For at least a week, I tried to dodge that headline, but it kept popping up when I was least prepared to defend against its pull.

It sat hidden in plain sight on my usual crawl through daily news. My eyes skimmed past and I didn’t click.

The headline haunted the “Read More” sections below articles I’d just finished reading. Through a feat of self-hypnosis, I became perceptually blind in the same way that you can look directly at banner ads and eventually see nothing. Uncomfortably numb, I still didn’t click.

Then I randomly perused a Twitter account that had no reason to post a link to the story. There it was, baiting me to have a look. Excruciated curiosity finally overcame me — I had to remove the splinter from my mind once and for all.

And yes, it was as bad as I thought.

Unsympathetic Creatures

The article was nominally written about the culture of shaming that infests the Internet. That in itself is a fine topic to write about, as you’ll see while you read more below.

For some perplexing reason, though, the author chose the most unsympathetic creatures possible (note: humor — they are human creatures, still) as the protagonists of the story:

Victim One: The Ironic Twitter Hipster

– One “victim” incited the Internet Vigilantes through an unwise tweet. She “ironically” bragged, while sitting on a plane to South Africa, about how white people don’t get AIDS. She, obviously, is white; the majority of South Africa (and the world beyond), is not.

It was a joke, see? It wasn’t actually racist. It was ironic. No, it was snark. It was a brilliant commentary about white privilege. Right? Do we feel better now?

Victim Two: The Innocent Cemetery Desecrator

– Another person posted a photo to her Facebook page of herself making obscene gestures at a war memorial. A cemetery, to be exact.

It was part of a series of pics of “disobeying signs”, though, see? It didn’t dishonor those who died to protect the country where she lives. It was just another sign.

Victim Three: The Runner

– A third brilliant prankster arrived at a Halloween party dressed as a victim of the 2013 Boston marathon bombings.

No “explanations” could possibly excuse that particular feat of sartorial genius.

The article’s author nonetheless chose to mine their stories for sympathetic portrayals. Perhaps the common thread was that the victims lost their jobs as a result of Internet furor. Maybe they all seemed to be begging for the comically overused “diagnosis” of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Regardless, it is difficult to cultivate compassion for racism, disrespect of those who died heroically (regardless of whether the cause was just or not), and those who lost their lives as a result of heinous crimes.

Only one of the “social media victims” stood out as having truly been victimized.

Dongle Joker Versus Thought Policewoman

A man sat with his friend at a tech conference. Speaking directly and only to his friend, he made a silly joke about a dongle. For nerds, the word “dongle” has a weirdly universal and hilarious connotation of “penis”, and that was the crux of the joke.

In front of them, though, sat a woman. That particular woman apparently forgot the aspect of free speech that protects silly dongle jokes between male friends. So what did she do? She whipped out a camera and posted the Offender’s picture (with “dongle” joke as caption) far and wide across the Internet.

The Dongle Joker, a married father with three children, lost his job because of the resulting social media backlash.

Somewhat poetically, however, the scorpion’s tail stung its owner as well: a mass of retaliating maniacs (“Men’s Rights Activists”?) hounded her equally as effectively as the Fake Feminist Thought Policewoman had brutalized the reputation of The Dongle Joker.

Solution For Creatives: Turn Off The Internet?

The incongruous aspect of the article was that there are so many people — celebrities and otherwise — who haven’t said or done anything egregiously imbecilic, yet are bullied online regardless.

The worst of it is often reserved for creative people, or those whose opinions deviate from the norm in a given social group. The “fringe” types risk rejection for the sake of making something new or doing things differently. Those are the people whose efforts matter, and whose stories are worth telling when the horde turns on them with fangs bared.

A publicist (in the wrong profession, clearly) who tweets desperately obtuse AIDS jokes while Twitter-panhandling for cheap laughs? A Feminism 101 flunkie whose ingrate mentality metastasized into a need to play “Thought Police” against a random guy who transgressed against her womanhood by using the word “dongle” within earshot of perhaps-female strangers?

No.

The article completely ignored (with one exception, noted above) the real victims of social media bullying. In doing so, the author also completely missed the point of how Internet Vigilante flash-gangs have blunted and diminished the potential of the Net as a way of connecting people and exploring ideas. Creative people who are scorned for speaking up, or worse, who transform into agents of faceless conformity in fear of being bullied — those are the ones to highlight in articles about the abuse of social media.

In upcoming entries, I hope to explore the dynamics of how gang mentalities arise online, some of their most common tactics, and how to deal with them while keeping your peace of mind. I know what it’s like, because I’ve been through it at least twice. You don’t need to claim “PTSD” to know that your words can be twisted, taken out of context, or even fabricated to amuse those whose lives are generally meaningless except for the desire to antagonize others. In the “Taxonomy of Trolls” series of posts, I’ll show you what I’ve learned about how to ignore, deflect, and even fight back against abusive behavior.

P.S. Second Thoughts.

On second thought… maybe this post was enough. I have a small library of techniques of my own, but maybe it’s better to focus on new creative projects instead. Trolls and bullies are essentially desperate for validation and attention. The simplest way to beat them is to ignore their stupidity and do more of what matters. At the same time, though, I can look back to a naive period of my own and see that others could be helped by knowing what I’ve learned…

…but blogs are just crowdsourced entertainment for most readers.

Should I even bother? I don’t know. I can’t afford to waste time. There’s too much to write elsewhere, and even other topics for this blog as well.

Maybe I’ll be cajoled into writing more when the next celeb quits Twitter — or the next teenage girl commits suicide due to Internet bullying.

Who knows how far an anonymous set of words can reach? I wish I could answer that question first.

Advertisements