These frivolous incidents

But, from a couple of months ago, a young sports writer called Jim Pagels explained at Slate that Twitter death threats are just a joke and everybody should ignore them.

Just about every week, it seems there’s a story about a celebrity, athlete, or politician receiving death threats from morons on Twitter. The media often treat these frivolous incidents like they’re a fatwa on Salman Rushdie. The latest example: New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, for performing poorly on fantasy football teams. (Fitting there be fantasy threats for a fantasy sport.)

The stories often give the impression that this is some kind of shocking event for which we should pity the “victims,” but anyone who’s spent 10 minutes online knows that these assertions are entirely toothless.

Yes! Totally! That is so true! Except of course for the ones that aren’t, and the fact that there’s no way to tell the difference. Also except for the fact that being the target of extended obsessive hatred is itself not actually toothless. Except literally. It is literally toothless, yes, but figuratively, it’s not.

In a piece in the Atlantic last year, Jen Doll wrote: “If there’s anything to be afraid of, it’s this idea that death threats are this kind of new online norm.” They are, in fact, the norm. However, I think it’s also safe to assume that these wannabe Tony Sopranos only represent the lowest trenches of society.

Ah yes “safe to assume”…but such things are more safe to assume for some people than they are for others. Also, the fact that some guy thinks it’s safe to assume something isn’t particularly compelling as a reason to assume it yourself. Also, even if the harassers and threateners do represent only “the lowest trenches of society,” so what? That’s still a lot of people.

So how do we stop this trend of pointless reporting? There really aren’t any clear solutions. There will always be a dark corner of the Internet, so you can’t stop the source. And you can’t tell websites to stop publishing these stories, because they surely generate boatloads of mindless page views. Maybe the solution is to just let the Internet continue to be the Internet, and people will eventually grow bored of this “news.” Or perhaps we should just send death tweets to the writers who report on these occurrences. It seems like they take these threats rather seriously.




  1. says

    Yes. Because his article about it was in no way intended to garner mindless pageviews of his meta-complaining about other people complaining about death threats. He says the threats are nothing but the complaining about them is a problem, and his proposed solution is to complain more about the complaining, and feel moral and superior because…well, just because, is all.

    Not to, y’know…not read the articles complaining. That’d be too much like being a not-white-guy, expecting him to have to not-read things just because they’re about stuff he doesn’t care about. When he doesn’t care about something, it needs to be STOPPED.

  2. says

    You know who else are in the “lower trenches of society” (if you’re talking morals, not income…)


    So yeah, stuff that never happens.

  3. says

    “a young sports writer” said something stupid.

    Why am I not surprised? On the whole, sports writers seem to be the “lower trenches” of journalism.

  4. Wylann says

    So, if this assclown got a lot of death threats, he’d laugh it off, right? Even if many of said totally hypothetical death threats originated from people who lived in the same city, let’s say, as said writer of assclownishness…?

  5. johnthedrunkard says

    And of course, part of me wishes I were an accomplished troll so that I could invade the privacy and peace of ‘Jim Pagels.’ Perhaps borrowing some of the language used against Amanda Marcotte, Surly Amy, Caroline Criado-Perez etc.?

  6. says

    The suggestion that one should not worry about death threats because they are not real is missing the point entirely. Which is that they can and do cause psychological damage to those who receive them. So to dismiss them because one is not actually going to being killed is insensitive to say the least. I think those that send them can be split into one of two categories – those that are only doing it for fun [ though it stretches the definition of that word to breaking point ] and those with more serious intent. I am fully aware of the argument that asking them to do so only inflames them even more. But the alternative is to just let them do it anyway and not speak out. The problem here is not with technology but psychology. While all attempts to curtail online abuse are welcome it is only addressing the symptom and not the cause. Which is why such attitudes exist in a society which likes to think it is egalitarian even though it is not. Because if it was then this would not be happening at all

  7. =8)-DX says

    I’m hearing a similar argument to those people who’s approach to playground bullies is to “let the kids sort it out by themselves” and “boys will be boys”.

    And then you get gay (for instance) teenagers killing themselves.

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