Do you remember a time when Letters To The Editor were the only form of outrage? When we read things, raised our eyebrows, and promptly went about our business?
No, neither do I.
This is a half-post, half-poll, because I want to know what it is that’s making you so upset on the internet. What affronts you? What does it take for you to see red?
It’s partly inspired by this rather excellent Guardian article (I know, I know. I’m a salady sandal-stroking Guardian whore. There are worse things I could be) called “The dark side of Guardian comments”, which analysed over 70 million comments left on their website in order to find out who or what had elicited the most trolling and abuse over the past 9 years.
Amongst other conclusions, the analysis found that writers for the paper who were women, or who were black or gay men, were more likely to get online abuse than anyone else. You can form your own theory as to who is doing most of the trolling. I know I did. It took me all of 5 seconds. But I’m not talking about the typical keyboard warrior here. I’m talking about you. And me. The self-professed normal people. Why do we get upset by some things we read?
You might remember the famous Monty Python Argument Clinic sketch. The one where Michael Palin walks into an office and says, “I’d like to have an argument please”.
The internet has turned out to be a bit like this, except there is only one willing participant. The problem with internet arguments is that only one of the combatants want to be there – the one who started it.
Picture the scene. It is 1pm, and the Internet hasn’t eaten since 5 minutes ago.
You: Hello, I’d like to say something please.
The Internet: Certainly. Please sign here for argumentation.
You: I don’t want to fight with anybody. I just want to say something.
The Internet: But that means you have an opinion, right?
You: Well, yes, but it’s only my opinion. It doesn’t mean I want to force it on anybody.
The Internet: I think you’ll find in your online contract, which you agreed to when you logged in, paragraph 16, section 93, subsection (xxxiii), that publishing an opinion legally permits the entire world to find fault with it.
You: What, for saying that I prefer Irish Wolfhounds to Pomeranians?!
The Internet shudders, and keels over. Moments later, it revives and fixes you with a beady stare.
The Internet: You should have said it was as bad as that. That’s going to cost you your job, and the love and support of extended family members. Now hand over your phone, before you do any more damage.
So far, around 3,500 comments have been left on this blog by other people. On balance I would say they are 99.5% chatty, 0.6%* combative, which is hardly surprising, seeing as it’s extremely difficult to take me seriously (even I have problems with it).
I get hardly any trolling, and no real abuse at all. Comments which find fault with me or my viewpoint generally only occur when I write incendiary post titles I just know are going to land me in the poo with somebody who’s never been here before.
Other sites are a different story. The trend for confessional journalism – where writers are constantly forced to put themselves in the story, whether they want to or not – means that almost everything nowadays is taken both literally and seriously.
As the writer of one of the few non-personal blogs I’m aware of, and a habitual messer, I’m constantly trying to figure out my place in this universe of openness and visceral reactions. Incendiary post titles aside, it’s a universe full of surprises. Because the thing you think is going to raise hackles is never the hackle raiser (now say that 5 times, quickly).
I recently shared a newspaper article on Facebook which seemed to be a fairly innocuous opinion piece. It was about a place, rather than any particular person or even any particular aspect of humanity. It just interested me enough to challenge my viewpoint. The first reaction posted underneath was vehement. The article was ridiculous. It was written by someone equally ridiculous. And I needed my head examined for sharing it.
That’s less than nothing in the grand scheme of things. Within our circles of online acquaintance, we frequently see examples of grievous offence at something somebody apparently shouldn’t have said. Just yesterday I saw an exchange about successful lifestyle bloggers in a Facebook group descend into inexplicably scalded madness. I could hear the injured tones across six postcodes.
And Facebook isn’t even the worst of it. A barrage of Twitterstorms and Snapjudgements™ has resulted in the destruction of reputations and livelihoods, just because of an inability to see some things in the context in which they were meant. Mix this with the modern love of passive aggression, and you’ve got yourself a fine case of the upsets.
It made me wonder, with all this hypersensitivity about, what puts somebody out enough to make the effort of making a negative comment online? What’s your trigger?
One man’s trigger might be misandry; another’s might be the advocacy of coconut oil over olive oil in the preparation of mushroom burgers. But triggers abound. The internet is a minefield of push-button offence which can appear to the bystander to be as insane as it is arbitrary.
But to at least one of the persons involved, it always makes sense. So with that in mind, I really want to hear your comments. Have you ever been offended enough to take someone to task? Or have you ever received a negative comment which made you scratch your head? What’s your trigger? Tell me. I won’t bite.
* That was a test, to see if you were reading properly. Now, off you go.