As a citizen of the internet, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the recent goings-on. I haven’t weighed in on any of the recent controversies because I don’t necessarily want to give the perpetrators of such misdeeds any more weight or attention than they’ve already received. Needless to say, a bunch of people have been tremendous jerks on the internet. This isn’t new. That doesn’t make it okay.
Words, Words, Words
I was at a party yesterday where I talked about how I’m somewhat grateful that I have yet to achieve any measure of real internet popularity. As a female nerd, I know what internet popularity can lead to. As much as I’d love to reach a wider audience to interact with more people, I’m not sure I’m ready yet for the abuse that would be flung my way just because I happen to exist while nerdy and female.
One of my friends, who shall remain nameless, talked about his work in the field of journalism and how every reporter has stories about how they’ve received threats and abuse directed at them. He conceded that there’s a sexual aspect to the threats that women get that men just don’t. Still, it almost sounded as if that’s just par for the course.
As a person who deals with the public, it’s assumed that you are going to be insulted. You just have to learn how to deal with it and keep pushing forward. My friend then remarked about how a lot of the abuse is downplayed and brushed aside so that the reporter doesn’t become more newsworthy than their stories.
When did it just become another fact of life that one is going to be subject to all manner of threats and reprehensible behavior if one puts their voice out there for the public to hear? When did derision and contempt become things that one is expected to brush off as if those words don’t matter? When did we stop expecting better of people and choose instead to just shrug and say, “Well, that’s just the internet?”
It’s not okay. It should not be okay. It’s been said time and again that yes, in America, you have the right to free speech. That doesn’t give you the right to be free from consequences for spewing vile crap. We should be better than this. I expect better than this. We can be better than this.
Sticks and Stones
People far more eloquent than myself (I’m getting there, it just takes work) have written a great deal of late about the problems plaguing geek culture and just culture at large. While everyone has their own theory about how things got to where they are today, I’m just going to come out and say that we’ve always had many of these problems. People have always lobbed criticisms at creators and public figures. I think the instantaneous nature of the Internet and its ability to facilitate communication has made that worse.
What? I’m blaming the Internet? How novel! /sarcasm
I love the Internet. I tell people that I live on the Internet. Let’s be honest, I kind of totally do. That doesn’t mean that I can’t acknowledge some of the inherent flaws that lie therein.
For example, you read an article with which you vehemently disagree. There’s a comment section at the bottom and you can angrily stab the keys of your keyboard to tell the author exactly what you think about their assertions. You press “enter” and there it is. You may have people who agree comment back at you about how you’re totally right, people who disagree with you have that same ability.
Back in the day, if you hated something, you couldn’t just quickly type up a message for the world to see. You had to sit down at your desk and write it out. During the act of writing, you could calm down and maybe think a little more about what you were trying to say. Sure, you could still hate something and let its creators know how you felt about it, but you couldn’t just fire off instant abuse.
I’m not saying we should ban the internet or that things were decidedly better back in the era before Google. I’m saying that there’s something about not being able to communicate instantly. There’s something to just taking a step back and thinking before typing. It’s not a new concept, of course, to think before one types. I just think it’s not used as often as it ought.
So, what now?
True story: Trolls don’t go away if you ignore them. They just escalate to get your attention and then figure out that your comments section is a nice place to visit, hang out, and abuse people to their hearts’ content because no one will stop them. There need to be some consequences for online abuse.
People need to be held accountable for what they say. Before you flip out on me and, believe me, I’m expecting people to flip out on me now. I don’t want to censor people. I believe that they have the right to speak their minds. That said, I believe we let that go too far when we protect the free speech of a few at the expense of the health, safety, and happiness of others.
I have a right to speak my mind on the internet too. I have a right to be heard. I also have the right to feel safe.
Basically, folks, all I want is an Internet where people can talk like reasonable and rational individuals. Not just an Internet where that’s a thing, but a world. I don’t want world peace. I just want people to have civil discourse. It’s a quixotic goal, but everyone’s got dreams.