One of the things I love most about the geek community is the passion: as uber-nerd Simon Pegg once said, “Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection.” But what happens when that passion gets out of hand and spills into vitriol? Is it just me, or does the internet suddenly seem to be overflowing with haters?
Of course, trolling is nothing new, but it seems to be reaching frightening new levels. I don’t want to dwell on the furore surrounding The Dark Knight Rises – like everyone else I am still in shock about the terrible events of the weekend, and I am in no way whatsoever suggesting online ire leads to these kind of horrific acts committed by one lone lunatic – but I must admit this piece was inspired by the fact that Rotten Tomatoes had to suspend comments on its reviews section about this film, because readers were posting death threats against negative reviewers. Death threats, people? Because someone dared not to like a movie?
It seems there is an increasing tendency to shout long and threateningly at anyone who has the temerity to have an opinion that is not universally agreed with. Take the well-documented case of Anita Sarkeesian, a female media critic who wanted to raise money via Kickstarter to do research into sexist stereotypes in gaming. Cue an avalanche of hate and misogyny: she was clearly a stupid, fat lesbian who deserved to be raped*. As a woman, I have to say the levels of casual misogyny thrown around in these cases can be astonishing: on this very site some delightful soul who disagreed with my comments on an Avengers piece said they wanted to ‘Hulk smash my ovaries’ – a weirdly specific but woman-hating comment that, frankly, would give Freud a field day.
Of course it’s not only the geeks that are doing it – one of the other communities I am active is the book community, and there is currently a bullying scandal on the reading site Goodreads where the worst kind of online behaviour has, if reports are to be believed, spilled into offline activities that amount to stalking and harassment. You just have to scroll through Twitter to see the levels of craziness unleashed on a daily basis. But reading the sites I love, that focus on sci-fi and comics and all things geek, there does seem to be an awful lot of hate out there.
I don’t know what causes it, so I don’t really have an answer how to stop it. Maybe it’s the recession – the mounting frustrations of everyday life spilling out behind the safe anonymity of a keyboard. Maybe we’ve just got so used to it we ignore it and it seems fine; nobody really means it, right? If you don’t want to see it, don’t read the bottom of the internet. But maybe that acceptance needs to stop. In the UK, we’re already seeing criminal charges brought against hate speech or threatening remarks on Twitter – how long before we see someone in court because of what they’ve said in the comments section online? How long before more sites, deciding they don’t want the hassle of moderating these comments, and the possible legal repercussions of allowing them to stand, simply decide to suspend commenting altogether?
One of the joys of being geeky is to talk about the things we love: to argue, to discuss, to disagree. I might never persuade you that Supernatural is a slick, smartly written show if you think it’s just about a couple of hot guys in a flash car; let’s talk about it. I hated The Dark Knight – Heath Ledger’s performance aside, I thought it was overlong, depressing and, frankly, clunky and a bit boring. Tell me why I’m wrong – maybe you’ll change my mind, maybe we’ll just decide that it simply wasn’t my thing, and move on. Lots of people enjoy using the comments on sites like this to air their views, to talk about things, and to connect with other readers and enthusiasts. The vast majority of people I interact with online are reasonable and intelligent, and I’ve had some interesting discussions about topics which we feel strongly – if occasionally disagree vehemently – about. Sometimes, the resolution of those discussions has simply had to be ‘we won’t ever agree on this, let’s respect one another’s opinion and leave it at that’. And that’s fine, that’s healthy. There’s a marvellous diversity of viewpoints out there, we won’t all be in accord all of the time – but, at the risk of sounding corny, shouldn’t we still be able to just get along?
*Note: I have no idea of, and no interest in knowing, Sarkeesian’s sexuality, because it doesn’t matter a jot, but in the minds of certain trolls, feminist = lesbian, and lesbian = insult.
What do you think? Let me know…