I have been on the internet for a long time, from back in the days of giant computers and painfully slow dial up connections, from the days of news groups and subscription feeds. I know how brave people can be when they’re hiding behind a keyboard, thinking themselves all cloaked in anonymity and the games they will play, the freedom they will explore and run with. People can be pretty astounding when they think no one is watching, when they believe there will be no consequences for their actions.
People have said many mean things to me over the years. There have been numerous heated debates. I’ve had photo shops posted showing me in a variety of unattractive poses, my identity compromised, my words mocked and misquoted. These things are to be expected when you engage with people on-line.
Something changed however when politics really came onto the intertoob scene. I do blame President Obama for changing the tone, for his piss poor leadership skills when he told people to go “get in their faces” and “they bring a knife, you bring a gun.” President Obama unleashed his campaign armies onto the internet and gave them permission to behave in ways we had not really seen prior. They weren’t just on a mission to share ideas or discuss issues, they were on a campaign of personal destruction, to seek out their targets and completely annihilate them.
Death threats became common, threats against your family and children, doxing, tracking people down and notifying employers. Trolls have always been around, but “trolls” became something new, they became warriors for a cause, people who took those words to heart, “get in their faces, bring a gun to knife fight”. People on the internet were no longer seen as people, but rather enemies of the cause. I do not make this up, many trolls were actually paid for the efforts.
With this came a culture that thought nothing of making death threats, threats of rape, dismemberment, assorted forms of brutality and various relentless psychological techniques, such as “why don’t you just kill yourself, you’re worthless anyway.” “Here’s the woman your husband is sleeping with.” “Do you know where your kid is right now?”
If they were particularly evil they could track you on facebook and discover where your kids might be on any given day or pinpoint your precise address. They could contact employers, make phony reports to child protective services, basically try to harass you into compliance with whatever belief system they were selling.
I’ve changed screen names, identities, blogs, trying to elude these kind of people a few times. It’s not a lot of fun having people come at you when you cannot see who they are and you do not really know how much of what they say is bluster and bravado and how much poses a genuine threat. It can be scary if you don’t know what you’re dealing with. The last nasty incident I had, I threw in the towel and just doxed my own self. Bring it on people, you’re not even going to intimidate me into hiding anymore.
That failed leadership from President Obama and the actions of some professional trolls, created a whole lot of amateurs who began to emulate that same kind of behavior. It’s how many people now believe they can “win” debates. It’s how some people try to promote their social causes. It doesn’t work, it is a complete forfeit. Such hostility and abuse does not engender people to whatever you are arguing for. It can however, scare some people into silence.
I see our kids trying to emulate this kind of behavior on the internet, I see women doing it to each other on facebook, and I certainly see feminists and mens rights activists engaging in it.
I have stayed up half the night talking with the other collateral damage of some of this same kind of cyberbullying. If you’re already depressed or dealing with some life stress, having a dozen people telling you you should just kill yourself is a pretty tough thing to go through. If you’re a woman, threats of rape and dismemberment can have a powerful affect on your fear level. If you’ve ever been a victim of crime and you now have random strangers you don’t even know threatening you, it can send people into hiding. Men can and have killed themselves over this kind of thing. So have several teens.
It’s not a joke.
Words have power. At the other end of your words is a real live person, a person you cannot see, so you have no way of knowing what they are going through, what challenges they are facing, what their mental state is. When people go on the internet, it is putting themselves out there, it is like reaching out in a social situation. People are not your tools to vent your frustrations on. They are not avatars you get to shoot down, they are real people.
There are a handful of so called Christian men and women who engage in this sort of thing, mostly red pills and some mens rights activists. I’m telling you, don’t do it. Don’t. Just stop it. Not only does that become a stain on your soul personally, it drives people away from your cause, it creates and validates the precise caricature people already have of you and the issues you claim to advocate for. You don’t win hearts and minds that way and you sure don’t honor your own salvation.
Everybody loses their cool, everybody says something wrong in the heat of the moment. That happens, you apologize and move on. I speak of those who actually outright advocate cyberbullying as a tactic. That is the behavior of fools and weak minded men and women who really ought to know better.