beyond snark: hate speech on the internet

Just last week I was all indignant about snark-sites like the ones that were popping up around my favorite mama boards. It’s been on my mind, the way anonymity seems to empower some people to take things way too far and then wave the Free Speech banner when called on it.

Then I read this post by Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users, and I realized how big of a deal this really is.

We do not have constitutional provisions for hatred and death threats. We should have better rebuttals in our vocabulary than “if you didn’t have legs, you would leave a trail like a garden slug.” I mean, we’re adults, right? We wouldn’t say that to a person we ran into at the grocery store, would we?

Of course I believe in free speech. Of course I don’t think that we should all be tiptoeing around each other, all politically correct and timid. But it seems awfully convenient to hide behind both free speech and anonymity. “I say what I mean, I just don’t want anyone to know it’s me saying it.” Guh.

Words have power. Saying something out loud is powerful; printing it publicly is even more so. People need to be responsible for their words. If you’re going to publicly threaten someone, you’re responsible for the fallout. Not the person you’re threatening (for finding out about it). Not the community rallying in her support (for “the same oroborus circle jerking that leads to this problem in the first place,” as per Ethan Caplan’s dismissive and unsympathetic post on the subject).

So far, with the exception of one upstanding person, everyone involved with the community has pretty much jumped all over Kathy for making “unfounded accusations” and not just chuckling indulgently when people on the internet said they wanted her dead. Mean old Kathy Sierra, pointing out that threatening to kill someone is a crime and that even people on the internet can’t just terrorize an individual they don’t like, willy-nilly. How dare she talk about it? How dare she name names? At the same time, they have all attempted to make clear that it wasn’t their posts that were threatening. They were just bystanders, and now they’re being unfairly targeted simply for their involvement with the community, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

Look. If you let something you know is wrong just happen, guess what? You’re wrong too. Not criminally liable, maybe, but morally suspect. When someone calls you out for your cowardice and inexplicable failure to moderate or discourage overtly threatening behavior? You say you’re sorry and you think twice the next time. You don’t post diatribes on your site suggesting that the victim is merely seeking to bask in the spotlight by making baseless accusations, because if you do that, you simply confirm that you’re an asshole. (I’m not linking to those posts from here, but they’re not hard to find. Also: ick.)

Brian Oberkirch has an excellent post about this on his blog. I agree with him 100%. Go read it.

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6 thoughts on “beyond snark: hate speech on the internet”

  1. elizasmom: I hear you. I don’t have a problem with snark per se, but when it stops being cutting social commentary and starts being mean it stops working for me. I read Gawker and TWOP, but Trainwrecks was never my style. Which totally isn’t even the same thing as the death/sex threats, which I don’t think anyone is okay with. Yes, I just made a sweeping generalization that is probably entirely inaccurate but it makes me feel better to think that.

    crazedparent: I’m sorry I was the one to bring it to your attention! Except not, really, because I firmly believe that the more people who know and are upset about the issue, the more chance we as a society have of making it change. I know, I sound like such a reactionary. But still.


  2. i wasn’t aware of this til i read your post. i’ve been sticking to a number of blogs usually parenting or writing, and have missed all this…thankfully. it’s freaky and sad.


  3. Ugh! I hadn’t heard about this kerfuffle until you posted on it, but ugh!
    I used to read Trainwrecks and Violent Acres because I admit, they were sickly mesmerizing, but I decided that even if I never commented, it was making me part of the problem.
    I know I’m veering dangerously close to New Agey territory, but all that negativity — it just feels so poisonous. Yeah, it can be a rush to smack someone down, but it’s a reptty poisonous feeling. And death threats/sex threats? It just perpetuates the “whole impotent geek in real life who is compensating by cyberbullying” stereotype.
    I’m going with an “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all” policy.


  4. Alexandra, I totally get where you’re coming from. It would be so easy for me to say that we all need to own our own identities online so that we’re more accountable for each other’s actions, but then, I’m not the kind of person who wants to say horrible, hateful things. Then I have to wonder whether I’m making myself a target, you know? I think what it comes down to is that we need to not only be aware of things like this but speak out against them as a community. That’s the only way things will change.

    And on a selfish note, I hope you don’t lock down your blog! I love reading about the wee one.


  5. Thanks for the link. This whole episode is making me think of locking our blog down and sinking into anonymity, or at least locking the pictures of the wee one. I hate this crap.


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