The Mirror Reflects

Sure, I had to look up this person (a 24 year old millionaire hip-hop/EDM artist from Australia) before deciding to comment on her words. She’s recently decided to ‘step away’ from social media on account of its continual & mounting negative pressure on her life. Apparently she was fairly active on Twitter and Facebook, and engaged regularly with her fans–something that I think celebrities should probably stop doing. She, like many others over the years of social media’s ascent, learned this the hard way, finding trolls inhabiting all the dark recesses of the Internet.

It’s a problem unique to the Internet in which we currently find ourselves. It’s easy to shed your identifiable traits online (neither Twitter nor Facebook take any special aims to ensure that you are who you say you are–or that you say you’re anyone at all, really) and harass people from the comfort of your own home. Was a time that in order to get that thrill of being a troll, you had to go outside, you had to go to class and throw pebbles at the teacher, you had to go to the diner and make fun of the kids sitting at the counter because they wear eyeliner or flannel shirts, or whatever. Used to be you had to exert energy to ruin someone’s day. Now the freedom to be a dick extends to anyone with a few minutes to kill, whether you’re trolling celebrities on Twitter or “Swatting” someone you envy (a hobby some gamers have found to be thoroughly entertaining–calling the SWAT teams on people live-streaming games; we’ll leave a discussion of how ridiculous that is for a later time). Gizmodo’s Ashley Feinberg says the only real way to avoid this kind of shit is to remove yourself entirely:

This newest case is essentially just a rehashing of the horrific abuse Robin William’s bereaved daughter went through (though admittedly less graphic). Azalea explained her decision in a series of tweets that basically boiled down to “the internet is a dark and horrible place and the only way to escape is to straight up leave.”

I posit that this is neither effective as a strategy to end the harassment (truly, how does one avoid reading nasty things said about something? Have you tried not reading it?), nor is it an effective way to avoid future cases (ibid). In my time, we knew how to deal with bullies, and much to the consternation of the now-adults who had to listen to this crap growing up, ignoring an idiot is the absolute best way to ensure he can’t do anything to you. Eleanor Roosevelt knew this was true: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Some conclude that the only way to fix this sort of situation is to have policing present, in some fashion; solve the problems by having Twitter go in and remove “offensive” images and statements. Twitter has subscribed to this theory, mostly in response to the bullying brought upon Robin Williams’s daughter after his heart-rending suicide last year. Yes, yes, remove the images, suspend the accounts. As we all know, there’s absolutely no way for images to be resubmitted, nor any chance of someone registering a false account.

Were it my service, I would just shut it all down. Throw in the towel. Admit defeat. Twitter, in particular, and social media in general are mirrors that only show the darker sides of our barely-evolved ape species. I’ve watched with sorrow as everything great and noble about this world-encompassing network was torn down and replaced with more corporate logos, more endless noise from which we are expected to ferret out the meager signals of value. I wonder, how many accounts exist online that were never created by humans, but are just auto-generated marketing bots? And what sort of a netizen (a word I’d love to bring back from the graveyard that holds “Cyberspace” and “Information Superhighway”, though I’d caution against its use to describe most people online) generates income for these bots? Is Twitter so useful to society that we can’t see a future without it?

Most importantly, what thoughts of value can be contained within 140 characters? Even Abraham Lincoln, laconic though he was, never felt the calling of brevity so much that he began counting letters in his speeches. (Note: The Gettysburg Address, a transformational speech, was 1477 characters, give or take a few for punctuation.) Hemingway, though capable of astonishing merit with scarce words, still punctuated his life with great tomes of literature, overflowing with words. Ideas of worth are sometimes difficult to express, and there are few topics with which we find ourselves struggling today that can be given effective value with so few characters.