On internet mobs (a follow up to my response to the Guardian piece)

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As a follow up to this piece:  I read today that Damien Walter, who I think has done much to encourage internet mobs, has decided, in the face of a great deal of push back (an example; here’s another) against his most recent piece in the Guardian, to withdraw from the internet for a week to meditate. I don’t know if that’s true (I appear to be blocked from his Twitter feed, so I can’t see his tweets), but the truth of it doesn’t matter to the larger point of this post.  Substitute in the name of any of the outrage merchants and the point remains.  

But if it is true, I’m not surprised. It’s hard to stand and not retreat in the face of a wave of internet outrage (I experienced a bit of this over my masculine stories post, though, in truth, this kind of thing doesn’t bother me much).  And I genuinely hope that no serious harm has been done to his psyche. I think he’s probably well-intentioned. He’s simply not a mature thinker, and he plays fast and loose with the truth. But he’s also just a particular example of the more general, shameful trend that’s been occurring online of late.

And so this second point: I hope that Damien (and those who have behaved as he has) realizes that what he experienced is exactly the kind of thing he has been encouraging people to do to others. Mob them. Bury them in manufactured outrage and name calling and character assassination. It can be unpleasant to be on the receiving end of that, being, as it is, an attempt to dehumanize the target by making him/her a monster.

And so this third point: To those who amplified his signal (or who amplified the signal of people who behaved like him), or who otherwise participated in the various internet pile-ons that have gone on over the past year and change: I hope you take a step back, too, and realize that the nastiness has gotten absurd.

Here’s the thing: the solution to online mobs isn’t to make your mob bigger or louder.   That cycle will never end.  The solution is to stop participating in mobs.

I’ll reiterate what I wrote in my earlier piece:  Smart, well-intentioned, well-educated people sometimes disagree over fundamental things.  Discussing fundamental things can be emotional, but zeal is not an excuse for assholery. And sometimes the disagreement is such that you just must each go your own way.

Remember that the person the mob wants to label a monster almost certainly isn’t.  They’re just another person, and, in the absence of a genuine reason to do otherwise, deserve the same courtesy and respect you’d give (or should give) to anyone.

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