Cyber Bullies vs. Cyber Lynch Mobs—Does Anyone Win?
Humanity has been gifted with this lovely new invention…the internet. For the first time in human history, we can connect and even befriend people all over the world. We can easily research, whether that is for a novel we’re planning or to figure out why we broke out in weird spots after eating pistachios. There is also a never-ending supply of entertainment and we never have to ever be bored again…
Okay, that alone could be a whole book (my POV is that us being bored more often might be good for us) but that isn’t what I’d like to talk about today.
Today? *takes deep breath and dives in*
On Monday, a cover model who’s posed for numerous covers had well, he…ok he lost his ever-loving MIND. As I was watching the scenario unfold, I kept wanting to type a message to him.
For the love of chocolate…SHUT UP.
But he didn’t and his career is over. And please understand what I’m saying here. Blizzard Man was completely out of line and what he said (threatened) is even unforgivable. If we are going to use the internet to build our professional brand, then we need to treat cyberspace for what it is…our place of work.
Now, granted it is the coolest place of work ever and it has yoga pants and snacks and is very casual. No one minds us sharing cute kitten videos so long as we get our work done…
But it IS still a place of work and he forgot that.
And so did a lot of other people.
As I watched the reaction to this model’s comments, I grew more and more concerned for what the Internet is doing to us as human beings. Where is the kindness or even grace? When someone acts really badly, why is there a need to not just shame the behavior…but to obliterate the person on the other side?
Why must cyber bullies be met with even more vicious cyber-lynch mobs? Does anyone really win?
Is on-line outrage out of control?
All I could think of when I saw video after video being posted calling this model names and just going after him on a deeply personal level was… Dear GOD, please don’t let him commit suicide.
I wish I were joking.
I’ve witnessed this behavior happening more and more in cyberspace to people who haven’t even committed as grievous of an offense as said cover model. There was a comedian several months ago who did a funny video but it was regarding a dicey subject. There was nothing in that video that warranted the reaction that followed. Comments on her YouTube channel that said things like:
Bit*&, I hope you are raped and then hit in the head with a brick.
And the cover model, as awful as he was…got a similar comment. Someone hoped he was raped.
Please tell me we are better than this. Because if not?
This universal connectivity has created the ability to create cyber-lynch mobs. Something ignites and people just go crazy. Instead of simply disagreeing, they start typing in threats that in person? They could go to JAIL for saying something like that.
What is even scarier is that a cyber-lynch mob can form over even seemingly innocent stuff. Anyone can become a target. I’ve been on the other side of them, myself (sadly, more than once). The most memorable time? I made the fatal mistake of positing that bookstores could do a better job of supporting authors (for our mutual benefit, btw). The HORROR!
I seriously had writers who commented and called me everything but a writer. The favorite name for me? C*nt.
What? Are you THREE? Do you even own a thesaurus?
It is the JOB of authors to point out flaws in the system, in society and the world. We do this to make it a better place and sometimes that might even involve going after some sacred cows. We are supposed to question everything. Everyone doesn’t need to agree all the time.
Once in tenth grade I disagreed with someone and guess what? I lived to tell the tale 😛 .
If we have been on-line any amount of time, we’ve heard tales of people who’ve been targeted by cyber-lynch mobs. What is sad is that often this cruelty has come on the heels of a badly executed joke or a tweet taken out of context.
There was a man in Santa Clara, CA who was at a conference for tech developers when a silly joke popped in his head. According the the NY Times:
It was about the attachments for computers and mobile devices that are commonly called dongles. He murmured the joke to his friend sitting next to him, he told me. “It was so bad, I don’t remember the exact words,” he said. “Something about a fictitious piece of hardware that has a really big dongle, a ridiculous dongle. .?.?. It wasn’t even conversation-level volume.
Right after making the joke to a friend, a woman nearby stood and took a picture of him then tweeted to her 9K+ friends that he was making sexist jokes about big dongles right behind her. The next day he was fired.
And it gets worse…
After he posted about being fired, an even more vitriolic backlash ensued against the woman who started the incident, which included enough death threats to make her leave home and sleep on friends’ couches for the next year.
This is freaking RIDICULOUS.
We Used to Take It for What it Was
Trust me, every day I am super glad I was an adult by the time social media came along. I think of all the dumb crap I would have done or said or written and how that could have made my life turn out very differently. In the 90s if a joke bombed and came out offensive instead of funny? The worst I probably got was an eye-roll or maybe even a quick chewing out and I knew to correct my behavior.
I didn’t fear my entire world would be nothing but ash by lunchtime. I also didn’t expect a barrage of death threats or people hoping I was raped and hit in the head with a brick (like the poor comedian). In fact, I am pretty sure that would have been grounds for a police investigation.
And if we crossed that uncrossable line? Sure there were consequences but these days? DAYUM.
All I can think of is if Blizzard Man had made the comment he did in 1993, he surely wouldn’t have had 745 people who had already directly taken a swing at him by dinner time.
Crime & Punishment
When I see these on-line debacles, it always brings to mind one of my favorite scenes from the movie Demon Knight. Two main characters in the opening scene collide in a fiery crash on a remote road. The sheriff and his deputy arrive to work the scene and are inspecting the wreckage.
The deputy is incensed and, waving his ticket book says, “They had to be doing over a hundred miles an hour!”
The sheriff looks at him and replies, “Well you can shoot their ashes if it makes you feel better.”
What all of us are wise to remember is that in life, when an alleged crime is committed, there is intense evidence gathering to make sure there was really a crime. Then punishment befitting the crime is meted out. But on-line? So often people jump to right a wrong without any such evidence-gathering and the consequences can be devastating.
Case in point, I once got a really offensive sexual message from another writer. Instead of copying and pasting and railing against how tacky and disgusting this woman was, how she was using Facebook to sexually harass me…I stopped and thought.
Hmmm, that’s odd. I’ve never had this person act in such a way. Let me message her back.
And it turned out her account had been hacked. She wasn’t even aware such messages were being sent from her profile and catastrophe was averted simply because I gave another human the benefit of the doubt.
On the other side of this coin, I was once publicly shamed for liking an off-color meme that was politically explosive. Thing was? I’d accidentally hit it while scrolling on my android phone. Instead of the public shaming, why didn’t I get a PM that said, Hey, Kristen. You go out of your way to be funny and kind and this awful meme has your “like” on it. Did you do that?
But that didn’t happen and let’s just say it’s a good thing I have rhino skin.
***Oh, and btw, people also have a right to have poor taste in the event I DID actually like the meme 😛 .
Yes, there are times (like Blizzard Man) that there is a direct offense, but we also need to remember that technology does have glitches. Toddlers DO get ahold of phones. Accounts can be hacked. And—to be blunt—everyone has a bad day.
I get that we are all over this “everything on the Internet is FOREVER” schtick and maybe that was acceptable before we all lived more on the Internet than in the real world.
But is this reasonable?
In life if we lose our minds, say something awful or even offend people, we don’t fear a permanent death sentence and banishment from the human race.
Sure, discuss what’s going on. Maybe even make light of it. Joke. I do. Heck! Even criticize. Nothing at all wrong with this. Unless we want a world where foaming-at-the-mouth bullies are the only ones shaping social and political change, regular folk need to feel okay sharing more than kitten memes.
The internet can be as amazing or as awful as we make it. Like anything it is a tool. We can use a shovel to dig a grave or plant a garden. The choice is ours.
What are your thoughts? Have you been on the wrong end of a social media dog-pile? That something innocent got way out of control? Do you think that the cyber-lynch mobs are starting to shape how people are acting in person? Do you think that now that humans are spending more time in cyberspace we need to learn to lighten the hell up?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.
Remember that all WANA classes are recorded so if you miss, can’t make it or just want to refresh the material, this is included with purchase price. The classes are all virtual and all you need is a computer and an Internet connection to enjoy!
Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages MAY 14th. The first five pages are one of our best selling tools. We fail to hook the reader and that is a lost sale. In this class, we go over the art of great beginnings. Additionally, the upper levels Gold and Platinum I actually LOOK at your pages and critique your actual writing. I am offering DOUBLE PAGES for FREE so this is a fantastic opportunity to get feedback from a pro.
When Your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors MAY 16th. The single largest challenge all writers face in the digital age is discoverability. In a sea of infinite choices, connecting with our audience can be a nightmare. Our brand is our lifeline. What is a brand? How do we create one? How do we entice an overwhelmed and distracted audience to connect and care? How do we develop this brand over time? How can we make this brand resilient to upheavals? How can this brand then grow and evolve as we grow and evolve?
Blogging for Authors MAY 20th. Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.