There’s been a lot of discussion about online abuse in the past week, since the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern resigned and it is a sobering reminder of what online is, what it could be, and what it shouldn’t be. It’s important to remember that online is a human creation, used by human beings and it has evolved massively in the decades since its inception. That it is an easy place to spew hatred and insults has little to do with what online is and more about who we are and who we can be.
To be honest I understand that, because I used to get wrapped up with online arguments with people I did not know and likely never would. The tone would turn nasty very quickly and insults would fly. One day I realised I had no idea who these people were, what they looked like, what their lives were about. It was all just vile spitting in the wind. So I stopped. By stopped I mean, I didn’t comment on anything and I disengaged from social media. Even now I avoid reading the comments on news stories as much as I possibly can because without fail, it takes only a few minutes of reading before some comment will get me riled up and I have to just close the page.
That’s the key really – disengagement – because at the end of the day, the people we actually know and engage with are far more important than the scraps we have with ghosts online.
Personally I don’t think personal politics are any sort of excuse to legitimise the sort of rancid gutter talk and death threats that have been levelled at Jacinda Ardern. The misogyny reminded me of the same sort of ignorant drivel that was levelled at our two other female prime ministers, Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley in their days. Their status apparently legitimising attacks on their personal appearances.
The difference here is that the hatred is online, not in conversation. In the past few years I have seen thousands of online comments by the anonymous cowards who use that anonymity to generate some sort of indignant bravery to say whatever garbage they can concoct. Some call them online warriors but that’s just too misleading, they are cowards, pure and simple.
Maybe that’s the thing – remove anonymity entirely. If you want to stand by your words then bear the consequences of them. It’s too easy as it is now, where only moderators or ‘safety protocols’ are the gatekeepers of decency, or should I say, indecency.
Some may say the Trump effect has fuelled much of this and I’d say there is an element of truth to that. We had five years where truth became irrelevant and gaslighting, downright lying, and schoolyard name calling was the so-called leader of the free world’s bag of tricks. It then spiralled onto online ‘chat forums’, social media sites, news sites. Tit for tat whataboustism that did nothing but inflame.
Truth is important and so is decency and respect but I guess that really comes down to us and who we want to be and how we want to treat each other. We can always say, ‘oh it’s not me, it’s the others’, but that’s not helpful. I used to be one of those others and even in that place, self justification and self righteousness become king. They are the tools used to build every edifice of unpleasantness.
So, I argue to disengage, to leave whatever field you may imagine is the scene of a righteous fight. It really, really doesn’t matter.