We’ve seen it before, and we’ll definitely see it again: online bullying. Whether it’s a pileup on someone who has committed the grave injustice of defending an unpopular opinion in a reasonable way, shippers of one pairing vs. the shippers of another pairing, blog posts calling someone out for the ‘wrong’ kind of criticism, authors wailing on reviewers and readers, or just plain old meanness, internet comment boards and blogs are full of intolerance. Impatience. Name-calling. Obnoxious behavior. Or the real word for it, bullying.
To be clear, I’m not talking about a situation where corporate, institutional, or celebrity bad behavior is called out, the Amazon vs. Hachettes and the Bill Cosbys and the Fergusons of the world. By all means, keep fighting the power on those fronts. I’m referring to fan on fan, amateur reviewer on amateur reviewer, reader on reader, blogger on blogger (or any variation thereof) hazing for no other reason than dislike of one person’s opinion or preferred pairing. Basically, the wank.
I would guess that the majority of people who spend a lot of time online discussing the books, television, films, music, fandoms, etc., have known moments of introversion and isolation. Have experienced at least some kind of bullying in their life. No matter what your background, race, culture, sexual orientation, or gender, there’s someone out there who’s ready and waiting to take you apart with the cruellest words you’ve ever heard another human being spout. To take everything that you are and dissect it until you feel like a brittle shell of yourself.
I was bullied in high school, though thankfully it got better. But nothing’s perfect, and I still experience moments of real-life prejudice and crippling insecurity. (It’s called being a writer!) There are people in my life who do not have my best interests at heart, and sometimes it’s hard to tell good advice from someone’s agenda. This is why so many of us retreat online, where it’s so much easier to find people who share the same rare obsessions, obscure fandoms, or zeitgeist-y manias as you. Little oases of fun and friendship that encourage the most secret parts of you to bloom.
And why it’s so devastating to see those oases threatened by a few bad weeds. We’ve all seen this happen, either in our own corner of the interwebs or another. Someone decides to assert their ‘authority’. A member of the group, or a subset, are not behaving according to ‘the rules’. They don’t like the right ship. They don’t offer the right kind of criticism. They are responsible for the decline/ruination/corruption of the genre/fandom/critical standards. What they are doing is in every way wrong, and it is an injustice that must be SHOUTED FROM THE ROOFTOPS!! They must be taken down on Twitter, lambasted on Facebook, banned from GoodReads!! They are gaming the system! They are illiterate trolls! No expletive or snarky remark is too good for them! Everyone, everywhere needs to know how horrible they are, so, followers, let’s all gang up on them at the same time, berating and insulting them relentlessly, until they wish they were never born!!!!!
Like I said, bullying. You can pretty it up with a dictionary’s worth of big words or foul it with a gutter’s worth of expletives, but it’s all just bullying.
It’s a new year, and I hope you’ll join me in making a major resolution: be kind online. Let everyone play in the sandbox. Trust me, there’s room, and enough toys to go around. Another thing you can trust: if you can see that someone’s making an ass of themselves, other people can, too. People are generally pretty smart. You don’t need to point fingers or call people names. Or write minutely detailed blog posts taking them down, anonymously. I’m not religious, but even a heathen like me knows that there’s something to that ‘do unto others’ business.
So let’s concentrate on making our online time the best, friendliest, most welcoming it can be. Have some fun, because life is too short. Celebrate the things we love, together. Criticize art in a constructive way, without tearing any fellow readers or fans down. Remember that a personal opinion is just that, personal, and the person stating it has a story all their own. One that might not be that different from yours, if you take the time to listen.
So who’s with me? In 2015, let’s resolve to be kind online (because we all know the powers that be give us enough to complain about without turning on each other), and keep the holiday cheer going throughout the year.
Wishing you a healthy, adventuresome, and thrilling new year,