People Are Mean on the Internet (Especially to Women)

On the Internet, anyone can be an asshole.

On the Internet, anyone can be an asshole.

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.

Navel gazing.

Navel gazing.

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.

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8 thoughts on “People Are Mean on the Internet (Especially to Women)

  1. Sophie, She Wrote says:

    Well done for this! Trolls are really difficult to deal with because normally if I met you in the street and you insulted me I’d hope to be able to say something back (or at least run away crying) but it feels pointless to do that on the interweb.

    I chose to write a fairy-tale about mine. Actually gave me quite a lot of material and I’m going to ignore them from now on. If only they knew I was doing that.
    http://wp.me/p4yGPk-4B

    Sorry for the shameless plug 🙂

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    • Karen says:

      Wow, you’ve got yourself a real live troll there.

      Let me say this: I admire the fact that you put his comment through. Lots of bloggers would have deleted that comment and while I understand their reasons, I feel it’s an absolute act of internet bravery to let his words sit out there on your post. His comment speaks volumes about him (he’s a douchey jerk) and leaving his words on your blog post speaks volumes about you.

      Anyway, fuck ’em all and keep writing.

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      • Sophie, She Wrote says:

        Ha thanks Karen! First instinct was to delete it out of embarrassment but it’s not me who should be embarrassed!

        It took me 28 years to start writing, I won’t be giving it up for that whizzbucket!

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  2. Rebecca Meyer says:

    “Nice post!” 🙂 I have also been lucky with my blog so far where I have only had one troll come to my write comments that weren’t helpful to, um, a conversation.

    But there was one blog post I came across in the internet world, and it was an offensively sexist post by a woman (surprisingly) talking about a “woman’s role.” So, I decided to put in my two cents. That was when the trolls came out and went crayyy. My favorite insults they came up with was that I was “attractive” and “used intelligence and logic” when I commented. I didn’t know those were bad things…

    After that, one of those trolls came to my blog and tried commenting on every single one of my posts. Denied every time. Sweet victory!

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    • Karen says:

      Oh, man, I wish I could get a few trolls around here just so I could get comments on every single one of my posts! 😉

      While I’m not advocating for troll-ish behavior when I speak out in favor of unmoderated comments, I feel that if you’re choosing to express yourself through the medium of a blog, which has as one of it’s defining characteristics the ability of your audience to talk back to you, I think you should deal with the comments, unless they’re intentionally disruptive or personal attacks (e.g. Sophie’s troll from her comment above).

      In short, take the heat or get out of the kitchen.

      Anyway, if the trolls were saying you were “attractive” and “used intelligence and logic” I think maybe they weren’t trolls. Sounds like they were looking for a date. 😉

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      • Rebecca Meyer says:

        That’s so funny! Ya know, when those trolls were coming to my blog, they sure did give me an increase in blog traffic. 😉 And that very well could be that they were looking for a date. They may have trouble looking for relationships in real life because they spend a lot of their time causing drama on the internet.

        I agree with you that if we’re writing blog posts, we should be prepared for the comments that follow. As long as they’re not personal attacks on innocent people of course.

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