I'm sure most of you will have seen in the wake of the death of Robin Williams that his daughter Zelda has ceased to use Twitter and Instagram following attacks on those websites about the death of her father. I could take up a whole post talking about how disgusting it is that anyone in the wake of such a tragedy would tell her that she is the reason her father committed suicide, or worse still send her mocked up photoshop images of his body in a morgue. Reading about this over this week has really left me feeling disapppointed with the world as a whole. The most disappointing factor is that idealistic as I am even I'm not surprised to hear things like this any more.
What prompted this post however was the chorus of responses calling this behaviour "the dark side of the internet", claiming that "this is the way the internet makes people behave".
John Gabriel simplified this apparent phenomenon down into the Greater Internet Douchebag Theory which is illustrated in the image below:
(Image from escapistmagasine.com)
I can see where this idea comes from, I really can. If you go on any internet forum you will probably see examples which appear to back this up - the cliquier the forum, the more likely you are to encounter this because moral censure is eradicated by the need to be "of the group". So yes, I can appreciate where this theory comes from.
However, let me stop you there and point out that it is in fact howling bullshit.
Put that pitchfork down, I'm not done yet.
The issue I have with this theory and those comments I illustrated above is that they imply that the internet is a sentient being. It's the internet that produces this behaviour, and by extension the behaviour is the internet's fault. This would suggest that the people engaging in this behaviour are all lost little puppies who would never dream of behaving in this way if it wasn't for the depth of depravity that is the sentient brainwashing internet.
Why does this anger me so much? Because it implies the people themselves are not responsible for their behaviour.
Regardless of the idea (which I agree with) that the combination of anonymity and an audience can bring out the worst in people, you are still ultimately in control. Whether you feel entirely safe in your anonymity and however big an audience you may feel is hanging on your response, you still have the final decision in what you choose to say and how you choose to behave in an online environment. Nobody *makes* you do anything.
This also gives rise to another oft-quoted argument - "You can't/shouldn't judge people by how they behave on the internet - it's not a reflection of who they are in real life."
Oh, I think you'll find I can. The internet in this day and age is a part of real life - it's not a pretend environment. You don't get a new clean slate each time you close your browser. Everything you say is visible to potentially millions of people - even if you delete or amend it later, nobody can "un-see" the original comment.
If you're a horrible person on the internet you're going to have a very hard time convincing me that's not the sort of person you are. Again we're implying with that train of thought that the internet can create behaviours, and I don't believe that is so. Exaggerate? Yes, but you still have the agency to prevent that. Create of its own accord? Absolutely not.
That's the same sort of attitude that leads to "It's just the internet" being offered as an excuse for bullying - and that is equally ridiculous. Bullying is bullying wherever it occurs, and if you engage in bullying behaviour then you are a bully. No ifs, no buts. The internet didn't make you that way - your own actions did.
(It really is that simple. Image from cafepress.com)
So, how about we put our big girl pants on and stop making ridiculous excuses for ourselves? It's called owning and taking responsibility for your behaviour - and too many people hide behind the internet as an excuse not to do so.
The horrid behaviour Zelda Williams (and countless others before her) was subjected to was not the "darkness of the internet". It was the darkness of people.
I am off to stick my head in a fantasy book until the disappointment is assuaged with dragons. This is a topic I'm very passionate about, and I would really like to hear people's views on it.
Wishing you all many spoons xxx