Adventures in Internet Assholery

I guess it started late last week.

There’s an ultra conservative, popular Twitter account whose retweets make their way into my feed every so often thanks to a Donald Trump parody account I follow. I’ve replied a few times–she’s posted some pretty blatantly ignorant things about things like Black Lives Matter. Then she posted some things personally attacking Hillary Clinton, specifically making jokes about her having cankles and being bid on by a hog farmer in Iowa.

Now, these are the kinds of things I don’t think are appropriate when discussing politics, and one of the reasons I love Bernie Sanders so much is because of his refusal to attack his opponents like that, especially when we have people like Donald Trump finding ways to insult Rosie O’Donnell in political debates. These statements not only cross lines, but they contribute nothing. They say nothing about an issue, and I actually think they say more about the person saying them to begin with than they do the politician. Don’t get me wrong, I think we’re all guilty of it at some points, but there’s a difference between letting something slip and relentlessly attacking an individual. There’s also a difference between what one says in private conversation and what one says publicly on the internet, but that’s a separate issue. Sort of.

The point is, I said something about it–two replies to two tweets, one about the cankles and the other about the hog farmer. My first tweet said disagreement was fine but personal attacks like this are rude and disrespectful, and the second said the Tweeter was just being mean. Like I said last week or so in a somewhat related post, I’m a believer that it’s not right to sit silent while people are nasty on the internet.

This must’ve hit a nerve. A day or so later, I woke up to find that she had publicly replied to me.

I have mixed feelings on the art of the public reply. I’ve seen it used by celebrities against trolls, but there’s something about it that’s very, very deliberate, especially having been on the receiving end of it now. Sometimes, it’s appropriate, and it can be a good way to address something that’s worth letting your whole feed see. A good example of that was an actress that I follow was recently accused of slut-shaming for criticizing girls who think dressing provocatively is the only way to be sexy–and for the record, I agree with her statements and disagree that it was slut-shaming. But said actress defended herself by linking to tweets and replying to them publicly in her feed, which had the advantage of all her followers, including those making similar arguments, being able to see what she was saying as opposed to her saying the same thing to God knows how many people had similar opinions.

In my case, though, I felt like it was done solely as an attempt to shame me because there was no real need for it otherwise–plus it was done two or three times. It’s also worth noting that my previous tweets over the course of maybe a few weeks or days actually disagreeing on specific issues went ignored, so I find it interesting that the comments that got her attention and were deemed deserving of a public shaming were ones questioning her character.

Now, her replies themselves were interesting. Remember, this was only about personal attacks–I had not responded to something that, say, blamed Clinton for Benghazi. In fact, none of the tweets I responded to had anything to do with Benghazi or actual politics or policy, and although I admittedly didn’t follow her and only popped in when I saw retweets, I never once saw anything discussing the actual issue. Just personal attacks, mostly criticizing appearance. But guess what I got ripped for? Thinking a murder deserves respect and not caring about children. And I still don’t understand what that one was about.

The thing is I’m not even saying one has to have respect for Clinton, or even speak well of her in private. Or even publicly, necessarily–what I’m saying is that joking about a female politician having cankles and being bid on by a hog farmer isn’t okay. It’s unnecessarily mean, for one thing, and it contributes nothing at all. If someone really cares about an issue, that’s what they should be speaking about, not attacking someone, especially if you want to be listened to and taken seriously. Otherwise, you’re just intentionally perpetuating negativity for no other reason than to just do it.

The backlash I got from her followers was admittedly mild–of the thousands she has, I got maybe around 20 replies, and most weren’t personal attacks. In fact, it was more like if you cloned my dad and gave each clone a Twitter account. Sure, there was one guy who told me I could “go to prom” if I was “a good girl” and that I needed to grow up, which is funny considering the tweets I’d criticized weren’t the kinds of things mature adults should say. Most of it was just trashing Clinton, partly out of an assumption that I support her. One man called her my “precious Hillary,” plenty called her a liar, another said she needs to be in prison for murder. More than anything, though, it was packed with assumptions about what I believe and stand for. Being a Clinton supporter is a pretty obvious one, but it’s kind of amazing how many people think speaking out about rudeness means you don’t care about any other issues. Plenty of people suggested that I don’t care about the Americans killed in Benghazi. I do. But like I said, my tweets and the tweets they were replying to didn’t have a thing to do with Benghazi. Not a single mention of Benghazi was to be seen, in fact, until the attempt at publicly shaming me. One man even went so far as to ask me “why the selective outrage” over this and not the dead Americans.

I wasn’t outraged–that was an assumption, too. I’ll grant that being limited to 140 characters can make tone hard to convey, but two pretty calmly worded tweets are hardly outraged. In fact, I’d say the true outrage came from this woman and her followers.

I touched on this before when I talked about Cecil the lion, but it’s perhaps even more relevant now–me sending out two tweets out of the thousands on my account over the years can hardly be called “selective outrage.” Two tweets are not representative of everything else I’ve had to say, on Twitter and elsewhere. Me calling out someone’s rudeness does not mean that’s the only thing I care about, and the implied moral superiority coming from those who suggest otherwise is really frustrating. My attention was on that subject in that moment, and I said two things and didn’t think about it again until I woke up to 20+ notifications. This does not mean other things don’t matter to me, just like people talking about Cecil the lion doesn’t mean they don’t care about other issues, either.

When I told this guy I was gonna block him, he criticized me for being “unable to engage in discourse,” but that was kind of my point all along–this was not discourse. Attacking me and making assumptions about what I care about is not discourse. Attacking a politician’s appearance is not discourse. The closest thing I got to proper discourse was someone who sent me screenshot from an article about a book about Clinton, discussing the way she spoke to her staff. Now, if it’s true, it involved lots of yelling and swearing at them, which I’m not okay with. But the excerpt’s point was less “she’s rude to her staff” and more “sometimes she uses cuss words, therefore she is unfit to be President.” And that’s just a ridiculous thing to say. You mean to tell me every other candidate in both parties is a saint who’s never so much as uttered a “damn”? Hell, Bernie said it in the middle of a debate, and it got the biggest cheers of the night. Swear words have zero impact on one’s ability to lead. I’m more concerned about policies and respect for people.

I found two things upsetting about this whole mess. For the most part, I wasn’t really upset by anything said to me, with the exception of the assumptions. But I was bothered by the fact that so many of the tweets I was mentioned in got favorited and retweeted. Even though they weren’t that bad, it was really, really bizarre to see people actually enjoying seeing this play out.

This speaks to the second thing I found upsetting, which is the fact that these people all thought personal attacks are okay, that only one woman–and if I remember right, the only woman–saw the same problem I did. People not only seem to think nastiness is acceptable, but they’re willing to defend it and rationalize it. Well, to a point.

See, the thing is that people were quick to come at me but backed down when I defended myself. I didn’t respond to all of them, but of the ones I did, I believe only one kept going at me, and that was the guy who accused me of the “selective outrage.” Not a single other person had anything else to say to me. In fact, when I went back through to block people for my sanity, I found that one man in particular had already blocked me–and I hadn’t even replied to his comment. He actually blocked me either right before or right after he tweeted at me. How cowardly can you be?

This wasn’t the only internet nastiness I’ve dealt with over the last few days, but as this is long, I’m gonna cut it off. But I’ll say this–the matter of people backing down when you defend yourself was not unique to Twitter or this issue, nor was the idea of disrespect and personal attacks being both acceptable and justified. I noticed another trend, which is that most of the nastiness, though admittedly not all, comes from and is defended by men. Most of the people agreeing with me? Women. Huh.

On the next episode(s?) of “Adventures in Internet Assholery,” we delve into trigger warnings, Caitlyn Jenner Halloween costumes, and paid maternity leave/taxes.

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