Monday, March 09, 2015

"Anti-Social Media"

I tend to look at the internet and all that is on it as a tool, and the same tool can be used to hurt or to heal - a hammer, for example, can be used to kill a person or build them a house. I also think the option for anonymity or pseudonymity is a good thing - in cases of people genuinely under threat, they can get information out that they might not otherwise be able to do.

Still, it seems like the brokenness of humanity has really been at the fore of late. All the talk of Twitter being used to recruit younglings into terrorist organizations*. And all of the other spew out there. I've never had anyone say anti-woman things to me online, but maybe I'm an unusual case? (Or maybe I hang out in more friendly confines, I don't know)

(*I remember reading the phrase, "the glamour of evil" somewhere. Perhaps this is an example of it)

Anyway, now the big story of the day is about YikYak. This is an app that is essentially a technological version of a cheap gas-station bathroom wall - an anonymous place to post whatever. The reason it's coming to the news is that (a) a college professor got upset about students YikYakking about her and (b) it's being used to make bullying, ugly threats and in general be hateful.

I am not in favor of censorship. I am in favor of free speech. But I'm also in favor of not being a jerk about how you exercise that right.

About (a) - I've been told my campus has a YikYak "community" or whatever you call it. I don't want to know. I'm not interested in participating or even hearing what goes on there. I feel like, if people are going to say awful things about me, and aren't brave enough to criticize me to my face? I don't want to hear what they're saying about me anonymously, that that kind of posting doesn't deserve my time or my attention and my often fragile self-confidence doesn't need to obsess over the venting that someone may have done in a moment of upset (earned a bad grade, was told to put the cell phone away, whatever). Also, I figure a lot of people who do that kind of posting don't every really think the object of it will read it. (So I'm happy to oblige by NOT reading it.).

Honestly, if you're a prof? You need a pretty thick skin. Thicker actually than what I have, but I'm slowly getting there.

Then again: you never know what battles a person is facing. I can imagine the reaction of someone recovering from an eating disorder being called a "hippo" or worse by some anonymous jerk, the effect that could have on their psyche. And apparently even younger kids are getting access to it....I tend to think adults just need to learn to roll their eyes at whatever rudeness and move on, but that's harder for a 12 year old. (Then again: parents probably have the responsibility to police what their kid sees, both online and on their phones)

As for (b), I don't know. If someone genuinely makes a threat against someone, with specifics, yeah, it should probably be investigated. But again, a lot of it is the ugliness of human nature that comes out when someone believes that they're anonymous and that the object of their smack-talking won't hear them.

I suspect there's not a one among us who hasn't had the situation of overhearing someone saying something less-than-flattering about us....and I admit, the one time I can think of, I responded in a less-than-gracious way. (The most gracious way? To walk away quietly before the people realized I was overhearing them). It's hard, though, when your sense of self is wounded.....

My one concern is that kind of anonymous trolling stuff could come back to hurt someone.Maybe not profs, though on some campuses, tenure and promotions decisions (or hiring decisions) are not all that transparent and sometimes you wonder if odd hearsay gets used against someone. And certainly, I could see someone anonymously and falsely slamming a business leading to that business losing potential customers. (Though again: anonymous opinions on the internet are worth less than the electrons they are printed on).

It's just, I don't know. There's an Isaac Asimov quote that says, "The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom." And I think that's true, and wisdom here extends to "how do I treat my fellow humans" - we have the knowledge to post all kinds of anonymous stuff, to send the tentacles of how we think out into edges of the world, yet many of us are not wise enough (and probably none of us are wise enough ALL THE TIME) to use those powers in ways that are not specifically aimed at hurting people.

We shouldn't want to hurt other people.* But for so many reasons, some of us do. And I get that a certain amount of it is reflexive - lashing out because you yourself hurt. But still, it's frustrating and it makes engaging with the world more difficult and more tiring. I admit there are days I'd like to build an epic blanket fort in my house and hide there and only interact with people through Ravelry or this blog or Twitter - I know Twitter can be kind of wild-westy, but by being careful of whom I follow, I seem to have a small cadre of friends on there who post funny animal pictures, or cute comics, or clever things, or links to heartwarming stories. And I sometimes get a little conversation going and honestly, some days, having a conversation over Twitter is easier than having one in person....

But man, are there a lot of people who seem to enjoy mistreating others in this world.

And, not to talk like I'm so wonderful - because I fail at "love your neighbors" on a pretty regular basis - but one thing I don't get is the desire to say mean things to people online. I'd rather post a supportive comment, or a funny cat picture, or tell a silly joke...especially if it's someone who's having a bad day, because I feel like if I can make someone else's day a little better, somehow it makes MY day better too. The times I remember being unpleasant to people, it just fed on itself and made me feel worse - but when I try to be kind and to make things better for someone, that also feeds on itself and I feel better.

(*I mean, emotionally - I'm drawing the line at "hurting" in the sense of "taking out an army that would overrun a country and subjugate all its citizens and mistreat them" - but even then, we shouldn't WANT to hurt other people, but at times we must recognize that sometimes we must do "wrong" (e.g., killing enemy combatants) to prevent a greater wrong (their taking over a country and killing its peaceful populace))

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Mistreating others is an offshoot of desire for power over life. Often those who mistreat others, especially online, feel a lack of control in their own lives, I think. So they exert control over someone else by hurting their feelings. And I wonder if the "mean girl" syndrome is the lashing out of people who feel fundamentally unhappy with themselves. Not that being unhappy with oneself can't be expressed in other ways. But I have spoken in later years to people who were ugly in school and had them tell me how miserable they were all the time and they just wanted to make other people hurt as much as they did. None of which is an excuse, simply a partial, possible explanation for why so many people seem to be heels to others.