The internet blew up, yet again. If it’s not one thing it’s another and this week’s tour de force came on the heals of an Indian-American winning the Miss America pageant.
There are so many things wrong with what occurred knowing where to begin even analyzing it might be tough.
Although Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitney (Avenue Q) might say the internet is for porn, and Kevin Smith (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) might agree with them that’s not all it’s proven good for.
As Buzzfeed, Gawker, Deadspin and other have become so good at pointing out, it’s also good for trolls. Particularly ignorant, xenophobic trolls.
Not that their opinions didn’t exist before. They certainly did. But the internet removed two important barriers to its expression.
First, the internet helps racists, homophobes and other bigoted xenophobes come together by eliminating the proximity problem. No longer is it just one or two people in whatever town saying this stuff to themselves, it’s hundreds or thousands of like minded people being able to gather despite geographic distance, time zone and even to a degree subtle cultural differences. They can come together en masse with relatively little effort converging on a hashtag easier than they ever could in a physical space.
Second, the internet offers the perception of anonymity to racists, homophobes and other bigoted xenophobes by allowing them the ability to use psuedonames, user handles and other identity masks. Hate speech doesn’t appear directly attributed to an individual and therefor the concequences of it seem removed and often remote. The fact that it’s easily amplified by the internet then lends credence to the hate and perpetuates it.
Public shaming of these trolls is hardly an effective deterrent right now. For everyone who’s real identity is unveiled and the screen capture of their hate is circulated and will temporarily branded as the bigot they are there are thousands who escape the communal wrath free of charge. Anonymous’ attempts at leveling the playing field around rape in cases like Stubenville didn’t stop it from happening again months later in Torrington. When the trolls were called out by national news sources for their treatment of Washington Capital’s forward Joel Ward in the Stanley Cup playoffs it didn’t stop them from coming back out after Philadelphia’s Wade Simmonds. It happens routinely for contestants of reality TV hits like American Idol, the Voice and so on and not matter how many redact their posts and retract their sentiments there are scores more ready to unleash at the very next opportunity.
So, it’s not entirely surprising that instead of watching the finale to Breaking Bad or enjoying the start of the Sunday Football season they were trolling the internet because a non-white woman was crowned Miss America.
We’ll leave apart the still potentially degrading and demeaning nature of pageants to women, or the accused East Coast bias now that the show was moved back to New Jersey out of the conversation for a moment and state the obvious, when you begin a sentence with “I’m not XYZ, but…” that absolutely means you certainly are XYZ and you lack the proper upbringing to deal with it.
If the existence of racism weren’t painful enough in viewing the posts it almost troubled me more that these people were too stupid to even make the appropriate racist remark in understandable English. Their hatred of being politically correct makes them too indifferent to having intelligence to even use the “right” racist remark. And, in spite of all the information available on the internet to produce a slur with they couldn’t even effectively do that. These people aren’t bigots as much as they’re just pain dumb.
This is where the “smart and bright” aspect of the Ashford University commercial is so wrong. The internet didn’t make anyone bright or smart, it just made dumb people louder and no amount of readily available information is ever going to change that fact.
I’m not trying to discount their blatant xenophobic tendencies or suggest that public shaming doesn’t have a place in this. What I wrestle more with about the whole experience of watching internet troll patterns is that we continue to do the same thing as an online society and yet expect different results. The problem is, at least for me, I don’t know what else to suggest.
Feeding the trolls however is not effective, clearly. In some ways, you have to wonder that if by re-publishing their repugnant speech despite the limited consequences some may face when outted, it’s actually encouraging others to do the same for their 15 seconds of internet fame. Is the nature of the internet unintentionally perpetuating hatred by acknowledging it even in a negative context?
Probably, which is why there’s no solution on the internet alone because bigotry transcends the Internet. Pealing away anonymity isn’t in-and-of itself going to change people’s emotions about what they fear and as we’re finding increasingly they’re proud to wear the badge of a xenophobe because they’ve been able to find others like them which reenforces to themselves they aren’t wrong for feeling that way because they are not alone.
The frustration I have personally is that the magic of what my Internet experience has been is derived in a great deal from exactly that, the gathering of like minded people able to transcend the physical barriers that might have made interaction difficult, if not impossible in the past. I’ve learned more about music, technology, literature and cooking because of the internet than I could ever have been exposed to otherwise.