If you were so inclined to lose “faith” in humanity, you don’t need to look to wars or murders. You just need to be a person with an opinion on the Internet.
This is especially true if you:
1) look critically at anything people love, like superhero films, music, etc., or
2) are not a man.
It’s never been hard to find examples of hatred, misogyny and sexism but, with the Internet, it’s become harder to find much else. The Internet, from a distance, is made of kittens, Batman and misogyny.
Of course my view on the negative aspects could be confirmation bias: The unintentional collection of data to support my position that, for example, sexism is a problem.
However, even if it is confirmation bias, even if sexism isn’t “of higher volume” on the Internet than anywhere else (which isn’t really my claim), it’s ubiquity remains a problem.
The Internet both, I think, highlights misogyny and hatred as well as creates it. The Internet - or rather, users - do so because people believe they are unaccountable, that their actions will go unpunished, since they and their targets are merely an avatar, a Facebook page, a Twitter picture. Conveying hatred is a game to some.
It’s this that allows people to say to my friend Caroline Criado-Perez that she just needs a “good smashing up the arse” because she dared campaign – successfully – to have women* on British banknotes; it’s this kind of space where they can call for “everybody [to] jump on the rape train---> @CCriadoPerez is the conductor”; they can tell Caroline’s ally, Stella Creasy “i will rape you tomorrow at 9pm. Shall we meet near your house????”; they can tell games journalist Anita Sarkeesian “I will rape you when I get the chance”; they can tell female writers from the Guardian there are bombs for them and the writers are going to die.
Constant, innumerable. If you are The Misogynists’ Most Wanted, as Caroline is at the moment, you can receive hundreds of notifications calling for your rape, death, etc.
If you’re Lindy West who dared to make a justified, critical comment on how to make (good) – not censor – rape jokes, then you receive messages like the ones she reads out here.
There are many examples playing on the theme of women as targets, but also transgendered, disabled, and other marginalised or often oppressed groups.
This kind of behaviour could come as a result of herd mentality or social contagion. It can come about as anonymity and a lack of repercussions from actions, no matter how horrid.
It comes about for many, complicated reasons, because humans are – if anything – complicated in their infinite stupidity.
And things seem hopeless, but they are not.
The one core factor that seems to fuel such actions remains unaccountability.
For example, when the wonderful classicist Mary Beard was targeted with a hateful comment, one of her followers on Twitter offered to show the hateful Tweet to the Tweeter’s mother. Suddenly, the Twitter user apologised, asked for forgiveness and claimed to have learned his lesson. The real world, in the form of a mother’s disproval or backhand or whatever, reared its head.
It reminded him that words mean something and don’t disappear into the ether; don’t get received by mere pixels on a screen but a human with sensitivities, emotions and reactions.
Beard tried one method but we have many others: Reporting criminal offences where appropriate matters, too. Solidarity helps those who are targeted, showing bullies that idiocy and bullying and threats won’t be tolerated, just as they aren’t in “meatspace”.
But first we must acknowledge that these aren’t isolated incidents that can be shrugged off. These aren’t bullies to be ignored. We must bring the full force of reality crashing through their door (not literally, please) and we must do so in smart, moral ways – since, even if we are on the right side of a debate, it doesn’t make us morally immune (swearing, name-calling, etc. is inadvisable since that’s the tools of those below, not those on the moral highground).
We need to also acknowledge that you are not “weak” or “giving up” by ignoring, blocking, removing yourself entirely from the Internet. You are not the weak one: the voices that need to threaten you are. Here again, solidarity helps.
There is no one solution, because there is no one problem, or one cause. But there is certainly something wrong. How we go about solving the problem of online hatred is a discussion worth having – but let’s recognise it actually occurs, is actually a problem (for many, maybe not for you), and we must act morally in, at the very least, showing our support.
Tauriq Moosa is a user of words in different formats, most notably sticking them in vague orders - especially in the third person. Someone decided to pay him for this "thoughts", since people needed a new person to yell at. Having upset BigThink with a regular blog on social criticism, his writing can also be found on the Guardian, New Statesmen and Big Issue (SA). He also tutors at the University of Cape Town in critical thinking. He despises dolphins and adores comic books.
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