As a sociologist, i find social media to be endlessly intriguing. Full disclosure: such fascination with social interaction and superimposed structures onto new frontiers may or may not be why this whole blog thing started in the first place. Such interest peaks when i consider writing a thesis in a year’s time, and i start to theorize about potential fields of study: religious discourse on YouTube, engagement of social mores on Facebook, the distinction of the Harry Potter fandom because of social media networks – you get the idea. Nerd stuff.
But, in all of my love and interest in online endeavors, there is one thing that absolutely disgusts me pertaining to internet etiquette. And this, friends, is anonymity used for malice. Basically, people saying mean things without attaching their name to said mean things.
People, i think, have pretty much always said mean things. I know i certainly have. We’re human beings, after all (save the ducklings (sorry to isolate my audience again! (dammit!!))).Sometimes such not-nice comments are (somewhat) deserved, necessary evils, validated statements – you get the idea. We can’t live in a world of rainbows and glitter and ukuleles all the time; sometimes, you have to say the tough stuff and be that brutally honest.
And yet there is such a distinction between being frank with someone and just being cruel. Unfortunately, people seem to have also always had some cruel things to say. Compounding this unfortunate circumstance is the fact that the internet has become a tool utilized for such malevolence in new, dynamic, and deeply hurtful ways.
I mean, of course, when people say hurtful things online without taking full responsibility for what they’ve said. This manifests in everything from cyber bullying – which the horrific string of teen and young adult suicides from 2011 can attest the horrors of – to the occasional slightly wounding YouTube comment. And yet sometimes such comments can be more than a little wounding – immediately, Rebecca Black comes to mind.
For those duckies out there perhaps a little out of touch with pop culture in the past twelve months, Rebecca Black is a 13 year old girl who, through some company or another, recorded a professional song and music video entitled “Friday.” Admittedly (in my own opinion), the song is not particularly clever, catchy, well-written, or of any incredible merit. But Black is, after all, a thirteen year old girl pursuing a dream. The music video and the song itself are wayyy better than anything i could have come up with in eighth grade and, let’s be real folks, she is no worse than my beloved Ke$ha (and she’s considerably cleaner in her lyrical choices (as a 13 year old probably ought to be)).
But, for whatever reason, the music video became extraordinarily infectious on YouTube. It became something of a hate sensation; people from all over the world united on a front to insult, mock, mollify, attack, and otherwise deride young Ms. Black for her song and video. While i think the video has since undergone some major comment moderation, for a while Rebecca Black was receiving death threats by the thousands for her silly song.
Death threats. To a 13 year old girl. Because people didn’t like a song that they were under no obligation to actually listen to.
This disgusts me. Sure, the song is by no means my favorite. Yes, if put yourself out there you should be willing to hear critical feedback. Death threats are not, however, critical feedback by any stretch of the imagination.
And yet somehow, people seemed to think that because they did not have to look at Rebecca Black in the face, or see her on a daily basis, that they could tell her to go to go die in a hole and spare the world her voice. There were no reprecussions to typing a nasty comment to a vulnerable young girl for them. Many of them did this under usernames that did not trace to a place where people might be able to respond, using a fake identity to say what i wager they wouldn’t be so bold to say under their real name in person.
And i’m sure some of these people are perfectly lovely outside of their bullying comments – they bought into the hype, they are cynical and sarcastic and pop music snobs, they just thought they were being funny. A mean comment doesn’t make you a terrible person, but i do ask you re-evaluate why you said it. It may not be excusable, but it can be understandable and is forgiveable.
But not necessarily forgettable. I may not know Rebecca Black, i may not like her music, and i may not ever know what it’s like to be so harassed (nor do i aspire to be). But i was a thirteen-year-old girl once, and i was bullied and told that i was too fat and too weird by people i knew. And i know what that feels like, and for this reason i think it is incredibly shameful what people said to her. I hope she doesn’t bear the burden of such cruelty for the rest of her life – i hope she uses it to make her stronger. But there will always be a tender place in everyone where mean comments hit straight to the core.
I say this not to elicit sympathy, but simply to ask for compassion for others. Believe you me, i’m long since past being a 13 year old with middle school insecurities (i hope). The internet is a tool that can be used for malice or good – and i don’t foresee a time when it is ever fully one thing or the other. It is what we make of it, but i ask of you, friend, that we together make it something good. There is a time and place for anonymity – teacher evaluations, for example. Discretion is fine, but when you are addressing someone directly, you in turn should be available for their response.
To this end, i propose a rule for internet endeavors. It is, ultimately, my only personally universal rule for online interaction and etiquette, but it’s something i think directly transitive from my in-person protocol. My rule for discussion in person is this: only say what you would tell someone to their face when talking behind their back. For the internet, this means to only leave in a comment what you would be willing to say or discuss with that human being in person. Remember that they, too, have feelings and can be vulnerable and sometimes make mistakes. Furthermore, i think everything you do should be trace-able back to you; that is to say, you may not use your real name (i don’t) but if you comment on a video or blog or tweet (or whatever), should someone want to respond to you they should have a way to.
An example? I use myself, not out of indulgent narcissism (at least, not intentionally (but since we’re being honest, okay a little bit)) but because it’s what i know.
My name is not really lizzie mcmizzie (although a surprising number of people seem to think it is). I don’t like using my “real” name online for professional and security reasons (though it is out there, inevitably), but if you find “lizzie mcmizzie” anywhere online you are speaking to me. It may not be the name of my birth certificate, but you send me an email and you will get my personal response. I don’t leave comments or write blogs or make videos unwilling to hear all manner of responses – i encourage your disagreements, questions, challenges, and further thoughts (really!), and to this end i try to be available as much as possible. I therefore think it only fair that people who respond give me (and, for the much more important matter, everyone) the same courtesy.
A little kindness and a little honesty can make a world of difference.
current jam: “mean” taylor swift
best thing in my life right now: this. and this :)