Welcome to the Internet. People are mean here.
For those who were still unaware of that fact, Robin Williams’s death spawned a national discussion on
suicide internet decency when his daughter, Zelda, shut down her Twitter account after she received a whole mess of cruel Tweets because, instead of sending flowers or a Hallmark card, this is how we offer condolences in the 21st century: by being a nasty fuck on a smartphone.
The discussion spilled into the blogosphere when the feminist blog Jezebel posted an open letter to their parent company, Gawker Media, in an attempt to get some help with their comments section. Here’s a bit from their post explaining the problem:
For months, an individual or individuals has been using anonymous, untraceable burner accounts to post gifs of violent pornography in the discussion section of stories on Jezebel. The images arrive in a barrage, and the only way to get rid of them from the website is if a staffer individually dismisses the comments and manually bans the commenter. But because IP addresses aren’t recorded on burner accounts, literally nothing is stopping this individual or individuals from immediately signing up for another, and posting another wave of violent images (and then bragging about it on 4chan in conversations staffers here have followed, which we’re not linking to here because fuck that garbage). This weekend, the user or users have escalated to gory images of bloody injuries emblazoned with the Jezebel logo. It’s like playing whack-a-mole with a sociopathic Hydra.
Fortunately, I don’t write about anything
interesting controversial, so my posts are more likely to get drive-by comments like “Nice post!” rather than offers to drive by my house and rape me with a sharp stick if I ever dare write anything again, ever. Although I have been called a jackass (for the post “In Praise of Dating Your Dad“) and “absolutely sick” (for the post “The Best Place to Have Sex in Public (without getting caught) Is to Have Sex in Private“), I’ve never been on the receiving end of the sexist vitriol to which a lot of female bloggers are subjected (unless we count a few excruciatingly polite requests for naked pictures). The problems at Jezebel are only the most recent example of this phenomenon on the internet.
So here I was thinking about Jezebel and, not coincidentally, feeling especially grateful for all those “Nice post!” comments I get, but also wondering why people act like such assholes on the Internet. And then along comes this piece in the Sunday New York Times, “Dealing With Digital Cruelty” that offers some insight into the behavior and some advice on dealing with it.
In the virtual world, anonymity and invisibility help us feel uninhibited. Some people are inspired to behave with greater kindness; others unleash their dark side. Trolls, who some researchers think could be mentally unbalanced, say the kinds of things that do not warrant deep introspection; their singular goal is to elicit pain. But then there are those people whose comments, while nasty, present an opportunity to learn something about ourselves.
I’m not sure what sort of learning opportunity GIFs of violent pornography offer, but certainly being called “jackass” and “absolutely sick” gave me yet another opportunity to navel gaze. Maybe I was a jackass for joking about incest. Maybe I am absolutely sick to suggest, even in jest, having sex in a darkened theater featuring a double bill of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.
My experience causes me to agree that comments, even the nasty ones, offer bloggers opportunities to examine their work, their writing, and themselves. I don’t moderate comments here, mostly because of a philosophical free speech-y thing I have going on rather than the expectation that a commenter might provide brilliant insights (though all my commenters are brilliant and insightful). So, unless you’re one of those people commenting on random blogs about the beauty of generic Viagra (those get blocked by the spam filter), go ahead and say what you gotta say on Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please.
Royalty free images, including the ones in this post, can be found at freeimages.com.