accountability on the web

in response to this horrible incident mike arrington of techcrunch recently experienced, ryan carson of carsonified had a few comments on how better accountability is needed on the internet. as simon mackie posted in the comments, penny arcade does a great job of illustrating this for us. the web can indeed be a nasty place. many people seem to lose all sense of decency when they know they can be entirely anonymous. it seems pretty easy to be a dick to someone when you don’t have to deal with any of the consequences of doing so.

youtube is a prime example. although i love youtube and all the great videos you can find, i don’t ever even bother reading the comments. they are typically immature, rude (and that’s putting it nicely) or just entirely pointless and unrelated. these people post the most hateful and vile things they can because they feel secure in their anonymity. conversations on the web are worthwhile. we want to have open discussions about things, but if you aren’t willing to stand accountable for what you have to say, perhaps there is a reason and you shouldn’t say anything at all.

i receive hate mail occasionally because i am openly atheist (to be 100% clear, i’m actually agnostic as i have to be open to the possibility of something out there, but i lean closer to atheism than anything else). i was very chuffed to see the atheist bus in oxford so i snapped some shots and posted them. i later received an email informing me that i would “burn in hell for spurning jesus” amongst other things. granted, this person used a real email and even signed off with “god bless” (how nice) and their name. i laugh at the threat, since i don’t believe in hell, but i can at least respect them for not hiding behind some anonymous name and email. the email was not nice, at all, but they were accountable for everything they said. bravo!

yes, you also need to have a bit of a hard skin on the web at times. the larger the audience, the more people you are going to find who don’t agree with you, don’t like your work, or even don’t like you at all. there’s nothing wrong with that. you can’t please everyone and the world isn’t a fluffy white cloud with rainbows where everyone loves everyone else. if only (i like fluffy clouds and rainbows). on the web though, the hatred seems to take on a new level. people seem to simply enjoy posting hateful comments because they can. if there is a way we can curb this, even a little bit, it’s worth looking into. perhaps then we can have real conversations and discussions without it turning into a pointless flame-war, and inevitably resulting in good ole godwin’s law.

this is by no means a new topic, and no doubt many discussions will unfold this year. it’ll be interesting to see how people alter their blogs or change their posting or commenting habits in the future. will more blogs require registration to comment? will more tight-knit (and therefore trusted) communities form because of this? thoughts?

(and yes, the mike arrington incident happened in person, so that really is a whole other debate on what type of person would spit in someone’s face like that, but because of mike’s online fame, he became the target.)


  • alex
    January 28, 2009 at 5:01 pm  - Reply

    I have received so much hate mail it’s not even funny but I’ve generally ignored it. It got really bad, however, in 2006 when I started to receive death threats and people were trying to physically attack me. There was a huge group online that was pulling money together to send people to SXSW or whereever I was speaking so people could “punch the fuck out of me.” My crime? Buying a tea cosy or the wrong tea kettle or saying I’m Danish and French when I can’t be either.

    I totally do not mind if people hate me or take issues with things – I generally don’t read my own press good or bad and I don’t give into those who really hate me or really love me. But when this group kept commenting on every blog (RIGHT after every post) and sent dozens of dozens of emails per day and then started hassling people I linked to (like my mum and BFF for no reason!) I had to really change how I was online because I didn’t want to keep getting this really horrible influx of mail.

    I stopped posting for months, I had to have security at places, some of my friends stopped posting. It was awful. The group was somehow disbanded, the google cache of all the horrible crap things they said was gone too. Now they post in private forums and take precautions to not get caught, including their emailing and posting to me.

    But in the almost 15 years I’ve been online, that was the first time I really became affected and let the hate get to me because it affected my real life so badly. The obsession level with these people is amazing. The amount of time they spend trying to “get me out” is incredible. The fake accounts they set up in Gmail, Twitter and other places like WordPress to mock me or pretend to be me or get at me is unparalleled. The mis-interpretation of information and the hate that goes with it, I have no understanding of.

    Because they can be anonymous there is no stopping them. Again, I don’t have a problem with people not liking me – human nature says we’re not going to love everyone – it’s the intensity and the way they show it that’s so freaking weird and scary.

    And I don’t write anything controversial anymore! They’re angry over the weirdest things I’ve ever known (they’re always angry over my spelling or use of words. “Whilst” will send them into a panic for days!).

    But the thing I hate the most is how much more guarded I’ve become or how I might dismiss a comment because it sounds like I’m being set up by them. I’m slowly getting back but it’s been very, very hard I admit. And even if I apply the excuse “they must have nothing going on in their life”, “they’re jealous,” “they’re crazy” it doesn’t make it any easier to take 100+emails/comments a day that are crazy nasty and then have people find you in real life and leave you crazier notes still.

    The only thing nice is these crazy people think I’m an A-Lister blogger 😀 No one else has thought that for years!!! 🙂

  • Lorissa
    January 28, 2009 at 5:20 pm  - Reply

    wow – that is pure insanity alex! i am so very sorry you have to deal with such maniacs and morons. it really is insane the level of hatred people will build up over the most ridiculous things. how scary that it filtered into them finding you irl though, and even worse, wanting to physically harm you. that starts to get even freakier. it is always best to ignore the hate mail, and that’s somewhat easy to do. it’s not so easy to ignore it when people start encroaching on your personal freedom and basically stalking you. i’ve only ever received one death threat online. it’s bewildering that someone who doesn’t even know you, can hate you that much.

    yes, some people have far far too much spare time on their hands, and with it, it appears, some sort of sense of superiority where they feel they can dictate how others should be. we see it with hollywood celebs all the time, and the web has its own celebs. you’ve fallen into this category of a-listers, with all the pros and cons, and unfortunately have had to deal with the cruel side of it.

    i do think the saddest thing is how these types of people can force you to change your own life because of them – whether it’s changing what you post yourself, how you live, or how you see others. i know that a lot of the hate mail i’ve received has resulted in me thinking even less of hardcore christians who claim to be all about love, but instead send the most vile, hateful emails. it’s sad that people like this online can wield that sort of power because they can hide and feel “immune” to any repercussions. this is what aggravates me the most. the anonymous cruel people get away with doing and saying whatever they want, while others have to adapt themselves around them. i realise life isn’t fair, but surely there is something more to be done to tip the scales a little on the side of fairness.

    obviously, that’s not to say that people offline aren’t just as cruel and nasty, but anonymity online just makes it so much easier for some people.

    haha – and yes, you are indeed an a-lister! if it helps, i’ve always thought that! 😉 and, while i’m at it, i like the use of “whilst”. if anything, i feel we don’t use it enough. i plan to use it more from now on.

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