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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Rage On The Web, Framed As A Women’s Issue

This discussion is both the most obvious thing in the world… and the most difficult to manage.

On some level, I think the discussion of how women writers are harassed on the internet is a bit myopic. Comments all over the web, focusing on all kinds of writers, regardless of whether the writing is “important” or trivial, tends to the horrifying. It doesn’t get any worse than, say, “Duck Dynasty” comments… or really anything that is defined as “left-vs.-right” or “religious-vs.-non-religious.”

On the other hand, calling a women author a “cunt” is no better or more acceptable than calling a black writer a “nigger.” And none of this is any more offensive (or less) than challenging someone’s sexuality as a way of disagreeing with a piece of writing or idea that has nothing to do with sexuality. And there’s always the ready leap to ‘Hitler should have finished the job” aimed at jewish (and sometimes, non-jews that idiots assume are jews) that we have seen over many years.

The level of discourse on the internet, driven in no small part by anonymity, is often brutal. Women have plenty to complain about in this regard. Lazy threats of rape and other physical abuse directly connected to gender are unacceptable. But so is the lazy use of “faggot” or “ass-fucked” that rhetorically abuse homosexuals even when they are not aimed specifically at people who are gay. And as we go further down the rabbit hole, the question of whether anal sex, for instance, should reflexively be assumed to speak to male homosexuality complicates the situation even further.

I think that being any one group assuming the position of being the most offended is always a problem. This is why I always try to remember to refer to “the jewish holocaust” and not just The Holocaust… because it is not the only holocaust, even if history tends to use other words for other holocausts.

The abuse of the ideas of others on the web – and by extension, of the authors of those ideas – is gross. And as a First Amendment absolutist, I am not sure what I would like to see done. I don’t think monitoring for specific words is the answer… or authoritarian comment approval.

The thing that jumps out to me as the best option is to remove anonymity… to make people post under their own names. But that also has problems, as there are good elements to anonymity, even if it is mostly abused. Moreover, it isn’t clear that there is a functional way to force people to post under their own, real names on a consistent basis.

I feel like I have been very lucky with this blog. I can count on one hand the number of people whose posts have even been blocked or removed from the comments section. It can get pretty contentious and personal, but mostly, I think that over the last 9 years or so this has been a blog, the commenters have been respectful of one another, if not always of me.

I run onto more “unacceptable” comments on the DP/30 YouTube page, which interestingly, allows other commenters to mark comments as “spam” or “offensive.” Sometimes, I find the removed comments to be unoffensive, but just out of step with the opinions of fans of whatever film or person the DP/30 interview is about. I re-approve a couple of those most weeks.

And yes, the majority of the bad language and nasty stuff is aimed at women or people of color. Most often, this is inappropriate sexual comments that seem to be intended as complimentary, but are actually invasive and unacceptable… worst of all with underage actresses. But women make a lot of “objectifying” comments about make actors as well, albeit very rarely in such rhetorically aggressive terms. The racial stuff is seriously disturbing.

So… what say you? Is there a good idea for how to cut down on the ugliness of web commenting without eliminating the free exchange of ideas?

Do you agree – as I think Amy Wallace really does – see this as a broader societal issue than women being called names and being wildly threatened on websites?

Or are we stuck in rhetorical traffic, so surrounded by humanity that we just have to accept that some idiot is always going to cut you off at some point on the way home?

9 Responses to “Rage On The Web, Framed As A Women’s Issue”

  1. Joe Leydon says:

    I think we soon will start seeing many more blogs requiring that people post under their real names. That may require a more rigorous registration process — might even requite that each person prove his/her identity by including a credit card number as proof of identity. Can’t say I’ll be sorry when that day arrives.

  2. David Poland says:

    I’ve seen comments drop significantly since Google changed the rules for commenting on YouTube, even though people can still comment anonymously via fake e-mail addresses. Seems to be coming back now. Viewing numbers have been continuing to rise through the change.

    On many sites, the comments draw better than the articles.

    Odd world.

  3. Yancy says:

    This is great stuff.

  4. Joshua says:

    “Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry: ‘I will not accept online misogyny’

    Being part of a band born on the internet means a daily sift through a barrage of sexually explicit abuse. Why are female musicians expected to put up with this?”

    guardian link

  5. Beate says:

    When I decided to appear on Twitter/social media, I chose anonymity mainly because I don’t want aggressive, abusive people to know where I live. For the same reason, I have multiple e-mail adresses – to be reachable but protected. So far, I have not needed any of this. Just saying there might be advantages to anonymity, as it may also be protective.
    At first, I was horrified every time I went to comment sections – but then I started to pay attention to commenters evaluating each other and realized that the nasty comments tended to be marked down. Which restored my general trust in humanity.
    I don’t have a solution to this – but nastiness doesn’t vanish by being forced underground – so maybe it’s better to leave this stuff as a reminder that such people exist, and one has to find a way to deal with them.
    I would have to, if I ever became famous. I hope that in that case I’d be rich enough to hire good bodyguards.
    Being famous also has advantages – nobody cares much when un-famous people are stalked or threatened, and the police can’t do much, even if they are willing to, as they only can act after a crime has happened.

  6. christian says:

    Except you defended the one guy who called one of the few women commenters here a “cunt.” Irony!

  7. Jermsguy says:

    Chick writers, am I right?

    If we judged society by comment threads, we might as well encourage all the countries to launch their nukes and get World War III over with.

  8. LYT says:

    Be glad that we have sites where the comments are manageable. Somebody goes a bit far afield in offensiveness, you can give them a warning, and set boundaries. Something like the LA Times has to be crazy to police at all times.

    But there’s no conflict between being a First Amendment absolutist and moderating comments, unless you are a representative of the government.

    Stuff like Youtube is a cesspool of trolling, but I am also a firm believer that intent matters. If somebody lets slip an offensive word and then apologizes, let it go. If somebody misspeaks in a way that could possibly deemed as sexist, but that person has a good track record in their actions, let it go (I once used the term “nancy-boy” to describe a prim and finicky character, and was told it was homophobic, which was certainly not my intended meaning). There is a culture online that micro-analyzes everything as if hoping to find and take offense (just google the word “derp” for a good example), but there is also horrific and intentional misogyny.

    I think often it’s fairly clear which is which.

  9. Hallick says:

    “So… what say you? Is there a good idea for how to cut down on the ugliness of web commenting without eliminating the free exchange of ideas?”

    Keep the ideas, toss out the ad hominems.

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