Wednesday 15 April 2015

The Banality of Internet Death Threats

So I was going to write something about this when after Oisin Tymon, the producer attacked by man-child Jeremy Clarkson received death threats on social media for, um, having the temerity to be attacked by man-child Jeremy Clarkson. Fitting then that Top Gear should be at the centre of the latest crop of threats. This time there was a rumour that Clarkson was to be replaced by Sue Perkins. In case you haven't read about it on the news, here's what she has to say.

There are some sad sacks out there. It's so ubiquitous, however, that it's more than just a few inadequates raging against the world. True, there is a specific gender component to this behaviour, but something else is happening in conjunction with this too.

Recently BBC journalists have been complaining about mobs of cybernats trolling, abusing, and threatening their social media accounts for asking pretty innocuous questions of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. Anyone who's vaguely left will, at some point, have attracted a few unhinged UKIP-types. Top Gear viewers, One Direction fans, all have a reputation for - how shall we say - having a forthright tweeting style. Death threats are ten-a-penny. If these are the nuclear option of social media comment, then the world is a toasted, radioactive desert many times over. While much less rabid, I do encounter some of the same behaviours (intolerance, quickness to anger, eager to dish out abuse) among Labour supporters on t'internet too. All tend to hold in common a recent(ish) arrival to the joys of web-based political knockabout.

This, I think, is key. Social media is a great leveller. Preceding forms: pamphlets, journals, newspapers, film, radio, TV, these have been run and controlled by someone else. In all essentials they do not require an audience input beyond purchasing them and/or tuning in. Social media, particularly Twitter, gives everyone their own megaphone and earpiece. Suddenly, people who'd never dream of having an audience find themselves with one. And more importantly, no matter how many millions a celebrity Twitter user may have, an illusion of immediacy is generated - they can be tweeted at and, sometimes, they may condescend to answer. Even a backwoods blogging oik like me has had responses back from luminaries such as Vince Cable and have, though heavens know why, been blocked by Toby Young. Suddenly, the wealthy, the powerful, and everyone's pet hate figures are but a few keystrokes away.

Historically speaking, this is a tremendous novelty. We should therefore not be at all surprised that large numbers of people behave in ways they wouldn't think to in real life. Everything we see - the ubiquitous death threats, the animosity, the trolling, these are symptoms of masses of numbers of people taking up a new technology there is no real precedent for. I'm tempted to say its symptomatic of our unfamiliarity and immaturity with it, mixed with the myriad frustrations and ceaseless collapse of all that is taken for granted and inviolate.

What that means is the tone of social media is likely to change over the coming decades. As presentation of the self is supplemented by a social media footprint of one, two, many platforms the less likely most people will want their output associated with idiocy of the kind experienced by Sue Perkins et al, especially as it's well on the way to not being socially acceptable. Furthermore, after a while, abuse will become so passé as social media becomes another banal aspect of everyday life. None of this excuses it, or minimises the misery and discomfort some feel when they're on the receiving end of it, but as time presses on it will eventually get better. The ubiquity of the internet death threat has long lost its potency, and its shelf life is now quite limited.


Anonymous said...

So..death threats are "well on the way to not being socially acceptable".

That's nice to know.

John R

Phil said...

That, my anonymous friend, is what you call an reductio ad absurdum.

Vinyl Miner said...

Wonder how many people have failed to get a job because employers check out their social media profile, quite a few I think.

asquith said...

Funny you should say that, Vinyl Miner. Very recently I'd been thinking of changing jobs and fancied applying for a particular vacancy, until it occured to me that the manager had a highly distinctive name and could be found on social media quite easily. And on the "strength" of her profile, I decided on the spot that I may not like my present position but working for her would be even worse, and thus didn't go through with my application.

Anonymous said...

It is funny how leftists refer casually to inadequates when men are the damaged souls and the manifestation of that inadequacy pricks the sensibilities of the 'right on' liberal left. I guess men are only useful for the liberal left as statistics around things like job loss or something that sits comfortably in the liberal left imagination? If not then they are just inadequate, wankers, probably can't get a relationship etc.

But when women are damaged they are simply angelic victims of some male inadequacy or have mental health problems that we really all should take very seriously and lets have more money invested in the problem while we are talking about it, because the system is to blame. And while we are on the subject of the system let us opportunistically ask for more mental health money for men who also have these problems and we are so very concerned about them, well apart from those wankers who are inadequate and/or can't get a relationship.

Phil said...

Someone has issues. I thought it was the left's prerogative to blame it all on society?

We're all made of, course. We are all creatures of our circumstances, our personalities an interlace of unnumbered encounters and social relationships. Yet we do have free will. Our choices are conditioned by our pasts but *not determined* by it. There are many men who have frustrating lives, feel powerless, and so on. But they don't take to the internet to take these out on others. Those that do, well, I feel free enough to call them any name I see fit.

So if you're looking for a caricature to troll, your time will be better spent elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

"Someone has issues"

I was expecting that response. Thanks for meeting my expectations, it was sort of the point I was making earlier, you trivialise what could be a potential serious mental health issue on my part. (I won't dignify you with the truth as to whether this is the case or not as I wouldn't want to impinge on your prejudices)

If someone said, for example, that a victim of domestic abuse was intellectually inadequate and was thus destined to become such a victim I think you would have issues with this 'seeing it how it is' approach.

Phil said...

I don't believe treating idiocy with seriousness, especially when it comes from someone hiding behind anonymity. Hence the flippancy.

The point is you can understand why people do things, what motivates them, how their life experiences condition their subsequent actions, but understanding is not the same as excusing and that is precisely the trap you fall into.