Yes. Really. The evidence is clear and shocking we read today from Julia Baird,
according to Pew Research Centre, 5 per cent of women online said they had been put in a position of “physical danger” because of an internet activity.
Except, um, according to that same study by Pew, 3 per cent of men are subject to the same threat. 13 percent of the women surveyed in that study said they were subject to unusual harassment but so did 11 per cent of the men.
This is a statistical difference so small, it could be viewed within a margin error.
But the journalist’s hope that Twitter insist “people use their real names” can be found quite beyond the limits of reason. I shan’t describe here the many reasons that anonymity is a digital liberty to which no person with an interest in justice should object. But, the author’s is not a plea for justice. It is a plea, whether its author has chosen to consider the foundations of her argument or not, to afford the luxury of a world without opposition to women with views similar to her own.
I am personally acquainted with both trolling and pre-internet stalking and threats of violence by strangers. I understand that harassment can be gendered. I understand that fear can transform one’s life. But, as I am not an idiot, I also understand that I live in a time of unpleasantly democratised communication where it is now quite acceptable to tell people with whom one disagrees that they should “die in a fire”. And, moreover, where everyone offers everyone else such threat irrespective of gender.
I also understand that this sort of discourse is just a style of discourse; albeit an unsavoury one. It is naturalised. It is common. It is a despairing commentary that takes as its style hyperbolised physical threat. It has been happening on reddit and 4chan and other places I do not visit for years.
Trolling, unambiguously practised by many of the people interviewed in the Julia Baird piece on trolling, is a style of communication. It is not a threat. It is an extreme extension of the identity-based, ad hominem Stupid of an age that fails to utter reason. It is, for shame, typical and we all understand that when someone tells us to “die in a fire” or “get raped” that what they want to convey is opposition. But the are, like many of the people interviewed, too lazy to do this in any way that exceeds the simplest polemic or aphorism.
For the eightieth time this year, what I read is discourse about discourse. It is pure discourse; a conversation about nothing but the terms of conversation itself. Just as right-wing “thinkers” Like Andrew Bolt or Bill O’Reilly suggest, this “trolling” is elevated from evidence of what it really is—a culture that has forgotten how to argue—and evidence of what it isn’t. To wit: evidence that I Am Right. And People Want to Silence Me.
Oh. Please. Manufacturing an enemy to enhance one’s legitimacy is a stinking, rotten trick used by underwhelming ideologues of all flavours to extend an intellectual life that cannot, goodness knows, be maintained by their “ideas”.
Because those so absorbed in the matter of “trolling” have no reasonable ideas. Instead of building ideas, they fixate on the most meaningless opposition to them.
When someone tells me to “die in a fire” or that I am “ugly” or “unrapeable”, they have done nothing to silence me. In fact, if their attack is public, they have actually provided a mild support in the service of my ideas.
If they unpick my ideas and argue in a way that exceeds attack on my person or my body, it is then they are a genuine threat. The way to silence me, by way of example, is with reason. Yet, I commonly find that invective is preferred.
Oh. But I am wrong. Because no one else gets insulted and threatened online more than women who write acceptable arguments about the pain of having a Bad Body Image in mainstream publications and it is essential that these voices NOT BE SILENCED.
The author protects the rights of the unremarkable to speak without critique. But cannot seem to understand that in affording this “safe-space” to a range of women who are, for the most part, already employed to offer their fairly meek opinions, that she is happy to sacrifice the ability of, say, a citizen journalist in Homs or a queer teenager in Brisbane or a network of First Nation activists in Canada to publicly and anonymously offer their view of the world.
“Why allow the violent and cowardly to hide?” she asks. Well, You know. Because if we don’t “allow” anybody to hide, then everybody who needs anonymity to communicate will hide.
But this is our era of liberal progressivism, innit. Matters like information security and data sovereignty move few journalists and readers to anger. Matters like Someone Hurt My Feels on the Internet move many. The NSA is not a threat when compared to a troll who tells me to die in a fire. Privacy is not a chief concern; especially not when compared to internet meanies.
WHAT KIND OF WORLD threatens the freedom of average thinkers to say unsurprising things?
Not this one. Wish it fucking would.