no-such-thing-as-a-beer-belly guy like me could muster. The idea was to get frequent viewers of video beer reviews interested, then give them both a surprise ending and something to laugh at before revealing our reasons for this (in truth, thinly veiled) ruse. And, as soon as Ryan picked my aforementioned scrawny butt up off his living room floor (not soon enough IMO with the slo-mo playback as it kinda makes us look like we were getting a little overly familiar with each other there on the floor…heh, I was momentarily dazed as he’d inadvertently clocked me below the eye with his elbow, which was OK as I’m willing to suffer for my art), we shared the point we were wanting to make in a friendly conversation over a beer.  (OK, it was three.  Ryan and Robert are great homebrewers after all.)

Did we look a bit foolish going back and forth at each other online? Absolutely! Was it over the line to start verbally knocking each other and resorting to petty name calling? Definitely. That was the point, because, more often than not, that’s what’s happening so often to many who share their opinions on the Internet. It’s almost a certainty that someone, whether informed or not, is going to blast someone else in a way they never would in real life, yet have no qualms about doing from the safety of their mom’s basement and/or the anonymity of the World Wide Web. For those of us who would like to be able to engage in an actual, real conversation it can be maddening! Enough so that I now rarely participate in the online beer enthusiast forums that I once passionately frequented. It’s time for this senseless snark in the false name of craft beer passion to stop!

Sadly, I have no real expectation that it will stop, as will no doubt be evidenced by commentaries on this very blog post and the accompanying video series. Go ahead. Say what you will. I rarely read that stuff anymore anyway. I know that some may think their snarky comment will truly benefit me if only I’d read it and take it to heart, but I’ll pass, thank you. Seth Godin does a great job explaining why here.

People love craft beer because it is something we can all enjoy and rally around. Its positive attributes are nearly limitless, so why would some go out of their way to find ways to strip away its heady luster? At the end of the day, it’s just beer. So what if some person you’ll never meet doesn’t like Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA as much as you? If you want, share with the reviewer why you love it so much, but don’t bash someone who doesn’t. Who cares if a guy half-a-country away mistakenly calls a hefeweizen a lager? If you like, share with them the facts in a way that’s inviting and inclusive, but don’t ridicule them! Is it really the end of the world if somebody mispronounces the word märzen? Answer: NOPE! Help with the pronunciation if you like, and while you’re at it, ask them what their favorite beers are or, if you can, find a way to compliment them on their taste and invite them to continue their journey with a suggestion of some of your favorites (I must note that this thankfully does indeed often happen in all the best ways). There’s no place for bashery, hurt or destruction where craft beer is involved and if something somebody says online irritates you, instead of firing off a stinging, non-attributable diatribe that isn’t going to get you what you want, anyway, why not disengage from the Internet, head to the fridge and crack open a craft beer?

I hope you enjoyed the little ad-hoc series we created and shot during one beer-filled afternoon to highlight this issue. If not, fair enough, and we can move on now. I actually had one person gripe at me for wasting their time…get this…VIA SOCIAL MEDIA ON THE INTERNET…as if pretty much ALL of it doesn’t qualify as time-wasting (which would explain why social networks are the busiest during work hours)! <insert: winky emoticon>

Cheers to all my friends in craft beer and all that help raise the bar!

-Greg.

PS: Even if you’re saying to yourself, “Greg, you master wordsmith, you have communicated your message in such an effective manner that I totally get what you’re saying and don’t need to watch these videos,” I implore you to take a few minutes and at least check out the blooper reel from this undertaking, which culminates in a multiple-angle, slow-mo montage of me attempting to tackle Ryan and nearly losing an eye, all set to the emotionally inspiring theme song to Chariots of Fire!

* OK, that comment there was a bit snarky, wasn’t it? But, I mean, COME ON, that fruit is just hanging far too low…touching the ground actually…to resist.  <insert: winky emoticon again>

The Anti-Snark  Initiative (Snarknado) Video Series

Online beer reviewer Ryan Reschan gives Arrogant Bastard Ale a bad review…

Stone CEO/Co-founder Greg Koch issues a response to Ryan’s review…

Ryan issues his own response, standing by his review…

Koch comes back with his own opinionated response…

Two forces collide on Ryan’s couch (must be seen to be believed/appreciated)…

A slew of outtakes, most pretty darn hilarious, that you should definitely treat yourself to…

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