The internet is taking an interesting tack: there’s increasing concern about doing something about trolls. I think it’s a bit of backlash, because really, they’ve gone far, far overboard — the volume of raw hate and stupidity in some of the worst places on the net is appalling — and I also think internet culture is changing as it expands beyond its early population of nerds.
We’re all still trying to figure out what to do about the troll infestations, though. Lindy West has her personal answer: don’t ignore them, feed them ’til their idiocy is a matter of public mockery. And it’s all because the trolls are reaching new lows in their efforts to silence people, especially women.
Cumulatively, the sheer volume of hate that we’re expected to shoulder, in silence, every day, is wearing a lot of people out and shutting down rational discourse. Female bloggers are being hounded off the internet. Teenage girls are being hounded off the earth. There’s no good solution, but we have to do what we can to stop these people—unmask them, shame them, mock them, cement their status as social pariahs—for our own sanity and for those whose armor isn’t so thick (upgrade yo greaves, son).
Unmasking trolls, as we’ve seen, can produce some tangible and satisfying results. And I don’t mean just in a punitive way, I mean in a changing-the-larger-culture kind of way. People need to understand and internalize that online harassment, violent hate speech, rape threats, slut-shaming little girls until they hang themselves, and so on, are express violations of the social contract. They will not be tolerated and they will result in real-life consequences. That’s a long way off, and probably a bit of a pipe dream, but it might be our only hope for cleaning up this shitshow.
Here’s another example of the troll blight: Amanda Berry, the woman who’d been kidnapped and held prisoner in Cleveland for ten years, went to a concert and danced last weekend. Normal people can appreciate how great that must have felt, to be free at last and to be able to just have fun for an evening.
On CNN over the weekend, Nelly told Erin Burnett, “What stuck with me most was that she had a smile on her face. That’s one of the most impressive things to me, considering everything she had been through … I thought, wow, that was special.” But Burnett was too busy being amazed that “She looked totally normal.”
Burnett’s concerned astonishment was charitable compared to what the lowest form of opinion generators – Internet commenters – had to say about Berry’s newly reignited social life. “It’s just odd given the years of abuse she suffered. Normally she would not have that kind of trust or comfort. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t make sense,” wrote one concerned ABC News commenter, while another more bluntly decided, “It seems to me she was enjoying it and is gonna use her ordeal to cash in.” Many were concerned that she appeared with a man who stood behind her and warmly put his arm around her and kissed her neck while she was onstage. Or, as some of the ABC commenters decided, he was a “dirt bag hanging all over her,” who “groped” and “pawed” her. A CBS News commenter more generously decided she looked “pretty hot.” And 645 comments later on NBC, Berry had plenty of well-wishers but also comments about her eyebrow piercing, and how she doesn’t look like “a real victim….lol.” And of course, if you want to plumb the absolute bottom of the barrel, there’s YouTube, where Berry is being accused of “milking everything she’s getting.”
You don’t expect much beyond a gaping, misspelled void when you stare into the cold dark place that is Internet comments. But what’s appalling – if not entirely surprising – is realizing that the judging and shaming that rots the soul of online community goes that deep. It goes all the way down to picking on a woman who spent a decade being abused, because she had the nerve to go outside and be happy.
Yeah, it’s time to fight back.
Whoa. A commenter linked to a tumblr where a game developer dumps the hate mail he got after changing the stats on a gun in Call of Duty. You can’t read that without realizing there is a deep sociological problem here.
You know, if I’d known about that behavior back when I had kids at home who were playing those games and others online, there are a few things I would have done. I would not have told them they don’t get to play; nor would I have taken their internet connection away. But I definitely would have sat them down to read that site and I would have told them, “Don’t be that asshole. I would be ashamed if you had such a poor sense of perspective.”
I think that’s where it has to begin. Don’t engage in such behavior yourself, but also tell your friends, your relatives, and the people you encounter in those games that they are being terrible people. Don’t spare your boyfriend or your daughter or your mother, either, it shouldn’t matter how close they are to you…except maybe that the closer they are, the more you should care about their behavior. If you find yourself playing against people who say such things, report them, block them if the game allows you, and just stop playing with them.
You are not more manly when you lose an online game and think you can recoup some honor by threatening to rape your opponent. You are more pathetic.